Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/February 1876/The Warfare of Science I
By ANDREW D. WHITE, LL. D.,
PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
I PURPOSE to present an outline of the great, sacred struggle for the liberty of science—a struggle which has lasted for so many centuries, and which yet continues. A hard contest it has been; a war waged longer, with battles fiercer, with sieges more persistent, with strategy more shrewd than in any of the comparatively petty warfares of Cæsar or Napoleon or Moltke.
I shall ask you to go with me through some of the most protracted sieges, and over some of the hardest-fought battle-fields of this war. We will look well at the combatants; we will listen to the battle-cries; we will note the strategy of leaders, the cut and thrust of champions, the weight of missiles, the temper of weapons.
My thesis, which, by an historical study of this warfare, I expect to develop, is the following: In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and to science, and invariably. And, on the other hand, all untrammeled scientific investigation, no matter how dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed, for the time, to be, has invariably resisted in the highest good of religion and of science. I say "invariably." I mean exactly that. It is a rule to which history shows not one exception
It would seem, logically, that this statement cannot be gainsaid. God's truths must agree, whether discovered by looking within upon the soul, or without upon the world. A truth written upon the human heart to-day, in its full play of emotions or passions, cannot be at any real variance even with a truth written upon a fossil whose poor life ebbed forth millions of years ago.
This being so, it would also seem a truth irrefragable, that the search of each of these kinds of truth must be followed out on its own lines, by its own methods, to its own results, without any interference from investigators on other lines, or by other methods. And it would also seem logical to work on in absolute confidence that whatever, at any moment, may seem to be the relative positions of the two different bands of workers, they must at last come together, for Truth is one.
But logic is not history. History is full of interferences which have cost the earth dear. Strangest of all, some of the direst of them have been made by the best of men, actuated by the purest motives, and seeking the noblest results. These interferences, and the struggle against them, make up the warfare of science.
One statement more, to clear the ground. You will not understand me at all to say that religion has done nothing for science. It has done much for it. The work of Christianity, despite the clamps which men have riveted about it, has been mighty indeed. Through these two thousand years, it has undermined servitude, mitigated tyranny, given hope to the hopeless, comfort to the afflicted, light to the blind, bread to the starving, joy to the dying, and this work continues. And its work for science, too, has been great. It has fostered science often. Nay, it has nourished that feeling of self-sacrifice for human good, which has nerved some of the bravest men for these battles.
Unfortunately, some good men started centuries ago with the idea that purely scientific investigation is unsafe—that theology must intervene. So began this great modern war.
The first typical battle-field to which I would refer is that of Geography—the simplest elementary doctrine of the earth's shape and surface.
Among the legacies of thought left by the ancient world to the modern, were certain ideas of the rotundity of the earth. These ideas were vague; they were mixed with absurdities; but they were germ ideas, and, after the barbarian storm which ushered in the modern world had begun to clear away, these germ ideas began to bud and bloom in the minds of a few thinking men, and these men hazarded the suggestion that the earth is round—is a globe.
The greatest and most earnest men of the time took fright at once. To them, the idea of the earth's rotundity seemed fraught with dangers to Scripture: by which, of course, they meant their interpretation of Scripture.
Among the first who took up arms against the new thinkers was Eusebius. He endeavored to turn off these ideas by bringing science into contempt. He endeavored to make the innovators understand that he and the fathers of the Church despised all such inquiries. Speaking of the innovations in physical science, he said: "It is not through ignorance of the things admired by them, but through contempt of their useless labor, that we think little of these matters, turning our souls to better things."
Lactantius asserted the ideas of those studying astronomy to be "mad and senseless."
But the attempt to "flank" the little phalanx of thinkers did not succeed, of course. Even such men as Lactantius and Eusebius cannot pooh-pooh down a new scientific idea. The little band of thinkers went on, and the doctrine of the rotundity of the earth naturally led to the consideration of the tenants of the earth's surface, and another germ idea was warmed into life—the idea of the existence of the antipodes, the idea of the existence of countries and men on the hemisphere opposite to ours.
At this the war spirit waxed hot. Those great and good men determined to fight. To all of them such doctrines seemed dangerous; to most of them they seemed damnable. St. Basil and St. Ambrose were tolerant enough to allow that a man might be saved who believed the earth to be round, and inhabited on its opposite sides; but the great majority of the Fathers of the Church utterly denied the possibility of salvation to such misbelievers.
Lactantius asks ". . . Is there any one so senseless as to believe that there are men whose footsteps are higher than their heads?—that the crops and trees grow downward? that the rains and snow and hail fall upward toward the earth?... But if you inquire from those who defend these marvelous fictions, why all things do not fall into that lower part of the heaven, they reply that such is the nature of things, that heavy bodies are borne toward the middle, like the spokes of a wheel; while light bodies, such as clouds, smoke, and fire, tend from the centre toward the heavens on all sides. Now, I am at loss what to say of those who, when they have once erred, steadily persevere in their folly, and defend one vain thing by another."
Augustine seems inclined to yield a little in regard to the rotundity of the earth, but he fights the idea that men exist on the other side of the earth, saying that "Scripture speaks of no such descendants of Adam."
