Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/August 1887/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
SCIENTIFIC ORTHODOXY.

ONE of the accusations brought by the Duke of Argyll against Professor Huxley in the discussion that lately took place between these two representatives of very different lines of thought was—to put it plainly—that the professor was himself half in rebellion against a kind of scientific orthodoxy that has been established in these later days, and was only waiting until the movement against it now going on among the younger men of science bad gathered a little more strength, in order to declare himself. The professor warmly, and with good reason, repelled the implied charge of insincerity, and asked what were the signs or proofs on any such scientific tyranny as his Grace referred to. He had himself a pretty wide acquaintance with scientific men, young and old, and if they were under any constraint that prevented them from uttering their opinions and conclusions with the utmost freedom, he was not aware of it. There was really no foundation, we may safely aver, for the duke's taunt as regards men in the higher walks of science. These pursue their researches with no object save that of the advancement of scientific knowledge. They give their facts to the world just as they present themselves. If there is anything a scientific man labors to be exact in it is in the description of what he has observed. He knows that, if he is inaccurate here, some one will go over his work and discover and expose his errors, thus destroying in a large measure the credit he might otherwise reap from his arduous investigations. No; there can be no question that men of science give the world pure facts as far as they are able; probably no men, not even the clergy, work under so deep and constant a sense of responsibility for the exhibition of the truth without any admixture of fable.

The weaving of facts into theories is, however, another matter, and here undoubtedly a certain personal element may come into play. When Darwin's theories were first broached, all the world, nearly, cried out against them. They were demolished a countless number of times, not only in theological but in scientific periodicals. The world was under the influence of the special-creation hypothesis, and the facts and reasonings of Darwin fell far short, even in the minds of the most of those who read his work, of shaking their faith in the old system of thought. The seed sown was not, however, trampled out of existence, as it might have been in an earlier age. It took lodgment in some minds, and it was not long in showing that it possessed a strong principle of vitality. To-day evolution, in a wider sense than Darwin himself was at first prepared for, is the dominant philosophy. No doubt it was to this philosophy that the duke referred when he hinted at the existence of a kind of intellectual tyranny in the world of scientific thought. It may be, of course, that just as evolution was opposed in the past on account of its novelty and its disagreement with accepted theories, so, now that it has gained a certain prestige, it may receive the adhesion of some who like to be on what appears to be the stronger side, and who may support it in the spirit of partisanship rather than of conviction. How this is to be avoided, while human nature remains what it is, it is difficult to see. Every school of thought that ever existed in the world has had, in addition to its reasonable and convinced adherents, other adherents, in whom the spirit of sect and party has been much stronger than the love of truth. But while we may admit that the evolution philosophy has not escaped, and is not likely to escape, the fate of philosophies in general in this respect, we may very confidently assert that no one to-day who is capable of making any original investigations that might have a bearing on the doctrine of evolution is in the least likely to be unduly influenced by any weight of authority on the side of any particular theory. There never was an age when, in matters scientific and philosophical, there was so complete a "liberty of prophesying" as there is to-day. To talk, therefore, of "scientific orthodoxy," as some do, with the intention of suggesting a parallel with theological orthodoxy, is altogether unfair and misleading. There are no courts for the trial of scientific heresy. The only penalty any man incurs for putting forth inaccurate statements of fact or inconclusive reasonings is that, upon the exposure of his errors, his scientific standing is more or less compromised according to the gravity of the case. No scientific worker can be condemned by the mere ipse dixit of any authority however distinguished: the appeal to facts lies open to the humblest citizen in the republic of science. Here truth is Cæsar, and there is no divided empire.

But, while Science does not set up any unalterable code of opinion, while it does not seek to withdraw any theory or hypothesis whatsoever from the control of verification, it has its own way of looking at things, its own methods of testing what is proposed for acceptance; and in the application of these methods it shows a rigor which, by ill-prepared minds, might be mistaken for dogmatism. It insists upon an exact definition or delimitation, so to speak, of the object to be considered. "What are we talking about?" is a question always in order. It declines to have any dealings with things that are in their nature inaccessible to observation. It refuses to convert sentiments into convictions, or to build assurance upon doubtful analogical inference. It insists upon stopping short just where the facts stop short, and where, therefore, further verification fails. It shuns the dead-reckoning of metaphysical argumentation, and is no less guarded in its denials than in its affirmations. What it can not disprove it will not deny, any more than it will affirm what it can not prove. But if, because a statement or theory can not be disproved, any one wishes to claim that it is proved, Science protests, just as it would do if one were to pretend that, because a thing can not be proved, it is disproved. On every occasion Science says, "Let us take an exact measure of the facts, and let our words conform thereto." It is this severely truthful attitude which draws down upon men of science so much disfavor in certain quarters. If the scientist would only be a trifle accommodating, and where he sees but little would consent to believe much; if he would only accept the currency of confused thoughts and indeterminate expressions; if he would administer metaphysical comfort instead of constantly pointing to the unalterable and demonstrable conditions of human life he would be more popular with the unthinking multitude, and even with some would-be leaders of thought. But the scientist knows that, if there is any solidity in the edifice of science to-day, it is due to the firm attitude his predecessors, and in part his contemporaries, have maintained toward pleasing and popular errors to their determination to see the truth, and to bear witness to it, and to nothing else. We may say, using the words in a certain accommodated sense, that "scientific orthodoxy" requires that this attitude shall be maintained. Not to take every possible means for the elimination of error would not be "orthodox" from a scientific point of view; but further than this we can scarcely go in the use of the term. There need be no fear that the progress of knowledge will be checked, or that originality of view will in any way be repressed. The world never had so splendid a generation of scientific workers as it has to-day; and never, as we have already said, was scientific work being done under less restraint, or less undue influence from any kind of personal authority.

