Month: December 2013

With Translation comes Interpretation: Translations of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers believed that nature’s laws could explain the material universe. His Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (published anonymously) described a theory of everything, from the origin of the universe to the origin of life of humanity.

Earlier this month I mentioned reading through a collection of essays in the 2000 issue of The British Journal for the History of Science, with an Introduction by Jonathan R. Topham. The final essay in that collection comes from Nicholaas Rupke, “Translation Studies in the History of Science: the example of Vestiges.”

There Rupke argues that the three translations of Robert Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation—first into German in 1846, then into Dutch in 1849, and finally another German translation in 1851—invested the text with new meaning. Renditions of scientific texts into other languages can serve as “autochthonous cultural products.” “In the process of transfer and assimilation into a different culture,” Rupke explains, “texts can acquire an altered meaning. Translators relocate books, taking these away from the intellectual control of authors, repossessing the texts, possibly in the service of very different purposes than those for which the works were originally intended. Such alterations of meaning can be effected by new, additional prefaces, by footnote commentary, by other additions such as illustrations, by omissions and, most fundamentally, by the very act of cultural relocation.” In this way, translation studies demonstrate the “situatedness of scientific knowledge.”

The Vestiges was a publishing triumph. Four editions of the book appeared in just half a year, and eleven more during the period 1844-60. It also garnered in the English-speaking world a very substantial, critical response: “over eighty reviews which appeared in daily newspapers, popular weeklies and heavyweight quarterlies.” By contrast, there were almost no review of its English editions on the Continent. Prominent continental reviewing magazines Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen, Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Heidelbergische Jahrbucher der Literatur, and Revue des deux mondes offered no reviews of the Vestiges. The book was also never translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, or Swedish.

But translations did appear. According to Rupke, the first translation was into German in 1846, which was an adaptation of the third English edition of the Vestiges, by Adolf Friedrich Seubert (1819-1890), entitled Spuren der Gottheit in der Entwickelungs- und Bildungsgeschichte der Schöpfung: Nach William Whewell’s Indications of the Creator und der dritten Auflage der Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, für deutsche Leser bearbeitet. This translation does not provide its reader with either a preface or footnotes to the text; but it does include William Whewell’s (1794-1866) famous rebuttal of Vestiges in his Indications of the Creator (1845). Interestingly enough, Seubert “interwove the two texts, producing an almost seamless, integrated product by alternating chapters from the one with sections from the other.” In the English-speaking world, the two books were antithetical. Here, in Seubert’s translation, the concern “lay in something other than its transmutationism”; rather, it was put forward as evincing divine design in nature.

The Dutch translation of the Vestiges was carried out by Jan Hubert van den Broek (1815-1896) and appeared in 1849. It was an adaptation of the sixth English edition, under the title Sporen van de natuurlijke geschiedenis der schepping, of schepping en voortgaande ontwikkeling van planten en dieren, onder den invloed en het beheer der natuurwetten. This was a popular text, and underwent three more editions by 1854. Unlike the original English Vestiges, Broek included illustrations of principle plants and animals. And like Seubert’s German translation, Broek’s Dutch version added the opposing voice of Thomas Monck Mason’s (1803-1889) Creation by the Immediate Agency of God, as Opposed to Creation by Natural Law; being a Refutation of the Work Entitled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1845). This Dutch translation was used, argues Rupke, as proof of divine order in nature and, more specifically, as aiding the stabilization of society under God and king in a process of recovery from the 1848 Revolution. The preface of the Sporen was written by Gerrit Jan Mulder (1802-1880), a man “disenchanted with the liberalization of post-1848 politics in the Netherlands and actively campaigned to keep a strong monarchy over and against parliamentary democracy.” To Mulder, the Vestiges was a salutary book, put forward in the “context of a form of Calvinist theism and of reactionary, monarchist politics.”

The second German translations comes from the “notorious materialist and anti-monarchist rebel,” Karl Vogt (1817-1895). Appearing in 1851, entitled Natürliche Geschichte der Schopfung des Weltalls, der Erde und der auf ihr befindlichen Organismen, begrundet auf die durch die Wissenschaft errungenen Tatsachen, Vogt’s translation included illustrations from 164 woodcuts, eighty-three footnotes, corrections, new information, and expressions of disagreement. As a leading champion of revolution and materialism, Vogt “highlighted Chambers’s deistic view that the laws of nature are regulations that in the beginning were enacted by divine will but since have operated autonomously.” Vogt argues in his brief introduction to Vestiges:

I recommend this book in a spirit of pure goodwill to the constitutional party in Germany, whose effectiveness before long will be limited to the innocent reading of innocent books. It will find in the book a constitutional Englishman, who has constructed a constitutional God, who, admittedly, in the beginning autocratically decreed laws, but then, out of his own volition, gave up his autocratic rule, letting the laws act in his place, by themselves, without himself exerting direct influence on his subjects. A beautiful example for sovereigns!

This God-talk is mere facetiousness, for Vogt did not believe in Chambers’ God, nor in any other God. Indeed, Vogt is famous for expressing the materialistic view that the human soul is nothing more than a function of the brain and that thought is a product of the brain in the same way that bile is secreted by the liver or urine is produced by the kidneys. And in a stunning footnote, Vogt declares that “the belief in an immortal soul being the only foundation for religion and church, its increasing untenability would soon lead to the collapse of ‘the whole nonsensical building.'” Thus Vogt’s German translation “interpreted the book as furthering the very revolutionary, anti-ecclesiastical and anti-monarchist ideals that” the Dutch and first German translations sought to counter.


Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Readership

A couple of other things I read over the holidays were J. Don Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel’s (eds.) Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society (1994), and Alvar Ellegård’s short essay “The Readership of the Periodical Press in Mid-Victorian Britain” (1957).

Don Vann and VanArsdel have calibrated before, and Victorian Periodicals happens to be the third volume of an annotated bibliography project began in their MLA volume Victorian Periodicals: a Guide to Research in 1978. The contents of this third volume pertains to the professions, the arts, occupation and commerce, popular culture, and worker and student journals. There is a total of 18 essays on different types of periodicals: Law (Richard A Cosgrove), Medicine (M. Jeanne Peterson), Architecture (Ruth Richardson and Robert Thorne), Military (Albert Tucker), and Science (William H. Brock); Music (Leanne Langley), Illustration (Patricia Anderson), Authorship and the Book Trade (Robert A. Colby), and Theatre (Jane W. Stedman); Transport (John E.C. Palmer and Harold W. Paar), Financial and Trade Press (David J. Moss and Chris Hosgood), Advertising (Terrence Nevett), and Agriculture (Bernard A. Cook); Temperance (Olwen C. Niessen), Comic Periodicals (J. Don Vann), and Sport (Tony Mason); and finally Worker’s Journals (Jonathan Rose) and Student Journals (Rosemary T. VanArsdel and John S. North).

As with any collection of essays, this volume suffers from omissions and unevenness. But as a launching point for considering deeper studies into Victorian periodicals, it is most useful. It is a landmark study identifying “the ways that periodicals informed, instructed, and amused virtually all of the people in the many segments of Victorian life.”

The essays demonstrate the “pervasiveness of periodical literature in nineteenth-century British society.” Indeed, according to John S. North, the “circulation of periodicals and newspapers was larger and more influential in the nineteenth century than printed books, and served a more varied constituency in all walks of life.” The ubiquitous nature of Victorian periodical literature serves as a “vast repository of contemporary culture.”

What follows are some of the more interesting essays in this volume. William H. Brock’s “Science,”  observes that “by the 1830s almost all initial scientific communication took place through specialist periodicals rather than books.” According to one nineteenth-century author, “periodical publications are a surer index of the state of progress of the mind, than the works of a higher character.” Nineteenth-century science journals and periodicals can thus provide the “collective view of science” of Victorian society.

Another instructive essay comes from J. Don Vann on “Comic Periodicals.” The Victorian comic periodical typically contained jokes, comic verse, riddles, parodies, caricatures, puns, cartoons, and satire. Some of the earliest were Satirist (1808-14) and Age (1825-43), well-known for their vicious and scurrilous attacks on people, which resulted in frequent lawsuits, but increased circulation and advertising revenues. But of all comic periodicals of the nineteenth century, “more has been written about the history of Punch (1841-1900[1992]) than about all the other Victorian comic periodicals combined.” Its appeal lies in the fact that from the outset it was a magazine designed to do more than amuse its readers; it was designed to “ridicule political parties when they became nothing more than ‘sycophancy of a degraded constituency,’ to ensure that prisons were for correction of offenders rather than places of punishment for those who were simply poor and unlucky, and to attack capital punishment.” In addition to appealing to “all lovers of wit and satire,” Punch “appealed to ‘gentlemen of education’ and thus found a place in the library and drawing room.” Or as another author eloquently put it:

The press is the corrector of abuses; the regressor of grievances; the modern chivalry that defends the poor and helpless and restrains the oppressor’s hand in cases where the law is either too weak or too lax to be operative, or where those who suffer have no means of appealing to the tribunals of their country for protection. It is, to, the scourge of vice; where no law could be effective, where the statue of law does not extend, where the common law fails—the law of the press strikes the offender with a salutary terror, causes him to shrink from the exposure that awaits him, and not infrequently arrests him in the career of oppression or of guilt.

