Little Blue Books

Joseph McCabeEmmanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889-1951), a socialist reformer and newspaper publisher, began publishing his five-cent, papered-covered “Little Blue Books” series in 1919. Small, inexpensive staple-bound and extremely popular, the Little Blue Books reached both educated and working-class readers. The series included novels, how-to manuals, short essays on politics, philosophy, history, and science, but also covered more controversial topic such as atheism and communism. Haldeman-Julius reprinted works by Voltaire, Paine, T.H. Huxley, Haeckel, Marx and Engels, Ingersoll, Tichenor, McCabe, and many others. The series was part of Haldeman-Julius’s Appeal to Reason publishing company. By 1928, he had published more than 2,000 different titles and sold more than 100,000,000 books. Subtitled a “University in Print,” Haldeman-Julius, a socialist and atheist, wanted his series to bring knowledge, freethought, and literature to the masses. He also promulgated the “conflict thesis” between science and religion.

In th 1920s, Haldeman-Julius announced a new partnership with Joseph McCabe, an ex-Catholic priest turned freethinker and atheist. Indeed, McCabe was the most prolific writer for the Little Blue Book series. Haldeman-Julius published McCabe’s The Myth of the Resurrection (1925), The Evolution of Christian Doctrine (1926), The Revolt Against Religion (1926), The Origin of Religion (1926), The Myth of Immortality (1926), The Futility of Belief in God (1926), The Forgery of the Old Testament (1926), Did Jesus Ever Live? (1926), Pagan Christs (1926), Phallic Elements in Religion (1926), The Truth about Galileo and Medieval Science (1926), The Dark Ages (1927), Do We Need Religion? (1927), The Absurdities of Christian Science (1927), Religion’s Failure to Combat Crime (1927), My Twelve Years in a Monastery (1927), The Fraud of Spiritualism (1927), The Psychology of Religion (1927), The Future of Religion (1927), The Church and Modern Progress (1927), and many others.

Two of the most important books ever published by Haldeman-Julius was McCabe’s The Conflict between Science and Religion (1927) and The Story of Religious Controversy (1929). In his Conflict between Science and Religion, McCabe repeated the narratives of Draper and White—but unlike them, gleefully cheered on the decay of religion “all over the earth.” In The Story of Religious Controversy, Haldeman-Julius offered an introduction, noting that “if religion is not dead yet, it is dying.” He goes on to say that “it remains but to persist in and complete the work of ridding humanity of this hoary and horrible incubus.” McCabe believed that religion was a series of “wrong inferences.” The scientist is the true savior of humanity. Men of science who are religious, according to McCabe, are plain frauds. There is a necessary conflict between science and religion, and McCabe wanted to show those who denied the conflict were hopelessly ignorant.

Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius in America, and the Rationalist Press Association and the “pioneers of Johnson’s court” in England, are examples of the intellectual consequences of Draper and White. It must be emphasized, however, that Draper and White did not want to destroy religion, and thus should not be placed in the same category as the writers of the Rationalist Press Association and the Appeal to Reason publishing companies. If one seeks to unearth the intellectual forebears of the “New Atheists,” they must turn to this later group.

The Political Effect of the Decline of Faith in Continental Europe

In one of the last published pieces of his career, John William Draper returned to a topic he had briefly touched upon in both his Intellectual Development of Europe and his History of the Conflict. Published in the Princeton Review in 1879, Draper addresses the “political effect of the decline of faith in continental Europe.” He asks, “When comes that black thunder-cloud, NIHILISMnow lowering over Eastern Europe?” According to Draper, nihilism, communism, and socialism have exploded all over the European continent. These movements greatly troubled Draper. “Society itself is in peril,” he said.

Who is to blame? Politicians blame the government, he notes. The statesman, however, has a more historical perspective. He perceives “that the affairs of men pass forward, not in a capricious or erratic way, but under the guidance of deterministic law.” During the medieval period, Draper argues, society was enveloped by an “irresistible authority—the Church.” But rather than criticising the Church, Draper believed that “it gave advice, consolation, support, in inevitable troubles, forgiveness for voluntary sins.” The Church, in other words, relieved a heavy burden from society. Its theology also instilled a sense of justice, and provided a hope “that so often kept him from attempting to rectify the wrongs under which he was suffering.” These were important and influential “advantages vouchsafed to the medieval man.”

Draper, in short, recognised the advantages of the Church to society. But in time, he argues, “the plain and simple demands of primitive Christianity had been burdened with many pagan fictions, or with legends that outraged common-sense.” These legends and fictions were enforced by ecclesiastical authority. This “fraudulent” religion was attacked by that “great political event, the Reformation.” With the reformers, progress was made. It demonstrated that the course of “events were taking in the less superstitious, the better informed, populations of Europe.” Thousands of “vulgar impostures” disappeared.

