MODERN science had begun with the observers and speculators of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century their work had been carried on by men like Buffon, the French naturalist. As travel became safer and easier and the printing of books cheaper, scientific work made progress, since it largely depends on the observation of numerous natural facts, their classification and the dissemination of the results. The early observers had to undergo much expense and hardship in their travels, and when they first attempted classification and generalisation they were working in the dark. They persevered with their work up and down their own countries, in far places of the earth and in laboratories, adding to human knowledge of botany, geology, entomology, and zoology, while stay-at-home scientists pressed on with chemistry, physics, astronomy, and mathematics. There have, of course, always been people of scientific bent, but in modern times they have been given opportunities which they never had before. During the last quarter of the century science made its way at last into schools in the form of elementary chemistry and physics and Nature study.
Towards the middle of the century the great conflict, as it is called, between science and religion began. Its issue turned on the Book of Genesis. Was the world created " catasrrophically," that is, at one effort, by the Almighty a few thousand years before Christ, or did it evolve, as the geologists said, from molten matter in the course of millions of years? The problem caused acute distress to people who regarded the Bible as a literally inspired record, and their difficulties were increased as the Bible underwent the higher criticism of archaeologists, historians, and philologists- mainly German-who, by applying the methods of secular study to the sacred writings, discredited many of the accepted ideas about their authorship and inspiration. The new scientific knowledge was (rather unnecessarily) thought to impugn the value of the Bible as a guide to morals.
Matters grew worse in the sixties after Darwin published his Origin of the Species, the result of many years of travel and observation. This great work put it beyond doubt that all animal species have evolved from earlier undifferentiated types, and that Man himself has evolved in the same way. Evolution was thought by Darwinians to have been carried out through the survival of the fittest, natural selection acting on small variations in living creatures. Before Darwin, and again since, there has been a tendency to believe rather in organic modification through the influence of inward impulses. The supporters of the official religious view displayed little intelligence or magnanimity, and despite the howls of ridicule and denunciation, the advocates of Darwinis'm made rapid progress. Wise Churchmen sacrificed Genesis and a good dealbesides, or tried to reconcile it with the scientific point of view. This policy has in general prevailed, and the value of the New Testament has if anything been increased by the tendency But on the v/hole there was a marked waning of religious ardour towards the end of the century. This does not mean that vice was rampant. On the contrary, morals and behaviour continued to improve under the pressure of education, improved methods of detecting crime, and the greater respect for public opinion which comes with a rise in social status. It may also be doubted whether the alleged cynicism and disillusion of the 'nineties was really great. It happened that there was a wave of unusually morbid affectation at the time, but its counterpart could have been found in many earlier periods. The amount of disinterested earnest endeavour was probably greater than ever before. It will be realised that a different outlook on life must result from the knowledge that Man, far from being the perfect and finished work of the Creator, is a being who has developed from something much cruder and has probably a long process of development still before him. Similarly, a new humility came from the work of the astronomers and physicists who have made plain our earth's apparently insignificant position in the Universe.