But this did not avail to check the idea. What may be called the flank movement, as represented by Eusebius, had failed. The direct battle given by Lactantius, Augustine, and others, had failed. In the sixth century, therefore, the opponents of the new ideas built a great fortress and retired into that. It was well built and well braced. It was nothing less than a complete theory of the world, based upon the literal interpretation of texts of Scripture, and its author was Cosmas Indicopleustes.
According to Cosmas, the earth is a parallelogram, flat, and surrounded by four great seas. At the outer edges of these seas rise immense walls closing in the whole structure. These walls support the vault of the heavens, whose edges are cemented to the walls; walls and vault shut in the earth and all the heavenly bodies. The whole of this theologic, scientific fortress was built most carefully, and, as was then thought, most scripturally.
Starting with the expression, To ἄγιον κοσμικόν, applied in the ninth chapter of Hebrews to the tabernacle in the desert, he insists, with other interpreters of his time, that it gives a key to the whole construction of the world. The universe is, therefore, made on the plan of the Jewish Tabernacle—box-like and oblong.
Coming to details, he quotes those grand words of Isaiah, "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, . . . that stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain, and spreadeth them out like a tent to dwell in," and the passage in Job, which speaks of the "pillars of heaven." He turns all that splendid and precious poetry into a prosaic statement, and gathers therefrom, as he thinks, treasures for science.
This vast box is then divided into two compartments, one above the other. In the first of these, men live and stars move; and it extends up to the first solid vault or firmament, where live the angels, a main part of whose business it is to push and pull the sun and planets to and fro. Next he takes the text, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters," and other texts from Genesis. To these he adds the texts from the Psalms, "Praise him ye heaven of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens," casts that outburst of poetry into his crucible with the other texts, and, after subjecting them to sundry peculiar processes, brings out the theory that over this first vault is a vast cistern containing the waters. He then takes the expression in Genesis regarding the "windows of heaven" and establishes a doctrine regarding the regulation of the rain, which is afterward supplemented by the doctrine that the angels not only push and pull the heavenly bodies, to light the earth, but also open and close the windows of heaven to water it.
To find the character of the surface of the earth, Cosmas studies the table of shew-bread in the Tabernacle. The dimensions of that table prove to him that the earth is flat and twice as long as broad. The four corners of the table symbolize the four seasons.
To account for the movement of the sun, Cosmas suggests that at the north of the earth is a great mountain, and that, at night, the sun is carried behind this. But some of the commentators ventured to express a doubt here. They thought that the sun was pushed into a great pit at night, and was pulled out in the morning.
Nothing can be more touching in its simplicity than Cosmas's closing of his great argument. He bursts forth in raptures, declaring that Moses, the prophets, evangelists, and apostles, agree to the truth of his doctrine.
Such was the fortress built against human science in the sixth century, by Cosmas; and it stood. The innovators attacked it in vain. The greatest minds in the Church devoted themselves to buttressing it with new texts, and throwing out new outworks of theologic reasoning. It stood firm for two hundred years, when a bishop—Virgilius of Salzburg—asserts his belief in the existence of the antipodes.
It happened that there then stood in Germany, in the first years of the eighth century, one of the greatest and noblest of me—St. Boniface. His learning was of the best then known; in labors he was a worthy successor to the apostles; his genius for Christian work made him, unwillingly, Primate of Germany; his devotion afterward led him, willingly, to martyrdom. There sat, too, at that time, on the papal throne, a great Christian statesman—Pope Zachary. Boniface immediately declares against the revival of such a terrible heresy as the existence of the antipodes. He declares that it amounts to the declaration that there are men on the earth beyond the reach of the means of salvation; he attacks Virgilius; he calls on Zachary for aid; effective measures are taken, and we hear no more of Virgilius or his doctrine.
Six hundred years pass away, and in the fourteenth century two men publicly assert the doctrine. The first of these, Peter of Abano, escapes punishment by natural death; the second, known as Cecco d'Ascoli, a man of seventy years, is burned alive. Nor was that all the punishment: that great painter, Orcagna, whose terrible works you may see on the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa, immortalized Cecco by representing him in the flames of hell.
Still the idea lived and moved, and a hundred years later we find the theologian Tostatus protesting against the doctrine of the antipodes as "unsafe." He has invented a new missile—the following syllogism: "The apostles were commanded to go into all the world, and to preach the gospel to every creature. They did not go to any such part of the world as the antipodes, they did not preach to any creatures there: ergo, no antipodes exist." This is just before the time of Columbus.
Columbus is the next warrior. The world has heard of his battles: how the Bishop of Ceuta worsted him in Portugal; how at the Junta of Salamanca the theologians overwhelmed him with quotations from the Psalms, from St. Paul, and from St. Augustine.
But in 1519 Science gains a crushing victory. Magalhaens makes his famous voyages. He has proved the earth to be round; for his great expedition has circumnavigated it. He proves the doctrine of the antipodes, for he sees the men of the antipodes. But even this does not end the war. Muny earnest and good men oppose the doctrine for two hundred years longer. Then the French astronomers make their measurements of degrees in equatorial and polar regions and add to other proofs that of the lengthened pendulum. When this was done, when the deductions of science were seen to be established by the simple test of measurement, beautifully, perfectly, then and then only this war of twelve centuries ended.