Finally, in an essay on “Student Journals” by Rosemary T. VanArsdel and John S. North, we see how the university “provided an ideal atmosphere during the nineteenth century to encourage student journalism.” A community of many constituencies, university journals offered material from faculty, administrators, chancellors and boards of trustees, and students with their societies and organizations. From satire, parody, essays, and lampoons, to expository prose in editorial or news stories, descriptive prose in features, or literary expression in verse, drama, or narrative prose, student magazines and university journals provide an excellent source of educated Victorian high society. VanArsdel and North include selections (1824-1900) from England’s Cambridge University, Durham University, London University, University of Manchester, and Oxford University; from Ireland’s University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, and University College, Dublin; from Scotland’s Aberdeen University, University of Edinburgh, Glasgow University, and St Andrews; and from Wales’ University College of Wales.

Alvar Ellegård’s astonishing Darwin and the General Reader (1958, 1990), which investigated  over one hundred newspapers and periodicals to extract how contemporaries received Darwin’s theory, is well-known among historians of science. But prior to that 1958 publication, Ellegård published “The Readership of the Periodical Press in Mid-Victorian Britain” (1957), a paper estimating “the size and various other characteristics of the publics of the Mid-Victorian periodicals.” According to Ellegård, the press is where the age portrays itself. In the 1860s, for example, because the “pace of life was quickening,” the public “demanded more frequent and more easily digestible information about happenings in the world of letters and ideas.” Thus in the mid-Victorian period there was an explosion of weekly, monthly and quarterly periodicals. In his Directory, Ellegård includes the “more important periodicals that were in some degree organs of opinion,” giving a “fairly reliable picture of the sort of periodicals that were most important in expressing, and most influential in forming, public opinion on the wider questions of the day.”

This Directory is helpfully divided into five main groups: newspapers, weekly reviews, fortnightly and quarterly reviews, monthly magazines, and weekly journals and magazines. Listed with each periodical are dates of establishment, price and estimated circulation, and brief descriptions and likely readership. There follows a treasure trove of primary source information. In newspapers proper, Ellegård lists the Daily News, Daily Telegraph, Manchester Guardian, Morning Advertiser, Morning Post, Standard, Star, and Times; evening newspapers included are Echo, Globe, and Pall Mall Gazette; weekly newspapers included are John Bull, Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, News of the World, Observer, Reynold’s Weekly Newspaper, Saint James’ Chronicle, Sunday Times, Weekly Dispatch, and Weekly Times; specifically religious newspapers included are British Standard, Methodist Recorder, Record, Watchman, and Universe.

The next group includes weekly reviews. Here we find the literary reviews of Athenaeum, British Medical Journal, Critic, Economist, Examiner, Lancet, Leader, Literary Gazette, London Review, Nature, Parthenon, Press, Public Opinion, Reader, Saturday Review, and Spectator. Religious weekly reviews included are Church Review, English Churchman, English Independent, Freeman, Guardian, Inquirer, Nonconformist, Patriot, Tablet, and Weekly Review.

Fortnightly and quarterly reviews included are Academy, Contemporary Review, Edinburgh Review, Fortnightly Review, North British Review, Quarterly Review, and Westminster Review. Some of the better known scientific reviews included are Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, Geological Magazine, Intellectual Observer, Natural History Review, Popular Science Review, Quarterly Journal of Science, Recreative Science, Student, and Zoologist. On the religious front Ellegård includes British and Foreign Evangelical Review, British Quarterly Review, Christian Observer, Christian Remembrancer, Dublin Review, Ecclesiastic, Eclectic Review, Friend, Friends’ Quarterly, Home and Foreign Review, Journal of Sacred Literature, Literary Churchman, London Quarterly Review, Month, National Review, Rambler, and Theological Review.

Monthly magazines included are Argosy, Belgravia, Bentley’s Miscellany, Blackwood’s Magazine, Broadway, Cassell’s Magazine, Cornhill, Dublin University Magazine, Fraser’s Magazine, Gentleman’s Magazine, London Society, Macmillan’s Magazine, New Monthly Magazine, St James’ Magazine, St Paul’s Magazine, Temple Bar, Tinsley’s Magazine, and Victoria Magazine.

Weekly journals and magazines sold in weekly parts included are All the Year Around, Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper, Chamber’s Journal, Family Herald, Fun, Good Words, Illustrated London News, Leisure Hour, London Journal, London Reader, Once a Week, Punch, Tomahawk, and Vanity Fair.

Like J. Don Vann and Rosemary T. VanArsdel’s Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society Alvar Ellegård’s short essay “The Readership of the Periodical Press in Mid-Victorian Britain” provides little commentary on nineteenth-century periodicals itself. Rather, their strength lies in their ability to act as reference points, leading the reader to pursue further research from one of the many primary sources listed in these two helpful books.

Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False

Thomas Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (2012) has caused quite a stir. Maria Popova at Brain Pickings finds “Nagel’s case for weaving a historical perspective into the understanding of mind particularly compelling.” She sees it as “a necessary thorn in the side of today’s all-too-prevalent scientific reductionism and a poignant affirmation of Isaac Asimov’s famous contention that ‘the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.'”

While Louis B. Jones argues in the ThreePenny Review that Nagel’s “project seems like a glance in the right direction,” P.N. Furbank, in the same review article, argues that he is “fatally unspecific,” “impalpable,” and “reckless.”

Edward Fesser at First Things declares that Nagel’s work “marks an important contribution to the small but significant Aristotelian revival currently underway in academic philosophy of science and metaphysics.”

Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg over at The Nation find Nagel’s argument perplexing, quixotic, unconvincing, and highly misleading; his book is declared “an instrument of mischief.”

John Dupré at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews also found the book “frustrating and unconvincing.”

Alva Noë, in a series of articles for NPR, “Are the Mind and Life Natural?,” “Moving Beyond Political Correctness,” and “Arguing the Nature of Values,” rejects some of Nagel’s convictions, but also finds Leiter and Weisberg’s review “superficial and unsatisfying.” It is, in the end, a “worthwhile” book.

Philosopher Simon Blackburn’s review in New Statesmen find’s Nagel’s confession to “finding things bewildering” quite charming. But ultimately regrets its appearance. “It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of ‘intelligent design,'” he says, and “if there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.”

Alvin Plantinga, whose own Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (2011) sits beside Nagel’s book on my bookshelf, argues in the New Republic that Nagel makes a strong and persuasive case against materialist naturalism. According to Plantinga, “if Nagel followed his own methodological prescriptions and requirements for sound philosophy, if he followed his own arguments wherever they lead, if he ignored his emotional antipathy to belief in God, then (or so I think) he would wind up a theist.”

More recently, John Horgan at The Globe and Mail, states he shares “Nagel’s view of science’s inadequacies,” but was disappointed by his dry, abstract style. Like Popova, Horgan recommends Nagel’s book “as a much-needed counterweight to the smug, know-it-all stance of many modern scientists.”

Adam Frank at NPR sees “Nagel’s arguments against Darwin…[as] a kind wishful thinking.” Nevertheless, he finds his “perspective bracing.” “[O]nce I got past Nagel’s missteps on Darwin,” Frank writes, “I found his arguments to be quite brave, even if I am not ready to follow him to the ends of his ontology. There is a stiff, cold wind in his perspective. Those who dismiss him out of hand are holding fast to a knowledge that does not exist. The truth of the matter is we are just at the beginning of our understanding of consciousness and of the Mind.”

In the New York Review of Books, H. Allen Orr sees Nagel’s work as “provocative,” reflecting the “efforts of a fiercely independent mind.” In important places, however, Orr believes that it is “wrong.”

Richard Brody at The New Yorker is “immensely sympathetic to Nagel’s line of thought.”

Finally, at The New York Times, Thomas Nagel responds to both his critics and supporters with a brief restatement of his position. He argues that “the physical sciences can describe organisms like ourselves as parts of the objective spatio-temporal order – our structure and behavior in space and time – but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view.” Purely physical descriptions of neurophysiological processes of experience will always leave out the subjective essence of experience. The physical sciences, therefore, leave an important aspect of nature unexplained.

The sciences, if it wishes to have the full domain of explanation, “must expand to include theories capable of explaining the appearance in the universe of mental phenomena and the subjective points of view in which they occur.”

Nagel sees two responses to this claim as self-evidently false: namely, (a) that the mental can be identified with some aspect of the physical; and (b) by denying that the mental is part of reality at all. He also sees a third response as completely implausible, (c) that we can regard it as a mere fluke or accident, an unexplained extra property of certain physical organisms. But by rejecting all three responses he does not see how it entails (d) that we can believe that it has an explanation, but one that belongs not to science but to theology—in other words that mind has been added to the physical world in the course of evolution by divine intervention.

