WHAT ARE SCIENTISTS WORTH ?
They Try To Lead Where They Should Serve
T.U. Congress And Dictators' Meeting
By The Editor The aim of the annual meetings of the British Association, the latest of which has just taken place in Nottingham, is, according to Sir Edward Poulton in his presidential address, " to bring the aims and achievements of science before the public eye."
Sir Edward, who is one of the " grand old men " of science, has witnessed many scientific triumphs, or apparent triumphs, in the course of his experience, and it was scarcely surprising that he devoted nearly the whole of his address to reminiscence. But there was something truly pathetic in the old man's sole reference to the future and to what science might achieve in it. The greatest of the problems with which we are faced, he told us, was the ending of international war. Then quoting from the optimistic forecasts of his predecessors in 1858, 1899, 1915 and 1921, he exclaimed, while the torpedoes were being fired in the Mediterranean and the bombs being dropped in Japan : " A time will surely come, and may it come quickly, a time which shall prove that the visions of the young and the dreams of the old were prophetic of a glorious reality." He did not add, as he should have done, had he devoted to the record of the history of science that impartial and detached observation which scientists claim to exercise " . . and if that time ever comes. it is not likely to be thanks to the scientists."
THE TALKING SCIENTIST Or rather, there is a way in which the scientists should in fact help us to end wars and the other exceptional evils of our times. And that way is the way of warning: a warning as to what to avoid. Surely any moderately intelligent but properly trained mind, reading through the reports of the speeches of a meeting like the one at Nottingham should be able to detect the glaring superficiality, the dangerous fallacy, that lies behind that mentality. One is not impugning the true work of science, the work which these very gentlemen who try to catch the world's eye at such meetings arc probably engaged in during the obscurer hours of their lives. The present Holy Father has more than once indirectly reminded us of the goodness. the Godgiven-ness, of the instruments which science has put into our hands and with the help of which we nigy, mnke Ylife a. richer. a more useful, a more enjoyable, a healthicir thing. But between this true achievement of the working scientist and the pretensions of the talking scientist when he is on show there lies a difference almost as great as the difference between truth and error itself.
The working scientist truly serves mankind; the talking scientist presumes upon the reputation which he rightly enjoys in his work of service to deceive the simpleminded into the belief that he is as capable of revealing what ought to he and of leading man by the nose to that more perfect life as he undoubtedly is of placing in man's own hands a few instruments which will enable him to take short-cuts to certain goals and of giving him new knowledge about ways and means.
MAGISTRATE INDICTS CHURCHES When Sir Edward Poulton stands before the warring world and asserts his faith in the power CI science to make war a thing of the pasty his gesture might at first sight seem comparable to that of an early Christian martyi. asserting his faith in Christ before a Mocking world. But there is really no comparison. The attitude of the Christian Martyr for, for that matter, the attitude of any man with a truly religious faith) isheroic; Sir Edward's is only pathetic. person, a God or man; the power of Religious faith is faith in an end; scientific faith can!lever be more than faith in a means. Remember that in this connection mere knowledge is only a means. Mr. Claud Mullins, the London magistrate, has just indicted the Churches for their failure to be leaders in social and moral reform.
In answering him completely, one would have to argue at length with him about the meaning o such reform, but his point of view is alsb instinct with the scientist's fallacy. KnOwledge alone cannot save, even the knowledge which the Churches possess. The old remark that Christianity has not yet been tried is not an indictment of Christianity but of men. It is not the Churches which Mr. Mullins should attack, but the members of the Churches, for unless those members use the knowledge put at their disposal in order to lead the good life and make conditions under which it can he more easily lived, the knowledge they possess will be a curse for them rather than a blessing. If this is true in alp case of the philosophic, moral, and religious knowledge revealed in reli gion, leos knowledg by scienc much more is it true of the of only sensible objects given
eligious faith is a faith in a ill, whether it be the Will of tale character and conscience of dentist's pseudo-faith is in the blind instrument to save us.
EXAMPLE OF H. G. WELLS Scientific knowledge, one repeats, should always he a blessing, but so long as scienfsts, untaught even by the bitter disappointments or the post-war era, go on pretending that their discoveries rprovide a i, substitute for man;so•natural power to reason a out the ultimate meaning of his own life, its ultimate whence, its ultimate why, its Ultimate whither, science is in fact doing far more harm than good.
How many, for example, of those who read Mr.1 H. G. Wells's address on education instinctively saw the absurdity of his remarks bout the exaggerated importance given to alestine and the Jewish nation in schools? Yet here is an instance where the scientific training has led a man of undoubtedly great ability publicly to pro nounce the immense religious, moral, social, literary riches which every man, Christian or otherwise, has inherited from Palestine as of less significance than the temporal and spatial accidents that Palestine's greatness was in the past and that the country is small.
One could scarcely have wished for a better reduction ad absurdum than this of the scientist's attempt to catch the public eye by posing as a prophet. is it really any wonder that a world which drinks deep of this sort of nonsense has so abused the new instruments of power over the riches of nature and the new knowledge about the objects of his sensible experience work together?
MAN AND LABOUR CONDITIONS
The harm that this scientists' fallacy has done runs right through our civilisation, the fallacy, namely, of supposing that what is meant to serve man can lead him. It was visible in almost every remark made at
the Trade Unions' Congress at Norwich this week. The great social movement whose aim was to free the working man from the slavery of inhuman working conditions has only succeeded in imposing on him a new slavery, the slavery of human working conditions.
In either case he is the victim, the servant of the conditions instead of a free man whose conditions of life serve him. In fact, it might be argued that in the old inhuman days he was less of a victim, than
he is today. We were talking recently to a worker on the land of over seventy years of age. It was an education in itself to hear the old man comparing the mentality of the men on the land in his younger days with
that of the men of today. " We worked sixteen hours a day often, sir, hut, look at me. I'm none the worse for it. I've
brought up a large family on what these young fellows waste in a week at the cinema. But I've loved every bit of my life, just as I love every blade of grass on this estate."
There was a human triumph over conditions. and one has seriously to face the
question whether the great and noble work of bettering conditions of labour has not been largely vitiated by the neglect, at best, and the poisoning, with false values, at worst, of the soul of the men in whose interest all this work presumably has been done.
REACTION ON THE CONTINENT But the human race is amazingly tough and resilient. It seems to be almost impossible to corrupt it, no matter how many individuals in it perish by the wayside. The trouble is that when man is swung out of his proper equilibrium, he does not swing back into it but into an opposite disequilibrium. This is what has been hap pening in Germany and Italy. Modern man has so long been taught to be the servant of knowledge and materially improving circumstances that he is swinging into the opposite fallacy of believing that the human will, the human aggressive power to force c6tillit1811g 18('flit him, k the highest expression of his humanity. Doctor Brown, the psychologist, was surely right in suggesting that the German people, so far from being the slaves of Hitler, were associated with him in a corporate act of aggressive willing. We arc on the eve of the great meeting between the dictators, the effect of which may well be momentous. Their subjects reacting against the false views outlined above sincerely believe that this meeting will prove an important constructive act in the building-up of a new and better Europe. A Christian is unlikely to agree to this, but a Christian can, or should be able to, see that we have ultimately to thank the scientific mentality for the violence of the reaction to it and the clash of forces in the midst of which Sir Edward Poulton can still recite his pathetic act of pseudofaith.