And now what was the result of this war? The efforts of Eusebius and Lactantius to deaden scientific thought; the efforts of Augustine to combat it; the efforts of Cosmas to stop it by dogmatism; the efforts of Boniface, and Zachary, and others to stop it by force, conscientious as they all were, had resulted in what? Simply in forcing into many noble minds this most unfortunate conviction, that Science and Religion are enemies; simply in driving away from religion hosts of the best men in all those centuries. The result was wholly bad. No optimism can change that verdict.
On the other hand, what was gained by the warriors of science for religion? Simply, a far more ennobling conception of the world, and a far truer conception of Him who made and who sustains it.
Which is the more consistent with a great, true religion—the cosmography of Cosmas, or that of Isaac Newton? Which presents the nobler food for religious thought—the diatribes of Lactantius, or the astronomical discourses of Thomas Chalmers?
The next great battle was fought on a question relating to the position of the earth among the heavenly bodies. On one side, the great body of conscientious religious men planted themselves firmly on the geocentric doctrine—the doctrine that the earth is the centre, and that the sun and planets revolve about it. The doctrine was old, and of the highest respectability. The very name, Ptolemaic theory, carried weight. It had been elaborated until it accounted well for the phenomena. Exact textual interpreters of Scripture cherished it, for it agreed with the letter of the sacred text.
Still the germs of the heliocentric theory had been planted long before, and well planted; it had seemed ready even to bloom forth
from the mind of Cardinal de Cusa; but the chill of dogmatism was still over the earth, and up to the beginning of the sixteenth century there had come to this great truth neither bloom nor fruitage.
Quietly, however, the soil was receiving enrichment, and the air warmth. The processes of mathematics were constantly improved, the heavenly bodies were steadily though silently observed, and at length appeared, afar off from the centres of thought, on the borders of Poland, a plain, simple-minded scholar, who first fairly uttered to the world the truth, now so commonplace, then so astounding, that the sun and planets do not revolve about the earth, but that the earth and planets revolve about the sun, and that man was Nicholas Kopernik.
Kopernik had been a professor at Rome, but, as this truth grew within him, he seemed to feel that at Rome he was no longer safe.
To publish this thought was dangerous indeed, and for more than thirty years it hay slumbering in the minds of Kopernik and the friends to whom he had privately intrusted it.
At last he prepares his great work on the "Revolution of the Heavenly Bodies," and dedicates it to the pope himself. He next seeks a place of publication. He dares not send it to Rome, for there are the rulers of the older Church ready to seize it. He dares not send it to Wittenberg, for there are the leaders of Protestantism no less hostile. He therefore intrusts it to Osiander, of Nuremberg.
But, at the last moment, the courage of Osiander failed him. He dared not launch the new thought boldly. He writes a groveling preface; endeavors to excuse Kopernik for his novel idea. He inserts the apologetic lie that Kopernik propounds the doctrine of the movement of the earth, not as a fact, but as an hypothesis. He declares that it is lawful for an astronomer to indulge his imagination, and that this is what Kopernik has done.
Thus was the greatest and most ennobling, perhaps, of scientific truths—a truth not less ennobling to religion than to science—forced, in coming into the world, to sneak and crawl.
On the 24th of May, 1543, the newly-printed book first arrived at the house of Kopernik. It was put into his hands; but he was on his death-bed. A few hours later he was beyond the reach of those mistaken, conscientious men, whose consciences would have blotted his reputation, and perhaps have destroyed his life.
Yet not wholly beyond their reach. Even death could not be trusted to shield him. There seems to have been fear of vengeance upon his corpse, for on his tombstone was placed no record of his life-long labors, no mention of his great discovery. There were graven upon it affecting words, which may be thus simply
translated: "I ask not the grace accorded to Paul, not that given to Peter; give me only the favor which thou didst show to the thief on the cross." Not till thirty years after did a friend dare write on his tombstone a memorial of his discovery.
The book was taken in hand at once by the proper authorities. It was solemnly condemned: to read it was to risk damnation; and the world accepted the decree.
Doubtless many will at once exclaim against the Roman Catholic Church for this. Justice compels me to say that the founders of Protestantism were no less zealous against the new scientific doctrine. Said Martin Luther: "People gave ear to an upstart astrologer, who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system which of all systems is, of course, the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy. But Sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth."
Melanchthon, mild as he was, was not behind Luther in condemning Kopernik. In his treatise, "Initia Doctrinæ Physicæ," he says: "The eyes are witnesses that the heavens revolve in the space of twenty-four hours. But certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded that the earth moves; and they maintain that neither the eighth sphere nor the sun revolves.... Now, it is a want of honesty and decency to assert such notions publicly, and the example is pernicious. It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God, and to acquiesce in it." Melanchthon then cites passages from the Psalms and from Ecclesiastes which he declares assert positively and clearly that the earth stands fast, and that the sun moves around it, and adds eight other proofs of his proposition that "the earth can be nowhere, if not in the centre of the universe."
