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Professor Huxley’s Lectures
by [?]

In many of the comments which his lectures have called out in the newspapers one meets every now and then with a curious failure to comprehend the position which an average non-scientific man occupies in such a conflict as in now going on over the doctrines of evolution. Professor Huxley was very careful not to repeat the error which delivered Professor Tyndall into the hands of the enemy at Belfast. He expressed no opinion as to the nature of the causal force which called the world into existence. He did not profess to know anything about the sources of life. He consequently did not once place himself on the level of the theologian or the unscientific spectator. What he undertook to do and did was to present to the audience some specimens of the evidence by which evolutionists have been led to the conclusion that their theory is correct. Now, the mistake which a good many newspaper writers–some of them ministers–have made in passing judgment on the lectures lies in their supposing that this evidence must be weak and incomplete because they have not been convinced. There is probably no more widely diffused fallacy, or one which works more mischief in all walks of life, than the notion that it is only those whose business it is to persuade who need to be trained in the art of proof, and that those who are to be persuaded need no process of preparation at all.

The fact is that skill in reasoning is as necessary on the one side as the other. He cannot be fully and rightly convinced who does not himself know how to convince, and no man is competent to judge in the last resort of the force of an argument who is not on something like an equality of knowledge and dialectical skill with the person using it. This is true in all fields of discussion; it is pre-eminently true in scientific fields. Of course, therefore, the real public of the scientific man–the public which settles finally whether he has made out his case–is a small one. Outside of it there is another and larger one on which his reasoning may act with irresistible force; but just as the fact that it does so act does not prove that his hypothesis is true, so also the fact that it has failed to convince proves nothing against its soundness. In other words, a man’s occupying the position of a listener does not necessarily clothe him with the attributes of a judge, and there may be as much folly and impertinence in his going about saying, “I do not agree with Huxley; he has not satisfied me; he will have to produce more proof than that before I believe in evolution,” as in going about saying, “I know as much about evolution as Huxley and could give as good a lecture on it as he any day.” And yet a good many people are guilty of the one who would blush at the mere thought of the other.

Another fertile source of confusion in this and similar controversies is the habit which transcendentalists, theological and other, have of using the term “truth” in two different senses, the scientific sense and the religious or spiritual sense. The scientific man only uses it in one. Truth to him is something capable of demonstration by some one of the canons of induction. He knows nothing of any truth which cannot be proved. The religious man, on the other hand, and especially the minister, has been bred in the application of the term to facts of an entirely different order–that is, to emotions produced by certain beliefs which he cannot justify by any arguments, and about which to him no argument is necessary. These are the “spiritual truths” which are said to be perceptible often to the simple-minded and unlearned, though hidden from the wise and prudent. Now there is no decently educated religious man who does not perceive the distinction between these two kinds of truths, and few who do not think they keep this distinction in mind when passing upon the great problems of the origin and growth of the universe. But, as a matter of fact, we see the distinction ignored every day. People go to scientific lectures and read scientific books with their heads filled with spiritual truths, which have come they know not whence, and which give them infinite comfort in all the trying passages of life, and in view of this comfort must, they think, connect them by invisible lines of communication with the great Secret of the Universe, toward which philosophers try to make their way by visible lines. When, then, they find that the scientific man’s induction makes no impression on this other truth, and that he cannot dislodge any theory of the growth or government of the world which has become firmly imbedded in it, they are apt to conclude that there is something faulty in his methods, or rash and presumptuous in his conclusions. But there is only one course for the leaders of religious thought to follow in order to prevent the disastrous confusion which comes of the sudden and complete break-down of the moral standards and sanctions by which the mass of mankind live, and that is to put an end at once, and gracefully, to the theory that the spiritual truth which brings the peace which passeth understanding has any necessary connection with any theory of the physical universe, or can be used to refute it or used as a substitute for it, or is dependent on the authenticity or interpretation of any book. They must not flatter themselves because a scientific man here and there doubts or gainsays, or because some learned theologian is still unconvinced, or because the mental habits of which faith is born seem to hold their ground or show signs of revival, that the philosophy of which Huxley is a master is not slowly but surely gaining ground. The proofs may not yet be complete, but they grow day by day; some of the elder scientific men may scout, but no young ones are appearing to take their places and preach their creed. The tide seems sometimes to ebb from month to month, but it rises from year to year. The true course of spiritually minded men under these circumstances is to separate their faith from all theories of the precise manner in which the world originated, or of the length of time it has lasted, as matters, for their purposes, of little or no moment. The secret springs of hope and courage from which each of us draws strength in the great crises of existence would flow all the same whether life appeared on the planet ten million or ten thousand years ago, and whether the present forms of life were the product of one day or of many ages. And we doubt very much whether anyone has ever listened in a candid and dispassionate frame of mind to the evolutionist’s history of the globe without finding that it had deepened for him the mystery of the universe, and magnified the Power which stands behind it.