George Sarton’s Appeal to Andrew D. White

In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Belgian historian of science, founder of the review journal Isis, and secular humanist George Sarton (1884-1956), emigrated to the United States. One of his earliest publications on the discipline of history of science appeared in the philosophical journal Monist, which was an English translation of his opening article in Isis. Sarton openly admitted that his work adhered to the positivist school of Auguste Comte. Indeed, he considered Comte to be the “founder of the history of science.” Unsurprisingly, then, he argued that “the interaction between science and religion have often had an aggressive character,” and that “most of the time a real warfare” had existed between them. Sarton found much heuristic value in his conception of the historical relationship between science and religion. The history of science, he argued, revealed not only the “progress” of the human mind, but also its “regressions,” “sudden halts,” “mishaps,” and “superstitions,” thus providing us with a “history of errors.” The “progress of mankind,” Sarton asserted, was an “intellectual unfolding.”[1]

In the English translation of this article, Sarton recommends to his readers Andrew Dickson White’s (1832-1918) two-volume masterpiece, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1894). White, who Sarton called a “very godly man,” was indeed an important source for his understanding of science and religion. Sarton would later recommend White to his students at Harvard University.

In 16 January, 1918, White wrote Sarton to praise him for his work in the history of science. Sarton replied on 31 March, telling White that his word of praise “is as precious to me as an honorary degree!” He also informed him that he was giving two courses at Harvard on the “History of Physics” and on “Science and Civilization in the XVth and XVIth Centuries,” and that for both of these courses “I have been repeatedly obliged to refer to your admirable ‘Warfare between Science and Theology.’” But in addition to thanking White for his work, Sarton reported to him his difficulty in finding a professorship in the history of science. It is an interesting and curious exchange of letters, from a young historian pleading his case to an older, established scholar. It reveals something of the hardships of emigrant scholars during the war, and the early formative beginnings of what is still a much contested scholarly discipline. The remainder of the letter follows thus:

But I do not write this letter simply to thank you,—rather to appeal to you, being now—for no fault of mine, in the most critical position. I was appointed “lecturer on the history and philosophy of science” at Harvard in 1916 for two years. I have done well and worked considerably but war conditions make it impossible to appoint me (This appointment was an artificial one anyhow—the necessary funds having been provided by a special subscription. I did not wish such a subscription to be started again in these times). As all the universities are now husbanding their resources to the limit, and as there is not a single university president having a genuine interest in the history of science. I have absolutely no chance of being appointed anywhere.

Now you likely know my position: I have but, at best temporarily, all my belongings through the German invasion of Belgium. When I came to this country in April 1915, I had—all counted—a hundred dollars. During the last two years, I have worked every day from 9 A.M. to 10 P.M., often on Sundays as well. I have not taken a real holiday since 1914. I have prepared and delivered more than 250 different lectures on all possible topics in my own field—from Babylonia to Henri Poincaré, and from the history of medicine to the history of calculus. I lecture are the Lowell Institute in Boston, and gave five long courses on the history of mathematics, physics, general science…in Harvard, Columbia, Illinois… (No wonder I could not publish much!)—Besides, my Harvard salary being only a nominal one, I lectured in about twenty other universities. You perhaps remember that I once lectured at Cornell University; I then had the honour and pleasure of being your guest.

I have set in foot a very intense movement towards the recognition of the history of science as an essential part of higher education, and but for the war, it is likely that something would have been started in at least one university. Of course, now it is out of question until the war is over.

I have tried to show that the history of science—i.e. the history of the real foundations of human progress—is not simply of immense interest in itself, but is even of greater importance in that it affords the best means of humanizing science and reconciling positive knowledge and idealism. I firmly believe that there is no other way to solve the great education problem: “science vs. the humanities” than to introduce a little of the disinterested and historical spirit of the humanities into the scientific studies. Moreover, I have shown that to be true, the history of civilization should be focused on the history of science. As a result of my work since 1911, I now am a recognized leader and authority in the history of science not simply in America, but abroad.

Yet all this labour is in danger of being lost. I have been paid so little for all that I have done—that I now am just at the same point as I was when I landed here in 1915. As soon as my appointment in Harvard ceases I will have to choose between stopping my life’s work or starving. Both alternatives are equally miserable.

My only hope is in the “Carnegie Institution,” whose very purpose is to make disinterested studies possible. I have just written to Dr. [Richard Simpson] Woodward, explaining the whole case and asking him to intervene. The “Carnegie Institution” could help me either directly by paying me a salary for the work I am doing or indirectly by giving a subsidy to a university to employ me.