According to Nagel, “a scientific understanding of nature need not be limited to a physical theory of the objective spatio-temporal order.” In other words, Nagel wants an “expanded form of understanding.” “Mind,” he continues, “is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.” Although Nagel does not “believe” the theistic outlook, he does admit that “some theists might find this acceptable; since they could maintain that God is ultimately responsible for such an expanded natural order, as they believe he is for the laws of physics.”

The God of Science on the Neck of her Enemies

The Oxford Debate 1860Theology and Parsondom are in my mind the natural and irreconcilable enemies of Science. Few see it but I believe that we are on the Eve of a new Reformation and if I have a wish to live 30 yrs, it is to see the God of Science on the necks of her enemies.

Thomas Henry Huxley to Frederick Dyster (30, January 1859).

Over the holidays, I had the chance to read a couple of different things. The first was Ian Hesketh’s Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford Debate (2009). At 128 pages, including notes, it is a quick read. Although short, Of Apes and Ancestors aptly synthesizes a remarkable amount of scholarship on the famous (or infamous) Huxley-Wilberforce debate at Oxford in 1860. Its aim is to examine, from the perspective of each key participant, including Charles Darwin, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, T.H. Huxley, Richard Owen, and Joseph Hooker, the Oxford debate; and, moreover, the way it has been “mythologized” then and now.

Hesketh begins with Darwin as a “historian of natural history.” Darwin was neither confrontational nor combative. He preferred to express himself in written word, but even then he limited himself to personal letters and revisions to his Origin of Species (1859).  Hesketh points out that Darwin “answered his critics not by writing responses to the many periodicals and newspapers where reviews of the Origin appeared or by debating his foes in the public sphere of scientific and learned societies…he responded by continually revising the Origin in order to take into account new evidence but also new problems exposed by critics and friends alike.” Perhaps one reason for this was Darwin’s invariable illness, particularly his “constant stomach churning, flatulence, and retching.”

Hesketh also points out that despite illness, Darwin was a meticulous and patient observer of nature. Darwin published his Journal of Researches in 1839 (renamed later The Voyages of the Beagle) based on his famous HMS Beagle voyage (1831-1836), becoming instantly “something of a celebrity among naturalist circles.” When it came time to publishing his Origin,  Darwin was careful not to “smash received wisdom or to overturn the central tenets of Christian thought.” Indeed, as Hesketh writes, “the Origin, far from being the secular text it is often presented as, established a theory of evolution from within a Christian framework.” In its first edition, and even more so in its second, the Origin presented the “evolving world” as guided by a “divine being.”

Despite his conciliatory efforts, Darwin’s Origin invited many critics—but more from the scientific community than the established church! For example, Richard Owen (1804-1892), comparative anatomist and Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons, wrote a strident review of Origin in the April 1860 issue of the Edinburgh Review. “Owen dismissed the idea that natural selection could do what Darwin claimed and suggested alternative possibilities, such as his own theory of archetypes.”

Darwin was also privately chastened by Baden Powell (1827-1860), Savillian Professor of Mathematics at Oxford. On Powell’s account, Darwin had failed to acknowledge his predecessors. Both Charles Lyell (1797-1875) and Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), for example, had acknowledged their debts to predecessors and, according to Powell, Darwin ought to as well.

One of Darwin’s most fiercest critics was the geologist Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873). Incidentally, Darwin was once a student of Sedgwick. He admitted that he admired parts of Darwin’s Origin, but added that “other parts made him laugh ’till my sides were almost sore’ and that he had read much of the book with ‘profound sorrow.'” Darwin, according to Sedgwick, had “deserted” the “true method of induction.”

In January of 1860, Darwin finally decided to write “An Historical Sketch” of the idea of transmutation, which would act as a preface to the American and German editions of the Origin. He begins with French naturalists Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844), then moves on to lesser known figures such as a Dr. W.C. Wells, Reverned W. Herbert, Patrick Matthew, and Scottish zoologist Robert Edmund Grant (1793-1874). Darwin then offers pointed criticism against the anonymous author (Robert Chambers [1802-1871]) of the popular Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844). Yet he also wrote that the Vestiges provided an “excellent service in this country in calling attention to the subject [of evolution], in removing prejudice, and in thus preparing the ground for the reception of analogous views.” Darwin goes on to describe the evolutionary views of Henry Freke, Herbert Spencer, Charles Naudin, Alexandre Keyserling, Henry Schaaffhausen, Henri Locoq, Baden Powell, Alfred Wallace, and Karl Ernst von Baer, concluding with T.H. Huxley and Joseph Hooker. Thus rather than defending his theory through periodical press or public debate, Darwin offered a subtle rebuttal to his critics in his historical sketch, which he penned about a month before the Oxford debate.

Hesketh follows in the next chapter with a fascinating portrait of Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873). Samuel’s father, William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was, of course, the Great Emancipator, fighting “against the slave trade as leader of the evangelical Clapham Sect.” When Samuel was twelve, his father began writing letters of purpose and guidance to him. “There are more than six hundred of these letters,” writes Hesketh, “and they served as the foundation of his moralistic belief system.” He wrote to him to “watch unto prayer,” to “maintain such a state of mind” that will “render you fit at any time,” “to compose your spirits and engage in that blessed exercise,” to “walk by faith and not by sight,” and to “do all in the name of our Lord Jesus.” When Samuel went off to study at Oxford his father wrote that now was the time for him to become his “own master,” and to prepare himself for he “will be tried to a different standard from that which is commonly referred to, and be judged by a more rigorous rule; for it would be folly, rather than merely false delicacy, to deny that from various causes my character is more generally known than that if most men in my rank in life.”

While at Oxford Samuel encountered the Tractarians. The Tractarians believed that the “revival of evangelicalism…had necessarily weakened the spiritual and corporate roles of the established Church.” This internal conflict within Christianity between the High (Tractarian) and Low (evangelical) Church in the 1830s struck a presentiment fear in Samuel. He saw these fears fulfilled in the 1850s and 1860s when the liberal Board Church Movement attempted to “modernize the Church,” and “reshape Christianity to conform to science.” As Hesketh notes, “in 1860, three months before Wilberforce denounced evolution at the Oxford debate, the Broad Church Movement published its Essays and Reviews,” which argued that Christianity’s relevance depended entirely on its “reasonableness.” Written by seven different authors, six of whom were well-known Anglican clergymen, Essays and Reviews “challenged orthodox Christianity to face up to scientific and historical evidences and to abandon the lies and half-truths that had been perpetuated over the centuries.” What is more, when Samuel’s wife died in 1841, he entered a “crisis of faith that [he] overcame through a renewed devotion to the Church of England.” Her death was a sign for him to devote himself entirely to the church. “Defending Christian truth would become Samuel’s purpose in life, ‘his burden of desolate service.'” This deeply devoted Anglican bishop would conclude that the Essays and Reviews—or anything else that was contrary to orthodox Christianity—was pure heresy.

Hesketh is careful to note that Wilberforce did not view science as “evil,” however. Indeed, Wilberforce “enjoyed thinking about scientific questions and debates of the day.” He was even a great supporter of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS). Thus when Darwin’s Origin appeared, he offered scientific arguments against it; namely, that breeding negated natural selection, and the fact that there was only meager evidence for transitional forms. In other words, for Wilberforce Darwin’s theory was scientifically wrong.

But Wilberforce also offered religious arguments. Darwin’s theory of evolution contradicted “the revealed relation of creation to its Creator.” It is interesting to note that many of the religious arguments precipitated against Origin were anticipated by Darwin. Captain Robert FitzRoy, Darwin’s companion on the HMS Beagle, offered similar criticism when they both published their accounts of the journey in the late 1830s. More importantly, Darwin’s wife, Emma, in a heartfelt and thoughtful letter concerning his mental health, offered similar religious arguments against his research. “For Emma,” Hesketh writes, “transmutation posed an extremely important and practical problem to their life together: it suggested that it would end in meaningless death.” She writes, “I should be most unhappy if I thought we did not belong to each other for ever.” Like Wilberforce, the “spectre of death” haunted Darwin. His own illness and in the face of losing several children, “Emma believed that Charles, having turned away from the comforting hand of God, was needlessly tortured and tormented by thoughts of death.” According to Hesketh, “Wilberforce and Darwin represent the extreme poles of the many possible responses to the era’s crisis of religious doubt.” In short, Wilberforces’ battle against Darwinian theory of evolution must be understood in the context of a broader struggle within the Church of England and his own religious crisis.

The following two chapters concern the three other key figures to the Oxford debate: T.H. Huxley, Richard Owen, and Joseph Hooker. Huxley at first was opposed to Darwin’s theory of transmutation, but once he “grasped the political and social relevance of Darwinian evolution, as well as its scientific merits” Hesketh claims, “he became Darwinism’s most outspoken advocate.” Huxley’s lower-middle-class background gave him a unique perspective on life. Spending time in London’s East End, amongst its squalor, filth, and disease, Huxley was “shocked by the middle class’s indifference to such misery…Christianity had clearly failed these people, Huxley believed, and something—anything—needed to take its place for the sake of humanity.”