By the nineteenth century, however, many men and women had taken a extreme view, rejecting all aspects of religion as deception. He writes, “in the nineteenth century we have come to the conclusion that the whole, from the beginning to the end, was a deception.” This is quoted directly from his Intellectual Development of Europe. The result, he says, is the “wide-spread religious unbelief of so many thousands of men.”

Thus, according to Draper, the birth of nihilism, communism, and socialism came with the extinction of religious belief. “With no spiritual prop to support them, no expectation of an hereafter in which the inequalities of this life may be adjusted, angry at the cunningly-devised net from which they have escaped, they have abandoned all hope of spiritual intervention in their behalf, and have undertaken to right their wrongs themselves.”

These movements mark an epoch in history. Such epochs occur at the “close of a worn-out form of thought.” Such was the case, he argues, with the advent of Christianity. With Christianity came the “transition from polytheistic to monotheistic ideas in the interpretation of the divine government of the world.” The death of Greco-Roman mythology and personified phantoms was the inevitable result of religious progress.

The progress in religion thus signals the inevitable collapse of the ecclesiastical system. The ecclesiastic, however, blames the rise of nihilism, communism, and socialism on science. But the scientist, Draper argues, merely relies on facts of observation. So who is at fault for the great changes that have taken place in the thoughts of so many thousands? According to Draper, it is the Church. “Should we not rather blame those who invented these delusions, persuaded humanity to accept them, and reaped vast benefits from them.” Draper, in short, is arguing that the lack of faith in his time was entirely due to “ecclesiastical impostures,” those who had mixed Christianity with paganism. “Accordingly, Christendom became a theatre of stupendous miracles, ecclesiastical impostures, spiritual appearances.” The Church had organised a system of repression, and all attempts in any part of Europe at “intellectual development was remorselessly put down.” The Reformation attempted to sweep away the vast mass of dogmas enforced by the Church. It failed. “Hence it may be said that the existence of these dreaded societies is a consequence of the failure of the Reformation to establish itself in the countries in which they found.”

In the end Draper offered no remedies for the “godlessness of the present age.” His main contention is that simply attacking nihilism, communism, and socialism was not enough. We must first understand why they emerged in the first place, and that that will lead us to the cure.

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.

John W. Draper as Protestant Historian

In his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), Draper commences his historical review of the interactions between science and religion by declaring that “modern science” was born in the aftermath of the conquests of Alexander the Great, and indicates that Alexandria, particularly its Museum, was the first civilization to pursue a “practical interrogation of Nature.”[1] This was the enlightenment of humanity before Christianity arose. He then follows with a more elaborate and gloomy account of the origin, spread, and ultimate degeneration of Christianity. He relates a common idealized image of primitive Christianity when he writes that

Jewish people at that time entertained a belief, founded on old traditions, that a deliver would arise among them, who would restore them to their ancient splendor. The disciples of Jesus regarded him as this long-expected Messiah. But the priesthood, believing that the doctrines he taught were prejudicial to their interests, denounced him to the Roman governor, who, to satisfy their clamors, reluctantly delivered him over to death. His doctrines of benevolence and human brotherhood outlasted that event. The disciples, instead of scattering, organized. They associated themselves on a principle of communism, each throwing into the common stock whatever property he possessed, and all his gains. The widows and orphans of the community were this supported, the poor and the sick sustained.[2]

The primitive church, the early followers of Jesus, was thus a movement of purity, according to Draper. It was a matter of life and practical goodness, enjoining veneration toward God, purity in personal virtues, and benevolence in social life.[3]

But the purity of the Christian movement did not last, according to Draper. It became popular, and was eventually adopted by many solely from interest and expediency. “Crowds of worldly persons,” he writes, “who cared nothing about its religious ideas, became its warmest supporters.” It thus relapsed into many of the forms and ceremonials of paganism, and subsequently incorporated pseudo-Christian dogmas. Indeed, according to Draper, Christianity had become “paganized” by the reign of Constantine, the first “Christian” emperor. These “modifications,” Draper argues, is what “eventually brought it in conflict with science.” He then offers an exposition of Tertullian’s famous second-century Apology as an example of Christianity’s purer days, exemplifying a life of innocence, justice, patience, temperance, chastity under persecution and struggle. All that changed, he says, when Christianity gained imperial power. “Great is the difference between Christianity under Severus and Christianity after Constantine,” he declares.[4]

