The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 5

Goldwin Smith

The Secret Beyond Science*

Again, is it true that the fixed or the unvarying is the last revelation of science? These risings in the scale of created beings, this gradual evolution of planetary systems from their center—do they bespeak mere creative force? Do they not rather bespeak something which, for want of an adequate word, we must call creative effort, corresponding to the effort by which man raises himself and his estate? And where effort can be discovered, does not spirit reign again?

A creature whose sphere of vision is a speck, whose experience is a second, sees the pencilof Raphael moving over the canvas of the transfiguration. It sees the pencil moving over its own speck, during its own second of existence, in one particular direction, and it concludes that the formula expressing that direction is the secret of the whole.

There is truth as well as vigor in the lines of Pope on the discoveries of Newton:—

"Superior beings when of late they saw
A mortal man unfold all Nature’s law,
Admired such wisdom in the earthly shape,
And showed a Newton as we show an ape."

If they could not show a Newton as we show an ape, or a Newton’s discoveries as we show the feats of apish cunning, it was because Newton was not a mere intellectual power, but a moral being, laboring in the service of his kind, and because his discoveries were the reward, not of sagacity only, but of virtue. We can imagine a mere organ of vision so constructed by omnipotence as to see at a glance infinitely more than could be discovered by all the Newtons, but the animal which possessed that organ would not be higher than the moral being.

Reason, no doubt, is our appointed guide to truth. The limits set to it by each dogmatist, at the point where it comes into conflict with his dogma, are human limits; its providential limits we can learn only by dutifully exerting it to the utmost. Yet reason must be impartial in the acceptance of data and in the demand of proof.Facts are not the less facts because they are not facts of sense; materialism is not necessarily enlightenment; it is possible to be at once chimerical and gross.

We may venture, without any ingratitude to science as the source of material benefits and the training school of inductive reason, to doubt whether the great secret of the moral world is likely to be discovered in her laboratory, or to be revealed to those minds which have been imbued only with her thoughts, and trained in her processes alone. Some, indeed, among the men of science who have given us sweeping theories of the world, seem to be not only one-sided in their view of the facts, leaving out of sight the phenomena of our moral nature, but to want one of the two faculties necessary for sound investigation. They are acute observers, but bad reasoners. And science must not expect to be exempt from the rules of reasoning. We can not give credit for evidence which does not exist, because if it existed it would be of a scientific kind; nor can we pass at a bound from slight and precarious premises to a tremendous conclusion, because the conclusion would annihilate the spiritual nature and annul the divine origin of man.

* From an address at the University of Oxford entitled "The Study of History." Printed here by kind permission of Messrs. James Parker&Co.

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Chicago: The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 5 in The World’s Famous Orations, ed. William Jennings Bryan (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906), 36–38. Original Sources, accessed May 26, 2024,

MLA: . The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 5, in The World’s Famous Orations, edited by William Jennings Bryan, Vol. The World#8217;s Famous Orations, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906, pp. 36–38. Original Sources. 26 May. 2024.

Harvard: , The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 5. cited in December, 1906, The World’s Famous Orations, ed. , Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.36–38. Original Sources, retrieved 26 May 2024, from