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Science And Pseudo-Science
by [?]


In the opening sentences of a contribution to the last number of this Review,[20] the Duke of Argyll has favoured me with a lecture on the proprieties of controversy, to which I should be disposed to listen with more docility if his Grace’s precepts appeared to me to be based upon rational principles, or if his example were more exemplary.

With respect to the latter point, the Duke has thought fit to entitle his article “Professor Huxley on Canon Liddon,” and thus forces into prominence an element of personality, which those who read the paper which is the object of the Duke’s animadversions will observe I have endeavoured, most carefully, to avoid. My criticisms dealt with a report of a sermon, published in a newspaper, and thereby addressed to all the world. Whether that sermon was preached by A or B was not a matter of the smallest consequence; and I went out of my way to absolve the learned divine to whom the discourse was attributed from the responsibility for statements which, for anything I knew to the contrary, might contain imperfect, or inaccurate, representations of his views. The assertion that I had the wish, or was beset, by any “temptation to attack” Canon Liddon is simply contrary to fact.

But suppose that if, instead of sedulously avoiding even the appearance of such attack, I had thought fit to take a different course; suppose that, after satisfying myself that the eminent clergyman whose name is paraded by the Duke of Argyll had really uttered the words attributed to him from the pulpit of St. Paul’s, what right would any one have to find fault with my action on grounds either of justice, expediency, or good taste?

Establishment has its duties as well as its rights. The clergy of a State Church enjoy many advantages over those of unprivileged and unendowed religious persuasions; but they lie under a correlative responsibility to the State, and to every member of the body politic. I am not aware that any sacredness attaches to sermons. If preachers stray beyond the doctrinal limits set by lay lawyers, the Privy Council will see to it; and, if they think fit to use their pulpits for the promulgation of literary, or historical, or scientific errors, it is not only the right, but the duty, of the humblest layman, who may happen to be better informed, to correct the evil effects of such perversion of the opportunities which the State affords them; and such misuse of the authority which its support lends them. Whatever else it may claim to be, in its relations with the State, the Established Church is a branch of the Civil Service; and, for those who repudiate the ecclesiastical authority of the clergy, they are merely civil servants, as much responsible to the English people for the proper performance of their duties as any others.

The Duke of Argyll tells us that the “work and calling” of the clergy prevent them from “pursuing disputation as others can.” I wonder if his Grace ever reads the so-called “religious” newspapers. It is not an occupation which I should commend to any one who wishes to employ his time profitably; but a very short devotion to this exercise will suffice to convince him that the “pursuit of disputation,” carried to a degree of acrimony and vehemence unsurpassed in lay controversies, seems to be found quite compatible with the “work and calling” of a remarkably large number of the clergy.

Finally, it appears to me that nothing can be in worse taste than the assumption that a body of English gentlemen can, by any possibility, desire that immunity from criticism which the Duke of Argyll claims for them. Nothing would be more personally offensive to me than the supposition that I shirked criticism, just or unjust, of any lecture I ever gave. I should be utterly ashamed of myself if, when I stood up as an instructor of others, I had not taken every pains to assure myself of the truth of that which I was about to say; and I should feel myself bound to be even more careful with a popular assembly, who would take me more or less on trust, than with an audience of competent and critical experts.