I do not forget that this is war-time, but the war will not last for ever [Sarton includes a footnote: “The University of Berlin was founded in the year 1809—the year of Prussia’s greatest misery—after the defeat of Wagram. Should we have less faith than the Germans?…”], and it would be a stupid waste—to now make me lose all the benefits of my propaganda and stop studies for which I have gathered more material than anybody else.

There are thousands of people in this country earning this living by studying and teaching general history, or the history of philosophy, in fact the history of everything except the history of science. Would it be an extravagance to give one man the possibility of earning his by such research work?…There is not a single college that has not at least a professorship for the history of philosophy or the history of education…Is it believable that there is not in America a single chair devoted to the history of science? This in the XXth century?

I appeal to you as to one who did pioneer work in the same field long time ago. I think that if you would have the kindness to write a word in my behalf to Dr. R. S. Woodward, or to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, or to both—it would do a great deal of good. No man can speak to them with more authority than you, and in this case your recommendation would carry the more weight in that you would be speaking for a fellow-worker in your own line.

From all that I know of him, I am convinced that Mr. Carnegie himself would have been deeply interested in the history of science, and would have approved my way of understanding the history of civilization, if it had been possible to place the matter before him. He might even have been interested to the extent of endeavoring the “Institute for the history of science and civilization” which I planned and which was in endorsed by the elite of the American philosophers, scientists and historians,—or at least of funding a chair devoted to the these studies.

I beg to apologize, my dear Dr. White, for intruding upon you and interrupting the peace which you have so richly deserved, with the recital of my sad plight. I will only say for my defense that I would not have disturbed you if I had not been actually driven to it—this being almost my last step and last hope.

If I do not succeed now, I will simply have to give up these studies and to try to make a living for my wife and daughter by struggle in another field. This would mean an enormous waste of human energy, of course.

If you would help me by writing to Dr. Wooward and Mr. Carnegie in my behalf or in any other way, I would be grateful to you, and you would have rendered a new service to the history of science.

Believe me, my dear Dr. White,

Yours faithfully

George Sarton

P.S. It is necessary to add, that if I had been given any opportunity of military service, I would have been only too glad to take it? I even tried to be employed by the U.S. government, being personally recommended by Mr. Woodrow Wilson.[2]

While White’s reply is missing, we do now that he tried to offer Sarton some aid.[3] Sarton subsequently reported to White that he was able to secure a meeting with the Executive Committee of the Carnegie Institution on 18 April.[4] In 15 May, Sarton told White that his “troubles are at an end,” for he was appointed “Research associate of the Carnegie Institution” for two years to pursue his own studies. “This is splendid,” he wrote, “I feel as a free man again as before the war.”[5]


[1] George Sarton, “The History of Science,” Monist, vol. 26, no. 3 (1916): 321-65; George Sarton, “L’Histoire de la Science,” Isis, vol. 1, no. 1 (1913): 3-46.

[2] George Sarton to Andrew Dickson White, Mar 31, 1918, Andrew Dickson White Papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University Library (hereafter cited as: White Collection, and reel number), reel 124.

[3] George Sarton to Andrew Dickson White, Apr 5, 1918, White Collection, reel 124.

[4] George Sarton to Andrew Dickson White, Apr 10, 1918, White Collection, reel 124.

[5] George Sarton to Andrew Dickson White, May 15, 1918, White Collection, reel 124.

McCabe and the Land of Bunk

mccabeJoseph McCabe (1867-1955), a Roman Catholic monk who abandoned his religious beliefs around 1895, was a prolific author, writing over two hundred books on science, history, biography, and religion. Historians of science and religion have largely ignored McCabe, and it is unclear why. But if historians are looking for the intellectual forebears of the so-called “New Atheism,” McCabe serves a much better candidate than either John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White.

McCabe published mostly with Watts & Company in London, but he also found a home in Kansas, with Haldeman-Julius Publishing Company. Established by Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius, an atheist, socialist, and newspaper publisher, he began publishing a five-cent, papered-covered “Little Blue Books” series in 1919. Perhaps one of the most popular titles in the series was McCabe’s The Conflict Between Science and Religion (1927).

