Then and Now
By J. Linneman
(Editor's Note: This column was originally the University's commencement address in 1873.)
The Universe and all it contains has, in all ages, attracted the attention of man and caused him to wonder at the beauty and order displayed in the works of our Creator. Though in every century, there have existed men who have pried into the recesses of nature.
The scientists of the present day think it is their duty to make a departure from the track of former ages and propose new doctrine for the origin of man, ignoring Him who was unknowable. Each holds up his own theory as infallible. Darwin rejoices in tracing the relationship between himself and the monkey. Others maintain the world sprang from a globular mass of jelly. Huxley proposes a doctrine of protoplasm. Among astronomers, the nebular theory teaches that the planets and stars formed from nebulous matter, which itself originated by chance.
As with the nebular supposition, so is it with these theories—they are hypothetical, have no facts to reason upon, no solid proof to confirm their assertions. Their advocates step forth with some abstruse hypothesis, and there-upon rear the fabric that another succeeding scientist is sufficient to overthrow. They are philosophically absurd. Matter is indifferent to exist until some cause prior to it gives it existence. Even if matter is eternal, matter in itself and influenced by no extrinsic force is inert and utterly incapable of action.
To show more plainly the falsity of these teachings of modern science, consider their moral consequences. Materialism would immediately destroy freedom, safety and virtue. If man were a mere mass of matter, there would be neither virtue nor vice; morality would be a mere sham. He could no more be punished for murdering a fellow being than for killing an insect. Virtue, since it could be of no reward, would be abandoned.
But, happily, not all great scientists disdained to acknowledge a higher Being. But viewing the beauty of the universe, the infinitely sublime rule by which all the planets are regulated and the ordered arrangement of nature’s forces, they knew there must have been some cause of this. Newton, the discoverer of nature’s greatest law, did not disdain to own a cause infinite in its essence and prior to all that exists. Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus also acknowledged the infinite grandeur of God. What a contrast between the testimony of such men and the theories of those who consider that the sublimity of the heavens, the mind of man and the wonders of nature have a common origin in gravity and a globular mass of jelly. Darwin may rejoice in tracing his ancestors among the chattering monkeys of Africa. We shall leave him alone with his species and turn our thoughts to more noble origin, relying on the testimony of our consciousness, which tells us there is something more noble in us than matter.
Our leaders in natural science deserve all praise and encouragement in their discoveries and research as long as they remain within their spheres. But then they descant about the formation of the world as if they had been present to assist at it. Wishing to display their learning, they apply physics and chemistry to philosophy and theology. They out-step their bounds and can no longer claim the authority otherwise due them.
Truth is one; and whatever is proved true in one branch must also be true in another. Let our modern scientists first prove the precepts of philosophy to be false and then begin to propound their own doctrines. But as long as they haven’t done this, as long as they can’t show that their theories were formed under the guidance of some superior wisdom other than their own materialistic minds, then we beg to be excused from any belief in their doctrines and allowed to stand by those truths instilled into our hearts as youths and held in sacred veneration.