Popular Science Monthly/Volume 46/April 1895/Editor's Table
WE do not know a more encouraging sign of the times than the vastly improved entente now existing between those two forces, which only a generation ago seemed to many to be irreconcilable enemies—science and religion. There were not wanting, at the time we speak of, wise men who asserted that the conflict between these two must be the result of misunderstanding; but, in general, the partisans of religion were convinced that any science, so called, which threatened their special beliefs must be absolutely false, while some at least of the partisans of science were disposed to hold that, because some specific theological tenets had been proved unsound, the whole basis of religion had been shattered and destroyed. Of course, remnants of these errors may be found lingering here and there even now; but in centers of thought and culture very different ideas have begun to prevail. We noticed some time ago, in another department of the Monthly, an excellent work by the esteemed President of Rochester University—Genetic Philosophy—which was thoroughly in line with all that is best in the modern scientific spirit; yet Rochester University, if we mistake not, is an institution under the control of the Baptist denomination. More lately still we called attention to the liberal and hopeful utterances of the Presbyterian clergymen who were celebrating the jubilee of Knox College at Toronto, Canada. We now find an admirable article in the December number of The New World, bearing the title Science a Natural Ally of Religion, which again we may credit to the Baptist denomination, as it proceeds from the pen of Prof. E. Benjamin Andrews, of Brown University, Rhode Island.
According to Prof. Andrews, who states his case very well, it has come to this, that science, which bigots and fanatics on one side or the other once accounted the natural foe of religion, can and must now be claimed as its natural ally. Science, Prof. Andrews tells us, has done the work of religion in unifying human knowledge, and thus leading our thought by necessary stages to the recognition of one First Cause of all things. We have been led to see that there are not forces in the world—that there is but one force; and we have been set free from the crude materialism which unintelligently deified matter as the one self-existent reality. The doctrine of evolution, far from being an impediment to religious faith, "opens the way for an apprehension of the Divine Being and his modes of procedure far more rational, helpful, and uplifting than the time-honored creationist view." Or, as he otherwise expresses it, we see in evolution "simply the slow march of creative energy." The old idea represented the Deity as forming a plan, just as an architect might design a house, and then, when all the details had been worked out, proceeding to realize it. According to the evolutionist view, "we can not think of the Divine Being as ever having been without a world. He creates from all eternity, and the product each instant is a brand-new work entire, which, though God's creature, is yet not external to him, but rather the sign of Ms own living, throbbing presence."
Science, Prof. Andrews further claims, has rendered philosophic skepticism henceforth impossible—such skepticism, for example, as that of Pyrrho of Elis and the later Academics. How far this is true, as a matter of exact logic, we are not prepared at this moment to say; but what science undoubtedly has done is to render the tone of mind of the ancient skeptics almost impossible in the present day. With so vast an amount of truth demonstrated for all practical purposes, so that it daily serves as the basis of action in the present and prediction for tbe future, no one not a born sophist would care to take up the Pyrrhonic parable that knowledge is an impossibility. By increasing to so vast an extent the compass of human knowledge and revealing the mutual interdependence of phenomena, science has made for every one of us an intellectual system vastly surpassing in solidity anything that was possible for Plato and his contemporaries.
