Tuesday, 3 March 2015



The name of Dr. Draper will be familiar to many readers as the author to whose labours, in a similar field to that treated in the work before us, Dr. Tyndall, in his address before the British Association, avowed his obligations. The title of his present book does not precisely, nor indeed fairly, describe its subject or its purport. The present day is one in which the "Conflict between Religion and Science" has attuned an importance that it never before possessed, a keenness of interest foreshadowing an impending crisis, and the title of the work suggests that it is intended to form a review of the growth and present position of the great debate, so momentous for the spiritual and intellectual interests of humanity—the question, we mean, whether the existence of religion and the progress of science are compatible, and, if so, upon what terms ? But this is only cursorily alluded to in the work before us. What it describes is not the conflict between religion and science—a very real conflict, in spite of all the efforts of sophists to explain it away one that is fraught with the deepest concern to the thinking mind and the feeling heart of mankind. The author has,instead of this,related the long struggle between science, and progress, and freedom, and philosophy on one aide, and the agencies of priestcraft, superstition, and ecclesiastical imposture and ambition on the other. This is only part of the general subject, It is only one phase of the great struggle going on now before our eyes. But in dealing with it Dr. Draper has drawn a very impressive picture, one full of lessons of the greatest importance at the present day, on which it is good to allow the attention for a while to dwell.
 In the outset of his work the author gives a sketch of the condition of scientific inquiry in the ancient world at the advent of Christianity. The condition was one that showed clearly enough that the scientific idea and mode of investigation had been attained and made to yield some valuable results. Besides a great body of work that had been done in abstract mathematics, great advance had been made in physics. The Alexandrian philosophers taught the globular form of the earth, and had attempted to measure a degree of its surface. Much also was known, and carefully recorded, respecting the topography of a large part of the three continents, and speculations were made concerning geological changes. "They had correct ideas respecting the doctrine of the sphere, its poles, axis, equator, arctic and antarctic circles, equinoctial points, solstices, the distribution of climates," &c. Hipparchus was aware of the precession of the equinoxes, and the first lunar inequality, the equation of the centre. Ptolemy discovered the second in equality, the moon's evection, and in his great work on the Mathematical Construction of the Heavens he gave a catalogue of 1,022 stars, and an admirable statement of the motions of the planets. Science in those days was science in exactly the same sense as we understand it now. It was based on observation and experiment, and submitted its theories and hypotheses to the verification of experimental proof. It was, indeed, rudimentary and imperfect, as our present science may be when viewed in the tight of the more advanced knowledge of a thousand years hence. It was wanting in much of the material and intellectual machinery brought to hear on the work of investigation at the present day. But a beginning was made, the path was fairly entered upon, a work was commenced of which it is impossible to estimate the results had no interruption been offered to its progress.
All this was altered by the rise, growth,and predominance of the church of Christendom as a great material and spiritual domination. The tale thus set up was from the first and to the last radically hostile to science. The only science tolerated by the Fathers who to deeply stamped their mind on the Christian world was that which they professed to extract from the book of Genesis. According to this the world was a flat surface, over which the sky was spread like a dome. In this the sun and stars moved, for the mere purpose of giving light by day and by night to man. Above the sky was heaven, in the dark and fiery space beneath the earth was hell. The earth was the central and most important body of the universe, all other things being intended for and subservient to it The world itself was created merely as a home for man, upon whom and whose actions the whole physical universe depended. It was created in six days, and the precise date of its creation could be and actually was fixed. The idea of order and law had vanished from the world, and in its place was found one of arbitrary miraculous interposition on the most trifling grounds, at the lightest request of the votary, and to effect objects that were often perfectly childish. This system of cosmogony and its thousandfold puerilities were expounded and enforced, and left no room whatever for any natural science that was irreconcilable with it. Hypatia, the fair and gifted successor of the philosophers of Alexandria, was assaulted and brutally murdered by a mob of monks, set on by the holy St. Cyril. The act was symbolical of the extinction of the light of philosophy and science under the rule of foul superstition and bigotry which now darkened over the Christian world. The religion had by this time become wholly changed from the shape in which it was taught by its Founder. From being a system of elevated morality, it had degenerated into a word-spinning theology,
conjoined with a ceremonial ritual almost wholly borrowed or stolen from the forms of worship of the pagan world. All this system was presided over by a powerful ecclesiastical hierarchy, which was enabled to wield the most stupendous spiritual despotism ever known in the world, and under which every glimmer of free speculation or natural inquiry was speedily crushed out. And all the time the faith of Christianity was being defined by one synod or council after another, at which unintelligible doctrines were voted to be divine truth by majorities obtained, sometimes by shameless intrigue and corruption, sometimes by the murderous violence of a rabble of ignorant and fanatic monks. It was the empire of superstition, used for the purposes of priestcraft, and resting on the basis of universal ignorance.
