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Circumstantial Evidence
by [?]

Some of the letters from clergymen which have been called out by our article on the part recently taken by them in scientific discussion maintain that, although ministers may not be familiar with the facts of science, many of them are fully competent to weigh the arguments founded on these facts put forward by scientific men, and decide whether they have proved their case or not; or, in other words, that we were mistaken in saying that the theological seminaries did not afford severe training in the use of the inductive process, and that it could not be used effectively without knowledge of the matters on which it was used. More than one of these letters points, in support of this view, to the answer of the Rev. Dr. Taylor, of this city, to Professor Huxley’s lectures, published some weeks ago in the Tribune, and we believe the Tribune presented the author to the public as “a trained logician.”

We have accordingly turned to Dr. Taylor’s letter and given it a much more attentive reading than we confess we gave it when it first appeared, for the purpose of seeing whether it was really true that ministers were such dexterous and highly taught dialecticians that they could overthrow a scientific man, even on a subject of which they knew little or nothing–whether, in short, they could really treat the question of evolution algebraically, and, by the mere aid of signs of the meaning of which they were ignorant, put the Huxleys and Darwins to confusion. For Dr. Taylor opens in this way:

“Let it be understood, then, that I have no fault to find with Mr. Huxley as a discoverer of facts or as an exponent of comparative anatomy. In both of these respects he is beyond all praise of mine, and I am ready to sit at his feet; but when he begins to reason from the facts which he sets forth, then, like every other reasoner, he is amenable to the laws of argumentation, and his conclusions are to be tested by the relation which they bear to the premises which he has advanced, and by the proof which he furnishes for the premises themselves.”

We pass over, as of no consequence for our present purpose, the various exceptions which he then takes to Huxley’s arrangement of his lectures, to the tone of his exceptions, and to his mode of referring to the biblical hypothesis, and come to what he has to say of Huxley’s evidence, which he truly calls “circumstantial evidence.” The first thing he does is to define circumstantial evidence; but here, at the very outset, we have been surprised to find a logician who conceives himself capable of overhauling the argumentation of the masters of science, going to a lawyer to get “a statement of the principles which regulate the value of circumstantial evidence.” This is a matter which lay logicians usually have at their fingers’ ends, and we have never known one yet who would not be puzzled by a suggestion that he should do as Dr. Taylor did–go to a “distinguished legal friend” for information as to the conditions of this kind of proof. For, as we have more than once pointed out, lawyers, as such, have no special skill or training in the use of circumstantial evidence as scientific men know it–that is, as evidence which derives all its force from the laws of the human mind. The circumstantial evidence with which lawyers, qua lawyers, are familiar under our system of jurisprudence is an artificial thing created by legislation or custom, with the object of preventing the minds of the jury– presumably a body of untrained and unlearned men–from being confused or led astray. Moreover, they are only familiar with its use in one very narrow field–human conduct under one set of social conditions. For example, a lawyer might be a very good judge of circumstantial evidence in America, and a very poor one in India or China; might have a keen eye for the probable or improbable in a New England village, and none at all in a Prussian barrack.