My book is ready for the printer, and as I begin this preface my eye lights
upon the crowd of Russian peasants at work on the Neva under my windows. With
pick and shovel they are letting the rays of the April sun into the great ice
barrier which binds together the modern quays and the old granite fortress
where lie the bones of the Romanoff Czars.
This barrier is already weakened; it is widely decayed, in many places thin,
and everywhere treacherous; but it is, as a whole, so broad, so crystallized
about old boulders, so imbedded in shallows, so wedged into crannies on either
shore, that it is a great danger. The waters from thousands of swollen
streamlets above are pressing behind it; wreckage and refuse are piling up
against it; every one knows that it must yield. But there is danger that it may
resist the pressure too long and break suddenly, wrenching even the granite
quays from their foundations, bringing desolation to a vast population, and
leaving, after the subsidence of the flood, a widespread residue of slime, a
fertile breeding-bed for the germs of disease.
But the patient mujiks are doing the right thing. The barrier, exposed
more and more to the warmth of spring by the scores of channels they are
making, will break away gradually, and the river will flow on beneficent and
My work in this book is like that of the Russian mujik on the Neva. I
simply try to aid in letting the light of historical truth into that decaying
mass of outworn thought which attaches the modern world to mediaeval
conceptions of Christianity, and which still lingers among us - a most serious
barrier to religion and morals, and a menace to the whole normal evolution of
For behind this barrier also the flood is rapidly rising - the flood of
increased knowledge and new thought; and this barrier also, though honeycombed
and in many places thin, creates a danger - danger of a sudden breaking away,
distressing and calamitous, sweeping before it not only out worn creeds and
noxious dogmas, but cherished principles and ideals, and even wrenching out
most precious religious and moral foundations of the whole social and political
My hope is to aid - even if it be but a little - in the gradual and healthful
dissolving away of this mass of unreason, that the stream of "religion
pure and undefiled" may flow on broad and clear, a blessing to humanity.
And now a few words regarding the evolution of this book.
It is something over a quarter of a century since I labored with Ezra Cornell
in founding the university which bears his honored name.
Our purpose was to establish in the State of New York an institution for
advanced instruction and research, in which science, pure and applied, should
have an equal place with literature; in which the study of literature, ancient
and modern, should be emancipated as much as possible from pedantry; and which
should be free from various useless trammels and vicious methods which at that
period hampered many, if not most, of the American universities and colleges.
We had especially determined that the institution should be under the control
of no political party and of no single religious sect, and with Mr. Cornell's
approval I embodied stringent provisions to this effect in the charter.
It had certainly never entered into the mind of either of us that in all this
we were doing anything irreligious or unchristian. Mr. Cornell was reared a
member of the Society of Friends; he had from his fortune liberally aided every
form of Christian effort which he found going on about him, and among the
permanent trustees of the public library which he had already founded, he had
named all the clergymen of the town - Catholic and Protestant. As for myself, I
had been bred a churchman, had recently been elected a trustee of one church
college, and a professor in another; those nearest and dearest to me were
devoutly religious; and, if I may be allowed to speak of a matter so personal
to my self, my most cherished friendships were among deeply religious men and
women, and my greatest sources of enjoyment were ecclesiastical architecture,
religious music, and the more devout forms of poetry. So, far from wishing to
injure Christianity, we both hoped to promote it; but we did not confound
religion with sectarianism, and we saw in the sectarian character of American
colleges and universities as a whole, a reason for the poverty of the advanced
instruction then given in so many of them.
It required no great acuteness to see that a system of control which, in
selecting a Professor of Mathematics or Language or Rhetoric or Physics or
Chemistry, asked first and above all to what sect or even to what wing or
branch of a sect he belonged, could hardly do much to advance the moral,
religious, or intellectual development of mankind.
The reasons for the new foundation seemed to us, then, so cogent that we
expected the co-operation of all good citizens, and anticipated no opposition
from any source.
As I look back across the intervening years, I know not whether to be more
astonished or amused at our simplicity.
