"More than machinery, we need humanity."
When the locomotive of progress carries us away, it is quite permissible to ask the mechanics who direct it to be prudent and to moderate its speed before having assumed its operation; this is the practical sense of this book. – Eugene Huzar (1857)
Two decades into the twenty-first century it is not particularly controversial to claim that the fruits of scientific and technological progress have often proven to be dangerous. Even the most stalwart defender of techno-scientific advancement must pause before a list that includes nuclear weapons, climate change, dumps overflowing with toxic refuse, high-tech surveillance, the deluge of misinformation, and breakdown of public trust in scientific expertise. True, such a defender may insist that the solution to these techno-scientifically exacerbated crises will eventually be found in techno-science, but that technology and science produce risks as well as rewards has become so widely understood as to be almost banal. Nevertheless, many people (and societies) stick to a stubborn faith in science and technology, and those who wish to challenge that view are accustomed to being seen as heretics.
Such was certainly the case for Eugene Huzar when he first published his book La Fin du Monde par la Science in 1855. At the core of that volume were three intertwined claims: that the hubristic pursuit of science would eventually lead to calamity, that this had happened before, and that this would happen again in the not too distant future. Providing a rather iconoclastic reading of religion, legend, and mythology—Huzar treated stories of Adam’s fall, Prometheus, and Brahma as warnings to future peoples passed down from earlier civilizations that had themselves collapsed as a result of their own unquenchable thirst for scientific power. For Huzar the tale of the Garden of Eden was less a creation myth, than a disaster narrative about a people who had established a terrestrial paradise only to undo themselves as a result of their inability to be satisfied with what they had already achieved. As Huzar saw it “Civilization inevitably runs to its end with a blindfold over its eyes;” and as a result he cautioned his readers “Know it well—one day the ship of civilization will come crashing against the reef of fatality, a reef so deeply hidden in the forces of nature that man can neither suspect nor avoid it.” Huzar was confident that if civilization remained on the techno-scientific course he perceived it to be on, it was fated to fall; and though Huzar tried to reveal that dangerous hidden reef to his fellows, with his book he glumly noted that he was “resigned to not be understood today, certain that a day will come when this book will formulate the opinion of the world.”
Reading La Fin du Monde par la Science in the twenty-first century, it is rather easy to look askance at Huzar’s reading of myths and religions, but his warning that an unceasing and unthinking pursuit of science will lead to calamity has certainly come to “formulate the opinion” of at least a sizable number of people “of the world.” Granted, Huzar’s words also managed to be somewhat resonant in his own time as well—as those who were willing to look could make out the signs of impending danger. Near the end of La Fin du Monde par la Science, Huzar had expressed his hope to write a follow-up volume wherein he would pivot from his discussion of myth and religion to more fully delve into what he saw, in his day, as the signs that his foreboding prophecy was being fulfilled. And especially with the surprisingly receptive reaction La Fin du Monde par la Science received, Huzar pressed ahead with publishing its sequel: L’arbre de la Science.
In 2018, I translated and published here the first complete English translation of La Fin du Monde par la Science.
It is now my honor to publish here the first complete English translation of L’arbre de la Science.
In L’arbre de la Science, Huzar picks up on the themes he had explored in La Fin du Monde par la Science but pushes them in a less allegorical direction. Here, Huzar is less concerned with myth based warnings, and more interested in drawing his readers’ attention to the alarms sounding all around them. Deforestation, mining, pollution, disease—these are the sorts of concerns that Huzar focuses on in L’arbre de la Science. Emphasizing over and over to his readers, that if they want to see evidence that scientific progress is dangerous they only need to read the headlines. While still holding to his fatalistic view that human civilization is destined to repeat the techno-scientifically-wrought downfalls it has previously experienced, he argues for the establishment of brakes to slow the headstrong advance of science, so as to ensure that the pitfalls can be seen and avoided. Huzar does not doubt that through science and technology a terrestrial paradise can be established; indeed, he is confident that human civilizations have reached such a stage before. Yet Huzar fears that humanity will not be satisfied at attaining such a paradisical state, there will still be those who desire more, and out of that lust they will bring ruin upon everyone else. For Huzar the scientific drive lacks prescience and wisdom, and in L’arbre de la Science, Huzar argues that unless that wisdom can be found (and applied) a catastrophe will be inevitable.
