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Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 7 Num. 95

("Quid coniuratio est?")

The following first ran as "Conspiracy for the Day", 09/29/93

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...Our Positivists who deal so unceremoniously with every psychological phenomena... are like Samuel Butler's rhetorician, who

"... could not ope His mouth, but out there flew a trope."

We would there were no occasion to extend the critic's glance beyond the circle of triflers and pedants who improperly wear the title of men of science. But it is undeniable that the treatment of new subjects by those whose rank is high in the scientific world but too often passes unchallenged, when it is amenable to censure. The cautiousness bred of a fixed habit of experimental research, the tentative advance from opinion to opinion, the weight accorded to recognized authorities -- all foster a conservatism of thought which naturally runs into dogmatism. The price of scientific progress is too commonly the martyrdom or ostracism of the innovator. The reformer of the laboratory must, so to speak, carry the citadel of custom and prejudice at the point of the bayonet. It is rare that even a postern-door is left ajar by a friendly hand. The noisy protests and impertinent criticisms of the little people of the antechamber of science, he can afford to let pass unnoticed; the hostility of the other class is a real peril that the innovator must face and overcome. Knowledge does increase apace, but the great body of scientists are not entitled to the credit. In every instance they have done their best to shipwreck the new discovery, together with the discoverer. The palm is to him who has won it by individual courage, intuitiveness, and persistency. Few are the forces in nature which, when first announced, were not laughed at, and then set aside as absurd and unscientific. Humbling the pride of those who had not discovered anything, the just claims of those who have been denied a hearing until negation was no longer prudent, and then -- alas for poor, selfish humanity! these very discoverers too often became the opponents and oppressors, in their turn, of still more recent explorers in the domain of natural law! So, step by step, mankind move around their circumscribed circle of knowledge, science constantly correcting its mistakes, and readjusting on the following day the erroneous theories of the preceding one...

What can we do? Shall we recall the disagreeable past? Shall we point to medieval scholars conniving with the clergy to deny the Heliocentric theory, for fear of hurting an ecclesiastical dogma? Must we recall how learned conchologists once denied that the fossil shells, found scattered over the face of the earth, were ever inhabited by living animals at all? How the naturalists of the eighteenth century declared these but mere fac-similes of animals? And how these naturalists fought and quarrelled and battled and called each other names, over these venerable mummies of the ancient ages for nearly a century, until Buffon settled the question by proving to the negators that they were mistaken? Surely an oyster-shell is anything but trancendental, and ought to be quite a palpable subject for any exact study...

There exists a certain work which might afford very profitable reading for the leisure hours of skeptical men of science. It is a book published by Flourens, the Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy, called Histoire des Recherches de Buffon. The author shows in it how the great naturalist combated and finally conquered the advocates of the fac-simile theory; and how they still went on denying everything under the sun, until at times the learned body fell into a fury, an epidemic of negation. It denied Franklin and his refined electricity; laughed at Fulton and his concentrated steam; voted the engineer Perdonnet a strait-jacket for his offer to build railroads; stared Harvey out of countenance; and proclaimed Bernard de Palissy "as stupid as one of his own pots!"

In his oft-quoted work, Conflict between Religion and Science, Professor Draper shows a decided propensity to kick the beam of the scales of justice, and lay all such impediments to the progress of science at the door of the clergy alone. With all respect and admiration due to this eloquent writer and scientist, we must protest and give every one his just due. Many of the above-enumerated discoveries are mentioned by the author of the Conflict. In every case he denounces the bitter resistance on the part of the clergy, and keeps silent on the like opposition invariably experienced by every new discoverer at the hands of science. His claim on behalf of science that "knowledge is power" is undoubtedly just. But abuse of power, whether it proceeds from excess of wisdom or ignorance is alike obnoxious in its effects. Besides, the clergy are silenced now [ca. 1877]. Their protests would at this day be scarcely noticed in the world of science. But while theology is kept in the background, the scientists have seized the sceptre of despotism with both hands, and they use it, like the cherubim and flaming sword of Eden, to keep the people away from the tree of immortal life and within this world of perishable matter.

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[From Isis Unveiled by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky]

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