McCabe begins with an arresting vision of the future. “Somewhere about the year 2100 a work will be written,” he says, “on the entire history of religion.” This will necessarily be a history of its “dissolution.” This future historian will give an account of the priesthood and the fabrication of sacred books. He will recognize, moreover, that the “finer emotions of the new age were outraged by some of the most important doctrines of what were called the higher religions.” More importantly, this future historian will have to dedicate a large section to “The Conflict Between Religion and Science.” In this section, McCabe explains, this future historian will draw from sources mostly printed from 1850 to 1950. He will be amused, says McCabe, by distinguished men of science and theologians both protesting that there is no conflict:

“he will read the priests protesting that there is no conflict between true science and religion, and the professors plaintively chanting that there is no conflict between science and true religion. They suspend their fighting occasionally to recover their breath and affirm that they are not fighting” (6-7).

McCabe lays out his thesis thus: “Science has, ever since its birth, been in conflict with religion.” Science first emerged, he writes, in the Greek colonies on the coast of Asia Minor. They perceived at once that tradition was entirely wrong, and knowledge must be acquired by reason and senses. The liberty and spirit of inquiry in these colonies ushered in the decay of religion. But their religious neighbours were quick to “trim their sails.” The work of science was prohibited, until resumed in Alexandria a few centuries later. But the new religion of Christianity gained political power at the time, and “murdered the last brilliant representative of Greek thought, Hypatia, and completely extinguished scientific research.” Indeed, Christianity was the “most deadly opponent” of scientific progress.

During Christendom, science was extinct. Science reemerged in the Arab world, but “not on account of its Mohammedan religion, but very clearly in spite of it.” McCabe argued that a new skepticism was rising, and with it the revival of science. Wandering scholars encountered this renaissance, and brought back the “new” learning to England and France. But there was nothing new here, according to McCabe. “From [Roger] Bacon to Copernicus,” he writes, “they all merely repeated what Greeks or Moors had told them, and that, the moment they opened their mouths, the modern conflict between science and religion began.”  Imprisoned, extinguished, hounded, and burned, these followers of Greek science paid a hefty price.

But when Christendom found itself weakened by the “great schism,” men of science finally gained more liberty. The deists attacked the crudities and inconsistencies of the Old Testament, allowing scientific men to reconstruct the “real history of the earth and of man.”

The conflict rages to this day, says McCabe. There is no disputing the fact that “a mighty conflict of science and religion” occurred in the nineteenth century. American fundamentalists, McCabe argues, still maintain it.

Before moving forward, McCabe wants to address a couple of “fallacious or untruthful statements about this historical conflict.” First is the common statement that “there never was a conflict between religion and science” (11). McCabe directly targets Andrew Dickson White’s claim that the conflict was between theology, and not religion. “To talk of a few combative theologians sparring with a few combative scientists about these matters is utter historical untruth.” To our ancestors, theology was religion, according to McCabe.

Another fallacy, says McCabe, is to dismiss past conflicts because our ancestors simply did not know true “religion.” “Progressive religion,” McCabe declares, “is the veriest piece of bunk that Modernism ever invented” (12). By “modernism” McCabe means those liberal theologians who reinterpreted traditional religious beliefs. But to reject central doctrines of Christianity, such as the fall of man, is to maintain that the very “foundation of Christianity is an error.” To reject such doctrines, according to McCabe, is to reject the whole of Christianity.

Even the most “extreme modernist” position, one that believes in a religion that changes and grows, is wrong. In the end, McCabe claims that the nineteenth-century conflict “left a corrosive acid in what remains of religion.”

But what about today? In 1927, when this little pamphelt was published, does the conflict persist? According to McCabe, absolutely. He thinks its a terrible mistake that some American scientists have made a futile and inglorious attempt at reconciling “the dervishes by protesting that science is not inconsistent with religion” (15). He attacks E. Ray Lankester, Henry F. Osborne, Mihajlo I. Pupin, Robert A. Millikan, William B. Riley, Gary N. Calkins, and others for taking up this conciliatory approach. These attempts, according to McCabe, demonstrates a lack of understanding the true nature of religion. Science, according to McCabe, is unified. But religion has never been unified. Thus, if one seeks the reconciliation of science and religion, “we shall have to take three hundred different collections of religious beliefs and apply science to them” (19). But if we take a few leading types of religion and a few common doctrines, it will suffice to demonstrate that science is blatantly in conflict with them.

In this Little Blue Book, McCabe wants to concentrate on fundamentalist and modernist religious beliefs. Indeed, even the “ultra-Modernist” position is in conflict with the teachings of science.

McCabe dispenses with fundamentalists rather quickly, showing that they have all rejected evolution, that Genesis is irreconcilable with science, and that the “science” of comparative religion has shown that Christianity is a pagan accumulation of beliefs. The fundamentalist, like the Roman Catholic, according to McCabe, is “in flat and flagrant conflict with science.”