The reason to read Huzar is not because he was right about everything. To be frank, there are quite a few things in L’arbe de la Science that seem rather odd, but there are also many areas where his foresight is disturbingly accurate. Nevertheless, the most significant thing about Huzar’s books is that they stand as evidence that it was possible to foresee our present predicaments long ago. This translation is, therefore, presented here primarily as a contribution to history—it should be of interest to those who study the history of science, the history of technology, disaster history, environmental history, and of particular interest to those who study the way that prophecies of doom appear in those aforementioned branches of history (full disclosure: that is precisely what I study). On the other hand, this translation (as with the previous one) should be of interest to anyone who is concerned on a personal level with the risks that run alongside techno-scientific progress. Huzar, after all, was writing for a popular audience not a scholarly one, and his ambition was to have his words be widely read. Huzar argued that readers in his day only needed to look at the newspaper to see confirmation of his central claims, and a glimpse at recent headlines will show contemporary readers that Huzar was clearly on to something. Furthermore, those who are interested in trying to communicate risks to the broader society would do well to remember that there have been those who were trying (and failing) to sound those alarms more than a century ago.
This translation will be posted here in three parts over the rest of 2020 (one a month). Though the posting of sections will be broken down based on clear breaks in the text, it is still advisable to read the book in order. It may also be advisable to first read the translation of La Fin du Monde par la Science, though Huzar provides a quick summary of that book’s central arguments at the beginning of L’arbre de la Science. Once this translation is fully posted, I hope to continue working on improving the translations; however, the goal here was to make these texts accessible to more people. It should be noted, for the purposes of full disclosure, that I am not (nor do I pretend to be) a professional translator. This translation, as with the translation of La Fin du Monde par la Science, should be understood as the work of a committed amateur. I have done my best to replicate Huzar’s tone and style, and have been careful (to the best of my ability) to accurately capture his sentence structure. In some instances that may result in certain passages being a bit opaque, but I have avoided the temptation to rewrite sentences and paragraphs for the sake of clarity. On a related note, Huzar wrote in the gendered manner of his day, and as a result Huzar frequently refers to his imagined reader as “he” and “him”—and these have been left as written, lest the decision to opt for more gender inclusive terminology give the impression that Huzar had attempted to use such terms. All of which is to say, this translation is my own, and I accept responsibility for its shortcomings and flaws. Nevertheless, I have worked diligently to try and make this fascinating text available to a wider readership, and I believe that I have, at the very least, successfully captured the essential content of Huzar’s argument. Lastly, this translation has been conducted and is being posted, so as to make this text available to a wider audience—I do not endorse or support all of Huzar’s claims. Or, to say that slightly differently: the views expressed here are those of Huzar.
Near the conclusion of L’arbre de la Science, Huzar writes “I believe, finally, that the vessel of civilization, launched at full steam on the infinite sea of progress, must, if it wishes to escape the pitfalls of fatality and not sink body and possessions en route, arm itself with the compass of intuition.”
Hopefully this translation will make that compass legible to more people. After all, we’re all on that vessel together.
The Tree of Science
by Eugène Huzar
On the 21st of April, 1855, I deposited at the Ministry of the Interior my book entitled: La fin du Monde par la science. That book was the first to dare to say to our century of science that the organic world will one day end due to science. It is also the first to tear away the thick veil that hitherto enveloped original sin, defining it as a scientific offense committed against the laws of the harmony of nature. These two ideas: the end of the world by science, and the entirely new explanation I gave of original sin, constitute all of my individual thinking and all of the originality of that book, which had as its formula: what has been will be.
To read is to travel in the world of ideas: now, in order to usefully travel, one must first learn the language of the country one wants to visit, otherwise meaning runs the risk of becoming lost.
Before beginning this new book, the reader will allow me to give him the sense and the real value of certain phrases, of certain words, which at first could seem to him obscure or enigmatic; but which, once well defined, will be for his mind a commonplace coin, the value of which he will know exactly, and which he will be able to use to right himself when he wishes to pass judgment on my book
Eden, Terrestrial Paradise, Golden Age, are three words that, for me, signify the identical thing, because they all mean a civilization in harmony.
The Golden Age, for me, then, is only Eden poetically, it has no other sense. In fact, all the poetic legends of antiquity have been borrowed from the religious legends.
It is therefore to the imagination of poets embroidering on the religious intuition of Eden that we owe the Golden Age of sacred books.
What Has Been Will Be: means that Eden, the tree of science, and the fall of man in the past, are allegories containing objective realities from the past which will be, precisely, their objective realities in the future. The poets sing of The Golden Age of the future; only, they sing like the nightingale, without knowing the objective reason for why they sing.
