Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/March 1876/Correspondence

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To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

DEAR SIR: I have read this morning, with great pleasure, the article by President White, in the February number of your magazine; and am free to express gratification at seeing the extracts from my Vanderbilt University Address placed in such "goodlie companie."

But you must permit me to express my surprise at the tone and some of the statements which you make with regard to the two articles, and to the important subject which they discuss. You say that you print my argument because it is "on the other side of the question," and you would "not be accused of partiality or injustice-to opposite views." This is utterly unaccountable to me. President White and myself are in perfect accord in our articles so far as "the conflict" is concerned, so much so that, if we had had a conference previous to the preparation of our two addresses, we could scarcely have selected modes of treatment different from those we adopted. We should possibly have changed the order of the printing, and let his follow mine. Mine is a statement of doctrine, and his the proof. He has written almost nothing in his article which I might not have written if I had had his ability. He brings a masterly analysis and great wealth of learning to prove what I have asserted, and nothing in his article seems to stand against any thing in mine. We hold the same thesis, and sometimes express our ideas ipsissimis verbis. We both agree, if I have not utterly misapprehended President White, that religious men make mistakes, and scientific men make mistakes, but there is no conflict between true religion and true science, the warfare of science being with something other than religion. The first words of mine which you quote are these: "The recent cry of the 'Conflict of Religion and Science' is fallacious, and mischievous to the interests of both science and religion" (p. 434). President White, in the first sentence of his thesis says, "In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion... has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and to science, and invariably" (p. 385). There we agree, and each undertakes to show the same thing in his own way. President White, in the second sentence of his thesis, says, "All untrammeled scientific investigation, no matter how dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed, for the time, to be, has invariably resulted in the highest good of religion and of science." In divers places in my article the same is set forth and maintained. On page 444 1 say, "If, for instance, a conflict should come between geology and theology, and geology should be beaten, it will be so much the better for religion; and, if geology should beat theology, still so much the better for religion," etc. In the next sentence, "geologists, psychologists, and, theologists, must all ultimately promote the cause of religion, because they must confirm one another's truths and explode one another's errors," etc. And, next sentence, "He (the religious man) knows and feels that it would be as irreligious in him to reject any truth found in Nature as it would be for another to reject any truth found in the Bible."

Now, on this showing, my dear sir, I think that in a review of the two articles you should be ready to admit that Dr. White and I are not on "opposite" sides. We are advocates for the same client, speaking from different briefs but promoting the same cause.

But I am sorry to find that, while I thoroughly agree with Dr. White, you do not. You consider the conflict to be "natural," "inevitable," "wholesome." Dr. White teaches that "the idea that there is a necessary antagonism between science and religion" is "the most unfortunate of all ideas" (p. 403). You oppose Dr. White more than you do me, for my moderate statement is, that it is "fallacious" and "mischievous."

I would fain "labor" with you, as some of our religious brethren say. It grieves me that you hold that an antagonism between loving obedience to God—Religion, and intelligent study of God's—works Science, is "natural," "inevitable," "wholesome." If that be true it would seem to follow that the more religious a man is the less scientific he can be, or, what is worse, that the more scientific a man the less religious can he be! Really you cannot mean what your statements logically convey. You cannot mean to teach that, the more wicked a man is, the better he is prepared for scientific investigation. But do not your words mean that?

To prove that there is a necessary conflict you call attention to "the attitude of mind of the great mass of devout and sincerely religious people toward the more advanced conclusions and scientific men of the present day." Who can tell what attitude that is? Each man knows his circle of acquaintances; and here is my testimony: All "the devout and sincerely religious people" with whom I am acquainted accept all the "conclusions" of science so far as they know them. Some of them go further, and accept even the hypotheses and guesses of the most poetic and superstitious of "the scientific men of the day." The body of devout religious people, however, it is fair to add, do not accept all the guesses. All that can be reasonably asked of the religious people is that they shall accept as scientific "conclusions" only those teachings of science in regard to which there is no controversy among scientific men. A case cannot be called "concluded" while the argument is going on in court. The rotundity of the earth, the heliocentric theory, Kepler's three laws, are "concluded." No scientific man of repute expresses the slightest doubt of those, and the attitude of religious people toward them is one of thorough acceptance and genuine faith. There are some religious people who are evolutionists. Some are not. But the scientific men, "as such" are just as much divided, so that that question cannot be called concluded.

As to the attitude of religious people toward advanced scientific men, it would be difficult to determine, because it would be difficult to determine who are the "advanced" scientific men. Whenever they settle that among themselves, your question will really have great importance; but, if a clique should cry up one man as a burning and shining light in science, while the French Academy should be reported to have rejected him when nominated for membership, on the ground that he is not scientific, need religious people have any attitude toward him at all?

But that there is no hostile attitude toward scientific men is shown by the fact that any scientific lecturer of ability may come from Europe to America, and the devout and religious people of the country will go in throngs to hear him, and pay liberally for the privilege.

You close your article by expressing the opinion that a "desirable consummation" to "reach" would be "the entire indifference of religious people, as such, to the results of scientific inquiry." This is amazing. How can they be? Religious people who are not scientific know very well, having had their attention freshly called thereto by Dr. White, the great benefits conferred on religion by the progress of science, which, as he admirably says, has "given to religion great new foundations, great new ennobling conceptions, a great new revelation of the might of God." Religious people owe too much to science, while science owes almost every thing to religious people, to allow them to become entirely indifferent, and give up science wholly to irreligious men.

One thing let us agree on before we part. Nothing is advanced and no one is profited if religious men write and speak as though no man could be scientific and at the same time religious; nor is any thing profited if men professing to be scientific talk of religious people patronizing, as if they were simpletons. Can you not say "Amen" to that, and shake hands with

Very respectfully and truly yours,
Charles F. Deems.
Church of the Strangers,
New York, January 27, 1876.