An Episcopal Trilogy

The Nineteenth Century (November 1887)

Collected Essays V

[126] If there is any truth in the old adage that a burnt child dreads the fire, I ought to be very loath to touch a sermon, while the memory of what befell me on a recent occasion, possibly not yet forgotten by the readers of the Nineteenth Century, is uneffaced. But I suppose that even the distinguished censor of that unheard-of audacity to which not even the newspaper report of a sermon is sacred, can hardly regard a man of science as either indelicate or presumptuous, if he ventures to offer some comments upon three discourses, specially addressed to the great assemblage of men of science which recently gathered at Manchester, by three bishops of the State Church. On my return to England not long ago, I found a pamphlet1 containing a version, which I presume [127] to be authorized, of these sermons, among the huge mass of letters and papers which had accumulated during two months' absence; and I have read them not only with attentive interest, but with a feeling of satisfaction which is quite new to me as a result of hearing, or reading, sermons. These excellent discourses, in fact, appear to me to signalize a new departure in the course adopted by theology towards science, and to indicate the possibility of bringing about an honourable modus vivendi between the two. How far the three bishops speak as accredited representatives of the Church is a question to be considered by and by. Most assuredly, I am not authorized to represent any one but myself. But I suppose that there must be a good many people in the Church of the bishops' way of thinking; and I have reason to believe that, in the ranks of science, there are a good many persons who, more or less, share my views. And it is to these sensible people on both sides, as the bishops and I must needs think those who agree with us, that my present observations are addressed. They will probably be astonished to learn how insignificant, in principle, their differences are.

It is impossible to read the discourses of the three prelates without being impressed by the [128] knowledge which they display, and by the spirit of equity, I might say of generosity, towards science which pervades them. There is no trace of that tacit or open assumption that the rejection of theological dogmas, on scientific grounds, is due to moral perversity, which is the ordinary note of ecclesiastical homilies on this subject, and which makes them look so supremely silly to men whose lives have been spent in wrestling with these questions. There is no attempt to hide away real stumbling-blocks under rhetorical stucco; no resort to the tu quoque device of setting scientific blunders against theological errors; no suggestion that an honest man may keep contradictory beliefs in separate pockets of his brain; no question that the method of scientific investigation is valid, whatever the results to which it may lead; and that the search after truth, and truth only, ennobles the searcher and leaves no doubt that his life, at any rate, is worth living. The Bishop of Carlisle declares himself pledged to the belief that "the advancement of science, the progress of human knowledge, is in itself a worthy aim of the greatest effort of the greatest minds."

How often was it my fate, a quarter of a century ago, to see the whole artillery of the pulpit brought to bear upon the doctrine of evolution and its supporters! Any one unaccustomed to the amenities of ecclesiastical controversy would have thought we were too wicked to be permitted to live. But [129] let us hear the Bishop of Bedford. After a perfectly frank statement of the doctrine of evolution and some of its obvious consequences, that learned prelate pleads, with all earnestness, against

"a hasty denunciation of what may be proved to have at least some elements of truth in it, a contemptuous rejection of theories which we may some day learn to accept as freely and with as little sense of inconsistency with God's word as we now accept the theory of the earth's motion round the sun, or the long duration of the geological epochs" (p. 28).

I do not see that the most convinced evolutionist could ask any one, whether cleric or layman, to say more than this; in fact, I do not think that any one has a right to say more, with respect to any question about which two opinions can be held, than that his mind is perfectly open to the force of evidence.

There is another portion of the Bishop of Bedford's sermon which I think will be warmly appreciated by all honest and clear-headed men. He repudiates the views of those who say that theology and science

"occupy wholly different spheres, and need in no way intermeddle with each other. They revolve, as it were, in different planes, and so never meet. Thus we may pursue scientific studies with the utmost freedom and, at the same time, may pay the most reverent regard to theology, having no fears of collision, because allowing no points of contact" (p. 29).

Surely every unsophisticated mind will heartily [130] concur with the Bishop's remark upon this convenient refuge for the descendants of Mr. Facing-both-ways. "I have never been able to understand this position, though I have often seen it assumed." Nor can any demurrer be sustained when the Bishop proceeds to point out that there are, and must be, various points of contact between theological and natural science, and therefore that it is foolish to ignore or deny the existence of as many dangers of collision.