The End Of The World: does not mean, as it is believed, the annihilation of matter, substance never perishes; because it exists in virtue of its own potentiality.
Original Sin: is a fault committed against the laws of universal harmony, by an insufficient reason searching for the absolute.
The Tree of Science: means the end of the harmonic realm of man on earth.
The Fruit of The Tree of Science: means the final consequence, the final result of science and progress.
I will therefore use the words Fruit of The Tree of Science in a metaphorical sense, as when we say, in speaking of the horrors of war: such are the fruits of war; that is, its terrible consequences. It is in this sense that I will say: such was the fruit of the tree of science, its final consequence, its final result.
Adam: is the name given by Moses to humanity when humanity came to Edenism, that is, to harmony in its civilization.
Fatality: to understand this word, one must know that there is in nature a balance between organic and inorganic life; life can be manifested and maintained only under the condition of this equilibrium. There is fatality for us as long as the balance is broken.
Progress. Danger of a purely experimental science.
While an ardent crowd hastened from the four corners of the world, blissfully and stupidly devouring the wonders piled up in the temple of industry, I stopped at the threshold of the temple, not daring to enter it: I stopped hesitantly and trembling.
For, behind this mysterious veil of stone, was to begin for humanity a new world, the world of the future. What would this future be? Who would dare to say it? The ancients, in their wisdom, raised temples to oracles to snatch secrets from destiny: before walking, they knew where they were going, and we, we run without knowing where we go.
These were the prophets, that is to say, those who had the gift of prescience, whom the peoples chose to guide them; for they understood that nothing great, nothing lasting could be done in the present, if it had no significance for the future. But the present can only have a reason to be by this purpose. It was therefore towards knowing the final goal of things that they put all of their science. Prophecies had no other meaning.
Thus the divinatory science, this intuitive science, in a word, this prescience (which gave to man the conception of the future and which allowed him to shape the present according to the ideal type which was to be realized one day) was considered the science of science, and the voice of oracles that thundered in peoples’ ears was heard as the voice of destiny.
Today the oracles are mute, we no longer know how to question them, and the world is walking adrift, without compass, without guide, this is caused by an occult, irresistible force: progress.
What is progress? Such were the serious reflections which besieged me on every side, and which kept me nailed to the threshold of that palace, when a mysterious word, which everyone read on the door, and whose meaning could not be explained in the intuitive sense, stopped my sight.
This word was: INDUSTRY.
This word alone contained the secret of this temple, the secret of the future; it was the future itself, because he who says industry says science, and will not science one day, according to whether we will be able to use it more or less well, be a beacon of light that will light the triumphant march of humanity along the infinite road of progress, or an incendiary torch that must devour the world?
What is science? A profound word, enigmatic, so far without history. What! Men have written their history, and they have not written the history of their activity, that is, the history of science, the history of progress. They have studied the physical forces of the globe, steam, electricity, and they have not studied this incredible force of impulse which pushes, agitates, dominates and carries them away to I do not know where.
The seers have personified the history of human activity in three grand types: Adam, Prometheus, and Brahma. Read and understand. Prometheus, this learned genius, steals fire from the sky and is struck down for his conquest. Brahma, the type of active human, seizes the elements and is thrown into the abyss. Adam, this human God, from Genesis, takes his audacious hand to the fruits of the tree of science, and humanity falls.
This is the symbolic history of human activity, of science, and of progress; it is therefore entirely in the myth of the tree of science, the final consequence of which, the last fruit, is the decay of humanity. But under this allegory is hidden an autogory, a real story that is to be understood. What is it?
Humanity, by its activity and genius, once reached the ultimate limits of knowledge. It reigned in a world of harmony, that is to say the Golden Age, Eden, Terrestrial Paradise, these types of indefinite civilization. It thought it could impudently collect all the fruits of science, tear away all the secrets of nature; but the world of brutal forces, shaken by this new Samson, inevitably collapsed on itself. The equilibrium of natural laws was broken; that world had to end.
This is how man one day lost Eden, Terrestrial Paradise and the Golden Age that he had come to through his genius.
This palace of industry, then, appeared to me to be one of the splendid flowers of the tree of science, like the dawn of the renewal of the Golden Age, of Eden, of Terrestrial Paradise.
Indeed, will the time predicted by the prophets not be fulfilled? Is the kingdom of the Man-God not near? To those who would deny it, tell them: look and understand.
The earth is no longer cursed; the volcanoes that ignited it in other times are they not extinguished today? The earth is no longer covered with brambles and thorns; because, thanks to human work and the genius of man, it has become a garden of delights, a Terrestrial Paradise.
