1885 New York Mail and Express Interview of Andrew Dickson White

In 1885 the New York newspaper Mail and Express interviewed Cornell University President Andrew Dickson White. One of the main topics of discussion was, unsurprisingly, science and religion. The interview was republished in the Cornell Daily Sun, the University school newspaper.

When he was asked if the teachings of Huxley and Tyndall had any “serious effect on the religious training of collegiates,” White responded thus:

Scientists have done much in the cause of education, but science is not antagonistic to religion, no matter what some persons may say. The broad principles of salvation and Christianity are not affected by the discoveries of science, which demonstrates the fact that nature is controlled by positive laws, over which there must be a governing power. Even if the chronological dates of the Bible are affected by the discoveries of science, that fact does not destroy the beauty of the Psalms or the sermon the mount. The influence of religion is not so much retarded by the discoveries of science as by the constant quarrels between and dogmatic assertions of the ministers of religion. I regard all sects as the different army corps fighting the great battle of civilization; they all have their part to perform, and, if they would cease to fight among themselves, would in the end all do good. When any student says to me that science and religion do no agree on such minor points as the whale swallowing Jonah, the creation of the world in six days, or Balaam’s ass speaking, I point to the doctrines taught by religion and ask if such trivial matters can destroy the plan of salvation as promulgated in the scriptures. Scientists have their work to do, and should let religion alone; simply because they have not studied it; religious teachers have their duties before them and should leave science alone for the same reason. Both have their missions and if they keep to those there is enough for them to do, and the world will be benefited thereby. Science will never destroy religion, while both tend to enlighten the world.  Many things are regarded now with a liberal view that would have shocked our ancestors fifty years ago; while in their day also, many changes occurred that would have alarmed their ancestors. If religious teachers would confine themselves to teaching religion, and scientists to the progress of science, both could work together in harmony for the benefit of mankind.

Asked what he thought of the “Great Agnostic,” Ingersoll, White replied sharply:

The great trouble has been that too much has been made of Ingersoll by the unwise opposition of those who differed with him. Had that opposition been less active and kept out of politics Ingersoll would never have gained the position he did in his state and the country. His nature was one which thrived under opposition, and became stronger by the very obstacle placed in his way.

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