Finally, the Bishop of Manchester freely admits the force of the objections which have been raised, on scientific grounds, to prayer, and attempts to turn them by arguing that the proper objects of prayer are not physical but spiritual. He tells us that natural accidents and moral misfortunes are not to be taken for moral judgments of God; he admits the propriety of the application of scientific methods to the investigation of the origin and growth of religions; and he is as ready to recognise the process of evolution there, as in the physical world. Mark the following striking passage:–

"And how utterly all the common objections to Divine revelation vanish away when they are set in the light of this theory of a spiritual progression. Are we reminded that there prevailed in those earlier days, views of the nature of God and man, of human life and Divine Providence, which we now find to be untenable? That, we answer, is precisely what the theory of development presupposes. If early views of religion and morality had not been imperfect, where had been the development? If symbolical visions and mythical creations had found no place [131] in the early Oriental expression of Divine truth, where had been the development? The sufficient answer to ninety-nine out of a hundred of the ordinary objections to the Bible, as the record of a divine education of our race, is asked in that one word–development. And to what are we indebted for that potent word, which, as with the wand of a magician, has at the same moment so completely transformed our knowledge and dispelled our difficulties? To modern science, resolutely pursuing its search for truth in spite of popular obloquy and–alas! that one should have to say it–in spite too often of theological denunciation" (p. 53).

Apart from its general importance, I read this remarkable statement with the more pleasure, since, however imperfectly I may have endeavoured to illustrate the evolution of theology in a paper published in the Nineteenth Century last year,2 it seems to me that in principle, at any rate, I may hereafter claim high theological sanction for the views there set forth.

If theologians are henceforward prepared to recognise the authority of secular science in the manner and to the extent indicated in the Manchester trilogy; if the distinguished prelates who offer these terms are really plenipotentiaries, then, so far as I may presume to speak on such a matter, there will be no difficulty about concluding a perpetual treaty of peace, and indeed of alliance, between the high contracting powers, whose history has hitherto been little more than a record of continual warfare. But if the great Chancellor's [132] maxim, "Do ut des," is to form the basis of negotiation, I am afraid that secular science will be ruined; for it seems to me that theology, under the generous impulse of a sudden conversion, has given all that she hath; and indeed, on one point, has surrendered more than can reasonably be asked.

I suppose I must be prepared to face the reproach which attaches to those who criticise a gift, if I venture to observe that I do not think that the Bishop of Manchester need have been so much alarmed, as he evidently has been, by the objections which have often been raised to prayer, on the ground that a belief in the efficacy of prayer is inconsistent with a belief in the constancy of the order of nature.

The Bishop appears to admit that there is an antagonism between the "regular economy of nature" and the "regular economy of prayer" (p. 39), and that "prayers for the interruption of God's natural order" are of "doubtful validity" (p. 42). It appears to me that the Bishop's difficulty simply adds another example to those which I have several times insisted upon in the pages of this Review and elsewhere, of the mischief which has been done, and is being done, by a mistaken apprehension of the real meaning of "natural order" and "law of nature."

May I, therefore, be permitted to repeat, once more, that the statements denoted by these terms have no greater value or cogency than such as may [133] attach to generalizations from experience of the past, and to expectations for the future based upon that experience? Nobody can presume to say what the order of nature must be; all that the widest experience (even if it extended over all past time and through all space) that events had happened in a certain way could justify, would be a proportionally strong expectation that events will go on so happening, and the demand for a proportional strength of evidence in favour of any assertion that they had happened otherwise.

It is this weighty consideration, the truth of which every one who is capable of logical thought must surely admit, which knocks the bottom out of all a priori objections either to ordinary "miracles" or to the efficacy of prayer, in so far as the latter implies the miraculous intervention of a higher power. No one is entitled to say a priori that any given so-called miraculous event is impossible; and no one is entitled to say a priori that prayer for some change in the ordinary course of nature cannot possibly avail.

The supposition that there is any inconsistency between the acceptance of the constancy of natural order and a belief in the efficacy of prayer, is the more unaccountable as it is obviously contradicted by analogies furnished by everyday experience. The belief in the efficacy of prayer depends upon the assumption that there is somebody, somewhere, who is strong enough to deal with the earth and its contents as men deal with the things and events [134] which they are strong enough to modify or control; and who is capable of being moved by appeals such as men make to one another. This belief does not even involve theism; for our earth is an insignificant particle of the solar system, while the solar system is hardly worth speaking of in relation to the All; and, for anything that can be proved to the contrary, there may be beings endowed with full powers over our system, yet, practically, as insignificant as ourselves in relation to the universe. If any one pleases, therefore, to give unrestrained liberty to his fancy, he may plead analogy in favour of the dream that there may be, somewhere, a finite being, or beings, who can play with the solar system as a child plays with a toy; and that such being may be willing to do anything which he is properly supplicated to do. For we are not justified in saying that it is impossible for beings having the nature of men, only vastly more powerful, to exist; and if they do exist, they may act as and when we ask them to do so, just as our brother men act. As a matter of fact, the great mass of the human race has believed, and still believes, in such beings, under the various names of fairies, gnomes, angels, and demons. Certainly I do not lack faith in the constancy of natural order. But I am not less convinced that if I were to ask the Bishop of Manchester to do me a kindness which lay within his power, he would do it. And I am unable to see that his action on my request involves any violation of the order of [135] nature. On the contrary, as I have not the honour to know the Bishop personally, my action would be based upon my faith in that "law of nature," or generalization from experience, which tells me that, as a rule, men who occupy the Bishop's position are kindly and courteous. How is the case altered if my request is preferred to some imaginary superior being, or to the Most High being, who, by the supposition, is able to arrest disease, or make the sun stand still in the heavens, just as easily as I can stop my watch, or make it indicate any hour that pleases me?