We are not concerned, however, to indorse all the expressions used by Prof. Andrews; what we wish to call attention to is his cordial acceptance of the methods and conclusions of science, and his emphatic assertion that not only does he find nothing therein to impair religious faith, but that, on the contrary, he regards science as rendering an indispensable assistance to such faith. We have ourselves, on more than one occasion, put on record our belief that the religious instinct in man is an essential part of his nature; so that, closely as it may seem to be connected at any time with particular dogmas, it will not perish if those dogmas should be overthrown, but will appropriate to itself other intellectual forms that will serve its purpose as well as or better than the old. The article we have been considering is an example and proof of this. The doctrine of evolution has become to Prof. Andrews and to those who think with him—and they are many—almost a religious symbol. It has certainly become to them a means of expressing religious as well as scientific thought. Religion, after all, is simply the overflow of the human heart toward a transcendent power which reveals itself in us, if not at all times, at least in our best and highest moments. We find it nobly exemplified in a passage of the heathen sage Epictetus: "If we had understanding," he says, "ought we to do anything else both jointly and severally than to sing hymns and bless the Deity, and to tell of his benefits? Ought we not, when we are digging and plowing and eating, to sing this hymn to God? 'Great is God, who has given us such implements with which we shall cultivate the earth; great is God, who has given us hands, the power of swallowing, a stomach, imperceptible growth, and the power of breathing while we sleep.' This is what we ought to sing on every occasion, and to sing the greatest and most divine hymn for giving us the faculty of comprehending these things," Coming down to our own century, the poet Coleridge expresses in a few pregnant words, but from another point of view, the essential nature of religion when he says in one of his translations from Schiller:
"For the stricken heart of love
This visible universe and this common world
Is all too narrow."
In Epictetus we see the overflow of the glad heart, while Coleridge tells us of the overflow of the sorrowful heart. The aspiration and exultation of the one and the yearnings and pleadings of the other meet in the common thought of God. This is religion divorced from dogma, religion which no scientific investigation, no development of knowledge, can ever shake or annul. Science henceforth is free to work in its own sphere, by its own methods, and religion is free to comfort, to elevate, and purify human nature by bringing it into contact and relation with the thought of that which is highest and best and most enduring in the universe, with the thought of a Justice that is above human justice, a Love that is above human love, and a Sympathy that is denied to none. When we think of science and rehgion in this way we see how natural it is that they should act in unison, the first revealing more and more of the beauty and order of the world, the second giving its sanction and aid to what we may call the transcendent effort and impulse of the human mind. In view of this common ministry of blessing how petty seem all the disputes of the past! Let us hope that we have heard nearly the last of them, and that, henceforth, as the poet says:
"Mind and heart, according: well,
May make one music as before.
In a recent number of the Contemporary Review Prof. T. Clifford Allbutt discusses in a very interesting and instructive manner the question whether, as commonly alleged, nervous diseases are much more prevalent in the present day than they were a generation or two ago. His conclusion is that such is not the case. He disputes, in the first place, the statistics which seem to show that insanity is greatly on the increase; and, in the second place, maintains that in a great many cases in which the nervous system is affected the trouble is not primarily nervous at all: the nerves have been implicated through disorder in other regions of the body. He believes that some of the conditions of city life are unfavorable to the health and vigor of the so-called laboring classes; but he thinks that, on the whole, there is a marked increase of vitality and power in the more favored classes. "I do not hesitate to say"—we take pleasure in quoting this encouraging statement—"that when I look back upon the young men and women of forty and thirty years ago, I am amazed rather at the physical splendor and dashing energy of our young friends of to-day. The world seems to have filled with Apollos and Dianas; cheap food and clothing, improved sanitation, athletics that bring temperance with them, frequent changes of air and scene, and a more scientific regulation of all habits, seem since my adolescence to have transformed middle-class youth, and the change is rapidly spreading downward." Women, the professor says further, seem especially to be changed for the better. "Freedom to live their own lives and the enfranchisement of their faculties in a liberal education, which, physically put, means the development of their brains and nerves, seem not only to have given them new charms and fresher and wider interests in life, but also to have promoted in them a more rapid and continuous flow of nervous spirits, and to have warmed, and animated them with a new vitality both of body and mind." The professor is eloquent, but no one will affirm that on such a theme eloquence is misplaced. The question may now be asked. If there is so much cause for congratulation in the physical and mental condition of the present generation, where do we find the darker lines of the picture? Our headline speaks of A Disease of Modern Life. What is it?