Man no longer earns his bread by the sweat of his brow, thanks to powerful machines, a real world of iron, working and sweating for him, mowing, sowing, withering, plowing, carrying him from one pole to another.
Woman no longer bears children with pain, thanks to chloroform and ether, these precious chemical discoveries which have defeated the fatality of pain. The wife is no longer under the tyranny of her husband, thanks to the moral harmony that is becoming established more and more in human society.
Paradise, Eden, are found, because we have begun to renew the miracles of Edenism. I tell you once again, times are fulfilled, and the kingdom of God-Man is near.
Look and understand!
Anyone who, seeing these miracles of science, these miracles of harmony, of moral solidarity, establishing themselves among the people, would deny the golden age of the future, would be a fool for whom progress would not make any sense.
The railway, electric telegraph, everything leads the world towards Edenism, towards harmony. Modern industry has no other meaning, know it. Science and industry must therefore lead us one day to Eden, to the Golden Age, as science led our fathers to the Golden Age, to Edenism. But the same causes will produce the same effects; do not forget.
Now, today we pick the flowers of the tree of science; tomorrow we will want to pick the fruits. For the audacity of man will always increase: as he discovers new forces in nature, he will want to make new applications. Today steam, electricity; tomorrow, etc…etc… Because, know this well, we are still only at the dawn of things. Scarcely does the radiant sun of civilization begin to appear on the horizon, and yet it can be judged from what science has produced in our day what it can produce a few centuries from here. The universal exhibitions that will take place then will prove to you abundantly the value of the truth that I advance today.
The further we go, the more quickly will progress be made. Civilization will follow in its march the law of the fall of bodies, whose speed grows with time.
But do not get drunk on our near-omniscience, our near-omnipotence, our progress. It is not by the flowers that the tree is judged, but by the fruits.
See the manchineel; its flowers are the most beautiful in the world, and its fruits give death. The tree of science is its fruits, its ultimate consequences. Because the prophet told us: If you eat, you will die.
Two men, in modern times, came to confirm the prophecy: Chateaubriand and Lamartine. Chateaubraind was asked what he thought of the railways. The railways, said this great man, will lead us more quickly to the abyss.
Lamartine wrote a few months ago in his Literature Course: “Progress is a dream denied by nature and history.” These words would be the epitaph of a world written by a prophet, if they had not been written a year after the publication of my prophecy (The End of the World by Science).
When I say, what has been will be. That is to say that man, after having savored all the flowers, all the delights of Eden, will take an imprudent hand to the fruits, that is to say to the final consequences of the tree of the science, and that he will be struck down for his conquest.
I had the secret of the enigma of the temple of progress; so I could focus on it; and, after having seen the wonders of the world heaped up, which, with their powerful breath, whirled, with an infernal noise, a whole world of iron; thinking, on the one hand, of the terrible forces which man already had by science; on the other, seeing him so unrepentant, so imminent, so imprudent, I exclaimed, re-reading the epigraph: Mane thekel phares!
At this time it is necessary to study, to understand this new force, this new fact, progress. Antiquity did not even suspect it.
What was progress? Nothing, neither in Athens, nor in Rome. No philosopher was occupied with it; it could not be otherwise, since it did not have its reason for being, its determinative cause, science. Science did not exist then, if not for in a latent manner, so to speak.
The little seed of the tree of science lost in the heart of the human ego had yet germinated in India, the cradle of religions; had taken root in Greece, this school of reason and dialectic; at last, it had flourished in Rome, this metropolis of law. And yet neither the Indians, nor the Greeks, nor the Romans had even suspected it.
Progress has therefore been immanent since the beginning of the world; it existed in a latent, virtual way, like electricity, and no one had seen or suspected it.
Until you arrive in the middle of the eighteenth century, in Vico, the son of a poor bookseller from Naples. This philosopher historian was the first revelator of progress. In a work entitled The New Science, he sought to explain the progress or rather his progress; and for that he distinguished three ages in the history of humanity
1st, the divine age, the time of idolatry in which still ignorant men divinized everything.
2nd, the heroic age, the time of barbarism or the dominance of some heroes.