In contrast to the picture of Christendom under the role of the Church, Dr. Draper draws a sketch of the enlightenment, refinement, and scientific culture of the Moslem Arabs. With them the love of literature and intellectual pursuits generally was a passion. The cultivation of natural science and of philosophy, which had been so assiduously stamped out in the Christian world by those interested in maintaining a gigantic system of fraud and spiritual tyranny, was kept alive in Spain and Egypt by the followers of Mahomet.
We cannot follow Dr. Draper through his strongly-painted description of the mental and material misery to which feudal violence and priestly intolerance and cruelty had reduced a large part of the human race. The time at length came when the mind of humanity was visited by strange stirrings, which could not be checked by the most terrible means of repression, and against which the dread powers of the Inquisition were employed in vain. These means and these powers were, indeed, freely used. History is full of the wars, the intolerate massacres, the assassinations, the crimes of every description and of every scale committed or instigated by the rulers of the Church for the purpose of consolidating her reign and of punishing the offence of free inquiry. It is not too much to say that every single discovery in science, every stage of the progress which has made the world what it is to-day, was denounced as impious by the Church, and as far as possible opposed. The Copernican system was condemned by the Inquisition as heretical, and the book in which it was explained was put in the index of prohibited works. In this course, doubtless, the Church was acting from a wise forecast of the future. In the words of Dr. Draper: "To dethrone the earth from her central dominating position, to give her many equals, and not a few superiors, seemed to diminish her claims upon the Divine regard. If each of the countless myriads of stars was a sun, surrounded by revolving globes, peopled with responsible beings like ourselves— if we had fallen so easily and had been redeemed at so stupendous a price as the death of the Son of God, how was it with them ? Of them were there none who had fallen, or might fall, like us? Where, then, for them could a Saviour be found?" It is scarcely possible for us at the present day to realise the terrible effect of the blow aimed at the very centre and foundation of the whole theological system of the middle ages by the teachings of Copernicus. The destructive effects of the promulgation of geology, of the doctrine of development against which the clergy of the present day are contending, this is as nothing compared with this vast shifting of the whole centre of the material and theologic cosmos implied by the system of Copernicus. To continue a short list of the more important denunciations of the Church on grounds of religion, the plan of discovery of Columbus, based on the assumption of the globular form of the earth, was denounced by the Spanish ecclesiastics, and condemned by the Council of Salamanca. The teachings of Galileo were condemned by the Holy Inquisition, and the venerable discoverer was compelled on his knees with his hand on the Bible, to abjure and curse the doctrine of the movement of the earth. Giordano Bruno, for supporting the Copernican system and maintaining a plurality of worlds, was burned at the stake. "It added not a little," says Dr. Draper, "to the exasperation against him, that he was perpetually declaiming against the insincerity, the impostures of his persecutors—that wherever he went he found scepticism varnished over and concealed by hypocrisy; and that it was not against the belief of men, but against their pretended belief, that he was fighting; that he was struggling with an orthodoxy that had neither morality nor faith." Kepler, for announcing the discovery of his laws which gave additional confirmation to the Copernican system, soon to receive absolute demonstration at the hands of Newton, was condemned by the spiritual authorities. It is not only truths of science and philosophy against which this relentless warfare was maintained. Any measure of reform or improvement intended to improve the condition or lessen the sufferings of mankind was at its introduction opposed by the clergy as hostile to the will of Providence. "They opposed fire and marine insurances on the ground that it is a tempting of Providence. Life insurance was regarded as an act of interference with the consequences of God's will. As the theological dogma, that the plague, like the earthquake, is an unavoidable visitation from God for the sins of men, began to be doubted, attempts were made to rate its progress by the establishment of quarantines. When the Mahommedan discovery of inoculation was brought from Constantinople in 1721 by Lady Wortley Montague, it was so strenuously resisted by the clergy that nothing short of its adoption by the royal family of England brought it into use. A similar resistance was exhibited when Jenner introduced his great improvement—vaccination. In like manner, when the great American discovery of anæsthetics was applied in obstetrical cases, it was discouraged, not so much for physiological reasons, as under the pretence that it was an impious attempt to escape from the curse denounced against all women in Genesis iii. 16."