The disease of modern life which Prof. Allbutt recognizes is lack of self-control. It is not that nerves are too excitable—their business is to be excitable, he remarks—but that a certain power of what may be called inhibition is largely lacking. What is wanted is not that there should be less sensibility, but that sensibility should not be confined so much as it is to the external parts of our nature. Let sensibility be more profound, and the whole man will be a gainer. We can not do better, however, than quote the professor's own words: "As we become more and more able to subordinate the impressions of the moment, and compare them with our stores of previous impressions, we learn that momentary realities, keen as they are, must take their places in the larger sequences of that beautiful instrument which harmonizes our joys and resolves our discords; we learn anew that happiness lies in the pleasures which abide and in the selection of permanent beauty and truth from the bitter-sweet of passing delights. . . . As the common mind of successive generations, by sifting and sublimating its experiences and conceptions, discovers its classic thinkers and its classic artists, so, in the life of the individual man, should experience be refined and conceptions enlarged until our desires and pleasures are purged of their grosser and more transient accidents." This is well put, and so is the following: "The discipline which leads us to avoid the eddies of the current and to move in the larger periods of human life and thought, which reveals to us the fugitive and deceitful nature of selfish gratifications, and the abiding joy of devotion to higher ideas, is medicine for neuroses. We preach no self-denial for its own sake, but renunciation of the harlotries and enchantments which minister to transient joys in oblivion of the future."
This is wholesome reading for those who, because they weakly yield to superficial impressions and momentary gusts of feeling, think themselves the victims of an extraordinary refinement of nervous organization. What such persons have, judging merely by the outcome in action, is an inferior nervous organization, one which is all activity on the surface and all inertness below the surface. Professor Allbutt seems to think, however, that in many if not in most cases the deeper regions of the nature might be stirred if a proper discipline were employed. He does not compare the too facile nervous responses which so many exhibit to the imperfect physical habits of breathing, eating, walking, etc.—which are also widely prevalent; but he evidently regards the former as a phenomenon quite akin to these, and therefore more or less remediable by proper measures. The only remedy that unaided Nature knows is suffering, which long centuries ago the sages of the human race saw and proclaimed to be the great teacher of virtue and wisdom; and possibly the function of suffering in this respect will never become wholly obsolete. Prof. Allbutt, however, thinks that proper educational influences might do a great deal to redeem human life from the sway of the momentary. One's heart does fail just a little at the thought of combating by educational effort anything like a general tendency—of trying to induce forces to take a Hue of greater rather than one of less resistance; and yet the duty of making the attempt seems to be plain. The evil with which we have to contend is in full sight. We see it in all the devices now existing in such profusion for reducing intellectual labor and the strain of attention to a minimum. We see it in flashy newspapers, in idle illustrations, in chopped-up articles, in manufactured witticisms of irredeemable and inexpressible inanity, in shows fit only for children offered for the entertainment of men and women, in vapid social amusements, in a general impatience of whatever is serious and solid, in the levity with which attacks on fundamental institutions of society and established rules of morality are regarded, and in numberless other signs of a prevalent disposition to treat sensuous pleasure, however fleeting and however unworthy—so long as it fills a vacant moment—as the one intelligible end of existence. The teaching, if we understand Prof. Allbutt aright, which he thinks might be greatly influential in mending this state of things, is the teaching of social duty. "I speak as a physiologist," he says, "when I say that, in the growth of higher and more penetrating conceptions of national life, and in the increasing sense of security, efficiency, and vigor which result from organization, we shall find the cure for the irregular nervous outbursts, moods of despondency, and waste of effort which we certainly have continual cause to lament." At present, he adds, while we "minister to impressions that are skin-deep and transitory, we leave vast inner tracts of the nervous system uncultivated." One great cause of the evil may lie in the fact that to-day a certain superficial education is all but universal—an education which favors a superficial life—and that the education which reaches those deeper tracts that the professor speaks of is, through the spread of the other, becoming increasingly scarce. The true note of a high education is generous enthusiasm; the equally true and authentic note of an inferior education, even though conducted within the walls of a famous university, is the spirit of selfish competition. The world never had so many teachers by profession as it has to-day; but possibly it never lacked teachers in the highest sense more than it does today—teachers who are fountains of inspiration to all who come within their influence, because, in their teaching, deep calls to deep, and the nature of the pupil is inwardly molded into the image of a true humanity; not merely fashioned from without into fitness for a struggle in which the hindmost is piously consigned to—the best help he can get.