It should be clear that Draper’s account of the rise, spread, and corruption of the Church was imbued with Protestant polemics. To strengthen his case, Draper even quoted a long passage from English cleric Bishop Thomas Newton’s (1704-1782) Dissertation on the prophecies, which have been remarkably fulfilled, and are at this time fulfilling in the world (1754) to demonstrate the paganization of Christianity:

Is not the worship of saints and angels now in all respects the same that the worship of demons was in former times? The name only is different, the thing is identically the same,…the deified men of the Christians are substituted for the deified men of the heathens. The promoters of this worship were sensible that it was the same, and that the one succeeded to the other; and, as the worship is the same, so likewise it is performed with the same ceremonies. The burning of incense or perfumes on several altars at one and the same time; the sprinkling of holy water, or a mixture of salt and common water, at going into and coming out of places of public worship; the lighting up of a great number of lamps and wax-candles in broad daylight before altars and statues of these deities; the hanging up of votive offerings and rich presents as attestations of so many miraculous cures and deliverances from diseases and dangers; the canonization or deification of deceased worthies; the assigning of distinct provinces or prefectures to departed heroes and saints; the worshiping and adoring of the dead in their sepulchres, shrines, and relics; the consecrating and bowing down to images; the attributing of miraculous powers and virtues to idols; the setting up of little oratories, altars, and statues in the streets and highways, and on the tops of mountains; the carrying of images and relics in pompous procession, with numerous lights and with music and singing; flagellations at solemn seasons under the notion of penance ; a great variety of religious orders and fraternities of priests; the shaving of priests, or the tonsure as it is called, on the crown of their heads; the imposing of celibacy and vows of chastity on the religious of both sexes—all these and many more rites and ceremonies are equally parts of pagan and popish superstition. Nay, the very same temples, the very same images, which were once consecrated to Jupiter and the other demons, are now consecrated to the Virgin Mary and the other saints. The very same rites and inscriptions are ascribed to both, the very same prodigies and miracles are related of these as of those. In short, almost the whole of paganism is converted and applied to popery; the one is manifestly formed upon the same plan and principles as the other; so that there is not only a conformity, but even a uniformity, in the worship of ancient and modern, of heathen and Christian Rome.

[1] Ibid., 19-23, 33.

[2] Ibid., 36-37.

[3] Ibid., 38.

[4] Ibid., 39-45.

John William Draper and His Sources

It has often been said, by his contemporaries as well as modern scholars, that John William Draper made little reference to other authors. This is not entirely accurate. To be sure, there are no footnotes or endnotes in Draper’s books. But he does refer to a variety of authors and sometimes even quotes directly from their work. Below is a complied list of some of the more significant authors Draper specifically refers to in his publications. Draper mentions some of these authors merely in passing. Others are used to support his argument in various places. Still others serve more as guiding principles of his narrative. Draper was obviously influenced by other thinkers, ones he alludes to wittingly or unwittingly simply by the style of his rhetoric. His reasons for not including all his sources are presumably complex. At any rate, this list is not exhaustive. Moreover, I have selected authors that peak my own interests. But the important point here is that Drapers explicitly mentioned all of them in the body of his work.

A Treatise on the Forces which Produce the Organization of Plants (1844):

  • Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
  • Joseph Priestley (1733-1804)
  • William Herschel (1738-1822)
  • Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753-1814)
  • Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833)
  • William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828)
  • Charles Bell (1776-1842)
  • Henri Dutrochet (1776-1847)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • Siméon Denis Poisson (1781-1840)
  • David Brewster (1781-1868)
  • Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826)
  • Louis Daguerre (1787-1851)
  • Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
  • John Herschel (1792-1871)
  • Charles Daubeny (1795-1867)
  • Macedonio Melloni (1798-1854)
  • John Lindley (1799-1865)
  • David Boswell Reid (1805-1863)
  • William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885)
  • Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891)

A Text-book on Chemistry (1846):

  • Robert Hare (1752-1811)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • Robert John Kane (1809-1890)
  • Thomas Graham (1805-1869)
  • Olinthus Gilbert Gregory (1774-1841)
  • George Fownes (1815-1849)
  • Jean Baptiste André Dumas (1800-1884)
  • […] Millon

A Text-book on Natural Philosophy (1847):

  • Thomas Dick (1774-1857)
  • François Arago (1786-1853)
  • John Herschel (1792-1871)
  • Gabriel Léon Jean Baptist Lamé (1795-1870)
  • Oscar Ferdinand Peschel (1826-1875)
  • Friedrich Eisenlohr (1831-1904)

Human Physiology (1856):

