There is, perhaps, no one in England, says the Spectator (London), outside the domain of politics, with whom we have contended so often or so fiercely as with Prof. Huxley. We usually disagree with his conclusions, always distrust his method, and occasionally, though rarely, cross-examine his testimony as to facts. Nevertheless, we cordially congratulate the British Association on the successful effort to elect him as President for 1870. It is quite clear, even from the reticent accounts which have appeared in the papers, that there was a contest about his election, and a contest in which it was of the last importance to the cause of free inquiry, or rather of scientific inquiry,of any kind, that his friends should be successful. A battle,it is pretty evident,was fought around him, between the obscurantists and the seekers after truth for its own sake, and if the former had won, as it appeared at one time probable they would win, the cause of truth^at is, in our judgment, of snpernaturalism as opposed to materialismwould have been thrown back half a century. The fight, as we understand it, was in this wise. Prof. Huxley, as is well known, holds opinionsno, that is an incorrect descriptionavows a belief, that the processes of scientific inquiry, if strictly pursued,will yield results not consistent with certainty as to the existence of a sentient Final Cause. The Final Cause may be non-sentient, or may not existcause being as infinite as effector may beand this is, as we understand him, Mr. Huxley's preferential viewso absolutely beyond human ken, so clearly the Unknowable, that to attempt to trace its character,or wishes,or end in the government of the universe is an attempt to resolve a recurring decimal, a useless and perplexing waste of time. The idea is one very familiar to the scientific world,and would not worry it in the least; but Mr. Huxley is, unfortunately, very” indiscreet,"thinks it is duty not only to hold his opinions,but to propagate them; is apt to propagate them very forcibly ; and, worst of all, is inclined, when propagating them,to talk English. Nobody competent to form an opinion at all can douLt for one moment that Mr. Huxley intends to say that the existence, and, still more, the character, of the Final Cause is an open question,upon which no human being, the Archbishop of Canterbury included,has any right to give an absolute opinion. Consequently, a large section of the association, like a still larger section of the British public, think Mr. Huxley “indiscreet,” or datfgerous, and though not prepared to affirm that his opinions are disqualifications for scientific officeto affirm that would be to give up investigation altogetherare prepared to say, that “in the existing state of public opinion,” anda, hum! “ having regard to the prejudices of the mass of English society,” it would be expedient to nominate some president less liable to attack. So strong was the opposition upon this ground alone, for nobody questions the Professor's scientific rank, that the council who had nominated Mr. Huxley appear to have given way, and to have informally requested Lord Stanley to aocept the Presidency for 1870. A more ignoble piece of Philistine hypocrisy we never remember to have heard of. We must not, of course, with the"Faithfull VS. Grant,” in our recollection, assert that Lord Stanley agrees with Mr. Huxley, much more than with his opponents; but we may, at least, say that those who invited him knew that he was not “orthodox,” knew that he had described Christianity, in the House of Commons, as “the opinion of Europe,” knew that ke was certain, from the texture of his mind, to push inquiry to any conceivable length. But because they also knew that he would be discreet, that he would say nothing that could “offend” people who did not understand ,him, that he would hold an esotoric as well as an exoteric creed, that he would, what ever his conclusion, express it in conventional phrase, they resolved to invite him to take the chair of an association whose single object is the diffusion of absolute truth. Lord Stanley, perhaps aware of the reasons for his own nominationhe generally is aware of things, despite his talent for silenceperhaps faintly contemptuous oi a preference, shown as much to his rank as himself, quietly declined the honor, advising the association to select a man of science instead of a politician. Thereupon, the council fell back upon their original choice, Prof. Huxley, but evea in nominating him, their spokesman, Sir Stafford Northcote, felt it necessary to apologize, and separate himself, in the most marked manner, from his own vote, while the Times reports and justifies the sort of dismay with which the election is regarded. Its reporter says : “ There seems to be a very general feeling, that Prof. Huxley, in the chair of the British Association, will be in as difficult a position as Mr. Bright in the Ministry. He is the champion of views to which large classes of people entertain very strong objections; and however discreet he may be in the