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

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
A GREAT SCHOLAR ON EVOLUTION.

AS many of our readers are doubtless aware, the "Fortnightly Review" has lately opened its pages to a discussion of the present relations between theology and the general thought of the age. The subject has been approached by several writers from different points of view; and we can not but believe that the conflict of opinions will result in some solid gain to the cause of truth. Meantime we are interested in the criticism which the Rev. Dr. Burgon, Dean of Chichester, one of the disputants, in replying to Canon Fremantle, whose article was reproduced in our last number, has bestowed on the doctrine of evolution. Dr. Burgon is, we believe, one of the highest authorities on the textual criticism of the Scriptures now to be found in the Church of England. He has devoted a long life, he himself tells us, exclusively to that study. One would suppose that a man conscious of having given all his attention to one line of thought and research would be diffident about his competency in another and widely different one. Not so with Dr. Burgon, however; he is quite satisfied that he is as well able to deal with the doctrine of evolution as with the age of a Greek manuscript; and in the April "Fortnightly" he tells us just what he thinks on that subject in very emphatic and unmistakable terms. It is, he affirms, "utterly unscientific," a "wild hypothesis," "the merest impertinence," "the veriest foolishness." Does the reverend gentleman advance any arguments in support of these powerfully expressed opinions? Yes; and one of them is, that "man is never found at all in a fossil state." So convinced is the reverend doctor that this is a great truth, that he himself calls in the aid of italics to give it emphasis. Yet, had he opened the most elementary contemporary treatise on geology, he would have found that abundant fossil remains of man, and abundant traces also of his works, have been found in association with the bones of now extinct animals. The other arguments used by the doctor against the theory of evolution are drawn principally from the book of Genesis. He insists that man has not yet been quite six thousand years upon the earth, and quotes as an authority on that question Clinton, the author of "Fasti Hellenici." On the subject of miracles he has nothing better to tell us than that they are strictly analogous to human action in the realm of Nature: ergo, because man finds that he can do certain things by availing himself of natural laws, he must be ready to believe whatever may be told him of things done in apparent independence of all laws.

Dr. Burgon's article will do good. The extreme ignorance he manifests on scientific questions, and the unbounded confidence with which he nevertheless undertakes to discuss them, will open the eyes of many as to the pressing need for the scientific education of the clergy. A knowledge of manuscripts is all very well in its way; but a man who has to deal with the minds and hearts of other men, needs more than that. He needs to know the times he lives in, and the influences that are molding contemporary thought. Imagine, for a moment, a clergyman approaching an intelligent parishioner who is studying carefully the geological elements of the question as to the antiquity of man, and imagine that clergyman advising the parishioner to put aside his Lyell or his Geikie, and study Clinton's "Fasti" instead! Could a more absolutely absurd situation be conceived? Yet this is precisely what the learned Dean Burgon (who does not even know that fossil remains of man were ever found) does with all of us—tells us, if we want to be satisfied as to the age of the human species, to dismiss geology altogether, and betake ourselves to the guidance of a long-deceased chronologist! Probably the dean will never know what a lamentable exhibition he has made of himself—never know that, while denying the existence of fossil man, he gave in his own person an unequaled specimen of a fossilized human intellect. It seems to us not unlikely that, years hence, the dean's "Fortnightly" article will be quoted as one of the latest examples of an extreme type of clerical ignorance, on scientific subjects; just as we now indicate the period when the cave-bear and mammoth bade adieu to this terrestrial scene. It will be a happy thing, indeed, to have such ignorance safely packed away among the treasures of the past.

But now appears another phase in the controversy referred to. The Rev. W. Benham, who describes himself as a conservative, both in theology and in politics, undertakes to answer both Canon Fremantle, the Broadchurch-man, and his assailant Dean Burgon. Naturally, Mr. Benham does not go as far as Canon Fremantle; but he makes one very important statement, and that is, that the majority of the clergy, so far as his acquaintance extends, seem to assume the truth of the doctrine of evolution. If a man of conservative tendencies is able to say as much as this of the clerical brethren with whom he most consorts, and who, we may presume, are in the main conservatives also, it is evident that thought is moving fast in the Church of England.

 

 
THE FIGHT AGAINST POVERTY.