  • George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
  • Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-1800)
  • Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840)
  • Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828)
  • John Dalton (1766-1844)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
  • Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832)
  • Humphry Davy (1778-1829)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848)
  • Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)
  • Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874)
  • Henri Milne-Edwards (1800-1885)
  • Jean-Baptiste Joseph Dieudonné Boussingault (1801-1887)
  • Alcide d’Orbigny (1802-1857)
  • Justus Freiherr von Liebig (1803-1873)
  • Ernst Freiherr von Bibra (1806-1878)
  • Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)
  • Robert Bentley Todd (1809-1860)
  • Georg Friedrich Karl Heinrich von Bidder (1810-1894)
  • William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885)
  • Claude Bernard (1813-1878)
  • James Paget (1814-1899)
  • William Bowman (1816-1892)
  • Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894)
  • Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894)
  • Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902)
  • William Senhouse Kirkes (1822-1864)
  • Carl Schmidt (1822-1894)

A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe (1863):

  • Alhazen (965-1040)
  • Avicenna (d.1037)
  • Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)
  • Averroes (1126-1198)
  • Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202)
  • Roger Bacon (1214-1292)
  • Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)
  • John Calvin (1509-1564)
  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
  • Jan Baptist van Helmont (1580-1644)
  • John Milton (1608-1674)
  • Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
  • John Locke (1632-1704)
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
  • Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Christian Charles Josias von Bunsen (1791-1860)
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)
  • James Anthony Froude (1818-1894)
  • Max Müller (1823-1900)

Thoughts on the Future Civil Policy of America (1865):

  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)
  • Ernest Renan (1820-1892)

History of the Civil War (1867-1870):

  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596)
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
  • John Adams (1735-1826)
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
  • Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
  • François Guizot (1787-1874)
  • Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
  • Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874):

  • Alhazen (965-1040)
  • Avicenna (d.1037)
  • Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)
  • Averroes (1126-1198)
  • Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
  • Petrarch (1304-1374)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
  • Jean-Félix Picard (1620-1682)
  • Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
  • Humphrey Prideaux (1648-1724)
  • John Toland (1670-1722)
  • Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
  • Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755)
  • Samuel Shuckford (1693-1754)
  • Thomas Newton (1704-1782)
  • Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783)
  • Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794)
  • William Jones (1746-1794)
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Henry Hallam (1777-1859)
  • Jean-Pierre Huber (1777-1840)
  • Benjamin Collins Brodie (1783-1862)
  • François Guizot (1787-1874)
  • Richard Whately (1787-1863)
  • Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886)
  • Hermann Hupfeld (1796-1866)
  • Ernst Wihelm Hengstenberg (1802-1869)
  • John Colenso (1814-1883)
  • Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896)
  • Ernest Renan (1820-1892)
  • George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll (1823-1900)
  • William Huggins (1824-1910)

“Dr. Draper’s Lecture on Evolution: Its Origin, Progress, and Consequences,” Popular Science Monthly (1877):

  • Benoît de Maillet (1656-1783)
  • Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708)
  • George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
  • Jean-Baptiste Lamacrk (1744-1829)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Lorenz Oken (1779-1851)
  • Robert Chambers (1802-1871)

George Lincoln Burr and the Progress of Religion

George Lincoln Burr (1857-1938), historian and librarian at Cornell University, was also a close collaborator of Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918). White had even once proposed that Burr share with him the title page of his  A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). Burr declined, but the suggestion shows that both White and Burr shared many ideas.

In 1905 Burr delivered an address to the First Baptist Church of Ithaca on “Religious Progress.” He begins by recounting, and contrasting, two lectures, or approaches to religion, one by Rev. Joseph Cook, “the famous reconciler of theology and science,” the other by Col. Robert Ingersoll, the “Great Agnostic.” These two “gladiators,” Burr says, the things that alarmed or angered them, “no longer embarrass or embitter us.” Why? According to Burr, we have simply grown more “honest.”

We should not mistake the sincerity of these men as honesty, however. Their sincerity was partisan. He writes,

We thought that above truth was the Truth; that the God who gave us our senses, our reason, our conscience, had given us through some other channel revelations which these commonplace faculties must not be trusted honestly to test.

In short, “the Ingersolls are as out-of-date as the Cooks.”

Burr told his audience that we are no longer shocked by books like Descent of ManHistory of CivilizationWarfare of ScienceGuesses at the Riddle of Existence, or History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. A kinder reception is testimony to “our more simple-hearted wish to know the truth.” We now welcome such works as “courageous,” as a witness to “free and hopeful inquiry.”

This is not the decay of faith, however. Burr claims that “Faith is not knowledge.” Faith begins where knowledge ends. Doubt is not something to despise. We must face it. We must not put cotton in our ears.