But like the fundamentalists, McCabe says, he has nothing but contempt for Christians who offer “new interpretations on the old doctrines” (23). He then offers a mock reinterpretation of the Apostles’ Creed based on the modernist position:

I believe in God—a God who is one with Nature,

The Father Almighty—but not all-powerful,

Creator of Heaven and Earth—which were not created, but are eternal.

And in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord—who is, however, a son of God only in the same sense as we, but more so,

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost—as an artist conceives his work, not miraculously,

Born of the Virgin Mary—who was not a virgin

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried—not to atone for the sins of the world.

He descended into hell—which does not exist;

The third day he rose again from the dead—or his soul made a new body out of ether.

He ascended into heaven—or made a final phantasmal appearance,

Sittteth on the right hand [which doesn’t exist] of God the Father Almighty [who is not Almighty]—though there is no heaven to sit in.

From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead—that is to say, he will persuade them to judge themselves.

I believe in the Holy Ghost—which is a figure of speech,

The Holy Catholic Church—certainly not the Roman, and the Anglo-Catholic only as long as it imposes no belief on me,

The communion of saints—by telepathy,

The forgiveness of sins—each man forgiving himself,

The resurrection of the body—which certainly won’t rise again,

And life everlasting—which may not last forever: we don’t know.

The modernist, according to McCabe, “are Christians who believe that Paul and the Christian Church have been wrong in nearly everything until science began to enlighten the world” (24).

In the following chapters, McCabe discusses the “twilight of the gods,” “science and the soul,” “the conflict about morals,” and concludes with a history of “religion as a phenomenon.” Throughout these chapters McCabe’s target is not the fundamentalism, but the modernism, the liberal Christian reinterpretation of Christianity. “The land which lies between straight Fundamentalism and straight Modernism,” he writes, “is the Land of Bunk.”

History has proven, according to McCabe, “fatal to the essential message of the Bible and the Christian religion.” Civilization slowly emerged from savages. The conflict between Christianity and evolution has never been the real issue. “The fundamental and essential Christian doctrine is not based upon the creation, but up the fall of man, upon a certain version of man’s early history” (27). The whole Christian message, says McCabe, hinges on man in Eden. But historical and comparative religious studies have shown that the fall was based on Babylonian legends; moreover, such views of primeval man are also completely discredited by what science tells us. A divine redeemer is thus “superfluous.”

But the modernist protests, says McCabe, that these “skirmishes” between science and religion are “between men who know very little about science and men who know very little about religion.” McCabe of course thinks this is nonsense. McCabe takes this quote from Nobel prize winning physicist Millikan, who believed in some “Power unknown to us,” perhaps taken from the agnostic doctrine of the Unknown by Hebert Spencer. But according to McCabe, theologians have taken this route for decades: “saying that science cannot (today) explain something, so God must (until tomorrow)” (33).  McCabe strongly condemns those “providential evolutionists,” those “light-headed chanticleers of the pulpit who crowed that evolution was ‘a more splendid revelation than ever of God’s power'” (36-37).

In discussing the immortality of the soul, McCabe claims that we “see at once the utter insincerity and frivolity of the claim that there is no conflict between science and religion” (39). Again, his attack is directed less at fundamentalists and more at modernists, who maintain a “tincture of religious belief.” While they have abandoned Genesis and Paul’s epistles, they mistakenly speak of “religion and science as independent truths, if not separate and equal revelations of the glory of God” (40). Central to religious belief, according McCabe, is the assumption that mind is not a function of the body, and that the human mind, being spiritual and immortal, is essentially distinct in its nature from the mind of animals. But cerebral physiology, psychology, and evolution are explicitly hostile to this fundamental religious belief (49). Those who claim there is no conflict here, according to McCabe, “must be totally ignorant.”

Turning to the conflict about morals, McCabe writes that “the semi-Fundamentalists or semi-Modernists,” are those educated Christians who, while accepting evolution, still “cling” to some reinterpretation of the fall of man and the atonement, and thus continue to oppose the teaching of science (50).

The Christian rationalist, the Unitarian or such, only make up a fraction of the whole of Christendom. But even these, according to McCabe, are still in conflict with science. Those Christian rationalists who have succumbed to scientific ways of thought have divested God of all personality, reducing traditional conceptions to abstractions of Power, Something, World-Energy, Cosmic Force, Soul of the Universe, Vital Principle, Urge, Creative Principle, Absolute, and so on.