3rd, the human age, the age of civilization
He believed that peoples traveled successively through these three ages, and that to arrive at the last, they had to arrive at the first, thus rolling in an eternal circle. We must therefore arrive at the beginning of the eighteenth century to see a philosopher deal for the first time with the great question of progress. After Vico, a historian, Michelet, perhaps the most intuitive mind of our epoch dealt with this same question. But instead of conceiving, like his predecessor, the march of human civilization as a single circle, a unit of measure for other civilizations, he conceived of civilization as a circle, but a concentric circle which would be circumscribed by ever larger circles. that is to say, by ever larger civilizations. Humanity, according to this philosopher, must therefore progress in an infinite way.
Michelet and Vico had set out on the course, they were the first to awake attention to this force which had remained hitherto unnoticed, unconscious: progress.
Since then, the world has looked around itself, it has seen that something strange, mysterious, was happening on the globe; for some centuries it has seen that from the hands of man, as well as those of God, light, electricity, caloric, and magnetism spring forth; and, frightened by this power, it wondered what is this irresistible force, what is this power that solicits us, drives us?
Will civilization lead us to chaos or harmony?
A terrible problem that the human mind necessarily had to face at a time when the tree of science is no longer just the harmless tree of the science of law, of theological science, of pure abstraction, of philosophy as it was in the eighteenth century, but where the tree of science became visible, palpable, because today it is the concrete tree of chemistry, of physics, it is the path of iron piercing the Alps, the electric wire that carries the thought of the world through the seas. It is this power which, upsetting the planet, breaks the isthmus of these dikes laid by the hand of God, destroys the forests, these first creatures of creation, and brings floods and disturbances hitherto unknown in the world.
An encyclopedic tree of human knowledge, a tree of infinite progress, you, whose daring face withdraws the electricity of the sky, whose taproots penetrate to the abyss of the central fire, who are you? What is your name?
I am the tree of Eden! The tree of the science of good and evil: I am that enigma on the threshold of all religions, which no philosopher could understand, and about which man will only be able to see reason when, elevated higher and higher by science, he will know by experience the consequences, that is, the fruits.
This intuition of the future presented to me the consequence of progress; and my book: The End of the World Through Science, was the first saving cry of civilization.
So I first rang the tocsin; seventeen newspapers echoed me. I had seen in sacred books the world fall by the exaltation of science. The conflagration, that fruit of the tree of science, must therefore still be the consequence of our learned ignorance, of our imprudent pride; the past seemed to me to be the mirror of the future.
Our discoveries were to be the efficient cause of our fall and the catastrophe of the globe. In our pride we think we know everything, and yet we know nothing. The first science of man and his greatest wisdom appeared to me to be aware of his ignorance, to know that he knows nothing, as Socrates said, that he does not know the effects, that he does not know the causes.
It is this wisdom which is wanting in man and why he will collapse; we must know that the consequences of the discoveries for which we applaud ourselves today are unknown, and we will know that we are groping, a bandage over our eyes, in the middle of abysses that we cannot even suspect. Let us be careful, and we’ll know how to be wise. Fatality surrounds us on all sides, and often warns us by hard tests; let us beware.
This cry I uttered first in my book The End of The World Through Science, was the cry of the sentry who wants to keep the army on its guard, awakening it against the surprises of the enemy.
I have not had the pretension of stopping the course of civilization and progress; such has not been my goal; we cannot stop a force animated by such a movement of impulse without fearing a catastrophe. But we can at least try to direct it.
When the locomotive of progress carries us away, it is quite permissible to ask the mechanics who direct it to be prudent and to moderate its speed before having assumed its operation; this is the practical sense of this book.
The scholar, substituting his science for that of nature, destroying the forests, breaking the isthmus, and taking everything to his devastating passage, is the mechanic of this new machine, progress. Let him know how to study and interrogate it before he acts, let him know how to extract the secrets of nature before setting to work, otherwise he could contradict it and he would see the many victories he wins every day turn into final defeat. Another victory like that, said a king of antiquity, and we are lost.
I sounded the first alarm bell, and all the papers answered it: some to attack me and to complain that I had awakened them from their deep, lethargic sleep; others to thank me for tearing a blindfold off their eyes. Be that as it may, this strange, deep sound, starting from the heart of an obscure man, from the last of its letters, left the world in a deep sleep.
Who believed in my word? Nobody … Who listened to the tocsin, which in my book rang on every page, the hour of catastrophes? Nobody … And yet, fatality was walking fast. Who could be simple enough to believe in intuition, in prophecy?
And the world began to sleep more deeply, it decided to ignore my predictions of misfortune and laugh at my threats and my prophecies; but unfortunately, this time it was not the tocsin of intuition which was to wake up this sleeping world; it was the tocsin of the villages, the countryside and the cities, which was ringing all the time for floods, ruin and death.