I repeat that it is not upon any a priori considerations that objections, either to the supposed efficacy of prayer in modifying the course of events, or to the supposed occurrence of miracles, can be scientifically based. The real objection, and, to my mind, the fatal objection, to both these suppositions, is the inadequacy of the evidence to prove any given case of such occurrences which has been adduced. It is a canon of common sense, to say nothing of science, that the more improbable a supposed occurrence, the more cogent ought to be the evidence in its favour. I have looked somewhat carefully into the subject, and I am unable to find in the records of any miraculous event evidence which even approximates to the fulfilment of this requirement.

But, in the case of prayer, the Bishop points out a most just and necessary distinction between its [136] effect on the course of nature, outside ourselves, and its effect within the region of the supplicatory mind.

It is a "law of nature," verifiable by everyday experience, that our already formed convictions, our strong desires, our intent occupation with particular ideas, modify our mental operations to a most marvellous extent, and produce enduring changes in the direction and in the intensity of our intellectual and moral activities. Men can intoxicate themselves with ideas as effectually as with alcohol or with bang, and produce, by dint of intense thinking, mental conditions hardly distinguishable from monomania. Demoniac possession is mythical; but the faculty of being possessed, more or less completely, by an idea is probably the fundamental condition of what is called genius, whether it show itself in the saint, the artist, or the man of science. One calls it faith, another calls it inspiration, a third calls it insight; but the "intending of the mind," to borrow Newton's well-known phrase, the concentration of all the rays of intellectual energy on some one point, until it glows and colours the whole cast of thought with its peculiar light, is common to all.

I take it that the Bishop of Manchester has psychological science with him when he insists upon the subjective efficacy of prayer in faith, and on the seemingly miraculous effects which such [137] "intending of the mind" upon religious and moral ideals may have upon character and happiness. Scientific faith, at present, takes it no further than the prayer which Ajax offered; but that petition is continually granted.

Whatever points of detail may yet remain open for discussion, however, I repeat the opinion I have already expressed, that the Manchester sermons concede all that science has an indisputable right, or any pressing need, to ask, and that not grudgingly but generously; and, if the three bishops of 1887 carry the Church with them, I think they will have as good title to the permanent gratitude of posterity as the famous seven who went to the Tower in defence of the Church two hundred years ago.

Will their brethren follow their just and prudent guidance? I have no such acquaintance with the currents of ecclesiastical opinion as would justify me in even hazarding a guess on such a difficult topic. But some recent omens are hardly favourable. There seems to be an impression abroad–I do not desire to give any countenance to it–that I am fond of reading sermons. From time to time, unknown correspondents–some apparently animated by the charitable desire to promote my conversion, and others unmistakably anxious to spur me to the expression of wrathful antagonism–favour me with reports or copies of such productions.

[138] I found one of the latter category among the accumulated arrears to which I have already referred.

It is a full, and apparently accurate, report of a discourse by a person of no less ecclesiastical rank than the three authors of the sermons I have hitherto been considering; but who he is, and where or when the sermon was preached, are secrets which wild horses shall not tear from me, lest I fall again under high censure for attacking a clergyman. Only if the editor of this Review thinks it his duty to have independent evidence that the sermon has a real existence, will I, in the strictest confidence, communicate it to him.

The preacher, in this case, is of a very different mind from the three bishops–and this mind is different in quality, different in spirit, and different in contents. He discourses on the a priori objections to miracles, apparently without being aware, in spite of all the discussions of the last seven or eight years, that he is doing battle with a shadow.

I trust I do not misrepresent the Bishop of Manchester in saying that the essence of his remarkable discourse is the insistence upon the "supreme importance of the purely spiritual in our faith," and of the relative, if not absolute, insignificance of aught else. He obviously perceives the bearing of his arguments against the [139] alterability of the course of outward nature by prayer, on the question of miracles in general; for he is careful to say that "the possibility of miracles, of a rare and unusual transcendence of the world order is not here in question" (p. 38). It may be permitted me to suppose, however, that, if miracles were in question, the speaker who warns us "that we must look for the heart of the absolute religion in that part of it which prescribes our moral and religious relations" (p. 46) would not be disposed to advise those who had found the heart of Christianity to take much thought about its miraculous integument.