But according to McCabe, once we understand the nature of the universe, what point is there going beyond it? Clearly, then, many continue to feel some “mystery of existence,” and thus are compelled to go beyond it. But this is wish fulfilment, says McCabe. The “highbrow religionists,” Emerson, Carlyle, Arnold, and others, defined religion as “morality touched with emotion” (52). This deracinated humanitarianism is bunk, according to McCabe. In its place he simply asks “Why?” Why must we be strictly honorable, temperate, modest, and chaste? “Half the civilized world,” McCabe writes, “is asking these questions, and it is waste of time to reply in the language of either metaphysics or esthetics” (54).

It is the business of science, according to McCabe, to “explain the meaning of the ethical ideals you want to recommend.” Evolution in particular has explained the origins and development of these ethical ideals.

In concluding his Little Blue Book, McCabe wants to be “quite reasonable with everybody about everything” (57). The modernist attempt to redefine religion so it could never come into conflict with science reminds McCabe of one final way religion most certainly comes into conflict with science. He relates the controversy that erupted after John Tydnall’s 1874 Belfast Address. But like the modernists, Tyndall saved a place for religion, to the “region of poetry and emotion.” But according to McCabe, religion has always been inextricably connected to cosmological theory. Once science entered that domain, religion had no choice but to shirk and relocate itself.

In discussing the phenomenon of religion, McCabe believes that science has demonstrated the evolution of religion, giving us “a scheme of natural development into which all the religions of the world are fitted” (58). Although this “science of religion” was originally founded by “liberal Christians,” McCabe explains, its tendency “seems on every side to provoke a disbelief in religion in any but the most liberal and creedless sense of the word!”

No comparative religious scholar can remain a Christian, McCabe argues. He simple “knows too much.” The evolutionary study of religion, he says, “is fatal to every claim to every claim made on behalf of Christianity: not merely to its claim of inspiration and revelation, but to every claim that there is something unique about its ethic or its doctrines” (59, 61). It is for this reason that McCabe closes his Little Blue Book with the claim that “science is only one of the dissolving agencies” of religion. Philosophy and history are just as fatal, if not more so. Our “higher standards of conduct and emotion” too reject doctrines of “eternal torment and vicarious atonement.” Indeed, every aspect of the “higher life of our our age is hostile to religion.

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.

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.

A Brief Note on Cambridge’s History of Science Volume VI : Modern Life and Earth Sciences

Cambridge History of Science 6Perhaps the most engaging—and perhaps most relevant for my current research interests—installment of this series is Peter J. Bowler and John V. Pickstone’s (eds.) The Cambridge History of Science Volume VI: Modern Life and Earth Sciences (2009). This volume seeks to present an “overview of the development of a diverse range of sciences through a period of major conceptual, methodological, and institutional changes.” Carefully arranged and edited, the work is, nevertheless, “representative,” and “by no means encyclopedic.”

Bowler and Pickstone begin with an introduction on the history of science. Traditional approaches routinely linked history of science with philosophy of science (i.e., the study of the scientific method and the epistemological problems generated by the search for objective knowledge of nature), which was “invariably done by hindsight, using modern interests to determine the value of past science, often thereby doing violence to what the [contemporary] historian sees as crucial within the very different cultural and social contexts of past eras.” This “internalist” approach thought of the history of science as part of the history of ideas, seeing new theories as “integral to the emergence of new worldviews that had transformed Western culture.”

But scientific knowledge was always part and parcel of “external” forces, be it philosophical, religious, political, or practical. Thomas S. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) challenged internalist historians to take an interest in the workings of scientific communities, “arguing that the scientific community had to be understood in sociological terms.” As Bowler and Pickstone put it in their introduction, “social pressure helped maintain scientific conformity, and most research was done within paradigms that predetermined the projects that were relevant and the innovations that were acceptable.”

From the beginning, scientists have always held particular religious beliefs, philosophical opinions, and political views, “reflecting the less tangible influence of broader ideologies embedded within the societies within which they live.” Thus the “best modern historiography,” Bowler and Pickstone tells us, “seeks to integrate the ideological contexts with the detailed, technical work” of scientific practice. One of the most important consequences of the contextual approach has been the “recognition among historians that our own perception of the past is shaped by our viewpoint in the present.” For example, “the amount of attention focused on Charles Darwin by historians of evolutionism…reflects English-speaking scientists’ greater commitment to the genetical theory of natural selection as the defining feature of their field.” Such was and is not the case among French and German historians of science. The chapters that follow seek give a rich picture of “multiple dynamic interactions between changing conceptual structures, technical possibilities, and social formations” of life and earth sciences.