 

 
PHYSICAL CULTURE AND MORAL REFORM.

It is impossible to read without intense interest of the experiments made in the New York State Reformatory to ascertain whether the moral and mental faculties of criminals might not be roused, and to some extent developed, by a judiciously arranged course of physical exercise. It appears, from the report furnished by Dr. H. D. Wey, that these experiments have been attended with marked success: mental growth has been promoted, and moral control has been increased as a direct result of the physical training administered. Accepting these statements as correct, as we are quite prepared to do, we see vast possibilities opened up of moral reform among a class of the population whose deficiencies have hitherto been the despair of philanthropists and philosophers. The true spirit of humanity was probably never stronger in any man than in Tom Hood; and yet even he was disposed to leave criminals to their own darkened intelligences and evil dispositions.

"'Tis sorry writing on a greasy slate," he says in his address to Mrs. Fry, the benevolent Quaker lady who interested herself so deeply in the inmates of jails and penitentiaries. He admired many things about that amiable lady. "I like," he says—

"Your dove-like habits and your silent preaching;
But I don't like your Newgateory teaching."

"Nugatory" Tom thought it, and nugatory, indeed, the great mass of such teaching has been, as prison chaplains would themselves confess. But if it is the case that the energies of the mind and of the moral nature are sadly cramped and confined through imperfect physical development and abnormal physical habit, what may we not hope for if, by proper gymnastic exercise and sound sanitary conditions, we are able to remedy, to a great extent, these bodily defects? The idea that body and mind work together, and that it can not be well with the one if it is ill with the other, was a commonplace among the ancient Greeks; but for ages the truth was lost sight of, and was indeed supplanted by the antagonist error that if we would cultivate and develop the soul we must oppress and dishonor the body. We are now working back to the Greek point of view; and, with the exact methods of modern science to aid us, may be expected to turn whatever of truth it contains to better use than they did. The Greeks held, empirically, that rhythm of sound and rhythm of motion—particularly simple rhythms free from all bravura—had a regularizing effect upon the thoughts and a moderating effect upon the passions. Now, this is precisely what the average criminal nature most needs. The criminal is essentially a man who does not naturally act in unison or harmony with his fellow-men—he is prone to strike discordant notes—that is, to perform irregular and lawless actions. This disposition is probably due in part to distrust of himself, arising from a secret consciousness of deficiency. To such a man, a well-directed course of bodily exercise means, in the first place, the development of his physical organs and faculties; in the second place, a certain sense of power resulting therefrom; thirdly, a heightened self-respect and self-confidence; fourthly, a sense of the value of method; fifthly, a more regular flow of thought to more definite objects; and, sixthly, a certain development of the social instinct arising from a generally improved bodily and intellectual condition.

It may be accepted as a general principle that when a given result proves very difficult if not impossible of attainment we are trying to take too big a step to get at it—that is, we are overlooking some intermediate stage or stages that have to be passed through before we can get at our objective point. It is as if we wanted to get up-stairs all at once, instead of proceeding step by step. Well, in regard to criminals, we have preached at them in the effort to reach their spiritual nature; we have set the schoolmaster on them, in the effort to rouse their dormant intellectual faculties; now, at length, after abundant evidence as to how little either chaplain or schoolmaster can effect, we are trying what the drill-master can do to mend their crooked bodies, to reform their shambling gait, to fix the vacant or wandering eye, to infuse life, vigor, and "snap" into spiritless frames; and at last it seems as if we were on the right track. After all. what did St. Paul tell us long ago? "First that which is natural" (physical), "then that which is spiritual." Well, without heeding him any more than the ancient Greeks, who, in this matter at least, were so wise, we have in the main been working, or trying to work, on the spiritual, and leaving the natural to shift for itself, even when its defects have been most conspicuous, and when, owing to these defects, the spiritual has been almost non-existent. It is time to go back on our tracks and to see to it that we make things as right as we can in the natural region, before we look for intellectual results or the peaceable fruits of righteousness. We seem already to see Science, the despised Cinderella, as Huxley says, scoring another triumph, and showing that, even for moral reform, its methods are worth more than all other modes of activity put together.