The south was submerged; the waters of the rivers, flowing out of their beds, precipitated themselves furiously on all sides, swept away in rapid whirlpools, men, cattle, trees, crops, villages; thousands of men were made homeless. A thousand imprecations arose from the mouths of those wretches who saw before them misery, famine, and death. How could they keep a shadow of hope? Everything had been destroyed. The earth disappeared beneath the waters which, as they united, formed like a sea without a shore.
What was the cause of so many pains, of so many disasters? A science ignorant and unprescient, a proud civilization.
By striking the forests with his superb hand, man had broken the living dikes of nature. The forests formerly halted the torrents escaping from the mountains and moderated their course. Deforestation, the fruit of civilization, in destroying them, had unleashed the torrents which produced these terrible floods.
Know it, this is the beginning of the realization of my prophecy: the end of the world through science.
A few centuries from now, the rupture of the isthmus, these dikes laid by the hand of God, to maintain the equilibrium between the seas, will still teach men that the tocsin of intuition precedes the tocsin of catastrophes.
Daniel prophesied, in the midst of an everlasting feast, the fall of the Assyrian Empire, and Cyrus was at the gates of Babylon, and the immense empire of Assyria fell into the hands of the Persians. Jerusalem remembered Jehu’s predictions, and Italy still remembers that of Savonarola.
The lesson had been strong enough, nature had been in charge of giving it herself.
The tree of science began to bear its disastrous fruits. From then on, progress, this thesis was so often raised by the press, in books, in newspapers, that it became for the world the subject of the most thrilling polemics that had ever been seen, because humanity never had sought to understand until then the mysteries and the final consequences of its activity, of its power and its force.
The entire civilization was therefore put on the carpet; they were going to interrogate it, they were going to try to snatch from it the secret which it carried in its flanks, the secret of the future. Father Felix, at Notre-Dame, last year, studied religious progress, and sought to prove that if material or scientific progress were made almost entirely to the exclusion of moral progress, that society would be upset by social revolutions without number.
Seek the reign of God, and the reign of man on the matter will be of itself as it should be done without corrupting anything and to save everything.
Last year, Father Felix had therefore treated the question of progress only in its social consequences; he predicted human revolutions, that’s all; there stopped his audacity and his prophecy, he did not go farther, he in no way predicted to us any planetary catastrophes, resulting from science.
It was then that I gave him my book (The End of the World Through Science) and that I explained its meaning for him. He felt that all the threats he had made of social revolutions, if man did not return to the fold of the Catholic Church, were a long-known theme, which a thousand and four preachers had already developed before him. He found that the new argument which I brought him was more striking and more capable of striking the spirits, he thought it his duty to use it, and he announced to Notre-Dame the end of the world through science if the world did not become converted. Such is the meaning of his lectures of 1857: read, read them carefully, you will find only that.
Now, had he dared to say, to a century intoxicated with science, that one day the world would perish by science, a victim of its power and strength, otherwise in my book and in the explanations I had given him on my system. Man must therefore, according to Father Felix, perish as victim of his science and progress, if he does not convert. This is the meaning of his lectures. From this proposition I claim only the first part, the end of the world arriving by the exaltation of an unprescient science leading to paroxysm.
As for the second part, if he does not convert, I abandon him because it seems illogical to me. And here is my reason: it is that the day when man comes to disturb, by his unprescient science, the equilibrium of the laws of nature, the world if it was peopled by saints, would not perish any less: the laws of nature would be fulfilled fatally; they are inexorable as fate.
When lightning strikes, does it threaten more the church where the pious men are in prayer and invoking divine mercy than the cabaret where men blaspheme the holy name of God? No, it prefers to hit the church, prayers do nothing; Why? Because it is necessary that the laws of nature are fatally fulfilled, and that it is fate that electricity should strike the highest monument.
When the boiler of a steam engine explodes, does it not strike the driver who is in a state of grace as well as the driver who is not. Is it true?
Go ahead, believe me, if catastrophe happens through science as you think, the Catholic Church will not even be a lifesaver in the sinking. God is immutable, and the laws He has created are fatally fulfilled. It is up to us not to abuse our freedoms by turning them against their goal.
The doctrine of progress had had its opponents, it must also have its defenders.
Read, on the other hand, Mr. Pelletan. He tells us that progress is indefinite, and that it must one day achieve harmony in the world; and, for proof, he says, has not geological harmony emerged from chaos, order from disorder; if the evolution of the animated beings is not in ascending progression, if the zoophyte is not superior to the mineral, if the mollusk is not superior to the zoophyte, finally if man, the last of the animate creations, is not higher than the whole series of animals that preceded it?