This brings us to our own time. And when we look around on the state of the civilised world to-day,we see that this great conflict, so far from showing signs of abating, gives evidence of the approach of a time of supreme, and possibly decisive, crisis. The warfare is keener than ever, and the mustering of the forces on either side has been such as to make the issue one of the most momentous importance. Science, in the enjoyment of the liberty for which she has so long struggled, has freed herself from the last trammels of theological constraint, and has ventured to proclaim the universal reign of law in opposition to the role of arbitrary and spasmodic interference. At a time when the intellectual position of the theologic side was weaker than it ever was we have seen the chief dignitary of the Christian world announce his own Infallibility, and illustrate it by impotently denouncing the curses of the Church against the civilisation, and science, and freedom which have done so much for the welfare of humanity. But, however stupendous may be the conflict, no reader of history can doubt its issue. It is to be observed that, throughout the long fight, in spite of the tremendous agencies wielded by the spiritual power, and the civil forces it has ever been so ready to summon to its aid, it has always fought a losing battle. The most unrelenting use of fire and sword and torture has never availed to stamp out one scientific truth that has ever been promulgated. The powers of superstition and education and material force were at its disposal, but with all these it has been powerless to arrest a march that has been incessant, and that has now driven the supporters of superstition and ignorance to their last stronghold. We may rest assured that, however the powers of darkness may gather for the encounter, no scientific truth held by humanity will ever be lost to its grasp, and that the progress in the future will be as unbroken as in the past. If the sacerdotal power was impotent to stop this movement when it had the world at its feet, still more vain must be its struggles now, when it exists only in the last stage of decrepitude.
So far we have been representing in condensed form the line of narrative and argument in this work of Dr. Draper. But as we have before said, he has dealt with but one phase of the subject indicated in the title of his book. What he has related has not been the conflict between science and religion, but that between enlightenment and superstition. But to every student of the religious thought and feeling of humanity at the present day it is obvious that the graver and more essential issues of the struggle are in a field that lies altogether outside the scope of Dr. Draper's review. There are thousands of souls to whom it would be a matter for rejoicing if priestcraft and superstition could be swept out of existence, but to whom the conflict between science and religion would still remain as real and as terribly momentous as ever. To the large number who are drawn by opposite forces between the requirements of the logical scientific intellect and the demands of religious faith, their struggle would still have to be fought out though all theologies and ecclesiastical systems were wholly obliterated from the world. They have no selfish or class ends to serve, no systems to uphold, no ambitious objects to advance that require the aid of credulity and ignorance and superstition. But they wish to live out their life in the light of reason and to share the hopes and promises of faith, and they feel an increasing difficulty to combine the one with the other. Science, as a system of intellectual truth based on material proof, they receive and welcome. But they ask why should this clash with the spiritual revealings and intuitions which draw their force of evidence from so different a source and so different a level. Still they feel with sad perplexity that the clash of conflict is a real one, and that, as science irresistibly spreads the rule of invariable, unchangeable law over the whole universe of matter and life, the objects of their faith are being pushed farther and farther off, and reduced to the character of abstract ideas, which grow more and more remote and dim. This appears to be the deepest depth of the soul trouble through which the spirit of humanity is now passing, and it is one that lies far below the battles and oppressions of the enormous rule of superstition, and fraud, and cruel violence which Dr. Draper has in this book briefly but forcibly narrated.

*History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. By John William Draper.  Henry S. King and Co., London.  1875.

The Australasian 6 March 1875, 

No comments: