IN an article dealing with "Mysticism in Science", in The Scientific Monthly for February, 1943, Dr. R.S. Underwood, Professor of Mathematics, Texas Technological College, gives an intellectual drubbing to those who, in the name of mathematics, invent a terminology that, because of its dual meaning, is misleading to the public.
He castigates those who, calling "time" a dimension, give the impression that our three-dimensional space is unreal or has been shattered by mathematical equations.
"It is this change of meaning which allows us to speak of 'time' as a dimension; and it is still true that, outside of useless and metaphysical speculation, there are three and only three dimensions of 'space'. The fourth dimension of mystic significance is an nonsensical as the fourth corner of a tin triangle." And he states: "My objection is solely to the terminology which implies that old-fashioned 'three-space' is a simpleton's illusion and an artificial shackle."
The algebraic devices which the mathematician uses to extend the boundaries of his calculations often lead people to imagine that he has obliterated our three-dimensional world and has nullified Euclidean geometry. It is this trickery which Dr. Underwood condemns:"To help his thinking, and heedless of the fraud he is perpetrating, he denies that he has gone out of geometry, and he begins to talk mystically of such things as "hyper-spheres' whose intersections with planes are spheres. Neither he nor any one else can draw pictures of such monstrosities. Intoxicated with his verbiage, he begins to see Alice-in-Wonderland 'four-space' on the horizon . . . "
Three-dimensional space is here to stay regardless of the trick patter and ambiguous nomenclature of the mathematicians. We still build three-dimensional houses, know that straight parallel lines do not meet, and that "space" does not "bend back upon itself" like a contortionist in a side show.
As Dr. Underwood observes, it is this "straining for weird and meaningless conclusions which spring from the accidental implications of unfortunate technical terms" that causes confusion and introduces "mysticism" into science.
DOES mathematics, the science of accurate calculation, lead to accuracy in thinking? Many say "yes"; this unregenerated plebian says "No". Some of the world's most illustrious "screwballs" in matters of religion have been excellent mathematicians.
Tycho Brahe and Kepler both believed in astrology. "Tycho Brahe was from his fifteenth year devoted to astrology," says Morris Jastrow, "and adjoining his observatory at Uranienburg the astronomer-royal of Denmark had a laboratory built in order to study alchemy, and it was only a few years before his death that he finally abandoned astrology." Kepler "peopled the planets with souls and genii", and put "an astrological interpretation on the disappearance of the brilliant star of 1572, which Tycho had observed."
Mathematicians of distinction have consulted mediums, talked and walked, arm in arm, with ghosts, and believed in haunted houses. Nothing in mathematics can prevent a man from being or becoming superstitious. There is no reason why a Christian Scientist cannot learn trigonometry or master calculus. A man who has invented a bomb-sight or calculated an eclipse may, for all we know, be eating his Savior at this minute, or be carrying a St. Christopher medal on the steering wheel of his car.
Our Patent Office in Washington was once glutted with hundreds of models of perpetual motion machines invented by mathematical geniuses; today our Government refuses to issue patents for perpetual motion.
Newton, great mathematician though he was, was a tyro at thinking outside his specialized field. He prattled piously about the Book of Revelation, which Jefferson called "the ravings of a maniac."
Distinguished mathematicians believe in "curved space", tell us that parallel lines meet, and that a moving yard stick will become shorter if it travels at sufficient speed. You can become a midget or even shrink to nothing if you run fast enough.
Eddington, who can tell you the exact number of electrons in the universe (count them yourself if you do not accept his figures), writes religious rubbish with the solemnity of a country parson. His "Science and the Unseen World", which I keep on a shelf marked "Junk", contains this enlightening sentence: "It is well that there should be some to advise us whether our spiritual bread contains the right kind of vitamins." If Eddington knows what he is talking about a tenth of the time, he is doing well, and my tribute to his intelligence is more than generous.
Whitehead is so "profound" (another word for muddy) that no two of his disciples can understand him alike. It is doubtful whether Whitehead himself knows from one page to the next what he is driving at.
All of which shows that a knowledge of mathematics does not lead to accuracy -- except in mathematics.
ONE cannot expect too much from "liberal" clergymen who are only partly out of the woods.
John Haynes Holmes values reason -- even extols it -- but in a sermon preached in Community Church doubts if it is "enough" or "if it can lead us to all truth". Man, says he, "possesses other faculties than those of reason" and "there are fields of experience into which reason cannot enter at all," such as "art, music, literature, and the miracle of love." These, he thinks, belong to a world of mysticism.
The man who can enjoy a beautiful painting, the melodious sounds of a well-played violin, thrill at fine writing or enjoy the reactions he feels in the play of his affections, is no more living in a "mystic" world than the crap-shooter who gets exhilaration from throwing dice. It is a world, not above or beyond reason, but one in which the uses of reason are not required. No one has to reason why he likes pleasant experiences more than unpleasant ones, and since "art, music, literature, and the miracle of love" furnish, for the most part, pleasant sensations, there is no need for the application of reason.
The Rev. Dr. Holmes, in separating his world of material strata from his world of pleasant sensations, is like a man trying to detach a candle from its flame. A man can enjoy a sunset or a beautiful painting without stopping to ask himself why an atmospheric condition or a particular arrangement of paint on canvas is giving him pleasure. If, however, he is insistent in the matter, he can apply his reason here as soundly as he can in any other field. There are reasons why the farmer likes the country and dislikes the city, why some prefer billiards to golf, why some men prefer one form of personal gratification to another. Reason can be applied to Mr. Holmes' "mystic" world, if an explanation is required.
"Art, music, literature, and the miracle of love" are part of the material world, and depend on sinews, nerves and glandular secretions for appreciation and expression. There is nothing "mystic" about them.
SOMEWHERE in a book of sermons by the Rev. Dr. Fosdick, there is a reference to "dirt going it blind," as descriptive of the universe under a materialistic interpretation. Materialists accept the phrase as accurately descriptive of cosmic activities, even though the clergyman meant to be funny.
After all, there is more merit in "dirt going it blind" than in a deity "going it" daffy. An intelligent being who did what the universe does would be put down for either an irresponsible dolt or an irascible brute. What possible excuse can a theologian offer for his God running amuck?
Was it Dr. Fosdick's deity or was it "dirt going it blind" that destroyed Lisbon in 1755? When that city, by an earthquake and a tidal wave, was reduced almost instantly to a heap of ruins, and 30,000 to 40,000 persons were killed, were there intelligent forces or "blind" forces at work?
Is it a deity or is it "dirt going it blind" that turns out billions of pestilential germs, billions of mosquitoes, billions of flies, and billions of ticks? Is it deity or "dirt" that turns out parasitical worms?
Theism is absurd, and any attempt to refine it, to make it look respectable adds to the absurdity. And nothing is more absurd than clergymen themselves "going it blind"
K.B. TRACY,M.D., a Fundamentalist of Portland, Maine, has just published the second part of his "Bible and Science Tracy versus Teller" leaflet. Part II is quite as Fundamentalistically sound as Part I.
Dr. Tracy rejects man's animal origin, scorns Pithecanthropus erectus, and says that evolution is false because dogs and cats do not breed together. Evidently, he will not be convinced of the truth of evolution until he sees a cat-dog kitten or a dog-cat puppy on his doorstep. Evolutionists, says he, "have many theories or guesses and :imaginations, especially crack-brain imagination". As for women having children by ghosts, "we have a record in the Holy Bible", says he, "where human women gave birth to children from angels, and the children were giants". This Dr. Tracy accepts with no suspicion that anyone was crack-brained here. And "it is going to be just too bad for Mr. Teller, and all others who do not [accept the Virgin Birth], when they meet Jesus Christ as their judge at the coming judgment bar of God Almighty".
Dr. Tracy is troubled over the Bryan poser of how a black cow, eating green grass, can give "white" milk "that forms yellow butter". If you cannot explain this bit of color change, there must be a God.
Cows (whether black, white, brown, or mottled) all give "white" milk. This is because milk is composed of tiny globules of fat in a casein solution. The color of the animal's skin has no more to do with the "whiteness" of the milk than the color of a steamship's hull has to do with the color of the smoke that comes out of the ship's funnels.
The coloring matter that makes plants "green" is called "chlorophyll". This pigment loses its tinting qualities through chemical change. Grass, during the process of digestion, changes "color" inside the cow, as it does when it is cut down in a meadow and turns into hay.
Fundamentalists are funny people. If black cows gave black milk, brown cows brown milk, and mottled cows mottled milk, it would be hailed as evidence of "design" But let all cows, of various colors, give only "white" milk,:and we are asked to admire the wisdom of God.
WHAT is the matter with the "Scientific American"? Has it gone "soft"?
In a recent issue is a milk-and-mush editorial, which is almost apologetic in tone on the Subject of astrology. The writer, A. G. Ingalls, calls astrology a "pseudo-science," but believes one should not be too harsh in offering criticism. It is "not good psychology," he thinks, "to label the astrologers fakes and frauds, as some have." And why not? What is the proper "psychology" to use when men propagate "fakes and frauds"? And when have those who attack science been over-choice in the niceties of language?
If astrology, with its phony charts, is not a flimflam game on the part of its sponsors, we do not know what it is.
Besides, thinks Mr. Ingalls, we cannot be positive about anything. "There is not and never has been any way to distinguish positively between truth and error." If there is not, then it is a mistake to call the Sun a star for fear it may be a comet--or the Brooklyn Bridge. And how can Mr. Ingalls be sure that astrology is not a science? Writers who play around in this loose manner are "just talking."
And, as if this were not enough soft-soaping for one issue of the paper, the "Scientific American" treats Spiritualism with a gentle hand.
"We want," say its editors, "to know if such things as phantoms, ghosts, spirits, or vampires actually visit us." If a magazine published in the interest of science does not already know that these things do not exist (and is willing to say so), it should move to Haiti and change its name to the "Voodoo Monthly." It will learn there all that is possible to know about ghosts and vampires.
As to its desire to "investigate the supernatural," one must be a bit skeptical. The books which the "Scientific American" recommends to its readers on its "Psychic Phenomena" page, are not the kind that are apt to fumigate the minds of those who have a hankering for spookology. One could hardly do worse if he followed the book listings in Spiritualistic papers.
A NEW freak idea, outdoing telepathy, about which some of you will be hearing, is "teleportation." In this you do not "telepath" your thoughts to someone else, but send anything you want by merely "thinking" it to the desired destination. By this method you can "teleport" a carload of pig iron from Pittsburgh to 'Frisco, or a shipment of machine guns to the Far East. We can see where railroads and steamships will soon go out of business if "teleportation" works.
Except by the Spiritualists (who can swallow anything), Mrs. Guppy's flight over the chimney tops of London is looked upon with scorn, but how can her trip through the air be compared with the "teleportation" of a herd of elephants or a fleet of battleships?
Yet the idea is not strictly new. Jesus Christ, standing on a mountain top, "thought" himself to heaven, and apparently has never thought of "thinking" himself back. If he does not watch out, some pious teleporters will be "thinking" him back to earth, whether he would come or not.
"Teleportation" may be good, but it does not compare with our own concoction, "Telenihilation," by which a nation at war will be able to "think" its enemies into falling down dead.
THOSE who admire Celestial Wisdom should turn to the termite. Here is a wood-boring insect that pursues its work of destruction without regard for the property rights of others or for esthetic values. I have seen, in tropical countries, beautiful and costly furniture destroyed in a short time.
In the United States alone, the annual damage is estimated at $40,000,000. This is not a large or impressive figure according to New Deal standards, but this is because we have only 58 species of termites engaged in this particular kind of boring from within. Europe is relatively free, with only two species of termites out of a world-total of 1,800 species.
Procreation is well provided for, and the termite, says Dr. Victor W. von Hagen (Scientific Monthly, July, 1942), "outrivals in fecundity any other terrestrial animal".
An African termite queen (living from 10 to 40 years) lays 6,000 to 7,000 eggs and day and may produce as many as 100,000,000 eggs during her productive life. True, not all eggs are hatched, as God, in his infinite capacity to preserve values, has seen fit to produce animals to feed upon the termites. Birds, frogs, lizards, and snakes help Providence to undo on the one hand what it has ordained on the other. Yet the termite does exceedingly well in spite of its numerous enemies.
"The termite organization", says Dr. von Hagen, "has been successful, and it has survived for millions of years", thus having, we may note, under the guidance of Providence, a somewhat longer lineage than the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Someone has been quoted as saying that God must love the common man because he made so many of them. How much more, on the basis of numbers, must he love the termite. There is, of course no accounting for tastes.
AUTUMN foliage is now taking on its gorgeous coloration, and we will hear again the pious murmur:
"There must be a God!"
Nothing is said of the hot, dreary wastes of desert sand, or of the dull monotony of polar ice. It is enough that some Divine Artist enlivens our November leaves with bright and vivid colors. So, at least, the theist believes.
The green of summer has turned to orange, red, and rust, but it is a momentary splendor, followed by falling leaves and the killing blast of winter. Cold-winds and frost kill the leaves and strip the entire tree bare. As it is, there is nothing in God's program but a burst of color ending in crumpled leaves and bare trees,
It is a simple matter to science, this change of leaf coloration. "The yellow and orange pigments are less complex, chemically", writes Dr. Edwin B. Matzke, Department of Botany, Columbia University, "than the green chlorophylls, and they are also more stable. When the weather gets cold in the Fall, the green colors, which break down more easily, tend to disappear, and then the yellow and orange, which have been present all along but masked by the others, become visible."
Cold destroys the green pigment, "chlorophyll", quicker than the yellow pigment in the leaves and the "anthocyanins", which give them their flaming reds. It is merely a matter of the green pigment being less durable than the others when subjected to cold. There is no artist in the case, merely a change of color as simple as a man's hair turning from black to gray.
But the theist, who sees everything that isn't so, will continue to imagine a Master Painter with a brush and paint pot in his hand going the rounds when the Autumn weather arrives.
THE Roman Catholic Church is unique in many ways, but in none more than in its claim to material sovereignty. It is the only religion in the world that issues currency, prints postage stamps, and exchanges envoys to and from foreign powers. It is the only one, moreover, that maintains an army.
This army, small as it is, has recently been increased, as we learn from a news dispatch to the New York Times :
"For the first time, in seventy-three years--since 1870 -- the Palatine Guard of the Vatican today was ordered outside Vatican territory into Rome to protect Vatican possessions . . . It was announced that the Pontifical Military Guard, approximately 800 men of all services, had been augmented by another 2,500 all of whom are armed with the most modern equipment, replacing their principally symbolic halberts of peace days."
Tiny as this armed force is, it is nevertheless a symbol of Catholic sovereignty and temporal power, and may be enlarged, if, when, and as (in the language of legal documents) circumstances require.
Vatican City is a sovereign state, with subjects in all parts of the globe, residing in foreign states, but nevertheless subject to the jurisdiction and laws of the Papal Dictatorship. It is totalitarian in form, and has at its head a Supreme Dictator, who is accountable to no one but God, is himself infallible in faith and morals, and in matters of difference between his state and others must be regarded as always right in the eyes of his subjects.
The Pope can do no wrong, never makes a mistake, and knows always what is best for his subjects abroad, and demands at all times unqualified obedience!
Just now he is denouncing "atrocities", having never heard of the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of Jews from Spain, and the burning of heretics, all of which his Church sponsored, and is moving heaven and earth (which won't move) to stop the war. By talking to the air in a reverent manner he hopes to bring hostilities to a close, and when the war ends, as all wars eventually do, he will know that he played a tremendous part in the bringing about of peace, and everyone who eats his Jesus regularly, or as faithfully as he does his spinach, will think so, too. As for the politicians--leave it to them to tell the world how much we owe to Ratti of the Vatican.
"Israel as a nation has achieved no distinction whatever and has made no contribution whatever to human civilization. As a nation in the past, Israel was not one whit different' from numerous other little and equally insignificant nations. And nothing whatever suggests that, restored to national existence, Israel would be aught different from the many little insignificant, racial states which struggle desperately to maintain and to justify their national existence.''
No, it is not an "anti-Semite" speaking. It is Dr. Julian Morgenstern, President of Hebrew Union College, who is merely stating what every scholar knows who is not stultified by the ridiculous claims of Israelite propaganda.
S. Margoshes, who quotes the passage in an editorial in the Jewish newspaper "The Day", is highly incensed that a distinguished Jew should talk this way and labels the statement a "downright falsehood". "It was," says he, "under the Jewish State, that is, during the Jewish Nationhood in Palestine, that most of the books of the Bible were produced"--as if this were something of which to be proud.
It is to the holy book of the Jews that we owe most of our current superstitions, and if there is cause for rejoicing in this, Mr. Margoshes' ideas of gratitude differ from our own. The book is the worst contribution that semi-barbarism has given to the world.
Because of the Bible, science was throttled for hundreds of years, Galileo was made to recant, Spinoza was cursed by the synagogue and ostracized by Jews, and heretics died at the stake. Its pages are proof of the fact that the ancient Israelites were an ignorant and superstitious tribe, who believed in polygamy, human slavery, and animal sacrifice, and groveled in the basest superstitions. So long as the harem-king Solomon, the profligate David, and the rape-inspiring Moses are heroes of the Bible, there can be no incentive for a higher pattern of behavior.
The modern Jew who wishes to play a useful part in the life of the community will do well to discard Judaism, by forgetting the superstitions of the past, none of which has contributed either to his own enlightenment or to the progress of the world.
Dr. Morgenstern is correct and, while orthodox Jews may howl at him, he has placed his finger on the sore spot of Jewish life. Israel--we repeat his words--"has made no contribution whatever to human civilization."