A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom: Volume 1

D. Appleton
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D. Appleton
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Dec 31, 1896
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Among those masses of cathedral sculpture which preserve so much of medieval theology, one frequently recurring group is noteworthy for its presentment of a time-honoured doctrine regarding the origin of the universe.

The Almighty, in human form, sits benignly, making the sun, moon, and stars, and hanging them from the solid firmament which supports the "heaven above" and overarches the "earth beneath."

The furrows of thought on the Creator's brow show that in this work he is obliged to contrive; the knotted muscles upon his arms show that he is obliged to toil; naturally, then, the sculptors and painters of the medieval and early modern period frequently represented him as the writers whose conceptions they embodied had done—as, on the seventh day, weary after thought and toil, enjoying well-earned repose and the plaudits of the hosts of heaven.

In these thought-fossils of the cathedrals, and in other revelations of the same idea through sculpture, painting, glass-staining, mosaic work, and engraving, during the Middle Ages and the two centuries following, culminated a belief which had been developed through thousands of years, and which has determined the world's thought until our own time.

Its beginnings lie far back in human history; we find them among the early records of nearly all the great civilizations, and they hold a most prominent place in the various sacred books of the world. In nearly all of them is revealed the conception of a Creator of whom man is an imperfect image, and who literally and directly created the visible universe with his hands and fingers.

Among these theories, of especial interest to us are those which controlled theological thought in Chaldea. The Assyrian inscriptions which have been recently recovered and given to the English-speaking peoples by Layard, George Smith, Sayce, and others, show that in the ancient religions of Chaldea and Babylonia there was elaborated a narrative of the creation which, in its most important features, must have been the source of that in our own sacred books. It has now become perfectly clear that from the same sources which inspired the accounts of the creation of the universe among the Chaldeo-Babylonian, the Assyrian, the Phoenician, and other ancient civilizations came the ideas which hold so prominent a place in the sacred books of the Hebrews. In the two accounts imperfectly fused together in Genesis, and also in the account of which we have indications in the book of Job and in the Proverbs, there, is presented, often with the greatest sublimity, the same early conception of the Creator and of the creation—the conception, so natural in the childhood of civilization, of a Creator who is an enlarged human being working literally with his own hands, and of a creation which is "the work of his fingers." To supplement this view there was developed the belief in this Creator as one who, having ... "from his ample palm Launched forth the rolling planets into space." sits on high, enthroned "upon the circle of the heavens," perpetually controlling and directing them.

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 transient warfare 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; we will look also at the truces and treaties, and note the delusive impotency of all compromises in which the warriors for scientific truth have consented to receive direction or bias from the best of men uninspired by the scientific spirit, or unfamiliar with scientific methods.

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 resulted 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.

At the close of the Revolution which separated the colonies from the mother country, the legislature of New York set apart nearly two million acres of land, in the heart of the State, as bounty to be divided among her soldiers who had taken part in the war; and this ``Military Tract,'' having been duly divided into townships, an ill- inspired official, in lack of names for so many divisions, sprinkled over the whole region the contents of his classical dictionary. Thus it was that there fell to a beautiful valley upon the headwaters of the Susquehanna the name of ``Homer.'' Fortunately the surveyor-general left to the mountains, lakes, and rivers the names the Indians had given them, and so there was still some poetical element remaining in the midst of that unfortunate nomenclature. The counties, too, as a rule, took Indian names, so that the town of Homer, with its neighbors, Tully, Pompey, Fabius, Lysander, and the rest, were embedded in the county of Onondaga, in the neighborhood of lakes Otisco and Skaneateles, and of the rivers Tioughnioga and Susquehanna.

Hither came, toward the close of the eighteenth century, a body of sturdy New Englanders, and, among them, my grandfathers and grandmothers. Those on my father's side: Asa White and Clara Keep, from Munson, Massa- chusetts; those on my mother's side, Andrew Dickson, from Middlefield, Massachusetts, and Ruth Hall from Guilford, Connecticut. They were all of ``good stock.'' When I was ten years old I saw my great-grandfather at Middlefield, eighty-two years of age, sturdy and vigorous; he had mowed a broad field the day before, and he walked four miles to church the day after. He had done his duty manfully during the war, had been a member of the ``Great and General Court'' of Massachusetts, and had held various other offices, which showed that he enjoyed the confidence of his fellow-citizens. As to the other side of the house, there was a tradition that we came from Peregrine White of the Mayflower; but I have never had time to find whether my doubts on the subject were well founded or not. Enough for me to know that my yeomen ancestors did their duty in war and peace, were honest, straightforward, God-fearing men and women, who owned their own lands, and never knew what it was to cringe before any human being.

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