absence of opposition, his best friends tremble for him if those views should be impugned. The great object of the. British Association is to render science popular,and this object is best promoted by a President whose name is not identified with one side of an unsettled question, and whose declared opinions are not calculated to provoke any kind of antagonism. About the great scientific claims of Prof. Huxley there can be no dispute; and, while we cannot look forward to his pres dency quite without misgivings, we none the less cordially hope. that it may fulfill all the expectations of his supporters." The Times exactly represents, in this instance, the idea of the majority of Englishmen, and we cannot conceive of any idea at once more unwise and more ignoble. All through England, as through all the Continent, the one grand controversy raging among cultivated menwhose opinion, be it remembered, will be, ten years hence, the opinion of the people is, whether the Supernatural exists at all; whether everything is not cause and effect; whether the theory of a Sentient First Cause, which is the basis of all we call faith or religionthough it is not the sole possible basis of morals, the dogma that truth is good, falsehood bad, being, for example, as inilependent of God as it is of manis not a delusion out of accord with all the facts, which, if human reason is to be accepted as a guide at allas a guide, that is, which we can trust as we trust our senses-must be accepted as true. A new and sovereign desire to get at the bottom of this, as the only real question,to have certainty about it, to believe or disbelieve it hard,to frame life on it,is manifesting itself in every stratum of society, manifesting itself very often in a sort of blind fury of enthusiasm. At the same moment, and among the same classes, an equally intense desire is displayed to examine the question through science, through close observation and rigid analysis, and unhesitating recombination of the fdbts revealed by “Nature,” t') try the whole subject once for all by tho scientific test. So strong is this desire, that it pervades those who know nothing of science, till they fancy that if they had but the talisman it would bring water out of the rock, till we see before us a phenomenon absolutely novel, a confidence without reason, leading to an unbelief as absolute as the belief wliich a similar confidence in religion formerly produced, a positive faith in faithlessness. We ask any one who knows English society at all if we' exaggerate when we say that there are hundreds of able men in England, who, knowing nothing of science, disbelieve in God,or, rather, in God's government, because, as they think, science has dispelled that ancient delusion, who refer honestly and confidingly to the “ authority “ of science exactly as men once referred, and, on the Continent, women still refer, to the “ authority “ of tile Church, who regard Profs. Huxley, Tyndall, and the rest, as “directors “ are supposed to be regarded by faithful Ultramontanes. It is in the midst of all this, ot a controversy which we can say, as heartily as the Record or the Tablet, affects “salvation,” which, that i.s, must perceptibly affect the relation of man to God, for generations, that Sir Stafford Northcote and the Times, and the thousands who feel with them, advise that the conflict shall become “ discreet,” that no man, very prominent on either side shall be raised to the chair in the recognized committee of investigation ; that the leader of the naturalists shall be silenced so Jar as may be, that all reports on the progress of inquiry shall evade the main issues; that, in short, everybody shall go on telling decorous little lies till everybody else is dead. We cannot, they say, trust the discretion of Mr. Huxley, if opposed. Discretion! Do they, then, want Mr. Huxley's opinions to prevail ? It looks very like it, but we are aware that numbers who do not want it are of the same way ol thinking,and we will just tell them what their demand for “ discretion” means. It means that the discussion shall go on as fiercely as ever, but in a new and occult language, that a skepticism irresistible, because released. from the necessity of defense, shall spread throughout society, shall grow with every year, and every discovery, and every new claim of unopposed “authority,” more and more unsparing'; shall saturate the young, and paralyze the mW-dle-aged, and shock the old, until at last it breaks out, s& every protest against repression breaks out, in a flame of fury, which, for a time, will burn up faith through Britain, as it is burning it up wherever Ultramontanism has power to do what these “discreet” men of science desire to see done here. It means that a caste is to grow up whom the multitude cannot help respecting on account of their knowledge, and who are to transmit through ages an occult faith which all who are ambitious, or inquisitive, or devoted to truth, will seek to know, which they will learn as a mystery, amid &11 the attractions mystery