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The Church And Science
by [?]

A considerable body of the graduates of the Irish Catholic University, including members of the legal and medical professions, presented a long and solemn memorial to Cardinal Cullen and the other Catholic bishops at the late commencement of that institution, which throws a good deal of light not only on the vexed question of Catholic education in Ireland, but on the relations of the Catholic Church to education everywhere. The memorial examined in detail the management of the university, which it pronounces so bad as to endanger the existence of the college. But what it most complains of is the all but total absence of instruction in science. The memorialists say that the neglect of science by the university has afforded a very plausible argument to the enemies of the university, who never tire of repeating that the Catholic Church is the enemy of science, and that she will carry out her usual policy in Ireland with respect to it; that “no one can deny that the Irish Catholics are miserably deficient in scientific education, and that this deficiency is extremely galling to them; and, in a commercial sense, involves a loss to them, while, in an intellectual sense, it involves a positive degradation.” They speak regretfully of the secession of Professor Sullivan, to take the presidency of the Queen’s College, Cork, and declare that “no Irish-Catholic man of science can be found to take his place.” They then go on to make several astounding charges. The lecture-list of the university does not include for the faculty of arts a single professor of the physical or natural sciences, or the name of a solitary teacher in descriptive geometry, geology, zoology, comparative anatomy, mineralogy, mining, astronomy, philology, ethnology, mechanics, electricity, or optics. Of the prizes and exhibitions, the number offered in classics equals that of those offered in all other studies put together, while in other universities the classical prizes do not exceed one-fourth of the whole. They wind up their melancholy recital by declaring that they are determined that the scientific inferiority of Irish Catholics shall not last any longer; and that if they cannot obtain a scientific education in their own universities, they will seek it at Trinity or the Queen’s Colleges, or study it for themselves in the works of Haeckel, Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, and Lyell. They make one other singular complaint, viz., that no provision is made for supplying the lay students with instruction in theology.

It ought to be said in defence of the cardinal and the bishops, though the memorialists probably could not venture to say it, that the church hardly pretends that the university is an efficient or complete instrument of education. It has been in existence, it is true, twenty years, but the main object of its promoters during this period has apparently been to harass or frighten the government by means of it into granting them an endowment, or giving them control of the Queen’s Colleges. Had they succeeded in this, they would doubtless before now have made a show of readiness to afford something in the nature of scientific instruction, because, as the memorialists remark, there is no denying “that the physical and natural sciences have become the chief studies of the age.” But the memorialists must be either very simple-minded or very ignorant Catholics, if they suppose that any endowment or any pressure from public opinion would ever induce the Catholic hierarchy to undertake to turn out students who would make a respectable figure among the scientific graduates of other universities, or even hold their own among the common run of amateur readers of Huxley and Darwin and Tyndall. There is no excuse for any misunderstanding as regards the policy of the church on this point. She has never given the slightest encouragement or sanction to the idea which so many Protestant divines have of late years embraced, that theology is a progressive science, capable of continued development in the light of newly discovered facts, and of gradual adaptation to the changing phases of our knowledge of the physical universe. She has hundreds of times given out as absolute truth a certain theory of the origin of man and of the globe he lives on, and she cannot either abandon it or encourage any study or habit of mind which would naturally or probably lead to doubt of the correctness of this theory, or of the church’s authority in enunciating it. In fact, the Pope, who is now an infallible judge in all matters of faith and discipline, has, within the last five years, in the famous “Syllabus” of modern follies, pronounced damnable and erroneous nearly all the methods and opinions by which Irish or any other Catholics could escape the deficiency in scientific knowledge which they say they find so injurious and so degrading. It is safe to say, therefore, that a Catholic cannot receive an education which would fit him to acquire distinction among scientific men in our day, without either incurring everlasting damnation or running the risk of it. Beside a danger of this kind, of course, as any priest will tell him, commercial loss and social inferiority are small matters.