Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/April 1876/Correspondence and Editor's Table
To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.
THE authors of "The Unseen Universe" tell us, as appears in a note in your January number, "It is probable that, before many years have passed, electricity will be called upon by an enlightened Legislature to produce absolutely indescribable torture, thrilling through every fibre of such miscreants"—in referring to "human brutes who vent their despicable passions in murderous assaults on women and children."
Evolution by reversion is not encouraging.
The refinement of scientific training, indicated by the above extract, is hardly in the direction of improving civilization.
It is suggested that the "human miscreants" are not the products of accident. May they not be examples of inherited disease, and therefore properly fit subjects for insane asylums, or other similar reformatories? How far may not society itself, in the locality of these human monsters, be responsible for their existence?
May we not hope that an "eye for an eye" is, in the order of healthy evolution, to disappear entirely from our penal correctives, including that relic of barbarism, capital punishment, even now rapidly disappearing from our statute-books, and in most States inflicted only for one grade of crime?
What is the object of all rational punishment? Certainly not vengeance—not vindictiveness.
Is it not, rather 1.—Restitution to society or to individuals, so far as possible, for loss or injury caused by criminals? 2. Protection of society from repetition of criminal acts? and, 3. Reformation of the culprit?
If the gallows, and "absolutely indescribable torture, thrilling through every fibre," provided by enlightened Legislatures, are the only infallible remedies, then, indeed, is our vaunted civilization a sad failure.
Let us revert to scientific inquisition at once, and have a commission of savants in this Centennial year of grace, to resurrect the beauties of Torquemada. Why not?
Richmond, Indiana, January 10, 1876.
ONE of the great characteristic elements of scientific knowledge is that it is progressive, and the nature of that progress is to arrive gradually at the establishment of truth. Science having fixed upon its methods—methods that have been vindicated in its history—goes on with the exploration of phenomena in all fields, by beginning with imperfect evidence and gradually working out its investigations to the completeness of proof and the firm establishment of facts and principles. This being so, it follows that those who lead in science, who are active in its preliminary work, are naturally the most obnoxious to all those classes who rest contented with the existing state of opinion and are the conservators of traditional belief. It has always been so. In every phase and stage of advancing science, it is those that push on with the pioneer work, who begin to question opinions long rooted, trusting to the wholesomeness of inquiry, and the validity of long-tested scientific procedure, that encounter denunciation as disturbers of the world's intellectual peace. It was those who initiated investigation in astronomy, geology, physiology, and the various branches of natural phenomena; and it is those who are now pushing scientific methods of thought into fields where they have hitherto been unrecognized, that are most obnoxious to criticism as meddlers, disturbers, and destructives. The world at length accepts the work, and when it is accomplished will even applaud those who began it; but it as yet by no means recognizes the necessity of sharper questioning, of exploration in new fields, of a more inexorable scrutiny of old opinions, or the necessity of accepting the initial work of pioneer thinkers as legitimate and indispensable.
And so it is that intrepid scientists like Prof. Tyndall, who push on the front and give battle right and left, must take the consequences, as their predecessors have done in the past. The President of the British Association took a step forward at Belfast, and has been in hot water ever since. He assumed the broad, advanced ground that the exploration of the universe, so far as it is accessible to human faculties, belongs to science; and that every system, doctrine, or belief, that has hitherto been put forth regarding the nature, origin, or government of the universe which lays claim to the character of knowledge, must submit its pretensions to be passed upon by the tribunal of science. Science having given to man the universe as we know it, has established its claim to be intrusted with the whole field of intellectual exploration into its methods and laws. It was undoubtedly a bold step for President Tyndall to take, but it was inevitable by the logic of the history of thought. That the batteries should have been opened upon him all around was quite natural, and is but the repetition upon a somewhat larger scale of what has been going on in a smaller way ever since the scientific study of Nature began.