lends to every science, and which, when they have learned it, will teach them that faith ia folly, religion a delusion, its teachers obscurantists, and © 1869 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC. OCTOBER 2, 1869.J Jwtrfifif JimmOT* 211 the only truthtlie truth that truth is undiscoverable. It means that the defenders of supernaturalism, 01', as we contend, of true science, shall be paralyzed; that they who can fight only in the light,shall be forced to a combat in the dusk; that they shall have no arms, while their adversaries are invested with the enchanted weapons of the ancient creeds,with the shield of darkness, and the sword of the love of truth, and the jointless armor of an impenetrable faith. It means that we who fight for the existence of the supernatural as a as a scientific fact as capable of demonstration as the fusibili, ty of metals, are never to be permitted to see our enemies ; indeed, are never to ho.ve any enemies, but to” be placed like soldiers in a marsh to shoot arrows against a blight, to disperse miasma with artillery, to make shade brightness with the bayonet, to secure the impossible through conditions which are self-contradictory. We are to avoid all that is not orthodox, to say nothing straight- out, to leave the defense, say, of a possible divine destiny in man to the Archdeacon, who says such a destiny must be, because it is clear that the angel who waved the sword at the gate of Eden must have been created after man, and being created after man, proves that man was a creation,and not a development,and thinks rubbish of that sort will stop the progress of infidelity. But, says t!:e Timesit is not merely a reporter who says it,though the words appear in a report, for the Times does not allow its reporters to lecture in that styleMr. Huxley is so indiscreet. So much the better, both for truth and for orthodoxy. If there is one thing dangerous to the faith of a people, it is that disbelief should be hinted, should be veiled under sarcastic compliments to faith,should become the secret of the initiated, the arriere pensee of the cultivated, should filter down from mind to mind in silence, should drop through,as it were, from the supper table to the basement, and nobody be conscious that it is dropping, till accident reveals the irremediable mischief. That is how Voltarianism was diffused, and that is how English secularism will be, if the able respectables like Sir Stafford Northcote continue so dreadfully afraid of indiscretion in discussion. Discretion, in this case, is simply concealment of the very thing that ought to be known, namely, the gravity of the moral result involved in the scientific in- inquirya gravity which, once realized, makes that inquiry not only much more exact, but much wider. Take, for instance, this discussion about primeval man. It does not really involve any religious point of importancefor, after all, whether man had a lemur for his ancestor or not, he is still manbut it is supposed to do so, and look how that supposition instantly widens the inquiry. Lawrence went into it as if all the data were bones and muscles, Sir John Lubbock includes the history of civilization, Mr. Wallace adds a vast mass of facts as to the moral instincts of savages, till at last, man being fairly treated, as a whole, all the facts being examined under the new pressure, Hr. Huxley, who is so much dreaded, makes what seems to us the greatest conceivable concession to the supernaturaliststhat the chasm between man and the brute is beyond measurementis infinite. There is no point of view except one, from which the reticence now advocated can be logically defended. Of course, the unbeliever is not shocked. Suppose the observer is orthodox, then surely a frank statement that certain appearances seem inconsistent with the being of a God, is a warning not to accept those statements without the inquiry, rendered needful by that tremendous result, is infinitely better than a mere hint apparent only to the initiated, that if it were safe to speak, that is what would be said. For the interests of the orthodox .such a conclusion should be stated in its clearest and least discreet form, not in its least “offensive” Nobody is really injured by plainness except that class represented by the Times' reporter, which holds, that next to enthusiasm, the one great evil is disturbance ; that nothing is worth a fuss; that indifference is the proper state of mind, even if the subject of indifference is, the existence of a Creator. This is the true English middle-class state of mind,and the more it is shocked, annoyed,and horrified by indiscretions like Mr,Huxley's,on one hand,ancl Mr. Stokes' on the other, the sooner will it begin to find a reason for the faith that is in it. If we only had an “ indiscreet” Archbishop ! but that being impossible, let us be thankful that we shall next year have an indiscreet President of the British Association.
This article was originally published with the title "Prof. Huxley as President of the British Association"