My anonymous sermon will have nothing to do with such notions as these, and its preacher is not too polite, to say nothing of charitable, towards those who entertain them.

"Scientific men, therefore, are perfectly right in asserting that Christianity rests on miracles. If miracles never happened, Christianity, in any sense which is not a mockery, which does not make the term of none effect, has no reality. I dwell on this because there is now an effort making to get up a non-miraculous, invertebrate Christianity, which may escape the ban of science. And I would warn you very distinctly against this new contrivance. Christianity is essentially miraculous, and falls to the ground if miracles be impossible."

Well, warning for warning. I venture to warn this preacher and those who, with him, persist in identifying Christianity with the miraculous, that such forms of Christianity are not only doomed to fall to the ground; but that, within the last [140] half century, they have been driving that way with continually accelerated velocity.

The so-called religious world is given to a strange delusion. It fondly imagines that it possesses the monopoly of serious and constant reflection upon the terrible problems of existence; and that those who cannot accept its shibboleths are either mere Gallios, caring for none of these things, or libertines desiring to escape from the restraints of morality. It does not appear to have entered the imaginations of these people that, outside their pale and firmly resolved never to enter it, there are thousands of men, certainly not their inferiors in character, capacity, or knowledge of the questions at issue, who estimate those purely spiritual elements of the Christian faith of which the Bishop of Manchester speaks as highly as the Bishop does; but who will have nothing to do with the Christian Churches, because in their apprehension and for them, the profession of belief in the miraculous, on the evidence offered, would be simply immoral.

So far as my experience goes, men of science are neither better nor worse than the rest of the world. Occupation with the endlessly great parts of the universe does not necessarily involve greatness of character, nor does microscopic study of the infinitely little always produce humility. We have our full share of original sin; need, greed, and vainglory beset us as they do other [141] mortals; and our progress is, for the most part, like that of a tacking ship, the resultant of opposite divergencies from the straight path. But, for all that, there is one moral benefit which the pursuit of science unquestionably bestows. It keeps the estimate of the value of evidence up to the proper mark; and we are constantly receiving lessons, and sometimes very sharp ones, on the nature of proof. Men of science will always act up to their standard of veracity, when mankind in general leave off sinning; but that standard appears to me to be higher among them than in any other class of the community.

I do not know any body of scientific men who could be got to listen without the strongest expressions of disgusted repudiation to the exposition of a pretended scientific discovery, which had no better evidence to show for itself than the story of the devils entering a herd of swine, or of the fig-tree that was blasted for bearing no figs when "it was not the season of figs." Whether such events are possible or impossible, no man can say; but scientific ethics can and does declare that the profession of belief in them, on the evidence of documents of unknown date and of unknown authorship, is immoral. Theological apologists who insist that morality will vanish if their dogmas are exploded, would do well to consider the fact that, in the matter of intellectual veracity, science is already a long way ahead of the [142] Churches; and that, in this particular, it is exerting an educational influence on mankind of which the Churches have shown themselves utterly incapable.

Undoubtedly that varying compound of some of the best and some of the worst elements of Paganism and Judaism, moulded in practice by the innate character of certain people of the Western world, which, since the second century, has assumed to itself the title of orthodox Christianity, "rests on miracles" and falls to the ground, not "if miracles be impossible," but if those to which it is committed prove themselves unable to fulfil the conditions of honest belief. That this Christianity is doomed to fall is, to my mind, beyond a doubt; but its fall will be neither sudden nor speedy. The Church, with all the aid lent it by the secular arm, took many centuries to extirpate the open practice of pagan idolatry within its own fold; and those who have travelled in southern Europe will be aware that it has not extirpated the essence of such idolatry even yet. Mutato nomine, it is probable that there is as much sheer fetishism among the Roman populace now as there was eighteen hundred years ago; and if Marcus Antoninus could descend from his horse and ascend the steps of the Ara Cœli church about Twelfth Day, the only thing that need strike him would be the extremely contemptible character of the modern idols as works of art.

[143] Science will certainly neither ask for, nor receive, the aid of the secular arm. It will trust to the much better and more powerful help of that education in scientific truth and in the morals of assent, which is rendered as indispensable, as it is inevitable, by the permeation of practical life with the products and ideas of science. But no one who considers the present state of even the most developed countries can doubt that the scientific light that has come into the world will have to shine in the midst of darkness for a long time. The urban populations, driven into contact with science by trade and manufacture, will more and more receive it, while the pagani will lag behind. Let us hope that no Julian may arise among them to head a forlorn hope against the inevitable. Whatever happens, science may bide her time in patience and in confidence.