And Protestant people are not a whit behind Catholic in following out these teachings. The people of Elbing made themselves merry over a farce in which Kopernik was the main object of ridicule. The people of Nuremberg, a great Protestant centre, caused a medal to be struck, with inscriptions ridiculing the philosopher and his theory.
Then was tried one piece of strategy very common formerly in battles between theologians themselves. It consists in loud shoutings that the doctrine attacked is old, outworn, and already refuted—that various distinguished gentlemen have proved it false—that it is not a living truth, but a detected lie—that, if the world listens to it, that is simply because the world is ignorant. This strategy was brought to bear on Copernicus. It was shown that his doctrine was simply a revival of the Pythagorean notion, which had been thoroughly exploded. Fromundus, in his title-page and throughout his book, delights in referring to the doctrine of the revolution of the planets around the sun, as "that Pythagorean notion." This mode of warfare was imitated by the lesser opponents, and produced, for some time, considerable effect.
But the new truth could neither be laughed down nor forced down. Many minds had received it; only one tongue dared utter it. This new warrior was that strange mortal, Giordano Bruno. He was hunted from land to land, until, at last, he turns on his pursuers with fearful invectives. For this he is imprisoned six years, then burned alive and his ashes scattered to the winds. Still the new truth lived on; it could not be killed. Within ten years after the martyrdom of Bruno, after a world of troubles and persecutions, the
truth of the doctrine of Kopernik was established by the telescope of Galileo.
Herein was fulfilled one of the most touching of prophecies. Years before, the enemies of Kopernik had said to him, "If your doctrines were true, Venus would show phases like the moon." Kopernik answered: "You are right. I know not what to say; but God is good, and will in time find an answer to this objection." The God-given answer came when the rude telescope of Galileo showed the phases of Venus.
On this new champion, Galileo, the attack was tremendous. The supporters of what was called "sound learning" declared his discoveries deceptions, and his announcements blasphemy. Semi-scientific professors, endeavoring to curry favor with the Church, attacked him with sham science; earnest preachers attacked him with perverted Scripture!
The principal weapons in the combat are worth examining. They are very easily examined. You may pick them up on any of the battle-fields of science; but on that field they were used with more effect than on almost any other. These weapons are two epithets: "Infidel" and "Atheist."
The battle-fields of science are thickly strewn with these. They have been used against almost every man who has ever done anything new for his fellow-men. The list of those who have been denounced as infidel and atheist includes almost all great men of science—general scholars, inventors, philanthropists. The deepest Christian life, the most noble Christian character have not availed to shield combatants. Christians like Isaac Newton and Pascal and John Locke and John Milton, and even Howard and Fénelon, have had these weapons hurled against them. Of all proofs of the existence of a God, those of Descartes have been wrought most thoroughly into the minds of modern men; and yet the Protestant theologians of Holland sought to bring him to torture and to death by the charge of atheism.
These can hardly be classed with civilized weapons. They are burning arrows. They set fire to great masses of popular prejudices; smoke rises to obscure the real questions, fire bursts forth at times to destroy the attacked party. They are poisoned weapons. They go to the hearts of loving women, they alienate dear children. They injure the man after life is ended, for they leave poisoned wounds in the hearts of those who loved him best—fears for his eternal happiness—dread of the divine displeasure.
Of course, in these days, these weapons, though often effective in disturbing good men, and in scaring good women, are somewhat blunted. Indeed, they not unfrequently injure assailants more than assailed; so it was not in the days of Galileo. These weapons were then in all their sharpness and venom.
The first champion who appears against him is Bellarmin, one of the greatest of theologians, and one of the poorest of scientists. He was earnest, sincere, learned, but made the fearful mistake for the world, of applying to science, direct, literal interpretation of Scripture.
The weapons which men of Bellarmin's stamp used were theological. They held up before the world the dreadful consequences which must result to Christian theology were the doctrine to prevail that the heavenly bodies revolve about the sun, and not about the earth. Their most tremendous theologic engine against Galileo was the idea that his pretended discovery vitiated the whole Christian plan of salvation. Father Le Gazrée declared that it "cast suspicion on the doctrine of the Incarnation." Others declared that it "upset the whole basis of theology; that if the earth is a planet, and one among several planets, it cannot be that any such great things have been done especially for it, as the Christian doctrine teaches. If there are other planets, since God makes nothing in vain, they must be inhabited; but how can these inhabitants be descended from Adam? How can they trace back their origin to Noah's ark? How can they have been redeemed by the Saviour?"
Nor was this argument confined to the theologians of the Roman Church; Melanchthon, Protestant as he was, had already used it in his attacks upon the ideas of Copernicus and his school.
In addition to this prodigious engine of war, there was kept up a terrific fire of smaller artillery in the shape of texts and scriptural extracts. Some samples of these weapons may be interesting.
When Galileo had discovered the four satellites of Jupiter, the whole thing was denounced as impossible and impious. It was argued that the Bible clearly showed by all applicable types, that there could be only seven planets; that this was proved by the seven golden candlesticks of the Apocalypse, by the seven-branched candlestick of the Tabernacle, and by the seven churches of Asia.
