Atheism

The Political Effect of the Decline of Faith in Continental Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcomb and the Religion of Today

Simon Newcomb responded to his theological interlocutors in the 1 January, 1879 issue of the North American Review, in an article entitled “Evolution and Theology: A Rejoinder.” He again defends himself as an impartial observer, entering the “list not as a partisan of either school, but only as an independent thinker desirous of ascertaining the truth.” After carefully reading their replies, he says, all prove to be unsatisfactory. According to Newcomb, their responses “leave nothing to be desired.” For the “scientific philosopher can have nothing to say against them, because, whether he admits them or denies them, it is entirely outside his province to pass judgment upon them.”

The whole debate rests upon “a differentiation made by the human mind in all ages between the processes of Nature and the acts of mind.” According to Newcomb, in the early stages of human thought all natural operations were believed to be those “of a directing mind having an end to gain by them, and were not the result of any law of Nature.” But as knowledge increased, more “careful thinkers” realized that the operations of nature belonged to a class of natural processes. Many of these thinkers were deeply religious, Newcomb admits. These early modern thinkers proposed that nature operated naturally, and only in certain circumstances the Supreme Will acted. Others “less devout or wholly irreligious” believed that as knowledge increased all operations will come to be seen as “purely natural processes.”

In short, what Newcomb offered as a rejoinder to his theological debate partners is a history of science and religion. It was indeed religious thinkers, the “monastic schools,” who ultimately trumpeted the position that “all event were to be explained by natural law.” They applied this to all aspects of the known physical world. But there was one area they refused to entertain: “the adaptation of living beings to the circumstances by which they are surrounded.” In other words, human evolution. In its place arouse “natural theology,” which attempted to show “final causes in Nature.” This theory held supreme sway until recently, however. What Newcomb seems to say is that Darwin’s theory of evolution had destroyed natural theology.

Newcomb’s central question, which he believes his theological interlocutors failed to properly address, is that of evolution. If evolution is true (which he believes no doubt is), “how far must we give up or modify religious doctrine?” Newcomb explains that he sees “no antagonism between the scientific postulate and the abstract doctrine of design in Nature.” But each must not entrench in the other’s domain. “It is one thing to say that there is design in Nature,” Newcomb writes, “but an entirely different thing to say that we know these designs, and are able to explain and predict the course of Nature by means of them.”

But here is the crux of the matter: how do the theologians account for God’s actions in nature? That is, in the natural world and evolutionary scheme that scientists have discovered? “The creation of all living beings and their adaptation to the conditions which surround them are the results of a process which we see going on around us every day, and which depend upon laws as certain and invariable in their action as those of chemical affinity or of gravitation.” If we ask, Whence this power? We might as well ask, Whence gravitation? Nature is a grand whole, “the basis of which is involved in mystery in every direction.” So the question Newcomb asks the theologians: is scientific truth consistent with religious truth? According to Newcomb, theologians have yet to give an answer.

Several months later, Newcomb attempted to give an answer for the theologians in an unsigned article, “The Religion of To-day,” again published in the Review on 1 July, 1879. He begins by declaring that the “intellectual world of to-day is drifting away from the religious belief and dogmatic theology of the past.” In France and Germany, for example, Christianity has “almost entirely disappeared from the intellect.” There is a “wave of skepticism” engulfing England. Thus it is a mistake to assume that this current, or movement of skepticism, will not reach the United States. This is a movement where we are seeing the “slow elimination of all those tenets which have heretofore been considered the essentials of religious belief.”

In this essay Newcomb essentially repeats his message from his earlier “An Advertisement for a New Religion,” but with more graveness or seriousness. The aim of this latest essay is to find the “nature and extent of the movement, considered as modifying the religion of the past, and the character of the new ideas which are now taking form.” The “Church” he says is largely unaware of this move towards general skepticism. It is like a “drifting ship, the passengers of which, seeing no change in the ocean, are unconscious of their change of position.” But the Church is ultimately mistaken. Theologians may believe they have yielded nothing to modern science or modern thought, but this belief is misplaced. The demand for doctrinal preaching has died. “Men have ceased to demand doctrines,” Newcomb explains, “not necessarily because they have ceased to believe in them, but because they have taken the first step toward unbelief by losing their interest in them. Their faith is dragging its anchors without their knowing it.”

One strong indication of growing skepticism is the increasing number of people who reject the doctrine of Hell. Hardly anyone, he says, continues to believe in the literal truth of “the punishment of the wicked.” There is now a tendency to interpret such doctrines as “less literal, and more mystic and poetical.” Such doctrines are thus dying, or “silently modified under the influence of a current of thought peculiar to our time to an extent which it is difficult to define.”

But perhaps the strongest and most striking example of the “readiness of theology to temporize with the irreligious thought of the day, and to explain away doctrines it once held dear, is seen in its attitude toward the now fashionable theory of evolution.” In this sense the Church has conformed to the world. “No other theory,” Newcomb claims, “is so directly opposed to the doctrine which lies at the basis of our orthodox system of theology.” Orthodoxy, says Newcomb,

teaches that man was created in a state of moral perfection; in the especial image of his Maker; not subjected to death; endowed with a conscience showing him the difference between right and wrong. From this state of perfection he fell into what we know he has been in past times by a single act of transgression, and has been again elevated only by the supernatural interference of his Maker.

But according to evolutionary theory,

man was not created at all, in any sense in which the word has ever been understood. Indeed, there never was any personal Adam, the human race being simply the descendants of an improved race of apes. Originally man had no more conscience than his brute progenitors, and right, wrong, or morality applied no more to his acts than to those of the tiger. If he was free from sin, it was only for the same reason that the lower animals are free from it: because no conscience told him the distinction between right and wrong…In on word, the theory pronounces the whole theological doctrine of the origin and fall of man to be a fiction as complete as anything in pagan mythology.