One of the controversies which grew out of the position taken by Tyndall, before the British Association, was with Dr. James Martineau, who is carrying it on vigorously and expansively. He first attacked the Belfast Address in a discourse entitled "Religion as affected by Modern Materialism," delivered to the theological college of which he is principal. To this Prof. Tyndall replied in a new preface to the "Fragments of Science," which appeared in the Monthly of last December. Dr. Martineau now rejoins in the February Contemporary, in an elaborate article, with more to come. We should be glad to print his paper if it were within limits practicable for the Monthly. But twenty-three pages, with the expectation of as many more, would consume more space than we can spare, and it is of less importance that we should issue it, as Mr. Putnam, Dr. Martineau's American publisher, will shortly furnish it to interested readers.
We may, however, briefly take note of Dr. Martineau's general position. He assumes that mischiefs arise, to both science and theology, from confusing their boundaries, and these he attempts to define. He seems to regard them as coördinate departments of investigation, and "that, in their dealings with phenomena, science investigates the 'How,' and theology the 'Whence.'" But on this view theology becomes obviously but one division of science, and is swallowed up by it. In investigating the "how" of things we are simply inquiring into one phase of their order, and in investigating their "whence" we are but inquiring into another phase of the same order. Moreover, we are finding that the investigation of the "how" involves the investigation of the "whence;" so that both procedures are directed to the solution of a common problem. Where are the defining boundaries when one thing is lost in another?
The more common theological position takes the "whence" out of the field of scientific inquiry by relegating it to the supernatural, and assuming it to be settled by an infallible preternatural inspiration, which is above the sphere of science that deals only with the natural. Orthodoxy plants itself upon the divine, infallible record, which by its nature and source is claimed to be above the reach of science. But Dr. Martineau is heterodox and cannot take this ground. His position is, that the Bible is sacred, but not infallible—sacred like the sacred books of other religions. He says: "I am asked how, after giving up the Old Testament cosmogony, I can any longer speak of 'sacred books,' without informing my readers where to find them . . . . Can a literature, then, have nothing sacred unless it be infallible? Has the religion of the present no roots in the soil of the past, so that nothing is gained for our spiritual culture by exploring its history and reproducing its poetry, and ascending to the tributary waters of its life? The real modern discovery, far from saying there is no sacred literature, because none oracular, assures us that there are several; and, notwithstanding a deepened, because purified attachment to our own 'origenes' in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, persuades us to look with an open reverence into all writings that have embodied and sustained the greater pieties of the world."
By this position the absorption of theology into science is complete. For if Christianity has no other or different claims for the validity of what it offers than half a dozen other religions have—and impliedly a hundred other religions—what remains but to accept the phenomena of religions as a part of the phenomena of Nature open to scientific exploration? And, if thrown upon Nature, we encounter unity and evolution, and must study the genesis of religious beliefs, the development of superstitions, and the derivation of theological systems, as we study the unfolding of life, or the origin and progress of human institutions. The underlying principle of evolution is continuity, the lowest being connected with the highest by unbroken lines of unity and causation. But though committed, as we think, to this view by the position he has taken. Dr. Martineau affirms a break in the upward movement, so abrupt and total that science cannot cross it. He says, "Nature, in respect of its higher affections, compassion, self-forgetfulness, moral obligation, is constructed in harmony with a world divinely ruled," and this is the sphere of intuition and theology where science does not belong. But does the divine rule necessarily rule out science? and are not intuitions in this higher realm as open to be inquired of scientifically as instincts in the lowest sphere? The writer's declarations that it is the office of theology to explore the "whence" of things, and that it pertains to the "upper zone" of human nature, do not quite clear up the confusion of its boundary relations to science.
Dr. Martineau labors to point out, in his present essay, the difficulties that the "materialist" must encounter in explaining things by the atomic hypothesis; and in his next article he promises to show the deficiencies of the dynamic hypothesis for the same purpose. It is unnecessary to say that, as a writer, Dr. Martineau is an accomplished master of rhetorical effect.
It is an interesting question how the different races of mankind rank as liars. Is the capacity to falsify a constant quantity in all the varieties of men, or does it vary like other qualities; and, if variable, is it subject to development, and how do the various tribes of men stand upon the scale?