In addition to growing more honest, Burr says, we have also grown more tolerant. Tolerance should not be confused with indifference, however. Burr relates that he first uncovered the doctrine of tolerance in the archives, in the writings of the Anabaptists. This sixteenth-century religious sect believed that every man was able to discern for himself the voice of God. In turn, Burr maintains, they were labelled “ultra-liberals.” But this was the message of Christ himself. He called on his followers to “live in piety and friendliness without strife and should love one another,” Burr writes. Persistent doctrinal divisions are pointless.

This appeal from Christ, Burr goes on to say, is not for learning but for Christian love. Today should be no different. The great broad-church movement in his time, Burr notes, has less to do with any growth in knowledge than to that “humanitarian trend, that new emphasis on conduct and on Christian kindliness, which has confessedly so marked the religious temper of our time.”

To honesty and tolerance, Burr finally adds kindness. To illustrate his point Burr turns to evolution. The central idea behind evolution, he says, is not birth but growth. But this evolution should not be understood in the sense of mere vegetative growth. Evolution is no groping in the dark. It is the germ of a diviner liberty and self-direction, a growth into the “likeness,” the kindness of God. This is the great principle of progress, Burr says.

Do you realize, Christians of Ithaca, that it is scarce a hundred years since men began to know that the Golden Age is before and not behind; that the career of man on earth has been an upward, now downward one,—a thing for hopeful effort, not for despair?

This is the new revelation of God’s love. Old traditions and fears have lost their power. We are no longer to be bound by them. Old ways and old creeds have passed. They must be understood on an evolutionary scale. “Not the discovery of a new world, not the Copernican theory of the heavens, has so deeply influenced our Christian thought.” God has opened the door to a new progressiveness, which will led us to be more and more like him.

John W. Draper on Natural Law and Providence

Descartes viewed nature as created by a wise Creator, who had created the universe from nothing and let it run, like a machine, by itself. That is, there was no need for God to constantly intervene. By contrast, Gassendi believed that the laws we discover in nature are our laws, not God’s, and therefore he is not constrained by them. Likewise, for Boyle, God’s laws were palpable and plain for anyone to see; but God could tinker with them if he so chose. Newton shared Gassendi’s and Boyle’s view of divine freedom. He opposed Descarte’s mechanical philosophy and argued that the universe in fact could not sustain itself without God’s continual supervision.

By the early decades of the nineteenth century, the conception of God as a “law-giver” or “law-maker” became extremely popular. Babbage and Powell placed great emphasis on the idea of God as law-maker. Indeed, the most incontrovertible evidence of God’s existence and wisdom is found in uninterrupted law. Lyell believed that natural history is fixed by invariable laws. Herschel argued that experiment demonstrated principles of law, and told Lyell that God operated thought a series of intermediate causes. Whewell too believed that “final causes” are unnecessary. For Whewell, though, they were enough to prove God’s existence. Law was uniform but no absolute. Natural laws were not independent of Providence. Thus the very practice of science is an exercise in proving his existence.

But as we all know, later practitioners of science would eschew all this God-talk. Some have argued that John W. Draper is partly to blame. His progressive narratives of the history of science took God out of the story. But that view is entirely mistaken. Behind his “law of development” and his understanding of the nature of science was not “inconsistent with the admission of a Providential guidance of the world.” His concern was that man was not always the most reliable interpreter of the ways of God. Draper, in short, seems to be returning to the older idea of rational religion, that God was indeed behind creation, but not constantly supervising it. Towards the close of his Intellectual Development of Europe, for example, Draper argued that

It might be consistent with the weakness and ignorance of man to be reduced to the necessity of personal intervention for the accomplishment of his plans, but would not that be the very result of ignorance? Does not absolute knowledge actually imply procedure by preconceived and unvarying law? Is not momentary intervention altogether derogatory to the thorough and absolute sovereignty of God? The astronomical calculation of ancient events, as well as the prediction of those to come, is essentially founded on the principle that there has not in the times under consideration, and that there will never be in the future, any exercise of an arbitrary or overriding will. The corner-stone of astronomy is this, that the solar system—nay, even the universe, is ruled by necessity. To operate by expedients is for the creature, to operate by law for the Creator; and so far from the doctrine that creations and extinctions are carried on by a foreseen and predestined ordinance—a system which works itself without need of any intermeddling—being an unworthy, an ignoble conception, it is completely in unison with the resistless movements of the mechanism of the universe, with whatever is orderly, symmetrical, and beautiful upon earth, and with all the dread the magnificence of the heavens.


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