The volume is divided into four parts. Part 1, “workers and places,” focuses on “amateurs and professionals” (David E. Allen), “discovery and exploration” (Roy Macleod), “museums” (Mary P. Winsor), “field stations and surveys” (Keith R. Benson), “universities” (Jonathan Harwood), “geological”(Paul Lucier) and “pharmaceutical industries” (John P. Swann), and “public and environmental health” (Michael Worboys). Noteworthy are Allen, Macleod and Winsor’s essays.

Allen recounts the process of professionalization of science. In the early nineteenth century, the “professional” was despised. This aristocratic and upper middle class prejudice was based on the view that “a professional was someone who received money to do something that others did for pleasure, and to put one’s labor up for hire placed one in the position of a servant.” Respectable occupations were limited to “the armed forces, the church, and…branches of the law and medicine.” “So small was the community of science professionals in the pre-1880 era,” Allen writes, “and so slight the difference in outlook between that community and everyone else involved in scholarly pursuits, that the category of ‘professional’ can hardly be of much use for historical analysis.” Rather, there were amateur “researchers,” “practitioners,” and “cultivators.”

That the principles of exploratory settlement were part of an imperial strategy is now obvious, says Macleod. The “process of seeing, mapping, and impressing a European identity on places otherwise ‘unknown to science’ held a compelling fascination” for early explorers and discoverers. Exploration reflected great power rivalries and imperial conquest. “The scientific expedition drew on the language of the military expedition and the heroism of the expeditionary force.” As such, “an active commitment to scientific exploration was, to some, the highest measure of a nation’s claim to civilization.” Thus scientific exploration often came with an imperial presence. Yet “if many scientific expeditions had been imperial in motive and state financed in practice, they would have enjoyed far less public impact had they not been accompanied by expanding networks of collectors and patron and a new thirst for private exploration and discovery.” Exploration and discovery were in fact a “convergence of science, strategy, and commerce.”

Winsor shares Macleod’s emphasis on imperial motives. “During the second half of the eighteenth century, collections of natural specimens rapidly increased in number and size.” This was largely due to imperial exploration and expansion—and exploitation—but “the motives was sometimes scientific curiosity, sometimes competitive vainglory.” Natural history during this period was dominated by the work of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and George-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788). Both men “shared the goal of making an inventory of every kind of living thing.” The “Paris model” found in the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle followed the publications and teaching of Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), and would be imitated elsewhere, “where an avid naturalist teamed up with a generous monarch.”

During the mid- and late-nineteenth century, “all across the globe, wherever Europeans carried their culture and settled in sufficient numbers, natural history museums multiplied.” But at the same time, and perhaps naturally, “contested ideas of proper arrangement had plagued the process of designing the new natural history museum,” particularly in London. At this stage the art of taxidermy became central. Taxidermists William Bullock, Hermann Ploucquet, and Jules Verreaux were known for their theatrical designs: “a tiger wrestling with a boa constrictor, hounds pulling down a stag, and an Arab on his camel beset by lions.” By the late nineteenth century, there were artistic taxidermists commissioned by the British Museum of Natural History, the American Museum of Natural History, the United States National Museum, the World’s Columbian Exposition, and many others. In this sense, Winsor notes, “the museum movement was progressive; that is, that making exhibits more attractive was a good thing.” Whether or not such exhibitions were “scientific” was no longer the concern.

Altogether, the theme that consistently crops up in the essays of Part 1 is the profound effect government, politics, and industry has had on the modern development of life and earth sciences.

Part 2 looks more closely at particular disciplines, in “analysis and experimentation” within the fields of geology (Mott T. Greene), paleontology (Ronald Rainger), zoology (Mario A. Di Gregorio), botany (Eugene Cittadino), evolution (Jonathan Hodge), anatomy, histology, and ctyology (Susan C. Lawrence), embryology (Nick Hopwood), microbiology (Olga Amsterdamska), physiology (Richard L. Kremer), and pathology (Russell C. Maulitz). These essays provide a general reference to the origin, development, and expansion of these fields, intertwined as a “complex activity of scientists and sciences operating in larger philosophical, social, political, and economic” nineteenth-century contexts. Again, a few noteworthy essays deserve expansion and comment.

Rainger’s essay seeks to place paleontology within its social, cultural, and political context, covering such topics as extinction, stratigraphy, progress, and evolution, noting that “although many paleontologists studied evolution, few embraced Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.” Rainger also includes an informative section on “paleontology and modern Darwinism,” which includes discussions on biogeography and fossil displays in modern museums. Here we see how Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould’s “powerful criticism of the evolutionary synthesis” of a previous generation sent paleontologists into the field to find evidence for “punctuated equilibrium.” Disappointing, however, is the omission of paleoart, where art and paleontology intersect in curious and sometimes problematic ways. Missing also is any discussion of the incredibly contentious field of paleoanthropology.