According to him, nature goes from perfections to perfections up to man: as for man, does not his history prove the development of his intelligence and his reason, and his reason and his intelligence should they not achieve harmony?
The stages of civilization attest to the march of progress toward this goal.
Man is first hunter, it is the first stage of civilization, then pastor, then farmer, then he passes from the agricultural life to the civil life, then to industrial life. Today he is learning association, tomorrow he will be in harmony. Man must progress in an indefinite way, according to M. Pelletan, and one day reach harmony because he has always progressed. We are very far from M. Lamartine, who tells us that man must inevitably fall one day, because all the civilizations which have preceded us have successively fallen, and that progress is only a demented dream of history and nature.
Or can we see two more marked antinomies than between these two philosophical systems, between this negation on the one hand, and this affirmation on the other?
As for me, I will ask M. Pellatan if it is not to commit a sophism by induction, to affirm that man must progress indefinitely, because we have seen him progress to us. It is false reason to say; humanity has always progressed, so it will progress always. Could we say of a healthy child; here is a child who has always been well so far, so he will always be healthy? Would this not be exposing ourselves to making a grand error?
And, moreover, has humanity always been so well? Has her health never been disturbed? Have not political, civil, and religious wars, as well as revolutions and invasions of all kinds, been humanitarian inflammations which she still feels? Has not the long night of the Middle Ages been for her a lethargy that for many centuries left her for dead?
Are the crises over? Will the organization of the future social world be done without danger, without pain? We do not think so.
But, you will say, pain is a sign of life; yes, but sometimes it is a presage of death; the tetanus that accompanies the painful operations is an abundant proof of this.
But let’s move on to another order of ideas: is humanity, therefore, infallible? Will it always carry with wisdom and prudence the, so dangerous, torch of science? Has it been able to hold it up to us in its weak and unprescient hands without danger?
It is not at this moment that France is paying for her science by more than two hundred million in losses, by the death of many victims, by the ruin of a part of the country, that one would dare to affirm it. Ask all the scientists for the cause of the disastrous floods which have brought mourning to the country, they will tell you that it is the deforestation, this work of ignorance of a learned civilization; and this is so true, that we are obliged to reforest the mountains we once deforested.
Humanity, like the child, is subject to diseases arising from its nature or from its imprudence; enjoying more freedom than the child who has the eye of its parents to warn it of danger and to watch it, it, on the contrary, has as a guide in this world only its unprescient, insufficient, reason and its impudent science; it walks to the middle of the peril wearing a blindfold without any certainty, without a compass to direct it, or to show it the danger.
Can the vessel of civilization still sail in the midst of storms without being shipwrecked? I do not think so.
Two ideas, therefore, share the world today: the first, represented by M. de Lamartine, denies harmony in the future through progress; the other by M. Pelletan affirms harmony by means of progress in the future. Between these two antinomies, this affirmation on the one hand and this negation on the other, there is a third, which is mine, and which completes them both. This one has its base, its criterion of certainty in the sacred books. It is therefore through the example of the past that we will judge the future.
Man must therefore, according to my doctrine issued in 1855, achieve an apparent harmony in the world of the future, because to achieve harmony in the world is to realize Edenism, and man must arrive at Edenism one day by virtue of my principle: what has been will be. But as after Eden came the loss of humanity, I believe that after having arrived at the harmony of Edenism, we will fall back under the empire of fatality when we desire to pick the final fruits, when we arrive at the final limits of science.
Modern civilization is no longer only, like Greek civilization or Roman civilization, a city or an empire; it is at the same time in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Oceania, it is therefore a phenomenon apart, which has nothing in history to which it can be compared.
All the civilizations about which history tells us have fallen by invasions, wars, political or religious commotions; on the contrary, we shall see it fall while in full harmony, no longer under conquest or invasions, but under the weight of its power and strength, under the exaltation of an immense science that humanity does not yet possess, it has not yet reached today, and it cannot yet, at the present time, conceive or measure all its grandeur and its whole scope.
If I succeed in proving to you that Eden was a civilization very similar to ours, and that this unheard-of civilization has fallen under the exaltation of its power and its science, you will be obliged to conclude with me that our scholarly, universal, civilization which is on the road to Eden, must one day arrive there, then collapse, like its elder, under the weight of its power and by the exaltation of its unprescient science.