Similar to Huxley, Owen had humble origins. Unlike Huxley, however, Owen depended on the patronage of others. His career was contingent on “maintaining a balance between the quality of his work and the expectations of Tory patrons and an Anglican scientific establishment.” When Owen and Huxley first met, Owen took on the role of mentor. He took Huxley out to dinners to meet his Royal Society and wrote recommendation and reference letters for him. Writing to his sister, Huxley said that “Owen has been amazingly civil to me and it was through his writing to the First Lord that I got my present appointment.”

Owen was also a deeply religious man. He saw his archetype theory as revealing “God’s original patterns from which the earth’s species were formed.” Huxley began attacking Owen’s ideas in his critical reviews of Chamber’s Vestiges. Huxley became even more hostile when Owen secured a visiting lectureship at the School of Mines, where Huxley taught as a professor of natural history. In 1858, Owen was the president-elect of the BAAS, and used his “presidential address as a pulpit to prove man’s special status.” In the same year Huxley gave a lecture at the Royal Institution arguing that “man was a part of nature in the same way as other organisms, and furthermore, that man’s mental and moral faculties were fundamentally the same as those of the animal world.” Huxley would then ridicule and attack Owen at a lecture at the Royal Society in June of 1858. Huxley began defending Darwin in his review of Origin in The Times on 26 December 1859, where he continued to attack Owen. In Huxley’s second review of the Origin in Westminster Review the invectives against Owen continued unabated. During this barrage of assaults, Owen remained still and silent. It was not until his patrons urged him to respond that he finally did. He published an anonymous review of Origin in Edinburgh Review. According to Hesketh, “Owen did more than rip apart the Origin piece by piece; he also challenged the author’s credentials…Nor was the Origin the only victim of that review: Owen used the opportunity to denounce” Huxley and Hooker.

Hooker was Darwin’s closet friend and confidant. “It was Hooker, rather than Huxley, who defended evolution in the face of Wilberforce’s religious backlash.” Their friendship dates back to 1843. Before that, in 1839, while Hooker was voyaging on the HMS Erebus, he read Darwin’s Journal of Researches. Hesketh claims that “Hooker had been born into a devoutly evangelical family, and there is little evidence that he dissented from this religiosity.” But this latter claim is difficult to maintain in light of Hooker’s comments at the BAAS 1866 meeting in Nottingham, where he denounces the voices of religious orthodoxy as “savages” with primitive beliefs.

At any rate, Hooker was an important source of information for Darwin. Hooker would visit Darwin frequently at his Down House, and, recalling in later years, he wrote that Darwin consistently “pumped” him for information: “It was an established rule that he every day pumped me…for half an hour or so after breakfast in his study.” Hooker was indispensable to Darwin, and could not have developed evolutionary theory without his help. Hooker at first  resisted transmutation, but after several exchanges with another Darwin supporter, Asa Gray, Hooker came to the conclusion that evolution was consistent with “the most exalted conception of the Deity.” Hesketh concludes this chapter by asserting that “evolution had become just as much Hooker’s theory as Darwin’s.”

In the next two chapters we finally reach the Oxford debate. Thursday, 28 June, and Saturday, 30 June, were the most important meetings. On Thursday Owen and Huxley spared against the differences and similarities between the brain of a man and the brain of a gorilla. But this was, as Hesketh puts it, a mere “appetizer for Saturday’s main course.” On Saturday John William Draper started things off with a paper “On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with Reference to the Views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the Progression of Organisms is determined by laws.” This is a particularly interesting paper for my own research into Draper, but here I will only point out that it was not well received by those attending the BAAS that day.

Several other presenters spoke before Samuel Wilberforce finally rose and thundered against Darwin, “giving the crowd what they had waited so long for.” The force of Wilberforce’s speech has been put succinctly by Hesketh: “By the ‘principles of inductive science,’ argued Wilberforce, Darwin’s theory could not be proven, at least not by the facts Darwin himself had presented.” There was a roar of approval from the audience. Huxley responded in turn, affirming his preference for an ape as an ancestor rather than “a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence and yet who employs those facilities for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion.” And the crowd roared once more.

The details of the debate shall not detain us here. What is of more import is how the Oxford debate was remembered. Thankfully, Hesketh provides a brief summary of nineteenth and twentieth century renditions:

1) Wilberforce argued that the Origin contradicted scripture and ridiculed Huxley by questioning his ancestry—a clever tactic to sway an audience unlikely to support humankind’s evolution from apes.

2) Huxley defended the scientific merits of evolution and humorously exposed Wilberforce’s use of Christianity to obscure the truth.

3) The audience roared  in approval of Huxley’s defense and was largely swayed to an evolutionary view of species. The Darwinians clearly won the day.

4) The debate was a crucial episode in the battle fought by evolutionists against the powerful and unscientific established church, pitting scientists against clerics.

But as Hesketh persuasively argues in these last two chapters, the evidence renders a more complex story:

1) Wilberforce challenged the methodology of the Origin and charged that the text was unphilosophical. He then questioned Huxley’s ancestry, following up on a statement made by Huxley in a debate with Owen a few days earlier.

2) Huxley suggested that he would rather be related to an ape than to a man who would obscure the truth. There is evidence that this response was not heard by many in the crowd, that he was unable to throw his voice over such a large and loud assembly.

3) Huxley and Wilberforce were not the only speakers. Several others spoke against and in favor of evolution, and it is most likely that it was Hooker’s speech, rather than Huxley’s, that left its mark on the crowd.

4) This battle was likely a draw rather than outright victory for either party. Also, the battle was not necessarily between clerics and scientists but between generations: the younger generation supporting Darwin and younger scientists, and an older generation supporting Wilberforce and conservative scientists.

Finally, Hesketh draws out three major points of significance for this narrative:

1) The debate was cast in a dramatic format of heroes and villains, of good and evil, easily fitting within the binary narrative of science versus religion that developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. Indeed the Oxford debate became the touchstone of this narrative.

2) Stories of the clash affected the relationship between science and religion in a negative way. They placed a strain on the argument that science and religion could coexist.

3) The debate generated great interest in Darwinism and emboldened the Darwinists. Indeed, Darwin was certain that the debate would serve his theory well, and he was right.

Interestingly enough, it was Huxley, more than anyone else, who took a central role in shaping this narrative. In personal correspondences, gossip networks, periodicals, and published letters and memoirs, Huxley strategically constructed a symbolic memory of conflict between science and religion at the Oxford debate of 1860. As his letter to Frederick Dyster in 1859 clearly demonstrates, he wanted to see the “God of Science on the necks of her enemies.”

New Harris Poll on Evolution

Those surveyed were given a list of topics—including God, miracles, heaven, Jesus as God or the son of God, angels, survival of the soul after death, the resurrection of Jesus, Hell, the virgin birth, the Devil, “Darwin’s theory of evolution,” ghosts, creationism, UFOs, astrology, witches, and reincarnation—and asked, “Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not.” For evolution, 47 percent of respondents indicated that they believed in it, 29 percent indicated that they don’t believe in it, and 25 percent indicated that they were not sure.

The results also varied dramatically based on political affiliation or generation: 36 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of Democrats, and 51 percent of independents indicated that they believed in “Darwin’s theory of evolution,” while 49 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of Democrats, and 34 percent of independents indicated that they believed in creationism; 49 percent of Echo Boomers (18-36), 48 percent of Gen Xers (37-48), 45 percent of Baby Boomers (49-67), and 43 percent of Matures (68+) indicated that they believed in “Darwin’s theory of evolution,” while 33 percent of Echo Boomers, 35 percent of Gen Xers, 38 percent of Baby Boomers, and 37 percent of Matures indicated that they believed in creationism.

(Harris Interactive)

Building Bridges and Burning Down Myths

Richardson and Wildman - Religion and Science History Method DialogueIn their highly stimulating and engrossing book, W. Mark Richardson and Wesley J. Wildman’s (eds.) Religion and Science: History, Method, Dialogue (1996), offer an interdisciplinary approach to “building bridges” between religion and science. The various sections of the book correspond to three major kinds of inquiry: historical studies, methodological analyses, and substantive dialogue. Each section provides essays written by many notable scholars, including John Hedley Brooke, Claude Welch, Nicholas Wolterstorff, John Polkinghorne, Arthur Peacocke, among others.

Beginning in Part 1 with essays on the history of the relationship between religion and science, John Hedley Brooke’s “Science and Theology in the Enlightenment” challenges the assumptions that theology was rebuffed by the emerging epistemology and method of science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indeed, in many ways theology remained resilient, particularly in the form of William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802). Brooke writes, “whether one referred to the exquisite, microscopic structures in living organisms that had so captivated Robert Boyle, the marvellous migratory instincts of birds that so impressed John Ray, or the elegant laws of nature that governed the Newtonian universe, there was a profound sense in which the sciences could reinforce arguments for design, thereby proving their utility against skeptical and atheistic philosophies that were commonly seen as subversive of a stable society.”

