This brings us to the first proposition of our text, "A knowledge of Truth is best for human welfare. It is no use having a machine without knowing how to use it, nor an electric telegraph without knowing how to communicate through its agency—the knowledge of its method of working and general management, is what is required.
And the same argument applies to truth. Truth is of little or no use to man unless he has a knowledge of its existence and the proper method of applying it. For instance, of what use would be the truths revealed to us by the telescope if we did not properly understand their significance, and the uses to which discoveries effected by their aid might be put for the benefit of humanity?
We shall further illustrate our remarks by noting one or two of the benefits conferred on the race by the discoveries of Astronomy. The science of astronomy has played an imporant part in the history of man's civilizatlon—both for good and evil—eventually for the former alone.
In early times the study of astronomy was confined to a few, and not a remarkably sensible few either. It was then used under the name of astrology as a means of divining a person's future welfare—an extensive system of fortune telling. In this stage of its history it plunged man into a state of ignorance and superstition; the weakest of mankind were played upon by the more enlightened and avaricious, merely for the sake of pecuniary gain and generally as a system of earning a livelihood.
Knowledge was hindered and superstition reigned. Men did not trouble about the affairs of life, beyond obtaining their daily bread, and asking their future lot of a set of men almost as ignorant and superstitious as themselves. We are told that in those times ignorance was almost universal, and that the little knowledge that existed was confined to a select few—a small portion of the aristocracy. Out of the ignorance which then existed many strange beliefs have sprung, some of which exist even to his day; for instance: Amongst the Chinese an eclipse is a cause for great alarm, for they believe that the sun and moon are being devoured by dragons, and make all possible noise with drums, gongs, and brass kettles to frighten the monsters away.
In many uncivilized lands similar views are held. But these beliefs, singular as they are, are not confined to the uncivilized alone; we find superstition rampant amongst ourselves. But, as we have before said, these beliefs chiefly exist amongst the ignorant, and astrology is almost a thing of the past.
We have mentioned the state of society when ignorance reigned supreme. Let us now calmly watch Truth, which, like the rising sun, gently ascends from the horizon of superstition through which it has almost passed.
Watching carefully, we note the gradual development of intellect in its attempts to unravel the mysteries of the stars. First a few shepherds mark the relative positions of the stars on the soft sands. Presently, more interest appears to be taken in a study, so sublime; and men give more thought to it.
Chaldean shepherds are superseded by the cultured. One after another discoveries are made, upsettlng false theories and giving correct and useful ones in their places. The Governments of Greece and Egypt give their aid to its development. Great men arise who attempt to explain the motions of the heavenly bodies upon the theory that the world is fixed in the centre of space, and that the stars are moving round it; but this theory, founded, as it is, on fiction, has to give way before the searching glance of a Coperuicus, who, in spite of the persecution and hatred with which he is received makes the bold assertion that the world is moving with the planets around the sun.
People cannot believe it. They ask how it is, if the world is turning round, that they do not, fall off when it is turned upside down. Now, with a spirit almost unequalled, the brave Kepler comes to the front, and proves after years of toilsome and unceasing labour that the theory of Copernicus is correct. But all is not yet finished. It still waits to be accounted for how the earth manages to keep its inhabitants from falling to oblivion.
Kepler, who applies a theory of attraction to certain phenomena of nature, leaves it to the master mind of Newton to apply this rule, without discrimination to every particle of matter in existence; and after mathematical demonstration of the correctness of his reasoning, proclaims it to the world.
And thus truth rises. But, the reader may ask, "What good has all this done to man? It has taught him, in the first place, that a thing is not necessarily true because someone has said it is so. Further, that the truth cannot be arrived at without labour—that it is man's duty to try and find the truth; and when found, not to hoard it to himself as a miser does his gold, but to give it to the world for the benefit of humanity, so that his knowledge may be a foundation for other minds to build their knowledge upon.
The force of our remarks are amply exemplified in the case of the question as to the fixity of the earth. What have been the consequences of these grand discoveries? Scientific discovery has also been greatly assisted by the disclosures of Geology.
It is mainly by this science that most of the old legends connected with the history of this earth have been swept away. In remarking upon these myths, or what we believe to be such, we know that we are treading upon dangerous ground; for many have their cherished fancies, and if anyone attempts to upset them, it wounds llke an arrow but we ask from such nothing more than an impartial and unprejudiced hearing, hoping for correction if we state anything wrongly, and the credit which we deserve if we speak the truth.
Our intention is to state what we honestly believe to be the truth, and to show others the way to do the same, for. One of the old myths we shall more particularly notice, it being a common feature amongst the beliefs of various nations. We refer to the story of an unversal deluge. A short time back anyone attempting to deny the truth of this legend in a Christian community would have been stigmatised as a blasphemer and an opponent of the Word of God.
This state of things is happily departing, and mankind are gradually discarding those old stories which cannot stand the test of reason—stories so ancient that they have no reliable records of who the real authors of them were, and which, by the searches made by modern theologists and scientists, are in many cases distinctly proved to be of different authorship than that ascribed to them. This legend of the universal deluge has a seat, as is now well known, amongst most of the nations of the world.
We find it amongst the Chaldeans, the Jews, the Christian and Mahometan stories being derived from the latter , and in America, and various parts of the world. Many works have been written upon the subject, both antagonistic and defensive; amongst the former being the works of such eminent men as Lyell, Clodd, Bishop Colenso of the Church of England , who, in spite of his being in such a high position, was, out of love for the truth, compelled to openly avow his total disbelief of these stories; and so ably has he defended his position that no one but the most prejudiced or ill-informed could possibly believe in the story after hearing the arguments that have been brought forward by himself and others to refute it.
Many other foolish beliefs have been uprooted by the revelations of Geology, amongst which are the ridiculous stories told in connection with the creation of the world, the origin of life upon its surface, the time which has elapsed since the creation, and the antiquity of man.
In past times, when science was in its infancy, it was the common idea to believe that the world was created in a strange manner, only five or six thousand years ago, and that man suddenly appeared on its surface a few days later. The revelations of science, however, have taught man to be in this matter, as in everything else, cautious and enquiring, and have shown him conclusively that man has existed on this earth hundreds of thousands of years—the time of his first appearance being generally estimated at one million of years!
It has shown, also, that the world could not have been created in one week, the time usually supposed to have elapsed, but that, like everything else in nature, its growth has been slow and orderly, and that it must have taken millions of years to perform its varied evolutions of matter.
There are still many who doubt these statements; but one thing is certain—although they may be wrong in some minor points, they are built upon the strong foundations of truth; and though a few useless ornaments may crumble away, the edifice itself still remains ready to be re-adorned with facts more substantial and incontrovertible; and though men may close their ears to the voice of reason, they do themselves more harm than good, and stifle those glorious faculties for research with which nature has so plentifully endowed them.
When man can properly appreciate the value of this study his progress will be far more rapid and beneficial. The more Physiology is understood the happier does man live. A great many valuable lessons can be learnt from it. He can learn how to save his fellow-creatures from agony, and often prevent a premature death; can discover the injurious effects of poisonous stimulants upon his constitution; can analyse every part of his body in order to have a better knowledge of its functions than he could by merely watching its effects; and, finally, can make laws—laws in accordance with nature's workings, which shall keep his health intact, and cause him to find that "life is real, life is earnest," and that it can only be properly enjoyed and appreciated by being assisted instead of being misunderstood.
Medicine was tolerably well understood amongst the ancients, and they paid especial attention to the benefits to be derived from healthful exorcises. Later on, however, in the Middle Ages, people did not pay proper attention to their bodies; they were uncleanly and intemperate in their habits, and did not pay any attention to the ventilation of their houses, nor the sanitary conditions generally of the towns and villages in which they dwelt.
And what was the result? But men are now living in an age of science and they have reason to be thankful for their good fortune. If they studied the truths of Physiology and health, and spent their money on literature, or any other kind of useful knowledge, instead of buying the poisonous "nobbler," that their depraved tastes so eagerly long for, they might become model men and women and a benefit to mankind.
Let us now turn our attention to History, the record of man's existence, and see what lessons of truth we can glean from its vast fields. But first, let us ask ourselves the question, How should History be read?
This question is of great moment, and it would be a good thing if every student put it to his careful deliberation before he commences so grave and important a study. A great many read a certain history through, or perhaps learn it off by heart, satisfied, when they have gone so far, that they know enough. But then the question naturally arises, Do they know enough, or, in, fact, do they know anything? They have studied work of a certain writer, and know what he has told them, it is true; but do they know anything of the author?
It must be obvious to them that if the latter be not the case, his work, by itself, is no criterion to judge by, even though it be true, unknown to him. The only way, then, to properly study history, is by reading the works of different writers, holding different shades of opinion, if possible, and noting any discrepancies that may occur between them, and finding out by these means, a far as possible, which works are reliable histories, and which writers are to be trusted for their statements.
What example, then, has history given to mankind of the operations and benefits of truth? It has shown him in the examples of the ages, the disadvantages of bad draining, bad ventilation, bad government, indolence, bad practices generally, and has set him the task of using his intellectual faculties for the purpose of understanding and bettering his condition.
It has shown him that the way to live happily is not by worshipping shrines, and paying money to priests, or by wandering about in the garb of a pilgrim to offer up thanksgivings for what he has never received, but by carefully attending to the wants of life—seeing that the drainage is good, to prevent disease—bathing regularly, to preserve a healthy skin—ventilating the house, to keep the air within pure—being clean in his person, and being generally attentive to the little necessities that occasionally crop up; and by these means, and these means only, tend to make life enjoyable, as Nature has destined it should be.
If we examine the social condition of Europe at the time of the Reformation, we shall see the state of degradation to which humanity was lowered. The following quotations will serve to show this to the reader.
In the lowlands, and along the river-courses were fens, sometimes hundreds of miles in extent, exhaling their pestiferous miasms, and spreading ague far and wide.
In Paris and London the houses were of wood, daubed with clay, and thatched with straw or reeds. They had no windows, very few had wooden floors. There were no chimneys; the smoke of the ill-fed, cheerless fire, escaped through a hole in the roof. No attempt was made at draining, but the putrefying garbage and rubbish were simply thrown out of the door.
Men, women, and children, slept in the same apartment; not unfrequently domestic animals were their companions; in such a confusion of the family it was impossible that modesty or morality could be maintained.
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