I will support my system not only on the intuition of the past, but also on philosophy, and I will show that internal liberty, free examination, only cast doubt on insufficient reason; I will prove that history is only the eternal tale of humanity’s lack of prescience; finally, I will support my system with the facts which prove to us that man acquires experience only at his own expense, which will increase constantly, as he makes more and more important experiments, that are more and more decisive, and which will prove to him one day that the hour of the catastrophes will follow closely the hour of the harmony.
Before telling the story of the human drama, I must first try to establish what will be the determining causes of the fall of man in the future.
These causes will, in my opinion, be:
His insatiable thirst for the absolute;
The insufficiency and lack of prescience of his reason.
Humanity, said Pascal, is a man who still lives and who learns constantly. He should have said: Humanity is a man who constantly learns at his own expense, and who continually pursues a goal that he can never reach: the absolute. This thirst for the absolute produces in man insatiability, this disease of the soul, which is to quickly tire of the good and to pursue ceaselessly the best.
To pursue the best, is that evil? No.
But to pursue the better indefinitely is a danger and madness. Now, it is a better indefinite that man pursues; it is therefore the absolute that he wants, for the absolute is on the road of the best indefinite. But to disguise his mad ambition, he masks his insatiability under a seemingly modest word, this word is: More.
He says: I want to know more, to know more. And this is the absolute science he pursues from century to century.
He says: I want more power, to be more powerful. And this is the absolute power that he pursues from century to century.
Because, to know the most in an indefinite way, it is the infinite knowledge, it is the absolute science.
For the most power of an indefinite hand is infinite power, it is absolute power. An example will make my thoughts understood. When Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and put fifty million slaves at his feet, was he satisfied? No. He wanted even more victories and more conquests.
When he had subdued Egypt, Persia, reduced Gaza and Tire, did he think to stop? No. There were still more victories and more conquests. Finally, even after having subjugated India, Scythia, and subjected to his dominion all the known world of the ancients, he was not yet satisfied with his glory and conquests, for he dreamed again of new conquests and new victories beyond the known world, he saw the conquest of the unknown world. Had he been master of the whole world, he would still not have pronounced the words of the Sage who knows how to limit his desires: It is enough! … It was the revolt of his soldiers, tired of following him to the extremities of the world, who pronounced it for him, and forced him to stop.
Such is man!
Mankind, ceaselessly pursuing a century of indefinite progress, will not stop, like Alexander the Great, except at this cry from the depths of nature, which has been overthrown by it: It is enough!
Today the genius of the conquest of peoples by one alone is past; it is the genius of the conquest of the world by science that begins. And like Alexander the Great, we will never say: it is enough!
We have conquered America, Oceana, the whole world, are we satisfied? No. We want to conquer the poles. We conquered space by railways and steamboats, were we satisfied? No. We remember the conquest of air by air navigation. We have made chemistry the conquest of the inorganic world, are we satisfied? No. We must make the conquest of the organic world through chemistry; after having made water and air, man will want to create plants and animals like God.
The human mind is insatiable; what he pursues is science and absolute power.
What does the chemist seek in the depths of his crucible, if not the absolute under the name of a simple body, for when he has decomposed matter into its simplest elements, he seeks even simpler ones. What seeks the physicist, if not the absolute under the name of the imponderable fluid, since, when he has managed to break down light and electricity, he then seeks to know the principle of light and electricity.
What is it then, to pursue the absolute? It is always making new conquests and never saying enough.
Now, let’s see the achievements of this endless search. Oh, if man had reason enough, was prescient, he could safely venture to the conquest of the absolute, for his prescience would show him the abyss on the road that eventually leads to infinity. But for only a feeble, insufficient, prescience lacking reason, this thirst for the absolute must one day be lost, for it cannot prevent the pitfall which is upon the road, which of the finite leads to infinity.
We will be able, by experience, to avoid the pitfalls in which we have already fallen; but the pitfalls that lie on the road to the future, how could we avoid them, since we do not know how to predict or prevent them? Did we know that deforestation would lead to flooding? Do we predict what the consequences of piercing the isthmus may be? No. Now, therefore, we will never know the meaning of things until afterwards, that is to say, when nature has been in charge of giving us a hard lesson. But beware, when we one day touch the laws of the equilibrium of the planet, that the lesson of man is a long series of experiments, the last of which results in his fall. Such is the formulas of human activity. Man is therefore only an insufficient reason in search of the absolute. The history, the facts, the religious traditions of all peoples will be responsible for demonstrating to us the absolute value of this formula.
[End of Part One]
The End of the World By Science
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