Opposition began at once. In the State Legislature it confronted us at every
turn, and it was soon in full blaze throughout the State - from the good
Protestant bishop who proclaimed that all professors should be in holy orders,
since to the Church alone was given the command, "Go, teach all
nations," to the zealous priest who published a charge that Goldwin Smith
- a profoundly Christian scholar - had come to Cornell in order to inculcate
the "infidelity of the Westminster Review"; and from the
eminent divine who went from city to city, denouncing the "atheistic and
pantheistic tendencies" of the proposed education, to the perfervid
minister who informed a denominational synod that Agassiz, the last great
opponent of Darwin, and a devout theist, was "preaching Darwinism and
atheism" in the new institution.
As the struggle deepened, as hostile resolutions were introduced into various
ecclesiastical bodies, as honored clergymen solemnly warned their flocks first
against the "atheism," then against the "infidelity," and
finally against the "indifferentism" of the university, as devoted
pastors endeavoured to dissuade young men from matriculation, I took the
defensive, and, in answer to various attacks from pulpits and religious
newspapers, attempted to allay the fears of the public. "Sweet
reasonableness" was fully tried. There was established and endowed in the
university perhaps the most effective Christian pulpit, and one of the most
vigorous branches of the Christian Association, then in the United States; but
all this did nothing to ward off the attack. The clause in the charter of the
university forbidding it to give predominance to the doctrines of any sect, and
above all the fact that much prominence was given to instruction in various
branches of science, seemed to prevent all compromise, and it soon became clear
that to stand on the defensive only made matters worse. Then it was that there
was borne in upon me a sense of the real difficulty - the antagonism between
the theological and scientific view of the universe and of education in
relation to it; therefore it was that, having been invited to deliver a lecture
in the great hall of the Cooper Institute at New York, I took as my subject
The Battlefields of Science, maintaining this thesis which follows:
In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest
of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, has
resulted in the direst evils both to religion and science, and invariably; and,
on the other hand, all untrammeled scientific investigation, no matter how
dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed for the time to be,
has invariably resulted in the highest good both of religion and science.
The lecture was next day published in the New York Tribune at the
request of Horace Greeley, its editor, who was also one of the Cornell
University trustees. As a result of this widespread publication and of sundry
attacks which it elicited, I was asked to maintain my thesis before various
university associations and literary clubs; and I shall always remember with
gratitude that among those who stood by me and presented me on the lecture
platform with words of approval and cheer was my revered instructor, the Rev.
Dr. Theodore Dwight Woolsey, at that time President of Yale College.
My lecture grew - first into a couple of magazine articles, and then into a
little book called The Warfare of Science, for which, when
republished in England, Prof. John Tyndall wrote a preface.
Sundry translations of this little book were published, but the most curious
thing in its history is the fact that a very friendly introduction to the
Swedish translation was written by a Lutheran bishop.
Meanwhile Prof. John W. Draper published his book on The Conflict between
Science and Religion, a work of great ability, which, as I then thought,
ended the matter, so far as my giving it further attention was concerned.
But two things led me to keep on developing my own work in this field: First, I
had become deeply interested in it, and could not refrain from directing my
observation and study to it; secondly, much as I admired Draper's treatment of
the questions involved, his point of view and mode of looking at history were
different from mine.
He regarded the struggle as one between Science and Religion. I believed then,
and am convinced now, that it was a struggle between Science and Dogmatic
More and more I saw that it was the conflict between two epochs in the
evolution of human thought - the theological and the scientific.
So I kept on, and from time to time published New Chapters in the Warfare
of Science as magazine articles in The Popular Science
Monthly. This was done under many difficulties. For twenty years, as
President of Cornell University and Professor of History in that institution, I
was immersed in the work of its early development. Besides this, I could not
hold myself entirely aloof from public affairs, and was three times sent by the
Government of the United States to do public duty abroad: first as a
commissioner to Santo Domingo, in 1870; afterward as minister to Germany, in
1879; finally, as minister to Russia, in 1892; and was also called upon by the
State of New York to do considerable labor in connection with international
exhibitions at Philadelphia and at Paris. I was also obliged from time to time
to throw off by travel the effects of overwork.
The variety of residence and occupation arising from these causes may perhaps
explain some peculiarities in this book which might otherwise puzzle my reader.
While these journeyings have enabled me to collect materials over a very wide
range - in the New World, from Quebec to Santo Domingo and from Boston to
Mexico, San Francisco, and Seattle, and in the Old World from Trondhjem to
Cairo and from St. Petersburg to Palermo - they have often obliged me to write
under circumstances not very favorable: sometimes on an Atlantic steamer,
sometimes on a Nile boat, and not only in my own library at Cornell, but in
those of Berlin, Helsingfors, Munich, Florence, and the British Museum. This
fact will explain to the benevolent reader not only the citation of different
editions of the same authority in different chapters, but some iterations which
in the steady quiet of my own library would not have been made.
It has been my constant endeavour to write for the general reader, avoiding
scholastic and technical terms as much as possible and stating the truth simply
as it presents itself to me.
That errors of omission and commission will be found here and there is probable
- nay, certain; but the substance of the book will, I believe, be found fully
true. I am encouraged in this belief by the fact that, of the three bitter
attacks which this work in its earlier form has already encountered, one was
purely declamatory, objurgatory, and hortatory, and the others based upon
ignorance of facts easily pointed out.
And here I must express my thanks to those who have aided me. First and above
all to my former student and dear friend, Prof. George Lincoln Burr, of Cornell
University, to whose contributions, suggestions, criticisms, and cautions I am
most deeply indebted; also to my friends U. G. Weatherly, formerly Travelling
Fellow of Cornell, and now Assistant Professor in the University of Indiana, -
Prof. and Mrs. Earl Barnes and Prof. William H. Hudson, of Stanford University,
- and Prof. E. P. Evans, formerly of the University of Michigan, but now of
Munich, for extensive aid in researches upon the lines I have indicated to
them, but which I could never have prosecuted without their co-operation. In
libraries at home and abroad they have all worked for me most effectively, and
I am deeply grateful to them.
This book is presented as a sort of Festschrift - a tribute to Cornell
University as it enters the second quarter-century of its existence, and
probably my last tribute.
The ideas for which so bitter a struggle was made at its foundation have
triumphed. Its faculty, numbering over one hundred and, fifty; its students,
numbering but little short of two thousand; its noble buildings and equipment;
the munificent gifts, now amounting to millions of dollars, which it has
received from public-spirited men and women; the evidences of public confidence
on all sides; and, above all, the adoption of its cardinal principles and main
features by various institutions of learning in other States, show this
abundantly. But there has been a triumph far greater and wider. Everywhere
among the leading modern nations the same general tendency is seen. During the
quarter-century just past the control of public instruction, not only in
America but in the leading nations of Europe, has passed more and more from the
clergy to the laity. Not only are the presidents of the larger universities in
the United States, with but one or two exceptions, laymen, but the same thing
is seen in the old European strongholds of metaphysical theology. At my first
visit to Oxford and Cambridge, forty years ago, they were entirely under
ecclesiastical control. Now, all this is changed. An eminent member of the
present British Government has recently said, "A candidate for high
university position is handicapped by holy orders." I refer to this with
not the slightest feeling of hostility toward the clergy, for I have none;
among them are many of my dearest friends; no one honours their proper work
more than I; but the above fact is simply noted as proving the continuance of
that evolution which I have endeavoured to describe in this series of
monographs - an evolution, indeed, in which the warfare of Theology against
Science has been one of the most active and powerful agents. My belief is that
in the field left to them - their proper field - the clergy will more and more,
as they cease to struggle against scientific methods and conclusions, do work
even nobler and more beautiful than anything they have heretofore done. And
this is saying much. My conviction is that Science, though it has evidently
conquered Dogmatic Theology based on biblical texts and ancient modes of
thought, will go hand in hand with Religion; and that, although theological
control will continue to diminish, Religion, as seen in the recognition of
"a Power in the universe, not ourselves, which makes for
righteousness," and in the love of God and of our neighbor, will steadily
grow stronger and stronger, not only in the American institutions of learning
but in the world at large. Thus may the declaration of Micah as to the
requirements of Jehovah, the definition by St. James of "pure religion and
undefiled," and, above all, the precepts and ideals of the blessed Founder
of Christianity himself, be brought to bear more and more effectively on
I close this preface some days after its first lines were written. The sun of
spring has done its work on the Neva; the great river flows tranquilly on, a
blessing and a joy; the mujiks are forgotten.
A. D. W.
Legation of the United States, St. Petersburg,
April 14, 1894.
P. S. - Owing to a wish to give more thorough revision to some parts of my
work, it has been withheld from the press until the present date.
A. D. W.
Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y.,
August 15, 1895.