But to return to my "Anonymous." I am afraid that if he represents any great party in the Church, the spirit of justice and reasonableness which animates the three bishops has as slender a chance of being imitated, on a large scale, as their common sense and their courtesy. For, not contented with misrepresenting science on its speculative side, "Anonymous" attacks its morality.

"For two whole years, investigations and conclusions which would upset the theories of Darwin on the formation of coral islands were actually suppressed, and that by the advice even of those who accepted them, for fear of upsetting the faith and dis[144]turbing the judgment formed by the multitude on the scientific character–the infallibility–of the great master!"

So far as I know anything about the matters which are here referred to, the part of this passage which I have italicised is absolutely untrue. I believe that I am intimately acquainted with all Mr. Darwin's immediate scientific friends: and I say that no one of them, nor any other man of science known to me, ever could, or would, have given such advice to any one–if for no other reason than that, with the example of the most candid and patient listener to objections that ever lived fresh in their memories, they could not so grossly have at once violated their highest duty and dishonoured their friend.

The charge thus brought by "Anonymous" affects the honour and the probity of men of science; if it is true, we have forfeited all claim to the confidence of the general public. In my belief it is utterly false, and its real effect will be to discredit those who are responsible for it. As is the way with slanders, it has grown by repetition.

"Anonymous" is responsible for the peculiarly offensive form which it has taken in his hands; but he is not responsible for originating it. He has evidently been inspired by an article entitled "A Great Lesson," published in the September number of this Review. Truly it is "a great lesson," but not quite in the sense intended by the giver thereof.

[145] In the course of his doubtless well-meant admonitions, the Duke of Argyll commits himself to a greater number of statements which are demonstrably incorrect and which any one who ventured to write upon the subject ought to have known to be incorrect, than I have ever seen gathered together in so small a space.

I submit a gathering from the rich store for the appreciation of the public.


"Mr Murray's new explanation of the structure of coral-reefs and islands was communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1880, and supported with such a weight of facts and such a close texture of reasoning, that no serious reply has ever been attempted" (p. 305).

"No serious reply has ever been attempted"! I suppose that the Duke of Argyll may have heard of Professor Dana, whose years of labour devoted to corals and coral-reefs when he was naturalist of the American expedition under Commodore Wilkes, more than forty years ago, have ever since caused him to be recognised as an authority of the first rank on such subjects. Now does his Grace know, or does he not know, that, in the year 1885, Professor Dana published an elaborate paper "On the Origin of Coral-Reefs and Islands," in which, after referring to a Presidential Address by the Director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain and Ireland delivered in 1883, in which special [146] attention is directed to Mr. Murray's views Professor Dana says:–

"The existing state of doubt on the question has led the writer to reconsider the earlier and later facts, and in the following pages he gives his results."

Professor Dana then devotes many pages of his very "serious reply" to a most admirable and weighty criticism of the objections which have at various times been raised to Mr. Darwin's doctrine by Professor Semper, by Dr. Rein, and finally by Mr. Murray, and he states his final judgment as follows:–

"With the theory of abrasion and solution incompetent, all the hypotheses of objectors to Darwin's theory are alike weak; for all have made these processes their chief reliance, whether appealing to a calcareous, or a volcanic, or a mountain-peak basement for the structure. The subsidence which the Darwinian theory requires has not been opposed by the mention of any fact at variance with it, nor by setting aside Darwin's arguments in its favour; and it has found new support in the facts from the "Challenger's" soundings off Tahiti, that had been put in array against it, and strong corroboration in the facts from the West Indies.

Darwin's theory, therefore, remains as the theory that accounts for the origin of reefs and islands."3

Be it understood that I express no opinion on the controverted points. I doubt if there are ten living men who, having a practical knowledge of what a coral-reef is, have endeavoured to master the very difficult biological and geological problems involved in their study. I happen to have [147] spent the best part of three years among coral-reefs and to have made that attempt; and, when Mr. Murray's work appeared, I said to myself that until I had two or three months to give to the renewed study of the subject in all its bearings, I must be content to remain in a condition of suspended judgment. In the meanwhile, the man who would be voted by common acclamation as the most competent person now living to act as umpire, has delivered the verdict I have quoted; and, to go no further, has fully justified the hesitation I and others may have felt about expressing an opinion. Under these circumstances, it seems to me to require a good deal of courage to say "no serious reply has ever been attempted"; and to chide the men of science, in lofty tones, for their "reluctance to admit an error" which is not admitted; and for their "slow and sulky acquiescence" in a conclusion which they have the gravest warranty for suspecting.