Hodge observes that today’s biologists view their field as a “historical continuity of succession.” This view, however, assumes “a sameness of enterprise, with everyone contributing to evolutionary biology as found in a current textbook.” Another assumption biologists make is that “only evolution gives fully scientific answers to their questions, and all other answers are ancient religious dogmas or persistent metaphysical preconceptions.” But these assumptions bare little to no historical reality. This view of science is traced back to nineteenth-century proponents for Darwin. “Science was then often demarcated, in accord with new positivist notions of science, by this very contrast with religion and metaphysics, so that the rise of evolution and fall of Hebrew creation or Hellenic stasis was subsumed within the rise of modern, scientific ways of thinking and feeling about ourselves and nature” (my emphasis).

What follows is a historical narrative of oft-cited dramatis personae. The influence—and contrast—of Buffon and Linnaeus is listed. Because of their major divergences, later followers like George Cuvier, Lorenz Oken (1779-1851), and Jean Lamarck (1744-1829) had to pick and mix between the two. As Hodge notes, “although once a protégé of Buffon, [Lamarck] never adopted his mentor’s…cosmogonies.” The years following the work of these three men found “no single resolution” amongst successors . Lamarck’s theories looked “threateningly materialistic”; Oken’s “seemed pantheistically unorthodox”; and Cuvier’s “hostility to materialism,” coupled with his respect for biblical scholarship, endeared him to many of his fellow Christians. Further complexities emerge with Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876) and Charles Lyell (1797-1875), and later Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) and Robert Chambers (1802-1871).

With the advent of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, European and American discussion of life’s history and diversity was anything but unified. The Origin was not however influenced by evolutionary debates of the 1850s. Penned between 1837-1839, the context of Origin requires relating the work of Lyell, Robert Edmund Grant (1793-1874), Darwin’s own grandfather Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), and Lamarck. Prior to his HMS Beagle voyage (1831-1836), Darwin completed a student of Grant’s at Edinburgh University in 1826-1827. While aboard the Beagle Darwin devoured Lyell’s first two volumes of Principles of Geology. It was Lyell who had “insisted that anyone favoring any transmutation of species should engage Lamarck’s whole system: spontaneous generation, the progression of classes, organ ancestry for man, and all.” By 1837, Darwin had done just that. At the same time, Darwin was rereading his grandfather’s Zoonomia, which had anticipated some of the views of Lamarck. According to Hodge, this “grandparental precedent inspired and sanctioned this emulation of Lamarckian precedent.” Darwin would also add Robert Malthus’s essay on populations to his own developing theory of evolution.

“The altered state of opinion created by Charles Darwin was less consensual than is often thought,” Hodge argues. He goes on, “for biologists did not merely disagree about the causes of evolution while agreeing about evolution itself; they disagreed deeply about evolution as such.”

Part 3 of this volume also looks at “new objects and ideas” found in “plate tectonics” (Henry Frankel), “geophysics and geochemistry (David Oldroyd), “mathematical models” (Jeffrey C. Schank and Charles Twardry), “genes” (Richard M. Burian and Doris T. Zallen), “ecosystems” (Pascal Acot), “immunology” (Thomas Söderqvist, Craig Stillwell and Mark Jackson), “cancer” (Jean-Paul Gaudillière), “brain and the behavioral sciences” (Anne Harrington), and “history of biotechnology” (Robert Bud).

The final section in Part 5 consists of essays of wider scope, in “science and culture,” and are much more relevant to my own research. Here I only make mention of one. James Moore’s (“Religion and Science”) excellent essay argues that the “religion and science” trope “is first and foremost an intellectual rubric, proper to the history of ideas, particularly ideas in the English-speaking world.” Indeed, the trope existed as “an organizing category—an agonizing category—for many Victorians.” Here Moore mentions John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1847) and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). Only a year later in 1897, the Library of Congress incorporating “Religion and Science” into its authoritative subject headings, “a pair of hypostatized abstractions made memorable by a pair of embattled propagandists became canonical for interpreting modern intellectual history.” This “secular teleology” would later be taken for granted by pundits and popularizers and even academic historians.

Revisions to this thesis emerged in the mid-twentieth century. During this time “Religion and Science” went from being explanans to explanandum. Moore provides long footnotes of contributors who demolished the Victorian propaganda, from Frank M. Turner, Martin Rudwick, A.R. Peacocke, Robert M. Young, Ronald L. Numbers, David C. Lindberg, David Livingstone, Pietro Corsi, John Hedley Brooke, Edward J. Larson, Geoffrey Cantor, Peter J. Bowler, Adrian Desmond, to James Moore himself.

