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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

Is it Proved?

Is it Proved?

"But what is the proof?" people are asking. And many persons, who during the last few weeks have heard of Evolution for the first time, are angry and incredulous because the proof cannot be given in a breath.

This impatience is unreasonable. There are many important and indubitable truths the certainty of which cannot be demonstrated out of hand. If I tell a man who has no acquaintance with elementary mathematics that the three angles of a triangle are always page 3 equal to two right angles, be will perhaps think the statement open to question. Triangles vary in shape, and angles in dimension—it seems very unlikely that in every triangle the angles should make exactly two right angles. If I tell him further that in every right-angled triangle the square on the side which is opposite to the right angle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides, he will perhaps think the statement quite incredible; or he may try to test its accuracy by some rough-and-ready method of his own, as I have seen a raw theological student testing a proposition of Euclid by measuring the diagram on the black-board with a piece of string! And if lie suddenly demands from me the proof what am I to say I am reduced to a condition of helplessness. I am obliged to tell him that I cannot give him the proof—that no living man can give him the proof. To be able to see the proof he must go through a certain course of reading and of reasoning. It was Euclid himself, who, when as ked by a royal pupil whether geometry could not be made easier, replied "that there was no royal road." And the man who shrinks from the toil or tedium of investigating the evidence upon which mathematical truth rests is scarcely entitled to complain of its want of proof.

I am very far from intending to suggest by these illustrations that Evolution has been, or can be, mathematically proved. There is, at most, only a probability of proof, but that probability is enormously strong. When two converging straight lines in the same plane have been traced almost to their point of intersection, and when their meeting in that point is necessary to complete some symmetrical figure—as a square or a triangle—the rest of which we can see, the mind naturally assumes the meeting of the lines, even though the point of intersection itself should lie beyond our range of vision. This is something like the state of the argument for Evolution. The converging lines do not yet meet, but most men of science assume that their meeting is certain enough for all practical purposes, and proclaim Evolution proved. An objector may allege that the proof is incomplete, and, technically, he is correct; but it scents to me a madcap and perilous thing to stake the existence of Christianity, as some are disposed to do, on the chance that the converging lines will never meet. Such a chance may be liberally estimated at one in a million.