As most of our readers are aware, an association has lately been formed in this city under the title of the "Anti-Poverty Society." It proposes to extirpate poverty by throwing the whole burden of taxation upon land. One may be allowed to doubt how far the proposed remedy, if found to be applicable, would go toward accomplishing the result desired; but, that poverty is an evil, and that the best efforts of modern society should be devoted to removing it, admits of no doubt. If the Anti-Poverty Society accomplishes no other good object, we trust it will at least, during the term of its existence, help to render the community more deeply sensible of its duty in this matter. When we speak of the community, however, we mean its individual members in their several private capacities, rather than the community as a politically organized body. We are not of those who hold that in legislation is to be found the cure for all social ills. On the contrary, we should be disposed to class what we may call the "legislation-habit" with what has been called the "alcohol-habit" in this important respect, that each implies resort to an artificial stimulus as a remedy for constitutional weaknesses—in one case in the social organism, in the other in the individual human body. Both involve distrust of, or disregard for, hygienic measures and the discipline of Nature; and both stand in the way of Nature's restorative action. If poverty is to be cured, we believe it can only be through the more general application of those principles and methods by which it is already warded off from the larger portion of society. The problem that has to be faced is the serious one of rendering every individual in the community fit to earn a maintenance for himself. Such fitness implies freedom from habits that are a burden upon life, from a physical or from any other point of view. Let the advocates of drastic measures of legislative reform say what they will, the fact remains that, given a certain measure of well-directed faculty, and success in the struggle of life becomes a sure thing. Instances abound in every country, but nowhere so much as in our own, in which men have risen, not only from the humblest but from the most disadvantageous beginnings to positions of wealth and influence. It is all a question of fitness. In the social sphere, as elsewhere, the fit will survive and flourish; the pre-eminently fit will flourish pre-eminently. It may be that pre-eminent fitness for present social conditions may not imply ideal excellence of character; no doubt it does not; still the fact remains that success is a question of adaptation, and that want of success or poverty means non-adaptation.

All this may seem very trite, but it would not be safe to argue that because a thing is trite all the good it is capable of yielding has been extracted from it. In the general craze for novelty, old truths are abandoned before they have been half worked out. The theories of the Anti-Poverty Society are very taking with the multitude; but we venture to predict that, after they have had their day, men will find that there is still much to do on the old lines to which we are now calling attention. The way to kill poverty, we hold, is to kill it individually that is to say, to bring such influences to bear on the unfit as shall render them fit; to make war against idleness, inefficiency, stupidity, extravagance, weak self-indulgence, and all else that makes for poverty either by diminishing the productiveness of labor or by promoting undue consumption. It is sometimes held that the laboring classes do not get their fair share of the proceeds of their industry; but the fact is not insisted on as it might be that the share they get will at any given time be directly proportional to their own inherent merits as workers and as men. The question is how near can they come to negotiating on a footing of perfect equality with the employers of labor, and that depends upon the bearing and attitude which they are enabled to assume. A body of thoroughly intelligent and self-respecting men, with established habits of self-control and general capacity for self-guidance, would enter upon the negotiation with far better chances of concluding it to their satisfaction than would a body of men less intelligent and less under moral control, even allowing the latter the benefit of all the most improved appliances for industrial war, including street-rioting and the persecution of "scabs." It is mainly a moral and intellectual reform that is wanted; and we are far from saying that it is wanted only in the ranks of those who earn their bread by the labor of their hands. No serious person can consider the extravagance which now marks the expenditure of the middle and upper classes (if we may without offense use such terms as these to indicate comparative degrees of wealth), without feeling that a bad example of profusion and ostentation is shown to the wage-earners—that a wrong ideal of life is set before them. It is true now, as ever, that a man's life "consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth"; but it hardly seems as if any one to-day believed it. The majority at least only seem to live in proportion as they surround themselves with visible and tangible evidences of their material prosperity. One consequence—very important in relation to our present subject—is that a standard of living is set up which not all who become accustomed to it can permanently maintain; and thus extravagance leads to poverty. How many are miserably poor to-day whose parents brought them up in comfort, if not in affluence! We say "miserably poor," because poverty is never so miserable as when complicated with vain regrets and a general sense of disinheritance and decay. If we would fight against poverty, therefore, we must fight against it everywhere, and try to make all classes of society understand that life is a struggle for which a definite equipment is required, and that no part of that equipment is more essential than moderation of desire. Much, also, as the Malthusian doctrine is flouted in some quarters, and particularly in the region of the Anti-Poverty Society, the sober thought of the more instructed portion of mankind will incline them to believe that there is something to be said on behalf of prudence in incurring what is simply the most solemn and important responsibility than can be assumed by any human being. That poverty has been greatly promoted by carelessness and indifference in this regard—a blind trusting to chance or Providence—few, we think, would deny.

But perhaps the most important single aspect of the whole question is the sanitary or hygienic. As long as there are debilitated frames, enfeebled wills, and morbidly developed passions, there will be poverty. On the other hand, of course, poverty tends to increase and perpetuate these evils. This aspect of the subject has lately been treated with much force in the body of the "Monthly," and we shall not dwell upon it to-day. The main truth we wish to emphasize is that poverty results from unfitness for social conditions, and that the true mode of conducting an anti-poverty campaign would be to attack at every point those errors and vices that tend to depress human beings below the level at which they can fulfill the conditions needful for their maintenance in health and well-being.