What follows is a review of “five fields of contention clustered around the transformed domain of Darwin studies”: freethought, natural theology, earth history, Darwin, and actual conflict.    “Freethought” or “unbelief” stood for all such deviant “isms” as “materialism,” “atheism,” “rationalism,” “secularism,” “agnosticism,” and “positivism.” But unbelief is “gritty, irrepressible”; “it constantly reinvented itself, or was reinvented, as the nineteenth century’s ideological ‘other.'” Here we find heresies of William Frend and John Leslie, the materialism of Paul d’Holbach, the determinism of Pierre Laplace, the transmutation theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Etienne Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, and the rebellion of Richard Carlile. Interestingly enough, it is here, also, “in a twilight world of backstreet cliques, soapbox rants, and unstamped rages, the Victorian roots of ‘Religion and Science’ are to be found.” “Science,” Moore qualifies, “was manifold, not the monolith of propagandists.”

Natural theology was what freethinkers fought and Darwin finally refuted. Such was the old view, and is no longer tenable today. “Natural theology was not single and static but a shifting congeries of moral pursuits.” It was indeed apologetic; but it was edifying, mediating, motivating, ratifying. It was also a stumbling block for many Christians. “High Anglicans, Scot evangelicals, and pietists everywhere saw it as tainted with rationalism.” Despite criticism from both unbelievers and believers, natural theology remained vital.

The belief that providentialism cast up embarrassing obstacles to the progress of the earth and life sciences is another piece of Victoriana, and can longer be maintained. According to Moore, “the cultured men who first made the earth sciences a profession, none did more than genuflect toward Genesis in his research.” Nineteenth-century earth sciences were full of men of eminence—”squires, clergymen, lawyers, military officers, and only later full-time academic specialists.” As Moore put it, “piety united these patricians.”

Darwin stood at the “crossroads of freethought, natural theology, and Lyellian earth history.” At this Victorian crossroad, “he struck out in a direction all his own, an evolutionist incognito, hell-bent on explaining the whole living creation…by natural law. The church was left behind.” Although his faith eventually faltered, Darwin did not have an “atheist agenda.” “While writing the Origin of Species, Darwin’s faith in a ‘personal God’ remained firm, and he never considered himself an atheist.” What he could not fathom was Christian theism, a perpetual, designing Providence, present in all events; a God who punished men eternally for their unbelief. Darwin though such a god immoral.

Despite Darwin’s own beliefs, “freethinkers everywhere welcomed the Origin of Species…as a potent addition to their liberal armory.” Indeed, “most read it through philosophical spectacles.” As Moore writes, “the Origin of Species did not cause a ‘Darwinian revolution,’ destroying natural theology and propelling religion and science into unholy conflict.” What it did do was “merely pointed up and sharpened preexisting tensions.” “What set people at odds,” Moore continues, “were a range of issues, practical as well as theoretical, empirical as well as metaphysical, social and political as well as ideological.” Draper’s Conflict and White’s Warfare followed suit “of an age when New World hubris took on Old World hauteur in the cause of [a] Science” instigated by Thomas Henry Huxley, John Tyndall, Herbert Spencer, members of the X-Club, and others vying for cultural hegemony in the nineteenth century.

“Science made up for lost religious hopes by promising endless secular abundance.” But in the twentieth century such promises were short lived. After World War I, self-styled “fundamentalism” inspired “ordinary Americans angry that their most cherished beliefs were being undermined with their own tax dollars.” “Liberal believers in science…[also] got their comeuppance in the depressed 1930s.” The horrors of the German scientific experiment, with their support of Darwinian policies of ethnic extermination, and the Soviet Union’s industrialized, militarized, and committed Marxist materialism, caused great consternation among western liberals. “During World War II, and particularly with the mobilization of research to meet the postwar Soviet challenge, science in the West was harnessed to state objectives, tied to state funding, and subjected to state regulation as never before.”

Moore nevertheless ends on an optimistic note. Today, he says, “historians aim to situate religion and science on cultural common ground and so recover the religiosity of science, the scientificity of religion, and the integrity of metaphysics occupying that large terra incognita ‘between science and religion’ as traditionally conceived.” Indeed, “perhaps the most telling recent development noted by historians is the vaunted convergence of religion and science in some new vision of reality whose scientific authority will command full religious and moral assent.”

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.”