"Darwin himself had lived to hear of the new solution, and, with that splendid candour which was eminent in him, his mind, though now grown old in his own early convictions, was at least ready to entertain it, and to confess that serious doubts had been awakened as to the truth of his famous theory" (p. 305).

I wish that Darwin's splendid candour could be conveyed by some description of spiritual "microbe" to those who write about him. I am not aware that Mr. Darwin ever entertained [148] "serious doubts as to the truth of his famous theory"; and there is tolerably good evidence to the contrary. The second edition of his work, published in 1876, proves that he entertained no such doubts then; a letter to Professor Semper, whose objections, in some respects, forestalled those of Mr. Murray, dated October 2, 1879, expresses his continued adherence to the opinion "that the atolls and barrier reefs in the middle of the Pacific and Indian Oceans indicate subsidence"; and the letter of my friend Professor Judd, printed at the end of this article (which I had perhaps better say Professor Judd had not seen) will prove that this opinion remained unaltered to the end of his life.


". . . Darwin's theory is a dream. It is not only unsound but it is in many respects the reverse of truth. With all his conscientiousness, with all his caution, with all his powers of observation, Darwin in this matter fell into errors as profound as the abysses of the Pacific" (p. 301).

[149] Really? It seems to me that, under the circumstances, it is pretty clear that these lines exhibit a lack of the qualities justly ascribed to Mr. Darwin, which plunges their author into a much deeper abyss, and one from which there is no hope of emergence.


"All the acclamations with which it was received were as the shouts of an ignorant mob" (p. 301).

But surely it should be added that the Coryphæus of this ignorant mob, the fugleman of the shouts, was one of the most accomplished naturalists and geologists now living–the American Dana–who, after years of independent study extending over numerous reefs in the Pacific, gave his hearty assent to Darwin's views, and after all that had been said, deliberately reaffirmed that assent in the year 1888.


"The overthrow of Darwin's speculation is only beginning to be known. It has been whispered for some time. The cherished dogma has been dropping very slowly out of sight" (p. 301).

Darwin's speculation may be right or wrong, but I submit that that which has not happened cannot even begin to be known, except by those who have miraculous gifts to which we poor scientific people do not aspire. The overthrow of Darwin's views may have been whispered by those who hoped for it; and they were perhaps wise in not raising their voices above a whisper. Incorrect statements, if made too loudly, are apt to bring about unpleasant consequences.


Mr. Murray's views, published in 1880, are said to have met with "slow and sulky acquiescence" (p. 305). I have proved that they cannot be said to have met with general acquiescence of any sort, whether quick and cheerful, or slow and sulky; and if this assertion is meant [150] to convey the impression that Mr. Murray's views have been ignored, that there has been a conspiracy of silence against them, it is utterly contrary to notorious fact.

Professor Geikie's well-known "Textbook of Geology" was published in 1882, and at pages 457-59 of that work there is a careful exposition of Mr. Murray's views. Moreover Professor Geikie has specially advocated them on other occasions,4 notably in a long article on "The Origin of Coral-Reefs," published in two numbers of "Nature" for 1883, and in a Presidential Address delivered in the same year. If, in so short a time after the publication of his views, Mr Murray could boast of a convert, so distinguished and influential as the Director of the Geological Survey, it seems to me that this wonderful conspiration de silence (which has about as much real existence as the Duke of Argyll's other bogie, "The Reign of Terror") must have ipso facto collapsed. I wish that, when I was a young man, my endeavours to upset some prevalent errors had met with as speedy and effectual backing.


". . . Mr. John Murray was strongly advised against the publication of his views in derogation of Darwin's long-accepted theory of the coral islands, and was actually induced to delay it for two years. Yet the late Sir Wyville Thomson, who was at the head of the naturalists of the "Challenger" expedition, was himself convinced by Mr. Murray's reasoning" (p. 307).

Clearly, then, it could not be Mr. Murray's official chief who gave him this advice. Who was it? And what was the exact nature of the advice given? Until we have some precise information on this head, I shall take leave to doubt whether this statement is more accurate than those which I have previously cited.

Whether such advice was wise or foolish, just or immoral, depends entirely on the motive of the person who gave it. If he meant to suggest to Mr. Murray that it might be wise for a young and comparatively unknown man to walk warily, when he proposed to attack a generalization based on many years' labour of one undoubtedly competent person, and fortified by the independent results of the many years' labour of another undoubtedly competent person; and even, if necessary, to take two whole years in fortifying his position, I think that such advice would have been sagacious and kind. I suppose that there are few working men of science who have not kept their ideas to themselves, while gathering and sifting evidence, for a much longer period than two years.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Murray was advised to delay the publication of his criticisms, simply to [152] save Mr. Darwin's credit and to preserve some reputation for infallibility, which no one ever heard of, then I have no hesitation in declaring that his adviser was profoundly dishonest, as well as extremely foolish; and that, if he is a man of science, he has disgraced his calling.

