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MISTAKEN IDEAS OF THE DEITY
is a greater danger to the vitality of a nation than downright scepticism and unbelief.
THE NEED FOR MORE RATIONAL CREEDS. Human nature changes very slowly and only by painful experience. The influences that were most progressive and elevating in the one age, have to be fought and beaten out of the path of progress in the next. The idea that physical power is one of the attributes of deity, and the conception of an allpowerful being directing the universe and the physical affairs of men, has left behind it a legacy of nothing but calamity. According to the scientific definition of truth, which earlier I precisely formulated, there is no such being. The external universe behaves as a machine working automatically according to the laws and principles contained in its own mechanism, and, so far as exact knowledge exiends, it does not exhibit a vestige of that arbitrary and purposeful variation that would imply a personality in control. Science, through the personality of men, has in part assumed its control, and never yet has it been interfered with or resisted. We hear from well-meaning, but rather unpractical, people that the evils the world suffers from are due to its neglect of God, but surely the worst of them are directly traceable to the enthronement of God in the wrong place. Science has banished the conception of deity for ever from the working of the inanimate world, which behaves in all respects as, and therefore is a simple machine left to go. The task of controlling it is man's, not God's. If through ignorance and incompetence he fails, no personality, vindictive or benevolent, will interfere. The machine will go on in the same way as before, and as, according to geology, it has been going on in a regular uniform manner for æons before man arrived on the scene.
I do not expect to escape or shirk the question, 'Who, then, created all this wonderful and intricate machinery?” Science answers that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. The universe is eternal. The very idea of creation and destruction is drawn not from the inanimate universe, but from the phenomenon of life. These ideas cannot be considered apart from life, whereas the inanimate universe can. Just as the man of science is unable to push his mechanical conceptions to explain life and the Deity, so the theist must not push his conception of the Deity and life into the inanimate universe. The Rubicon that cannot be crossed in the one direction obviously must not be crossed in the other.
It is not sufficient privately to make mental reservations about a creed, and publicly to avow it. For these ancient creeds are working an infinitude of harm in the world, and nowhere more than to the cause of religion.
The conceptions of the Deity as the creator of the heavens and earth, the controller of the inanimate universe and the worker of physical miracles, have, with the growth of science, merely a historical connection with the conceptions which to-day would be regarded as specifically Christian and are definitely alien to them. If to science were rendered the things that belong to science, what is left would gain rather than lose in significance.
TO THE NEW LAUNCH!1
The Science Students of the University of Aberdeen are to be congratulated on their initiative and enterprise in starting a magazine to be devoted to their interests. It is badly needed. May it prosper and become a factor making for progress.
Old wine into old bottles and the new wine into new! The danger of bursting the old bottles by new wine is, in an ancient university, not a very imminent one, but that of wasting the new wine is. Assuredly students of classical subjects in ancient universities and students of new subjects in modern universities have much to be thankful for ; but it is not, so I am told, unalloyed bliss to be a classical student in a new university, nor a purely honorary privilege to be a science student in an old one. From a residential experience of six universities, three old and three new, I should judge Aberdeen to be the oldest, from the price paid by the science student.
It changes, I am told, rapidly, but its attitude towards science does not change. Huxley's rectorial address to the students of this university in 1874before I was born-will, I firmly believe, never be out of date. I read it regularly to keep up with the times. True we have a Faculty of Science now, a little different from the one Huxley welcomed in anticipation. The Commissioners in 1893 said, “Let there be a Faculty of Science”-and the Faculty of Science was, not to say had been for many years, for the two youngest component Chairs in it were already thirty-three years old, and the next was just celebrating its tercentenary. What a gift is the creative type of mind of the lawgiver. Huxley's poor imagination could only suppose that “the establishment of a Faculty of Science in every university implies that of a corresponding number of Professorial Chairs, the incumbents of which need not be so burdened with teaching as to deprive them of ample leisure for original work." There is, however, now one Chair in the Faculty of Science which was not in existence half a century ago, but I have still to hear that its occupant is actually bored with his ample leisure.
1 Written for the first number of The Crucible, May 1919.
Another perennial favourite of mine is the address by another of Aberdeen's Lord Rectors, delivered in Edinburgh in 1906. I was in Scotland then, and remember the hopes it gave rise to.
I can imagine the science students here, whose prospective grandparents are now attending our classes, turning to this address, as it is to be found in Nature, 25th October 1906, for something really fresh and up-to-date.
But Carnegie, alas! was, like Huxley, no lawyer. The magician's wand which could create Faculties of Science ready-made waved again. Cinderella and her elder sisters became hopelessly mixed. Whereas before we had arts, lo! now they were all sciences. Everything that ever has been, is or will be studied can at least be studied scientifically. An even more justifiable use of that blessed word will occur naturally to many of my readers, at least among the sporting fraternity. There is a science of the ring, of billiards, football, and so on. The Union Committee should certainly try to get a grant for
i Quoted on p. 224 (Appendix).
YOUTH PAYS THE BILL
a billiard table. We have the authority of the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Thomson, as to its scientific uses. He tells how he once lured a sporting member of his class quite a long way into the kinetic theory of gases and the primrose paths of mathematical physics by tactful references to and illustrations from that very science.
Joking apart, however, the price paid for putting new wine into old bottles has become ruinous. Before the war had branded into the consciousness of the people what the lack of science brought in its train, in the eternal antagonism of authority to new knowledge, verbal subtleties like the above were a perfect god-send. When, however, we were at grips with a scientific enemy, whose science was of the Huxley type rather than that of the 1881 Commissioners, and with the character of which Carnegie was more familiar than his trustees, verbal subtleties did not save the situation, and youth paid the bill. If science is not to get ordinary decent fair-play in ancient educational establishments, it is the youth of the country who will pay again. It is not good to be young in a country that is governed by worm-eaten prejudices and absurd conjuring-tricks with words.
The teaching of a single main science subject, such as chemistry, which demands full lecture and practical courses almost without number for students drawn from the three Faculties of Arts, Medicine and Science, to-day involves probably more actual work than the teaching given in the whole Faculty of Arts a century ago. Of course it could not be done at all, but for the loyal and devoted staff of lecturers, assistants and demonstrators.
Throughout Scotland since, with the B.Sc., serious training in science began, which, though the numbers formerly attending were relatively