A United States Senator has given us his decisive dictum upon the subject, and there ought to be wisdom in a senatorial dictum. Mr. Windom, of Minnesota, is reported as recently saying in the Federal Senate that "the Indians are the greatest liars and vagabonds upon the face of the earth." With their rank as vagabonds we have no immediate concern, but in regard to their grade as liars we think the Senator is in error; he is over-modest; the "greatness" which he so freely accords to the savages, in this respect, belongs preeminently to his own race. The rivalries of falsehood between races, like other rivalries, must depend upon capacity, culture, and opportunity; and, in any competition for honors in deception, the Yankee has proved from the beginning to be much "smarter" than the Indian. Our Senator, indeed, if the reports can be trusted (and they are white, not Indian reports), might be taken as a living and conclusive illustration of the superiority of the superior race in perpetrating falsehood on an imposing scale. He is said to have advocated a breach of the treaty by which the "Black Hills" are reserved to the Sioux, so as to let in all the white adventurers that choose to go there; that is, to break the faith and pledge of the Government, and turn the whole nation into liars by virtue of our representative system. This brings out the exalted advantages in the practice of falsification possessed by the dominant race over the uncultivated savages. We can perpetrate deceit by official machinery. Even in the smallest way, in the hand-to-hand competition of a huckstering trade, the Yankee may be trusted anywhere to circumvent, that is, to outlie the Indian. But when we consider the case in its broader aspects, where the two sorts of people work freely in their separate social spheres, the Indians are not to be named as competitors of the whites in the art of mendacity. Granting the disposition, they lack the resources and capacity. Mentally, they are children, with but little knowledge, scanty ideas upon a few subjects, and limited intellectual operations. They lack the scope, the cultivation, the facilities for exercise in deceit which are possessed by the civilized race. Without books, newspapers, advertisements, highly-organized party politics, diplomacy, lawsuits, complex business rivalries, sectarian strifes, big enterprises, and fashionable society, what can they do in the way of duplicity, fraud, imposition, misrepresentation, artifice, cheating, forgery, perjury, and the thousand forms, and grades, and variations of lying, in which the dominant race is so proficient? The civilized man multiplies his capacity of falsehood through division of labor. He not only lies with his tongue, but with his hands, manipulating falsehood into his manufactures. He lies by machinery, and swindles by steam. By the printing-press he scatters deceptions like snow-flakes over the continent. Your civilizee lies with enterprise, through an army of agents by post and by telegraph. What can the "poor Indian," with his "untutored mind," do in comparison with this? There was more lying in the management of the Northern Pacific Railroad than ten tribes of Indians could perpetrate in a generation. There is more lying in one presidential campaign than all the North American tribes could perpetrate in a century. The Indians are no more "the greatest liars on the face of the earth" than they are the greatest lawyers, politicians, editors, merchants, and manufacturers, on the face of the earth. Fraud, falsification, dissimulation, insincerity, trickery, overreaching, and the innumerable grades and shades of humbug, are vices of the civilized man, and he must accept this with all his other forms of greatness. The Indian has undoubtedly a rudimental capacity for lying, which gets somewhat developed along the borders, by his intercourse with the whites, but he cannot aspire to the unenviable eminence which Senator Windom ascribes to him.
Of the two great phases of educational reform, the improvement of its quality, and the increase of its quantity, in our judgment, as we have frequently said, the former is much the most important. We have abundant evidence on all sides as to how easy it is to extend education, or that which passes under its name. And the evidence is equally abundant and clear of the great difficulties of improving the quality of that which is established under the name of education. And the more it is extended and organized, and officialized, the more formidable are the obstacles to any change of method that shall make it increasingly rational. A fresh illustration of the tenacity of traditional ideas, and the ingenuity with which reforms of great and conceded importance are evaded and turned to naught, was lately furnished by Sir John Lubbock in pointing out the tactics of the leading English universities by which the study of science and the modern languages is escaped. To show how the subject stands as a matter of reason he first called attention to the views put forth by the several English commissions appointed to inquire into the management of the higher institutions. The commission of 1861, which took up the great public schools, reported that more time should be devoted to the study of modern languages, while, as regards science, that it was practically excluded from the education of the higher classes in England. "Education," they say, "is, in this respect, narrower than it was three centuries ago, while Science has prodigiously extended her empire, has explored immense tracts, divided them into provinces, introduced into them order and method, and made them accessible to all. This exclusion is, in our view, a plain defect, and a great practical evil. It narrows unduly and injuriously the mental training of the young, and the knowledge, interests, and pursuits, of men in maturer life. Of the large number of men who have little aptitude or taste for literature, there are many who have an aptitude for science, especially for science which deals, not with abstractions, but with external and sensible objects; how many such there are can never be known, as long as the only education given at schools is purely literary, but that such cases are not rare or exceptional can hardly be doubted by any one who has observed either boys or men."
In 1868 another commission was appointed to examine the management of the English endowed schools. In their report they say: "We think it established that the study of natural science develops, better than any other studies, the observing faculties, disciplines the intellect by teaching induction as well as deduction; supplies a useful balance to the studies of language and mathematics, and provides much instruction of great value for the occupations of after-life."
Finally, a third commission was appointed, under the presidency of the Duke of Devonshire, to inquire into the state of scientific instruction in Great Britain, and they report that "though some progress has no doubt been achieved, and though there are some exceptional cases of great improvement, still no adequate effort has been made to supply the deficiency of scientific instruction pointed out by the commissioners of 1861 and 1864. We are compelled, therefore, to record our opinion that the present state of scientific instruction in our schools is extremely unsatisfactory."
These are well-matured views put forth with the weight of a large number of the most eminent names in England. The claims of scientific men for time to be devoted to scientific studies have been moderate. Assuming the number of study-hours in a week to be thirty-eight, Dr. Hooker, Prof. Huxley, and Dr. Carpenter, ask only for six hours to be devoted to science, while Prof. Tyndall demands only eight. The recent commission has shown by a large number of returns from the endowed schools that, when science is studied at all, not more than two hours a week are given to it, while in a large number it is entirely ignored. Out of one hundred and twenty of the larger endowed schools, in more than half no science whatever is taught, and out of the whole number only thirteen attach any weight at all to scientific subjects in the examinations.
It is by the skillful working of these "examinations" that the adherents of the older studies resist the educational progress of science. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, backed by the immense authority of these great institutions, have recently appointed a joint board to undertake the examinations of schools. The studies are distributed in four groups: 1. The languages; 2. Mathematics; 3. Scripture knowledge, history, etc.; 4. The sciences. But the certificates are awarded under such conditions that the modern languages and the sciences are virtually suppressed. As Sir John Lubbock says, "the result will be to discourage the teaching of French and German," while "the nominal introduction of science is under the circumstances little more than a hollow mockery;" the effect being that "boys may obtain university certificates while they know nothing of history, nothing of geography, nothing of any modern language, or of any branch of science."
There was a loud and passionate outcry a year ago in England, which had its echoes in this country, about the fiendishness of physiologists in their experiments upon living animals. They were represented as devoid of all humanity, indurated and indifferent to suffering, and as delighting to torture poor dumb creatures for mere amusement or class-room show, and on the most frivolous pretexts of helping on the progress of science. There was a great deal of screaming about it, and Hutton, of the London Spectator, led the crusade, demanding governmental interference to restrain the brutalities of the scientists and protect the helpless victims of their barbarity. And so, as is wont with the English, a commission was appointed to inquire into the matter, and Hutton was among the commissioners. It was a sensible body, and raked together every thing that claimed to be evidence upon the subject. Of course, the stories of horrors which got such wide credence, turned out to be absurd exaggerations. Brought to book, the secretary of the "Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" acknowledged that he did not know a single instance of wanton cruelty. The case of the agitators broke down signally, and after the most patient examination of the whole subject the commissioners declare that "a general sentiment of humanity on this subject appears to pervade all classes in this country." They point out how much science is indebted, and how much the world owes, to experiments upon living animals, and they recognize that in the further progress of medical science this means of knowledge cannot be avoided. The commission, in fact, accepts the position taken by the physiologists themselves at the British Association in 1871, and demands only "the reasonable superintendence of constituted authority." The legislation asked for will not in any way alter the existing facilities for research or impede its progress, while it will calm needless apprehension, and put an end to the odious misrepresentations which have recently been rife upon the subject. Perhaps the friends of the lower animals, who have been so ardent in attacking and denouncing men of science, will now turn their attention to the butchers, the hunters, and the fashionable people who torture their horses in the broad day in the open streets, and at all hours, in the sight of everybody, by the use of bearing-reins and gag-bits.