But, after all, this supposed scientific Achitophel has not yet made good the primary fact of his existence. Until the needful proof is forthcoming, I think I am justified in suspending my judgment as to whether he is much more than an anti-scientific myth. I leave it to the Duke of Argyll to judge of the extent of the obligation under which, for his own sake, he may lie to produce the evidence on which his aspersions of the honour of scientific men are based. I cannot pretend that we are seriously disturbed by charges which every one who is acquainted with the truth of the matter knows to be ridiculous; but mud has a habit of staining if it lies too long, and it is as well to have it brushed off as soon as may be.

So much for the "Great Lesson." It is followed by a "Little Lesson," apparently directed against my infallibility–a doctrine about which I should be inclined to paraphrase Wilkes's remark to George the Third, when he declared that he, at any rate, was not a Wilkite. But I really should be glad to think that there are people who need the warning, because then it will be obvious that this raking up of an old story cannot have been [153] suggested by a mere fanatical desire to damage men of science. I can but rejoice, then, that these misguided enthusiasts, whose faith in me has so far exceeded the bounds of reason, should be set right. But that "want of finish" in the matter of accuracy which so terribly mars the effect of the "Great Lesson," is no less conspicuous in the case of the "Little Lesson," and, instead of setting my too fervent disciples right, it will set them wrong.

The Duke of Argyll, in telling the story of Bathybius, says that my mind was "caught by this new and grand generalization of the physical basis of life." I never have been guilty of a reclamation about anything to my credit, and I do not mean to be; but if there is any blame going, I do not choose to be relegated to a subordinate place when I have a claim to the first. The responsibility for the first description and the naming of Bathybius is mine and mine only. The paper on "Some Organisms living at great Depths in the Atlantic Ocean," in which I drew attention to this substance, is to be found by the curious in the eighth volume of the "Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science," and was published in the year 1868. Whatever errors are contained in that paper are my own peculiar property; but neither at the meeting of the British Association in 1868, nor anywhere else, have I gone beyond what is there stated; except in so far that, at a long-sub[154]sequent meeting of the Association, being importuned about the subject, I ventured to express somewhat emphatically, the wish that the thing was at the bottom of the sea.

What is meant by my being caught by a generalization about the physical basis of life I do not know; still less can I understand the assertion that Bathybius was accepted because of its supposed harmony with Darwin's speculations. That which interested me in the matter was the apparent analogy of Bathybius with other well-known forms of lower life, such as the plasmodia of the Myxomycetes and the Rhizopods. Speculative hopes or fears had nothing to do with the matter; and if Bathybius were brought up alive from the bottom of the Atlantic to-morrow the fact would not have the slightest bearing, that I can discern, upon Mr. Darwin's speculations, or upon any of the disputed problems of biology. It would merely be one elementary organism the more added to the thousands already known.

Up to this moment I was not aware of the universal favour with which Bathybius was received.5 Those simulators of an "ignorant mob" who, according to the Duke of Argyll, welcomed [155] coral-reefs, made no demonstration in my favour, unless his Grace includes Sir Wyville Thomson, Dr. Carpenter, Dr. Bessels, and Professor Haeckel under that head. On the contrary, a sagacious friend of mine, than whom there was no more competent judge, the late Mr. George Busk, was not to be converted; while, long before the "Challenger" work, Ehrenberg wrote to me very skeptically; and I fully expected that that eminent man would favour me with pretty sharp criticism. Unfortunately, he died shortly afterwards, and nothing from him, that I know of, appeared. When Sir Wyville Thomson wrote to me a brief account of the results obtained on board the "Challenger" I sent this statement to "Nature," in which journal it appeared the following week, without any further note or comment than was needful to explain the circumstances. In thus allowing judgment to go by default, I am afraid I showed a reckless and ungracious disregard for the feelings of the believers in my infallibility. No doubt I ought to have hedged and fenced and attenuated the effect of Sir Wyville Thomson's brief note in every possible way. Or perhaps I ought to have suppressed the note altogether, on the ground that it was a mere ex parte statement. My excuse is that, notwithstanding a large and abiding faith in human folly, I did not know then, any more than I know now, that there was anybody foolish enough to be unaware that [156] the only people scientific or other, who never make mistakes are those who do nothing; or that anybody, for whose opinion I cared, would not rather see me commit ten blunders than try to hide one.

Pending the production of further evidence, I hold that the existence of people who believe in the infallibility of men of science is as purely mythical as that of the evil counsellor who advised the withholding of the truth lest it should conflict with that belief.

