Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
After Centuries of War
By Andrew Dickson White (18321918)
[The Warfare of Science. 1876.]
YOU have gone over the greater struggles in the long war between Ecclesiasticism and Science, and have glanced at the lesser fields. You have seen the conflicts in Physical Geography, as to the form of the earth; in Astronomy, as to the place of the earth in the universe, and the evolution of stellar systems in accordance with law; in Chemistry and Physics; in Anatomy and Medicine; in Geology; in Meteorology; in Cartography; in the Industrial and Agricultural Sciences; in Political Economy and Social Science; and in Scientific Instruction; and each of these, when fully presented, has shown the following results:
Thirdly. In every case, while this interference, during its continuance, has tended to divorce religion from the most vigorous thinking of the world, and to make it odious to multitudes of the most earnest thinkers, the triumph of science has led its former conscientious enemies to make new interpretations and lasting adjustments, which have proved a blessing to religion, ennobling its conceptions and bettering its methods.
And in addition to these points there should be brought out distinctly a corollary, which is, that science must be studied by its own means and to its own ends, unmixed with the means and unbiased by the motives of investigators in other fields, and uncontrolled by consciences unenlightened by itself.
The very finger of the Almighty seems to have written the proofs of this truth on human history. No one can gainsay it. It is decisive, for it is this: There has never been a scientific theory framed from the use of Scriptural texts, wholly or partially, which has been made to stand. Such attempts have only subjected their authors to derision, and Christianity to suspicion. From Cosmas finding his plan of the universe in the Jewish tabernacle, to Increase Mather sending mastodons bones to England as the remains of giants mentioned in Scripture; from Bellarmin declaring that the sun cannot be the centre of the universe, because such an idea vitiates the whole Scriptural plan of salvation, to a recent writer declaring that an evolution theory cannot be true, because St. Paul says that all flesh is not the same flesh, the result has always been the same.
Such facts show that scientific hypotheses will be established or refuted by scientific men and scientific methods alone, and that no conscientious citation of texts, or outcries as to consequences of scientific truths, from any other quarter, can do anything save retard truth and cause needless anxiety.
Such facts show, too, that the sacred books of the world were not given for any such purpose as that to which so many men have endeavored to wrest themthe purpose served by compends of history and text-books of science.
Is skepticism feared? All history shows that the only skepticism which does permanent harm is skepticism as to the value and safety of truth as truth. No skepticism has proved so corrosive to religion, none so cancerous in the human brain and heart.
Is faith cherished? All history shows that the first article of a saving faith, for any land or time, is faith that there is a Power in this universe strong enough to make truth-seeking safe, and good enough to make truth-telling useful.
May we not, then, hope that the greatest and best men in the Churchthe men standing at centres of thoughtwill insist with power, more and more, that religion be no longer tied to so injurious a policy as that which this warfare reveals; that searchers for truth, whether in theology or natural science, work on as friends, sure that, no matter how much at variance they may at times seem to be, the truths they reach shall finally be fused into each other? The dominant religious conceptions of the world will doubtless be greatly modified by science in the future, as they have been in the past; and the part of any wisely religious person, at any centre of influence, is to see that, in his generation, this readjustment of religion to science be made as quietly and speedily as possible.
No one needs fear the result. No matter whether Science shall complete her demonstration that man has been on the earth not merely six thousand years, or six millions of years; no matter whether she reveals new ideas of the Creator or startling relations between his creatures; no matter how many more gyves and clamps upon the spirit of Christianity she destroys: the result, when fully thought out, will serve and strengthen religion not less than science.
What science can do for the world is shown, not by those who have labored to concoct palatable mixtures of theology and sciencemen like Cosmas, and Torrubia, and Burnet, and Whistonbut by men who have fought the good fight of faith in truth for truths sakemen like Roger Bacon, and Vesalius, and Palissy, and Galileo.
What Christianity can do for the world is shown, not by men who have stood on the high places screaming in wrath at the advance of science; not by men who have retreated in terror into the sacred caves and refused to look out upon the universe as it is; but by men who have preached and practised the righteousness of the prophets, and the aspirations of the Psalmist, and the blessed Sermon on the Mount, and the first great commandment, and the second, which is like unto it, and St. Jamess definition of pure religion and undefiled.
It is shown in the Roman Church, not by Tostatus and Bellarmin, but by St. Carlo Borromeo, and St. Vincent de Paul, and Fénelon, and Eugénie de Guérin; in the Anglican Church, not by Dean Cockburn, but by Howard, and Jenner, and Wilberforce, and Florence Nightingale; in the German Church, not by Pastor Knak, but by Pastor Fliedner; in the American Church, not by the Mathers, but by such as Bishop Whatcoat, and Channing, and Muhlenberg, and Father De Smet, and Samuel May, and Harriet Stowe.
Let the warfare of Science, then, be changed. Let it be a warfare in which Religion and Science shall stand together as allies, not against each other as enemies. Let the fight be for truth of every kind against falsehood of every kind; for justice against injustice; for right against wrong; for the living kernel of religion rather than the dead and dried husks of sect and dogma; and the great powers, whose warfare has brought so many sufferings, shall at last join in ministering through earth Gods richest blessings.