In a letter to his friend Renieri, Galileo gives a sketch of the dealings of the Inquisition with him. He says: "The Father Commissary, Lancio, was zealous to have me make amends for the scandal I had caused in sustaining the idea of the movement of the earth. To all my mathematical and other reasons he responded nothing but the words of Scripture, 'Terra autem in ceternuni stat.'"
It was declared that the doctrine was proved false by the standing still of the sun for Joshua; by the declarations that "the foundations of the earth are fixed so firm that they cannot be moved," and that the sun "runneth about from one end of heaven to the other."
The Dominican father, Caccini, preached a sermon from the text, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" and this wretched pun was the first of a series of sharper weapons, for before Caccini finishes he insists that "geometry is of the devil," and that "mathematicians should be banished as the authors of all heresies."
For the final assault, the park of heavy artillery was at last wheeled into place. You see it on all the scientific battle-fields. It consists of general denunciation, and Father Melchior Inchofer, of the Jesuits, brought his artillery to bear well on Galileo with this declaration: that the opinion of the earth's motion is, of all heresies, the most abominable, the most pernicious, the most scandalous; that the immobility of the earth is thrice sacred; that argument against the immortality of the soul, the Creator, the incarnation, etc., should be tolerated sooner than an argument to prove that the earth moves.
In vain did Galileo try to prove the existence of satellites by showing them to the doubters through his telescope. They either declared it impious to look, or, if they did see them, denounced them as illusions from the devil. Good Father Clavius declared that "to see satellites of Jupiter, men had to make an instrument which would create them."
In vain did Galileo try to protect himself by his famous letter to the duchess, in which he insisted that theological reasoning should not be applied to science. The rest of the story the world knows by heart; none of the recent attempts have succeeded in mystifying it. The whole world will remember forever how Galileo was subjected certainly to indignity and imprisonment equivalent to physical torture; how he was at last forced to pronounce publicly, and on his knees, his recantation as follows: "I, Galileo, being in my seventieth year, being a prisoner and on my knees, and before your eminences, having before my eyes the Holy Gospel, which I touch with my hands, abjure, curse, and detest, the error and heresy of the movement of the earth."
He was vanquished indeed, for he had been forced, in the face of all coming ages, to perjure himself. His books were condemned, his friends not allowed to erect a monument over his bones. To all appearance his work was overthrown.
Do not understand me here as casting blame on the Roman Church as such. It must, in fairness, be said that some of its best men tried to stop this great mistake; even the pope himself would have been glad to stop it; but the current was too strong. The whole of the civilized world was at fault, Protestant as well as Catholic, and not any particular part of it. It was not the fault of religion, it was the fault of the short-sighted views which narrow-minded, loud-voiced men are ever prone to mix in with religion, and to insist is religion.
Were there time, I would refer at length to some of the modern mystifications of the history of Galileo. One of the latest seems to have for its groundwork the theory that Galileo was condemned for a breach of good taste and etiquette. But those who make this defense make the matter infinitely worse for those who committed the great wrong. They deprive it of its only palliation, mistaken conscientiousness.
Nor was this the worst loss to the earth.
There was then in Europe one of the greatest thinkers ever given to mankind. Mistaken though many of his theories were, they were fruitful in truths. The man was René Descartes. The scientific warriors had stirred new life in him, and he was working over and summing up in his mighty mind all the researches of his time. The result must make an epoch in the history of man. His aim was to combine all knowledge and thought into a "Treatise on the World." His earnestness he proved by the eleven years which he gave to the study of anatomy alone. Petty persecution he had met often, but the fate of Galileo robbed him of all hope, of all energy. The battle seemed lost. He gave up his great plan forever.
But champions pressed on. Campanella, full of vagaries as he was, wrote his "Apologia pro Galileo," though for that and other heresies, religious and political, he seven times underwent torture.
And Kepler comes. He leads science on to greater victories. He throws out the minor errors of Kopernik. He thinks and speaks as one inspired. His battle is severe. He is sometimes abused, sometimes ridiculed, sometimes imprisoned. Protestants in Styria and at Tübingen, Catholics at Rome press upon him, but Newton, Huyghens and the other great leaders follow, and to science remains the victory.
And yet the war did not wholly end. During the seventeenth century, in all France, no one dared openly teach the Copernican theory, and Cassini, the great astronomer, never declared it. In 1672, Father Riccioli, a Jesuit, declared that there were precisely forty-nine arguments for the Copernican theory and seventy-seven against it; so that there remained twenty-eight reasons for preferring the orthodox theory. Toward the end of the seventeenth century also, even Bossuet, the "eagle of Meaux," among the loftiest of religious thinkers, declared for the Ptolemaic theory as the Scriptural theory, and in 1746 Boscovich, the great mathematician of the Jesuits, used these words: "As for me, full of respect for the Holy Scriptures and the decree of the Holy Inquisition, I regard the earth as immovable; nevertheless, for simplicity in explanation, I will argue as if the earth moves, for it is proved that of the two hypotheses the appearances favor that idea."