But in “meeting their rationalist critics on their own ground,” Brooke observes, “Christian apologists were almost unwittingly sacrificing what was distinctive in their understanding of God.” As Blaise Pascal warned, “those who sought God apart from Christ, who went no further than nature, would fall into atheism or deism.” Brooke cites Michael J. Buckley’s At the Origins of Modern Atheism (1987) in support of his claim that “a Christian apologia reduced to the argument from design was easy prey to the alternative metaphysics of Lucretius: was not the appearance of design surely illusory, reflecting the simple fact that defective combinations of matter had not survived?” “Atheism takes its meaning from the particular form of theism it rejects. So to understand the origins of modern atheism it is no good looking at the history of atheism.” Rather, “it is essential to examine the history of theism.” Arguments for a personal God based on impersonal forces of nature became one of the chief reasons for the rise of modern atheism. The take away from Brooke’s essay is that “if the bridged built by physico-theologians eventually collapsed, it was not simply that they were undermined by science. It was rather that a greater burden had been placed on the sciences than they could support.”

In the following essay, “Dispelling Some Myths about the Split Between Theology and Science in the Nineteenth Century,” Claude Welch begins by recalling the popular “warfare” model between science and religion, exemplified by John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. Both authors, Welch claims, were partly responding to Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors of 1864, which included the “error” of “supposing that the Pope ought to reconcile himself ‘with progress, with liberalism, and with modern civilization.'” And in both authors, “biblical criticism gets more attention than does evolutionary theory.” For instance, in his concluding chapter of Volume II of his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, White extols higher criticism as opening “treasures of thought which have been inaccessible to theologians for two thousand years,” and has led to “the conceptions of a vast community in which the fatherhood of God overarches all, and the brotherhood of man permeates all.” According to Welch, White’s comments are “remarkably similar to what many liberal theologians were saying in response to evolutionary theory and to biblical criticism.”

But recent work has demolished the metaphor of warfare as an historical interpretation. If we want real instances of warfare, Welch argues, we need only to observe “Comte’s positivism, or of the emergence of a radical materialistic monism particularly in Germany in the 1850s” found in such writers as Ludwig Büchner (1824-1899), Jacob Moleschott (1822-1893), and Karl Vogt (1817-1895). “These latter three,” writes Welch, “seized upon Darwin to further an anti-Christian agenda they had already developed.” This antagonism is expressed even more fully in the writings of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), “who undertook in the 1860s to convert Germany to Darwinism”; in his hands “Darwinism could become a symbol of antireligion for reasons that had little to do with evolution.”

What was happening in the nineteenth century was the theological accommodation (read: capitulation) to new “scientific” conceptions, particularly in geology and biology. This accommodation took the form of “mediating” theologies, which entailed a spirit of liberal open-mindedness, of tolerance and humility, of devotion to “truth” wherever it might be found. It was also the abandonment of cherished religious notions. Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre (1821) argued that the “doctrine of creation has no particular interest in a point of origination,” that “the idea of the Fall has no reference to an event in early history.” What is more, the popular “preoccupation with an afterlife was countered by the emergence of ‘secular societies,'” greatly weakening the idea of Hell and Damnation and Providence.

Thus the foundations had already been set for the reception of Draper and White. “The work of Draper and White…caught the popular mind of the late nineteenth century, not because of the intrinsic soundness of their arguments, but because of the real growing secularization of the European (and American) mind in the nineteenth century…never mind whether religion and science were really in conflict; they were increasingly thought to be in conflict.”

Wesley J. Wildman’s essay, “The Quest for Harmony: An Interpretation of Contemporary Theology and Science,” sees the interaction between science and religion within modernity as exhibiting an awkward tension that is indicative of a deeper cultural crisis, one evolving out of a failure of human beings to converge and unify the spiritual, ethical, intellectual, and social aspects of their being. “A promising starting point,” he says, “is the awareness that the root cause of the problematic character of modern Western culture is a profound confusion, a schizophrenic uncertainty, about how to be in the world.”

The interaction between science and religion is an informative example. The popular narrative, a tale told and retold both in schools and the media, recounts how

Christian theologians have duped the West to protect their own sacred narratives: first, theology insisted that certain things were true of the world; next, science discovered that these beliefs were false; and then, theology resisted this new [or “true”] knowledge, until finally it was forced to give up its false claims about the world, one by one.

This is a popular story. But it also happens to be completely “dissociated from reality.” And yet like most stories and legends, “the symbolic value of the story is the reason it was and is so infamous, rather than its fidelity to facts.”

The last essay in Part 1 comes from Holmes Rolston III, “Science, Religion, and the Future,” who argues that both science and theology are indispensable human institutions: that is, they need each other. While “science seeks to understand the world,”  it needs religion to keep it humane, it “pushes science toward questions of ultimacy, as well as value, and it can keep science from being blinkered, or…religion can keep science deep.”

According to Rolston, recent developments in the sciences offers hope of a more congenial relation with religion. Astrophysics and nuclear physics, for example, are describing a universe “fine-tuned” for stars, planets, life, and mind; evolutionary and molecular biology shows increasing signs of tremendous order in the organization of life: “that order represents something more than physics and chemistry; it is superimposed information.”

For all the advances in our scientific age, problems remain as acute as ever. To solve problems of justice—of overpopulation, overconsumption, and underdistribution—science is necessary; “but science is not sufficient without conscience that shapes and uses to which science is put.” “Science and religion,” Rolston argues, “must face together the impending disaster of today’s trends projected cumulatively into tomorrow: population explosion, dwindling food supply, climate change, soil erosion and drought, deforestation, desertification, declining reserves of fossil fuels and other natural resources, toxic wastes, the growing gap between concentrated wealth and increasing poverty, and the militarism, nationalism, and industrialism that seek to keep the systems of exploitation in place.”

This dialogue between religion and science is exemplified in Part 3 of this book, where six case studies seek to demonstrate constructive interactions between science and theology. Noteworthy features of these studies are their wide range of diverse approaches to theological, philosophical, and methodological issues, incorporating what was discussed in earlier chapters. The studies include such topics as “cosmology and creation,” “Chaos theory and divine action,” “quantum complementarity and Christology,” “information theory and revelation,” “molecular biology and human freedom,” and “social genetics and religious ethics.” Written by astrophysicist at the Vatican Observatory William R. Stoeger, professor of theology and science Robert John Russell, scientist at the Standford Linear Accelerator Karl Young, professor of mathematical physics John Polkinghorne, professor of philosophy Edward MacKinnon, professor of philosophy of education James E. Loder and associate professor of physics W. Jim Neidhardt, professor of historical and systematic theology Christopher B. Kaiser, Head of Mathmatics John C. Puddefoot, theologian and biochemist Arthuer Peacocke, professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology R. David Cole, assistant professor of philosophical theology W. Mark Richardson, professor of anthropology William Irons, and professor of systematic theology Philip Hefner, Part 3 explores the complex interface between science and religion in today’s world.

Part 2 of the book brings us into questions of shared methodologies between theology and science. Constructed as two round discussions involving four perspectives, this set of chapters include arguments from Nicholas Wolterstorff, Nancey Murphy, Mary Gerhart and Allan Melvin Russell, and Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp. Our main concern here is the essay by reformed epistemologist Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Theology and Science: Listening to Each other.”

Wolterstorff introduces his essay by noting that the most powerful and profound interpretation of modernity is that of German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist Max Weber (1864-1920). According to Weber, the essence of modernity lies in the emergence of differentiated action spheres in the domain of society and differentiated value spheres in the domain of culture, and then the spread of rationalization within these spheres. “The characteristically modern person is the one who discards both tradition and affect as determiners of action, and instead engages in rational calculation of means and rational appraisal of values before acting.”

How did the modern person come about? He emerged when the world was treated as disenchanted. “Once upon a time,” writes Wolterstorff, “in the days of primitive religion, humanity lived in an ‘enchanted garden’—a magical garden.” No longer. Modern man has “left the magic garden.” A necessary condition of modern man, says Weber, is disenchantment. “This grand sweep, from the enchanted gardens of primitive religion, to the progressively disenchanting world religions, to the disenchanted world of our differentiated modernized societies and cultures, represents the disappearance of religion from the human scene.” Religion, therefore, and according to Weber, is civilization’s irrational remnant from a primitive past.

Wolterstorff argues that Weber reflects “the Enlightenment understanding of science and its relation to religion—an understanding which has come crashing down in the last quarter century.” Enlightenment thinkers perpetuated convictions first set out in the Middle Ages, where scientific knowledge must begin from “what is evident, either to oneself or to someone else, and then proceed to construct deductive arguments.” Science, in other words, is the conclusions of demonstrative arguments.