I venture to think, then, that the Duke of Argyll might have spared his "Little Lesson" as well as his "Great Lesson" with advantage. The paternal authority who whips the child for sins he has not committed does not strengthen his moral influence–rather excites contempt and repugnance. And if, as would seem from this and former monitory allocations which have been addressed to us, the Duke aspires to the position of censor, or spiritual director, in relation to the men who are doing the work of physical science, he really must get up his facts better. There will be an end to all chance of our kissing the rod if his Grace goes wrong a third time. He must not say again that "no serious reply has been attempted" to a view which was discussed and repudiated, two years before, by one of the highest extant authorities on the subject; he must not say that Darwin accepted that which it can be proved he did not accept; he must not say that a doctrine [157] has dropped into the abyss when it is quite obviously alive and kicking at the surface; he must not assimilate a man like Professor Dana to the components of an "ignorant mob"; he must not say that things are beginning to be known which are not known at all; he must not say that "slow and sulky acquiescence" has been given to that which cannot yet boast of general acquiescence of any kind; he must not suggest that a view which has been publicly advocated by the Director of the Geological Survey and no less publicly discussed by many other authoritative writers has been intentionally and systematically ignored; he must not ascribe ill motives for a course of action which is the only proper one; and finally, if any one but myself were interested, I should say that he had better not waste his time in raking up the errors of those whose lives have been occupied, not in talking about science, but in toiling, sometimes with success and sometimes with failure, to get some real work done.

The most considerable difference I note among men is not in their readiness to fall into error, but in their readiness to acknowledge these inevitable lapses. The Duke of Argyll has now a splendid opportunity for proving to the world in which of these categories it is hereafter to rank him.

Dear Professor Huxley,–A short time before Mr. Darwin's death, I had a conversation [158] with him concerning the observations which had been made by Mr. Murray upon coral-reefs, and the speculations which had been founded upon those observations. I found that Mr. Darwin had very carefully considered the whole subject, and that while, on the one hand, he did not regard the actual facts recorded by Mr. Murray as absolutely inconsistent with his own theory of subsidence, on the other hand, he did not believe that they necessitated or supported the hypothesis advanced by Mr. Murray. Mr. Darwin's attitude, as I understood it, towards Mr. Murray's objections to the theory of subsidence was exactly similar to that maintained by him with respect to Professor Semper's criticism, which was of a very similar character; and his position with regard to the whole question was almost identical with that subsequently so clearly defined by Professor Dana in his well-known articles published in the "American Journal of Science" for 1885.

It is difficult to imagine how any one, acquainted with the scientific literature of the last seven years, could possibly suggest that Mr Murray's memoir published in 1880 had failed to secure a due amount of attention. Mr. Murray, by his position in the "Challenger" office, occupied an exceptionally favourable position for making his views widely known; and he had, moreover, the singular good fortune to secure from the first the advocacy of so able and brilliant a writer as [159] Professor Archibald Geikie, who in a special discourse and in several treatises on geology and physical geology very strongly supported the new theory. It would be an endless task to attempt to give references to the various scientific journals which have discussed the subject, but I may add that every treatise on geology which has been published, since Mr. Murray's views were made known, has dealt with his observations at considerable length. This is true of Professor A. H. Green's "Physical Geology," published in 1882; of Professor Prestwich's "Geology, Chemical and Physical"; and of Professor James Geikie's "Outlines of Geology," published in 1886. Similar prominence is given to the subject in De Lapparent's "Traité de Géologie," published in 1885, and in Credner's "Elemente der Geologie," which has appeared during the present year. If this be a "conspiracy of silence," where, alas! can the geological speculator seek for fame?–Yours very truly,

John W. Judd.
October 10, 1887.

1 The Advance of Science. Three sermons preached in Manchester Cathedral on Sunday, September 4, 1887, during the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Bishop of Bedford, and the Bishop of Manchester.

2 Reprinted in Vol. IV. of this collection.

3 American Journal of Science, 1885, p. 190.

4 Professor Geikie, however, though a strong, is a fair and candid advocate. He says of Darwin's theory, "That it may be possibly true, in some instances may be readily granted." For Professor Geikie, then, it is not yet overthrown–still less a dream.

5 I find, moreover, that I specially warned my readers against hasty judgment. After stating the facts of observation, I add, "I have, hitherto, said nothing about their meaning, as, in an inquiry so difficult and fraught with interest as this, it seems to me to be in the highest degree important to keep the questions of fact and the questions of interpretation well apart" (p. 210).

Preface and Table of Contents to Volume V, Science and Christian Tradition, of Huxley's Collected Essays.

Next article: The Value of Witness to the Miraculous [1889], pages 160-191.

Previous article: Science and Pseudo-Science [1887], pages 90-125.



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden