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Edwin Ray Lankester, in his Romanes lecture begins by a statement of the theory of evolution, directing attention to unwarranted inferences commonly drawn by clever writers unacquainted with the study of nature. He ...
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Nature and Man

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Scanned, proofed and corrected from the original magazine edition for enjoyable reading. (Worth every penny spent!)


Edwin Ray Lankester, in his Romanes lecture begins by a statement of the theory of evolution, directing attention to unwarranted inferences commonly drawn by clever writers unacquainted with the study of nature. He described how the change in the character of the struggle for existence, possibly in the Lower Miocene period, which favored an increase in the size of the brain in the great mammals and the horse, probably became most important in the development of man. The progress of man cut him off from the general operation of the law of natural selection as it had worked until he appeared, and he acquired knowledge, reason, self-consciousness and will, so that 'survival of the fittest,' when applied to man, came to have a meaning quite different from what it had when applied to other creatures.

Man can control nature, and the 'nature searchers,' the founders of the Royal Society and their followers, have placed boundless power in the hands of mankind, and enabled man to arrive at spiritual emancipation and freedom of thought. But the leaders of human activity at present still attach little or no importance to the study of nature. They ignore the penalties that rebellious man must pay if he fails to continue his study and acquire greater and greater control of nature.

Lankester does not dwell upon the possible material loss to our empire which may result from neglect of natural science; he looks at the matter as a citizen of the world, as a man who sees that within some time, it may be only 100 years, it may be 500 years, man must solve many new problems if he is to continue his progress and avert a return to nature's terrible method of selecting the fittest. It seems to us that this aspect of the question has never been fully dealt with before. Throughout Huxley's later writings the certainty of a return to nature's method is always to be felt. Lankester has faith in man's power to solve those problems.

The dangerous delay now so evident is due to the want of nature knowledge in the general population, so that the responsible administrators of government are suffered to remain ignorant of their duties. Lankester shows that it is peculiarly in the power of such universities as Oxford and Cambridge, which are greatly free from government control, to establish a quite different state of things from that which now obtains in England.
The University of Oxford by its present action in regard to the choice and direction of subjects of study is exercising an injurious influence upon the education of the country, and especially upon the education of those who will hereafter occupy positions of influence, and will largely determine both the action of the state and the education and opinions of those who will in turn succeed them.

As to Greek and Latin studies, he says: We have come to the conclusion that this form of education is a mistaken and injurious one. We desire to make the chief subject of education both in school and in college a knowledge of nature as set forth in the sciences which are spoken of as physics, chemistry, geology and biology. We think that all education should consist in the first place of this kind of knowledge, on account of its commanding importance both to the individual and to the community. We think that every man of even a moderate amount of education should have acquired a sufficient knowledge of these subjects to enable him at any rate to appreciate their value, and to take an interest in their progress and application to human life.

He points out that it is only in the last hundred years that the dogma of compulsory Greek and the value of what is now called a classical education has been promulgated. Previously, Latin was learnt because all the results of the studies of natural philosophers were in that language.

It is evident that Lankester includes in his study of nature the study of intellectual and emotional man through history, biography, novels and poetry, but we think that he made a tactical mistake when he neglected to state this clearly. It seems to us that besides the study of nature, the most important thing in a child's education is to make him fond of reading in his own language, for this leads to a future power to make use of books and self-education for the rest of his life. When Lankester doubts the value of the study of history he is evidently doubting the value of that study as carried on at Oxford, and surely no person who has read the scathing criticism of Professor Firth will disagree with him. When he speaks of a reform being possible, it may be that he is taking into account a movement of which but little is known outside Oxford itself, the growing indignation of the average undergraduate at being made to pay extravagant sums of money for tuition...
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940013358997
  • Publisher: OGB
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Series: The Romanes Lecture , #1
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 370 KB

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