Thus “before entering the halls of science, we are to shed all our particularities—our particular social locations, our particular genders, our particular religions, our particular races, our particular nationalities—and enter those halls with just our humanity.” This is the foundationalist picture of science. In his Reason within the Bounds of Religion (1976, 1999), Wolterstorff sums up foundationalism in three principles:

(1) A person is warranted in accepting a theory at a certain time if and only if he is then warranted in believing that that theory belongs to genuine science (scientia).
(2) A theory belongs to genuine science if and only if it is justified by some foundational proposition and some human being could know with certitude that it is thus justified.
(3) A proposition is foundational if and only if it is true and some human being could know noninferentially and with certitude that it is true.

Foundationalism presupposes that there are some certitudes which form a foundation upon which a (scientific) theory can be built using methods of inference (demonstration) which are most certainly reliable. According to this view foundational certitudes can be known noninferentially (not inferred from other propositions). That is, these are things that can be known for certain without knowledge of this certainty being derived from something else. That is, the certainty of these things is self-evident.

Foundationalism holds that scientific theory is deducible from the foundation. Deductivism, however, has virtually collapsed because many theories that seemingly warrant acceptance are not deducible from any foundation. Given the untenability of deductivism, some foundationalists have resorted to probabilism. But probabilism assumes an uniformity of nature. The conclusion is only justified if nature is uniform. But it is impossible to say with any certainty that nature is uniform. One might argue that it is probably uniform, but then we are now using an inductive argument to justify the very principle which we need in order to justify an inductive argument. That is, we still lack a justification for induction. Which theory than belongs to genuine science? There are many acceptable theories, but few of them are provable with respect to foundationalism and none of them are probable with respect to foundation. In fact, Wolterstorff argues, there are no foundational propositions, that is, no propositions that we can know noninferentially and with certitude to be true.

Foundationalism has indeed failed, and has “all but disappeared from that part of the academy which is acquainted with developments in philosophy of science.” How are we then to view  science as nonfoundationalist in character?

When it comes to devising and weighing theories in science, Wolterstorff recommends a triple distinction between data, theory, and control beliefs. Data and theory are understood to be self-explanatory. Control beliefs, on the other hand, requires further explanation. “When engaging in science,” Wolterstorff explains, “we operate with certain convictions as to the sorts of theories that we will find acceptable. Control beliefs are of many different sorts. Sometimes they take the form of methodological convictions…sometimes they take the form of ontological convictions.” In other words, control beliefs are those beliefs which the scholar uses in weighing a theory and assessing whether it constitutes an acceptable sort of theory on the matter under consideration. Control beliefs will cause us to reject some theories because they are inconsistent with those beliefs. They will also lead us to devise theories, since we desire to have theories that are consistent with our control beliefs.

In cases of perceived conflict between data, theory, and control beliefs, the conflict is eliminated through a process of “equilibrium,” which is achieved by making revisions in one of the three—if not all of the three. “Most of the deep conflicts between science and religion,” writes Wolterstorff, “occur at the control-belief level.”

Wolterstorff concludes by emphasizing three important points. First, “the Christian faith is such and the theoretical disciplines are such that we must expect conflict—disequilibrium—to emerge repeatedly.”  This is because Christianity and Western theorizing constantly “overlap in their concerns.” The idea that religion and science operate in separate spheres is “just one proposal, and an extremely radical one at that, for the recovery of equilibrium.”

This ongoing struggle may require revisions either to Christian belief (which has been the case) or in how we understand science (which has been the case). The tendency to affirm scientific authority over religious authority in cases of conflict ignores the implicit—and indeed sometimes explicit—control beliefs within scientific theorizing.

And finally, the results of theorizing, and most unambiguously in the social sciences and humanities, are often militated against Christian conviction. But according to Wolterstorff, “theorizing in general is far indeed from being a religiously neutral endeavor.” We cannot leave our particular social locations, our particular genders, our particular religions, our particular races, or our particular nationalities, in the “narthex as we enter the halls of science.” Rather, with different particularities, we shall have to engage in the dialogue of theorizing, aiming for equilibrium as an outcome.

Religion and Science: A Brief Note

Although published more than twenty-years ago, the essays “Science and Religion” (1985) and “Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science” (1986), written by Ronald L. Numbers and David C. Lindberg respectively, still serve well as introductions to the science-religion debate; and particularly well in introducing to the reader the figures John William Draper (1811-1882) and Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918).

Both authors focus more on A.D. White, for “no work—not even John William Draper’s best-selling History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874)—has done more than White’s to instill in the public mind a sense of the adversarial relationship between science and religion.” Indeed, White’s two-volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) not only remains in print today, but has been translated into German, French, Italian, Swedish, and Japanese.

In 1869, when A.D. White was president of Cornell University, he lectured to a large audience at the Cooper Union in New York city on “The Battle-Fields of Science.” The lecture would be published the very next day by the New-York Daily Tribune. In that lecture White argued that

In all modern history, interference with Science in the supposed interest of religion—no matter how conscientious such interference may have been—has resulted in the direst evils both to Religion and Science, and invariably. And on the other hand all untrammeled scientific investigation, no matter how dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed, temporarily to be, has invariably resulted in the highest good of Religion and Science.

In the years following the Cooper Union address, A.D. White published, in 1876, a brief survey entitled The Warfare of Science, and from time to time the Popular Science Monthly published several articles by him on the “New Chapters in the Warfare of Science.” In 1896, he published his “magnum opus,” the History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. “Along the way,” write Numbers and Lindberg, “he narrowed the focus on his attack: from ‘religion’ in 1869, to ‘ecclesiasticism’ in 1876…and finally to ‘dogmatic theology’ in 1896.” But the distinction was merely a rhetorical strategy, and as Numbers and Lindberg point out in a footnote, “the focus on dogmatic theology in his 1896 volumes seems to have been more of an afterthought—a misleading effort to distance himself from [John] William Draper.”

There follows a brief excursion on some of A.D. White’s claims in History of Warfare. Numbers focusing on the years between the American Revolution and Civil War, contrasts A.D. White with more recent scholarship, from Samuel Eliot Morison, Theodore Hornberger, Perry Miller, Donald Fleming, Henry F. May, Conrad Wright, Morgan B. Sherwood, James R. Moore, Richard Hofstadter, Walter P. Metzger, and many others, ranging from topics such as “Science and Religion in the Colonies,” “Science and Scripture in the Early Republic,” “The Darwinian Debates,” to “Science and Religion in Modern America.” Numbers concludes his survey that the “polemically attractive warfare thesis…[is] historically bankrupt.” A.D. White’s History of Warfare

assumes the existence of two static entities, ‘science’ and ‘religion,’ thus ignoring the fact that many of the debates focused on the questions of what should be considered ‘science’ and ‘religion’ and who should be allowed to define them; it distorts a complex relationship that rarely, if ever, found scientists and theologians in simple opposition; it celebrates the triumphs of science in whiggish fashion; and, all too often, it fails to treat religious ideas and institutions with the respect accorded to the realm of science

In Lindberg’s survey (written with Numbers), the focus is on early Christianity, the Copernican Revolution, the Galileo affair, the Darwinian debates, and the Scopes “monkey” Trial. The Church Fathers used Greek scientific knowledge in their defense of the faith, and thus occipied a prominent place in Christian worldview. In this sense, “science was thus the handmaiden of theology.” Copernicus was a Catholic church administrator from northern Poland, and a group of young Lutheran mathematical astronomers who worked under Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s reforming successor, welcomed his heliocentric astronomy. The Galileo affair was a multifaceted event, filled with opposing theories of biblical interpretation, personal and political factors, and must be seen within the context of the Reformation and the Council of Trent.  What is more, “all participants called themselves Christians, and all acknowledged biblical authority.” During the Darwinian debates, the clergy were among the first to embrace and popularize Darwin’s theory. Following James R. Moore, Numbers and Lindberg write, “the Darwinian debates created conflict, not between scientists and theologians, but within individual minds experiencing a ‘crisis of faith’ as they struggled to come to terms with new historical and scientific discoveries.”

If we “fail to escape the trap of assigning credit and blame,” conclude Numbers and Lindberg, “we will never properly appreciated the roles of science and Christianity in the shaping of Western culture; and that will deeply impoverish our understanding.”

Reinventing Christianity in the Nineteenth Century

Linda Woodhead - Reinventing ChristianityLinda Woodhead’s edited volume Reinventing Christianity: Nineteenth-Century Contexts (2001) is a group of portraits exhibiting the range of changes, adjustments, and initiatives in nineteenth-century Christianity. The collection, individually as well as collectively, eschews the standard assessment that Victorian Christianity was a religion in crisis. Its aim is to “introduce the most important varieties of Christianity in the Victorian era, and to consider their interactions with other aspects of western culture and society.”

After an extremely helpful introduction, this collection of essays offers a wide-ranging survey of the Victorian religious experience, beginning with the “Transcendent Christianity” of famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-92), the ultramontanism of the nineteenth-century Catholic basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, and the debates and controversy over confession in the Church of England. “Despite the immense emphasis on sin and damnation on the part of both ultramontane Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism,” Woodhead writes in her introduction, “neither was intended simply to engender fear and despair. On the contrary, their insistence on God’s transcendence and on human wretchedness served to intensify the need and longing for salvation.”

“Transcendent Christianity” is then contrasted with “Liberal Christianity and Alternative Spiritualities.” The following begins with an article on the world parliament of religions at Chicago in 1892, describing how the Unitarian triumphalism of its organizers was trumped by the representatives of eastern traditions, giving way to new forms of spirituality. According to Woodhead, although the rise of transcendent Christianity retained many believers, it also had the effect of alienating others. Those alienated by transcendent Christianity came to be classified as “liberal.” As Woodhead explains, “instead of viewing God as different and wholly other, liberalism affirms continuity and similarity between God and humanity. Christian liberals generally interpreted the doctrine of incarnation to mean both that there was something of the human in God, and something of the divine in human beings.” Liberals, then, were more optimistic, believing in the perfectibility of individuals and society, which often led them to a “strongly activist, ethical, and in some cases political stress” on Christianity. “Nowhere was Christian liberalism stronger than in the USA.”

The next essay then turns to the remarkable influence of Swedenborgianism, which “enjoyed a unique period of social and intellectual respectability after the 1840s.” Emanuel Swedeborg (1688-1772) is remembered as a seer, a mystic, a revelator or a theosopher by biographers. His reputation and influence rests on his authorship and his claims in the eighteen religious works he published between 1749 and 1771—from the Arcana Coelestia (1749-1756) to Vera Christiana Religio (1770-1771). He believed he was called to reveal the internal sense of the Bible and to announce a new “True” Christianity. During the nineteenth century, Swedenborgianism “helped bridge the gap between transcendent forms of Christianity and a purely inner spirituality; it offered a discourse in which key Victorian obsessions including death and ‘conjugal love’ could be articulated, and it offered a form of toleration towards other religions much greater than that which even liberal Protestantism could countenance.”

The final essay in this section discusses transcendentalists and Catholic converts in America, tracing the Catholic destinations of a number of Boston transcendentalists, including Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker, and Sophia Ripley, thereby showing how “radical spirituality could lead back to transcendent Christianity.”

Part two of the volume surveys some literary approaches in “Christianity and Literature,” going on to “Christianity and Gender,” before concluding with “Christianity and Science.” Particularly noteworthy is a chapter on the nineteenth-century roots of the religion of English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930). The Bible was central to Lawrence’s religiosity. Yet he rejected “traditional Christian uses of the Bible,” preferring the “radical reinterpreters of Christianity like the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the Biblical exegete Ernest Renan, and partly through the influence of representatives of alternative spirituality like Edward Carpenter and Madame Blavatsky (the founder of the Theosophical Society).” According to Woodhead, this chapter show “how challenges to Biblical authority from science and historical investigation did not necessarily lead to a straightforward choice between accepting or rejecting the Biblical text and the faith that rested on it”; questioning the authority of scripture more often led to a “disjunction between materialism, rationalism and literalism on the one hand, and more imaginative, poetic, aesthetic, open and creative modes of religious knowledge and interpretation on the other.”

Another essay discussing the astonishingly daring feminist theology of Florence Nightingale is worthy of notice. Nightingale is an example of “the remarkably subversive uses to which theology could be put in the hands of women.” According to Woodhead, Nightingale’s critique of contemporary Christianity and her radical reinterpretation of the Gospels can be said to “anticipate many of the achievements of feminist theology over a century later.”

The final section on Christianity and science begins by attacking the image of a “war” between the two and the way contrived master-narratives have contributed to misunderstanding. What is important for understanding science and the nineteenth century, says Woodhead, “is not the creation of a more adequate single story, but an investigation of why such stories came about, which contexts supported them, and whose interests they upheld.” The picture of Christianity in this chapter, as with the previous chapters, casts doubt on simplistic assertions about universal and inevitable secularization in the nineteenth century. “The sciences have never simply led to secularization. At issue has always been the cultural meaning to be placed on new forms of science” (my emphasis).

The following essay further contextualizes the “war” in terms of a new “knowledge class” seeking to rival the power of the clergy established in the universities, demonstrating that “the ideas of war between science and religion was a rhetorical strategy from the start.” An essay on influential and widely-ride naturalist and illustrator Philip Gosse (1810-1888) shows how far Edmund Gosse’s Father and son (1907) has misled the public into thinking he was a “scientific crackpot,” “bible-soaked romantic,” “a stern and repressive father,” and a “pulpit-thumping Puritan throwback to the seventeenth century.” In fact, writes Woodhead, “[Philip] Gosse was a severe critic of more optimistic forms of natural theology, his transcendent Protestantism leading him to emphasise both the fallenness of the created order and the greater authority of the Bible in matters pertaining to God.”

In her conclusion, Woodhead notes that the nineteenth century brought “unprecedented social, political, economic and cultural change,” and although Christianity was “profoundly affected by such change,” it was not “merely a passive victim of such forces.” “Christianity was actively and centrally involved in many of the most important cultural shifts and debates of the nineteenth century, and was transformed and reinvented in the process.” It responded by provoking, resisting, embracing, or selectively appropriating.

John Tyndall, the Pantheist

John Tyndall’s Belfast Address at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1874 has been said to be the “chief pronouncement of materialism of the nineteenth century.”

But according to Ruth Barton’s “John Tyndall, Pantheist: A Rereading of the Belfast Address” (1987), Tyndall was an admirer of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte, leading representatives of idealist philosophy. As Frank Turner has shown, in “Victorian Scientific Naturalism and Thomas Carlyle” (1975), Tyndall’s attraction to idealism, although something of a paradox, consisted more than just an appeal to its social theory; it also included an appeal to its metaphysics. “The Belfast Address,” Barton argues, “was a conscious and deliberate attempt by Tyndall to set scientific ‘materialism’ in the larger context of natural supernaturalism” of figures such as Carlyle, Emerson, and Fichte. Indeed, Tyndall often qualified his views on materialism, asserting that it cannot be “a complete philosophy of life,” and warning his listeners that “the ‘materialism’ here professed may be vastly different from what you suppose.”

In the first section of this paper Barton provides some insightful comments regarding the British Association and the context for its meeting in Belfast. A later post will specifically address this, along with Barton’s other essays, “‘An Influential Set of Chaps’: The X-Club and Royal Society Politics 1864-85” (1990), and “Huxley, Lubbock, and Half a Dozen Others”: Professionals and Gentlemen in the Formation of the X-Club, 1851-1864″ (1998). Here the focus is on Barton’s comments on the Belfast Address and Tyndall’s idealist and pantheist beliefs.

At its core, “the Belfast Address was an argument for the adequacy of materialism as a philosophy of science.” But this materialism must be seen in the context of other recurring themes in the address, including “wonder,” “religious awe,” “artistic creativity,” “sexual passion”; in other words, human feelings. While the first part of the address introduces the atomic theories of the ancients, in the second part Tyndall argues that “the mind’s capacity to form clear, coherent pictures of physical conceptions is the basis of theory formation in science. Such a picture is called Vorstellung in German, and the act of picturing, vorstellen. The closet English translation is ‘imagination.'” Interestingly enough, Tyndall uses the example of Giordano Bruno rather than Copernicus as marking the end of the so-called “stationary period” in science. According to Tyndall, Bruno came close to “our present line of thought” in pondering the problem of life. Following the work of Friedrich A. Lange’s The History of Materialism and Criticism of Its Present Importance (first published in 1865), Tyndall writes

Nature, in her productions,  does not imitate the technic of man. Her process is one of  unravelling  and unfolding. The infinity  of forms under which matter appears was not imposed upon it by an external artificer;  by its own intrinsic  force and virtue it brings these forms forth. Matter is not the mere naked, empty capacity which philosophers have pictured her to be, but the universal mother, who brings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb.

Through such anthropomorphism of the “universal mother,” Tyndall presents matter as having the capacity for life.

The “analytic tendency” of Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle, says Tyndall, explained the motion of matter by “a detached Creator, working more or less after the manner of men.” By contrast, Goethe, Carlyle, and other “men of warm feelings” with “minds open to the elevating impressions produced by nature as a whole, whose satisfaction, therefore, is rather ethical than logical,” usually adopt “some form of pantheism.” In his concluding remarks, Tyndall asserts:

Believing, as I do, in the continuity  of nature, I cannot stop abruptly where our microscopes cease to be of use. Here the vision of the mind authoritatively supplements the vision of the eye. By a necessity engendered  and justified by science I cross the boundary of the experimental  evidence, and discern in that Matter which we, in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of all terrestrial.

Introducing epistemological arguments from John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Tyndall concludes that “we cannot know the real nature of the external world, although there is no doubt as to its existence: ‘Our states of consciousness are mere symbols of an outside entity which produces them and determines the order of their succession, but the real nature of which we can never know.’ All—the nature of matter, the evolution of life, of species, and of mind—is inscrutable mystery.”

According to Barton, Tyndall sought unity between objective knowledge and moral and emotional nature. Tyndall found this unity “not in materialism but in a cosmical life that is manifested in both matter and mind, thought and emotion.”

Yet in the polarized popular debate of the 1870s, Protestant and Catholic defenders of orthodox Christianity saw the Belfast Address as an attack. As Bernard Lightman as shown more recently in “Scientists as Materialists in the Periodical Press: Tyndall’s Belfast Address,” in Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttleworth (eds.) Science Serialized: Representation of Sciences in the Nineteenth-Century Periodicals (2004), “through the periodical press, a concerted effort was made to transform Tyndall’s image in the public eye from the respected popular lecturer well known to genteel audiences at the Royal Institution into the aggressive and radical materialist.”

But according to Barton, Tyndall’s “materialism was located within a broader idealist metaphysic.” In saying that his conclusions were the same as Bruno, adding a footnote in the printed version of the address  reminding the reader that “Bruno was a ‘Pantheist,’ not an ‘Atheist’ or a ‘Materialist,'” Tyndall was claiming for himself the title of “Pantheist.” But more than labels, Tyndall’s arguments and concepts show patterns belonging to “romantic idealism,” writes Barton. In romanticism a new conception of nature was central, where qualities traditionally attributed to God are now found in nature. “The divine is immanent in the world, and…the world is the garment of God.” The true religion is a “sense of dependence on, participation in, or union with the great universal life.”

“These aspects of idealism,” Barton claims, “are all found in Tyndall’s writings.” Besides the Belfast Address, Tyndall’s personal philosophy is also recorded in his journal and correspondence between is protégé, friend, and member of the “X-Club” Thomas Hirst. In a journal entry marked 1847, for example, Tyndall, on reading Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Presrnt and Chartism, commented, “His position is sometimes startling—to many he will appear impious…I however thank the gods for having flung him as a beacon to guide me amid life’s entanglements.” And after reading Carlyle’s On Heroes and Hero-Worship, Tyndall recorded: “the writer must be a true hero. My feelings toward him are those of worship [or] transcendent wonder’ as he defines it.” But Carlyle’s ideas were one among many that Tyndall subscribed to. In 1848, after hearing a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Tyndall subsequently bought his works. Later in the year he also bought Fichte’s Characteristics of the Age, and in October he began reading romantic philosopher Friedrich Schlegel. In a later speech to his pupils at Queenwood, Tyndall described his time studying these authors as a religious purpose: “It was not merely to understand physical laws, for ‘what are sun, stars, science, chemistry, geology, mathematics, but pages of a book whose author is God! I want to know the meaning of this book, to penetrate the spirit of this author and if I fail then are my scientific attainments apple rinds without a core.'” Reading Kant, Schlegel, Fichte, Emerson, and Carlyle, and many others was part of Tyndall’s continuing search for the meaning of the whole.

Following Schlegel, Tyndall claimed that “God does not allow his existence to be proved…[It] must be adopted with the vividness of feeling.” Writing to Hirst, Tyndall said he considered Emerson and Carlyle to be pantheists “in the highest sense”:

I dropped an hour ago upon a very significant  passage in the Sartor. ‘Is there no God then, but at best an absentee God sitting idle ever since the first Sabbath at the outside of his Universe and seeing it go?’ At the ‘outside‘ of his universe. I imagine Carlyle’s entire creed is folded in this sentence…With Carlyle the universe is the blood and bones of Jehovah—he climbs in the sap of trees and falls in cataract.

Tyndall declared William Paley’s God in Natural Theology no better than atheism. Indeed, as Barton puts it, Tyndall “preferred the organic analogy of the universe as a tree to the mechanical analogy of the universe as clock.”

During the twenty years before the Belfast Address, Tyndall was far from materialism. In a number of essays and speeches, however, he elaborated on materialism and its limits, for the materialist debates were raging in places such as Germany. Although he began formulating his own version of materialism and determinism during these years, Tyndall consistently “assured his hearers that the matter of which he spoke was not the matter described by theologians and philosophers; rather, matter is ‘essentially mystical and transcendental,'” and “science, by its limitations, maintained mystery.”

Barton concludes that “Tyndall, like Huxley, Hermann con Helmholtz, and [Friedrich A.] Lange, advocated materialism as a methodology, a program, or a maxim of scientific research, but not as a general philosophy” of life.

John William Draper and the Art of Forgetting

John William DraperIn a unique paper on John William Draper, Bradford Vivian uses French Jesuit Michel de Certeau’s philosophy of history to understand the massive “forgetting” that gook place in the nineteenth century. Vivian argues in “The Art of Forgetting: John W. Draper and the Rhetorical Dimensions of History” (1999) that “the rhetorical dynamics of [Draper’s] History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science created a way of knowing—a highly persuasive worldview—that not only rendered hostile the relationship between religion and science but, more significantly, installed in the modern episteme a discourse that continues to shape knowledge about religion and science.” The History of Conflict “helped induce a persuasive cultural ‘forgetting’ by depicting science as the savior of Western civilization and religion as its doom.”

According to Certeau, “history is not a mimetic representation of the past, but is instead a selective process that actively creates the past.” In the reconstruction of the past, a willed forgetting occurs—and must occur, says Certeau. The “discourse of separation,” the act of dividing or breaking the past in historical “periods” is the “postulate of interpretation (which is constructed as of the present time) and its object (divisions organizing representations that must be reinterpreted). The labor designated by this breakage is self-motivated. In the past from which it is distinguished, it promotes a selection between what can be understood and what must be forgotten in order to obtain the representation of a present intelligibility.” However, those forgotten elements do not disappear, but remain as “resistances” or “survivals,” thus rendering history a “contested field, comprised of competing interpretations.” There is, then, a rhetorical nature to history; it is a way of knowing and exists as an “epistemological ideal.”

The nineteenth century was “characterized by a faith in the progressive spirit,” and history became the scientific observation of such progress. “Leopold Van Ranke and Auguste Comte articulated influential conceptions of history that operated by virtue of a scientific method and documented the laws that determined the course of human events.” In this sense, religion became the target of such historians. For instance, the “modern image of the Middle Ages as a seemingly endless night of theocratic darkness is largely the result of a fervent historical forgetting induced by the rhetorical strategies of nineteenth-century scientific historians.” Replacing theology with science did not amount to atheism, however. Indeed, according to Draper, science “has given us grander views of the universe, more awful views of God.” Theology was a false epistemology, whereas scientific law more truly disclosed God’s blueprint.

According to Vivian, “Draper embodied the distinctive qualities of nineteenth-century scientific historians.” Draper was indeed inspired by Comte’s theory that history is an “orderly phenomenon, driven forward by the machinery of scientific law and human progress.” Following Draper’s biographer, Donald Fleming, Vivian records that Draper “regarded himself as a scientific historian and even viewed history as a branch of natural science,” and by documenting the history of science, “Draper intended to demonstrate that the modernizing force of scientific progress led away from Europe and directly to America.”

In documenting his history, Draper’s work provides many examples of historical “forgettings.” If this is true, how is it that History of Conflict went through 50 American printings in 50 years, 21 printings in the United Kingdom over 15 years, and translated into dozens of languages throughout the world, thereby achieving an exceptional international popularity? According to Vivian, its popularity is primarily due to its dramatic style, “it is essentially a drama, unified by a prophetic narrative that compels readers to view science as the guardian of knowledge and religion as its most baneful enemy.” Its prophetic ethos, moreover, is optimistic, portending a bright future.

It was also a self-serving history. Draper, according to Fleming, was “hungry for recognition.” Draper’s choice to write in the popular genre, necessary for the International Scientific Series, “reflected a desire to reach a larger audience and to sway the public toward an appreciation not only of science but also Draper himself.”

According to Vivian, the second half of History of Conflict is more reflective and abstract, relaying to readers that the “conflict between science and religion is a thoroughly epistemological battle, a struggle against devotion to the ignorance induced by religion and an embrace of the power wrought by scientific knowledge.” Indeed, readers are given an ultimatum: “readers must therefore take part in this battle on behalf of science in order to preserve ‘absolute freedom of thought.'” Draper therefore successfully created an epistemic system of thought by defining science and religion as in conflict.

In the next section of the paper, Vivian debunks one particular narrative in Draper’s history, that of the Flat Earth. Here he follows closely Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth (1997).

Yet despite its many errors, Draper’s History of Conflict was perceived as an historical text. Why? According to Vivian, “history in the nineteenth century was not expected to be a strictly empirical form of knowledge.” Nineteenth-century historians modeled their writing on “nineteenth-century novelists who strove to create an impression of omniscience, of continuity, of unbroken flow”; it was the construction of an ethos, a prophetic style that exerts pressure on readers to make a choice.

But how could such a history be viewed as an example of scientific history? The tension the modern reader feels in trying to understand how nineteenth-century scientific history was “scientific” and “popular” is just that. The divisions of modern Western culture—a division between the sacred and the profane, between the spiritual and the empirical, between religion and science—is a consequence of their artificial separation in such works as Draper’s History of Conflict.