Imágenes de página


store of energy in the atoms of matter, compared with which all that hitherto has been known sinks into insignificance. In certain elements-those that show the property of radioactivity-this energy is being slowly given up. This has made, in certain departments of thought, a complete revulsion of outlook. Instead, for example, of the world gradually cooling by radiation it must be getting steadily hotter in its interior owing to the energy evolved by the radioactive elements it contains, unless there are unknown factors at work to compensate for this. A world without energy, in the present state of knowledge, implies a world without matter and, therefore, no world at all.

Hitherto it has been supposed that we were for ever cut off from the major sources of natural energy, which maintain throughout the ages the profligate expenditure from the sun and stars. The coal and oil from which the modern world derives its new powers represent but a limited legacy from the past, rather than a permanent increase in its income of energy. But the discoveries in radioactivity have shown that, in the smallest atoms of matter all around us, there exists stores of energy a million times greater than any so far harnessed. Limitless physical power awaits humanity so soon as the knowledge that shall lead to its control and application has been obtained. How many unrecorded ages elapsed before the energy of fuel was controlled, and in how short a space of subsequent time has it altered the whole mode of life of the world! Given a clear course and that most rare of national qualities, common sense, physical science can abolish the struggle for existence so far as concerns food and fuel.


But so far the pearls of science have been cast before swine, who have given us in return million

aires and slums, armaments and the desolation of war. But let us turn to the other side of the picture. The use, rather than the abuse, of this control of the unlimited resources of Nature brings within the range of practicability the abolition of poverty, destitution and economic slavery of the many, in contrast to the few. Weighty enough influences still prevent any approach to the realisation of Utopia, but-and this should be written on every Church throughout the length and breadth of the land—they are not now physical but moral. The Churches, which should have been the first to welcome the possibility of making such a forward step, have still to be won over to the side of the humane man. They have hitherto in this country proved themselves the most bigoted and powerful opponents of the science, which alone has been able to bring within the realm of practical politics for the masses the Christian principles to which they have rendered such devoted service as academic aspirations and ideals.

One of Huxley's truest and most profound remarks is contained in the Rectorial Address he delivered to the students of this university. "Men are beginning, once more, to awake to the fact that matters of belief and speculation are of absolutely infinite practical importance."

It is of the greatest practical sociological importance to ask ourselves whether or not we believe in God. If so, in what sort of a God-absolute, exercising complete dominion over the soul and spirit of man, his mind, intellect and aspiration towards the beautiful, his body, over animals, vegetables, the inanimate universe of space and time, matter, energy, the ether and electricity? A religion that on the most important questions of everyday life has nothing to say, either definite or constructive,



is a greater danger to the vitality of a nation than downright scepticism and unbelief.


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 ex.ends, 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.


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 1 Written for the first number of The Crucible, May 1919.

« AnteriorContinuar »