The Protestantism of England was no better. In 1772 sailed the famous English expedition for scientific discovery under Cook. The greatest by far of all the scientific authorities chosen to accompany it was Dr. Priestley. Sir Joseph Banks had especially invited him; but the clergy of Oxford and Cambridge intervened. Priestley was considered unsound in his views of the Trinity; it was declared that this would vitiate his astronomical observations; he was rejected and the expedition crippled.
Nor has the opposition failed even in our own time. On the 5th of May, 1826, a great multitude assembled at Thorn to celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of Kopernik, and to unveil Thorwaldsen's statue of him.
Kopernik had lived a pious. Christian life. He was well known for unostentatious Christian charity. With his religious belief no fault had ever been found. He was a canon of the church of Frauenberg, and over his grave had been written the most touching of Christian epitaphs.
Naturally, then, the people expected a religious service. All was understood to be arranged for it. The procession marched, to the church and waited. The hour passed, no priest appeared; none could be induced to appear. Kopernik, simple, charitable, pious, one of the noblest gifts of God to the service of religion as well as science, was still held to be a reprobate. Seven years after that, his book was still standing on the "Index of Books prohibited to Christians."
Nor has this warfare against dead champions of science been carried on only by the older Church.
On the 10th of May, 1859, was buried Alexander von Humboldt. His labors were among the greatest glories of the century, and his funeral one of the most imposing that Berlin had ever seen: among those who honored themselves by their presence was the prince regent—the present emperor. But of the clergy it was observed that none were present save the officiating clergyman and a few regarded as unorthodox.
Nor have attempts to renew the battle been wanting in these latter days. The attempt in the Church of England, in 1864, to fetter Science—which was brought to ridicule by Herschel, Bowring, and De Morgan; the Lutheran assemblage at Berlin, in 1868, to protest against "science falsely so called," in the midst of which stood Pastor Knak denouncing the Copernican theory; the "Syllabus," the greatest mistake of the Roman Church, are all examples of this.
And now, what has been won by either party in this long and terrible war? The party which would subordinate the methods and aims of science to those of theology, though in general obedient to deep convictions, had given to Christianity a series of the worst blows it had ever received. They had made large numbers of the best men in Europe hate it. Why did Ricetto and Bruno and Vanini, when the crucifix was presented to them in their hours of martyrdom, turn from that blessed image with loathing? Simply because Christianity had been made to them identical with the most horrible oppression of the mind.
Worse than that, the well-meaning defenders of the faith had wrought into the very fibre of the European heart that most unfortunate of all ideas, the idea that there is a necessary antagonism between science and religion. Like the landsman who lashes himself to the anchor of the sinking ship, they had attached the great fundamental doctrines of Christianity, by the strongest cords of logic which they could spin, to these mistaken ideas in science, and the advance of knowledge had wellnigh engulfed them.
On the other hand, what had science done for religion? Simply this: Kopernik, escaping persecution only by death; Giordano Bruno, burned alive as a monster of impiety; Galileo, imprisoned and humiliated as the worst of misbelievers; Kepler, hunted alike by Protestant and Catholic, had given to religion great new foundations, great new, ennobling conceptions, a great new revelation of the might of God.
Under the old system we have that princely astronomer, Alfonso of Castile, seeing the poverty of the Ptolemaic system, yet knowing no other, startling Europe with the blasphemy that if he had been present at creation he could have suggested a better ordering of the heavenly bodies. Under the new system you have Kepler, filled with a religious spirit, exclaiming, "I do think the thoughts of God." The difference in religious spirit between these two men marks the conquest made in this, even by science, for religion. But we cannot leave the subject of astronomy without noticing the most recent warfare. Especially interesting is it because at one period the battle seemed utterly lost, and then was won beautifully, thoroughly, by a legitimate advance in scientific knowledge. I speak of the Nebular Hypothesis.
The sacred writings of the Jews which we have inherited speak clearly of the creation of the heavenly bodies by direct intervention, and for the convenience of the earth. This was the view of the Fathers of the Church, and was transmitted through the great doctors in theology.
More than that, it was crystallized in art. So have I seen, over the portal of the Cathedral of Freiburg, a representation of the Almighty making and placing numbers of wafer-like suns, moons, and stars; and at the centre of all, platter-like and largest of all, the earth. The lines on the Creator's face show that he is obliged to contrive; the lines of his muscles show that he is obliged to toil. Naturally, then, did sculptors and painters of the mediæval and early modern period represent the Almighty as weary after labor, and enjoying dignified repose.
These ideas, more or less gross in their accompaniments, passed into the popular creed of the modern period.
But about the close of the last century, Bruno having guessed the fundamental tact of the nebular hypothesis, and Kant having reasoned out its foundation idea, Laplace developed it, showing the reason for supposing that our own solar system, in its sun, planets, satellites, with their various motions, distances, and magnitudes, is a natural result of the diminishing heat of a nebulous mass—a result obeying natural laws.
There was an outcry at once against the "atheism" of the scheme. The war raged fiercely. Laplace claimed that there were in the heavens many nebulous patches yet in the gaseous form, and pointed them out. He showed by laws of physics and mathematical demonstration that his hypothesis accounted in a most striking manner for the great body of facts, and, despite clamor, was gaining ground, when the improved telescopes resolved some of the patches of nebulous matter into multitudes of stars.
The opponents of the nebular hypothesis were overjoyed. They sang pæans to astronomy, because, as they said, it had proved the truth of Scripture.
They had jumped to the conclusion that all nebulæ must be alike—that if some are made up of systems of stars all must be so made up; that none can be masses of attenuated gaseous matter, because some are not.
Science, for a time, halted. The accepted doctrine became this—that the only reason why all the nebulæ are not resolved into distinct stars is, because our telescopes are not sufficiently powerful.
But in time came that wonderful discovery of the spectroscope and spectrum analysis, and this was supplemented by Fraunhofer's discovery that the spectrum of an ignited gaseous body is discontinuous, with interrupting lines; and this, in 1846, by Draper's discovery that the spectrum of an ignited solid is continuous, with no interrupting lines. And now the spectroscope was turned upon the nebulæ and about one-third of them were found to be gaseous.
Again the nebular hypothesis comes forth stronger than ever. The beautiful experiment of Plateau on the rotation of a fluid globe comes in to strengthen if not to confirm it. But what was likely to be lost in this? Simply a poor conception of the universe. What to be gained? A far more worthy idea of that vast power which works in the universe, in all things by law, and in none by caprice.
The great series of battles to which I next turn with you were fought on those fields occupied by such sciences as chemistry and natural philosophy.
Even before those sciences were out of their childhood, while yet they were tottering mainly toward childish objects and by childish steps, the champions of that same old mistaken conception of rigid scriptural interpretation began the war. The catalogue of chemists and physicists persecuted or thwarted would fill volumes; from them I will select just three as representative men.
First of these I take Albert of Bollstadt, better known in the middle ages as Albert the Great. In the thirteenth century he stands forth as the greatest scholar in Germany. Fettered though he was by the absurd methods of his time, led astray as he was by the scholastic spirit, he has conceived ideas of better methods and aims. His eye pierces the mists of scholasticism, he sees the light and draws the world toward it. He stands among the great pioneers of modern physical and natural science. He gives foundations to botany and chemistry, and Humboldt finds in his works the germ of the comprehensive science of physical geography.
The conscience of the time, acting as it supposed in defense of religion, brought out a missile which it hurled with deadly effect. You see those mediæval scientific battle-fields strewn with such: it was the charge of sorcery, of unlawful compact with the devil.
This missile was effective. You find it used against every great investigator of Nature in those times and for centuries after. The list of great men charged with magic, as given by Naudé, is astounding. It includes every man of real mark, and the most thoughtful of the popes, Sylvester II. (Gerbert), stands in the midst of them. It seemed to be the received idea that, as soon as a man conceived a love to study the works of God, his first step must be a league with the devil.
This missile was hurled against Albert. He was condemned by the great founder of the Dominican order himself. But more terrible weapons than this missile were added to it, to make it effective. Many an obscure chemist paid a terrible penalty for wishing to be wiser than his time; but I pass to the greater martyrs.
I name, next, Roger Bacon. His life and work seem until
recently to have been generally misunderstood. He has been ranked as a superstitious alchemist who stumbled upon some inventions; but more recent investigation has revealed him to be one of the great masters in human progress.
The advance of sound historical judgment seems likely to reverse the positions of the two who bear the name of Bacon. Bacon of the chancellorship and the "Novum Organon" seems to wane. Bacon of the prison-cell and the "Opus Majus" seems to grow brighter.
Roger Bacon's work, as it is now revealed to us, was wonderful. He wrought with power in philosophy and in all sciences, and his knowledge was sound and exact. By him, more than by any other man of the middle ages, was the world put on the most fruitful paths of science—the paths which have led to the most precious inventions. Clocks, lenses, burning specula, telescopes, were given by him to the world, directly or indirectly. In his writings are found formulæ for extracting phosphorus, manganese, and bismuth. It is even claimed that he investigated the power of steam. He seems to have very nearly reached also some of the principal doctrines of modern chemistry. His theory of investigation was even greater than these vast results. In an age when metaphysical subtilizing was alone thought to give the title of scholar, he insisted on real reasoning and the aid of natural science by mathematics. In an age when experimenting was sure to cost a man his reputation and was likely to cost him his life, he insisted on experiment and braved all its risks. Few greater men have lived. As we read the sketch given by Whewell of Bacon's process of reasoning regarding the refraction of light, he seems fairly inspired.
On this man came the brunt of the battle. The most conscientious men of his time thought it their duty to fight him, and they did it too well. It was not that he disbelieved in Christianity, that was never charged against him. His orthodoxy was perfect. He was attacked and condemned, in the words of his opponents, "propter quasdam novitates suspectas."
He was attacked, first of all, with that goodly old missile, which, with the epithets "infidel" and "atheist," has decided the fate of so many battles—the charge of magic and compact with Satan.
He defended himself with a most unfortunate weapon—a weapon which exploded in his hands and injured him more than the enemy, for he argued against the idea of compacts with Satan, and showed that much which is ascribed to demons results from natural means. This added fuel to the flame. To limit the power of Satan was deemed hardly less impious than to limit the power of God.
The most powerful protectors availed him little. His friend Guy Foulkes having been made pope, Bacon was for a time shielded, but the fury of the enemy was too strong. In an unpublished letter, Blackstone declares that when, on one occasion. Bacon was about to perform a few experiments for some friends, all Oxford was in an uproar. It was believed that Satan was let loose. Everywhere were priests, fellows, and students rushing about, their garments streaming in the wind, and everywhere resounded the cry, "Down with the conjurer!" and this cry "Down with the conjurer" resounded from cell to cell and hall to hall.
But the attack took a shape far more terrible. The two great religious orders, Franciscan and Dominican, vied with each other in fighting the new thought in chemistry and philosophy. St. Dominic, sincere as he was, solemnly condemned research by experiment and observation. The general of the Franciscan order took similar grounds.
In 1243 the Dominicans solemnly interdicted every member of their order from the study of medicine and natural philosophy; and, in 1287, this interdiction was extended to the study of chemistry.
Another weapon began to be used upon the battle-fields of that time with much effect. The Arabs had made noble discoveries in science. Averroes had, among many, divided the honors with St. Thomas Aquinas. These facts gave the new missile. It was the epithet "Mahometan," This, too, was flung with effect at Bacon.
Bacon was at last conquered. He was imprisoned for fourteen years. At the age of eighty years he was released from prison, but death alone took him beyond the reach of his enemies. How deeply the struggle had racked his mind may be gathered from that last afflicting declaration of his: "Would that I had not given myself so much trouble for the love of science!"
Sad is it to think of what this great man might have given to the world had the world not refused the gift. He held the key of treasures which would have freed mankind from ages of error and misery. With his discoveries as a basis, with his method as a guide, what might not the world have gained! Nor was the wrong done to that age alone. It was done to this age also. The nineteenth century was robbed at the same time with the thirteenth. But for that interference with science, this nineteenth century would, without doubt, be enjoying discoveries which will not be reached before the twentieth century. Thousands of precious lives shall be lost in this century, tens of thousands shall suffer discomfort, privation, sickness, poverty, ignorance, for lack of discoveries and methods which, but for this mistaken religious fight against Bacon and his compeers, would now be blessing the earth.
In 1868 and 1869, sixty thousand children died in England and in Wales of scarlet fever; probably nearly as many died in this country. Had not Bacon been hindered we should have had in our hands, by this time, the means to save two-thirds of these victims, and the same is true of typhoid, typhus, and that great class of diseases of whose physical causes Science is just beginning to get an inkling. Put together all the efforts of all the atheists who have ever lived, and they have not done so much harm to Christianity and the world as has been done by the narrow-minded, conscientious men who persecuted Roger Bacon.
Roger Bacon was vanquished. For ages the champions of science were crippled; but the "good fight" was carried on. The Church itself furnishes heroes of science. Antonio de Dominis relinquishes his archbishopric of Spalatro, investigates the phenomena of light, and dies in the clutches of the Inquisition.
Pierre de la Ramée stands up against Aristotelianism at Paris. A royal edict, sought by the Church, stopped his teaching, and the massacre of St. Bartholomew ended his life.
Somewhat later, John Baptist Porta began his investigations. Despite many absurdities, his work was most fruitful. His book on meteorology was the first in which sound ideas were broached. His researches in optics gave the world the camera obscura, and, possibly, the telescope. He encountered the same old policy of conscientious men. The society founded by him for physical research, "I Secreti," was broken up, and he was summoned to Rome and censured.
In 1624, some young chemists of Paris having taught the experimental method, and cut loose from Aristotle, the Faculty of Theology besets the Parliament of Paris, and the Parliament prohibits this new chemical teaching under penalty of death.
The war went on in Italy. In 1657 occurred the first sitting of the Accademia del Cimento at Florence, under the presidency of Prince Leopold dei Medici. This Academy promised great things for science. It was open to all talent. Its only fundamental law was "the repudiation of any favorite system or sect of philosophy, and the obligation to investigate Nature by the pure light of experiment,"
The new Academy entered into scientific investigations with energy. Borelli in mathematics, Redi in natural history, and many others, pushed on the boundaries of knowledge. Heat, light, magnetism, electricity, projectiles, digestion, the incompressibility of water, were studied by the right method and with results that enriched the world.
The Academy was a fortress of science, and siege was soon laid to it. The votaries of scholastic learning denounced it as irreligious. Quarrels were fomented. Leopold was bribed with a cardinal's hat and drawn away to Rome; and, after ten years of beleaguering, the fortress fell: Borelli was left a beggar; Oliva killed himself in despair.
From the dismissal of the scientific professors from the University of Salamanca by Ferdinand VII. of Spain, in the beginning of this century, down to sundry dealings with scientific men in our own land and time, we see the same war continued.
Joseph de Maistre, uttering his hatred of physical sciences, declaring that man has paid too dearly for them, asserting that they must be subjected to theology, likening them to fire—good when confined but fearful when scattered about this brilliant thinker has been the centre of a great opposing camp in our own time—an army of good men who cannot relinquish the idea that the Bible is a text-book of science.
[To be continued.]