Initially considered subversive, Darwin’s theory of evolution now has—surprisingly— many sympathizers among the orthodox.

However, Newcomb argues that the orthodox cannot remain orthodox and still support evolution. These Christian evolutionists—or “Providential Evolutionists,” as Gregory Elder has called them in his Chronic Vigour (1996)—are essentially misguided. One cannot accept evolutionary theory and yet remain religiously orthodox. The belief that science and religion shall be at one “leads them into the dalliance which is so dangerous.” The two, in short, cannot be reconciled. Orthodoxy must die. This death comes not at the hands of the infidel, however; rather, it will come by the hands of those sincere believers wishing to adapt orthodoxy to modern thought.

With orthodox Christianity and other traditional religions dying, Newcomb believes the way is now clear for a “new religion.” “The great difference between the new religion and that current at the present time in our churches,” he says, “is to be seen not so much in its practical outcome as in the theory on which it is founded.” On the one hand, the old religion says:

I am virtuous, because I was taught in my infancy that the good would be rewarded in heaven and the wicked punished in hell. I have often been sorely tempted, but the thought of the consequences to follow temptation has always deterred me from sin. The feeling that my eternal happiness and my communion with God were involved in my life here below has been my staff and comfort through temptation and adversity.

On the other hand, the new religion (and likely Newcomb’s own personal belief) says:

I have no belief in a personal Deity, in a moral government of the universe, in Christ as more than a philosopher, or in a future state of rewards and punishments. But I was born with a sense of duty to my fellow man. I was imbued in infancy with the view that, as a member of society, it was my duty to subordinate my own happiness to that of others. My sense of right and wrong was thus developed at a very early age, and by the constant endeavor to do what was right my conscience acquired a constantly increasing development, and asserted more and more its power over my actions. I am not virtuous from any hope of reward or fear of punishment, but only because I feel that virtue is my highest duty, both to myself and to humanity. This feeling has developed to such an extent that the good of my fellow men is now my ruling motive, and vice is the object of my most extreme detestation.

This new faith, as we have seen, is another step away from what Draper, White, and the other scientific naturalists preached. It is their views taken to its logical conclusions. But is it atheistic? According to Edward Livingston Youmans, America’s premier science popularizer during the nineteenth century, not necessarily. In his Popular Science Monthly, for example, Youmans defended Newcomb against the charge of atheism in the October 1878 issue. The test question is this: “Is the general doctrine of causes acting in apparently blind obedience to invariable law in itself atheistic?” According to Youmans, “If it is, then the whole progress of our knowledge of Nature has been in this direction.” However, “if the doctrine is not atheistic, then there is nothing atheistic in any phase of the theory of evolution, for this consists solely in accounting for certain processes by natural laws.”

But this is far from orthodox Christianity. According to Newcomb, traditional Christianity is dead. It will be replaced by a new religion, one which “fears no false teaching, sets no limit on the freedom of human thought, and views with perfect calm the subversion of any and every form of doctrinal belief, confident that the ultimate result will tend to the elevation of the human soul and the unceasing progress of spiritual development.” So long as humanity endures, so will this faith in the “Religion of Humanity.”

The Agnostic Theology of Huxley and Tyndall

Earlier today I read Bernard Lightman’s short essay “Does the History of Science and Religion Change Depending on the Narrator? Some Atheist and Agnostic Perspectives” (2012) as a break from reading his edited volume Victorian Science in Context (1997). It was, as expected, excellent.

Lightman’s answer is a resounding yes. In his estimation, “during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the strategy of unbelievers revolved around attempting, without too much success, to draw out of Newtonianism some kind of justification for their materialism and their atheism.” But later, in the nineteenth century and after the publication of The Origins of Species, “evolutionary theory offered new opportunities to unbelievers for dealing with the Newton problem”—the problem being that Newtonian physics was inextricably intertwined with Newton’s theology. The strategy of nineteenth-century scientific naturalists like T.H. Huxley and John Tyndall, for example, was “separating science and religion into two separate spheres,” which allowed them to “construct a religiously neutral scientific system and to offer a re-interpreation of the history of science and region that relegated Newtonianism to the sidelines.”

Focusing on Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), Lightman underscores how radical Enlightenment philosophes saw science, particularly Newtonianism, as providing intellectual support for atheism—that is, as long as it was “purged of religious concepts that Newton had enshrined in the heart of his physics.” Indeed, d’Holbach and other radical philosophes such as Denis Diderot, Jean d’Alembert, Claude Adrien Helvétius, and Pierre-Simon Laplace, “pressed Newton into service as an ally.” But in order to deify Newton, of course, he had to be defied. In order to explain away Newton’s religious commitments, for instance, he was reinterpreted as schizophrenic (d’Holbach) or mentally deranged (Laplace). For d’Holbach and his coterie, “the history of science and religion confirmed the validity of materialism.”

Transitioning to Herbert Spencer’s (1820-1903) System of Synthetic Philosophy, Lightman shows that Spencer actually sought the “basis of a complete reconciliation” between science and religion. This was, Lightman notes, the central aim of Spencer’s First Principles, published in 1862. For Spencer, “the basis for a total reconciliation between science and religion, is the idea of a mysterious power underlying phenomena.”

Likewise, Tyndall was actually “curiously conciliatory towards religion.” In a 1847 journey entry Tyndall rejected the “main doctrines of Victorian Christianity”:

I cannot for an instant imagine that a good and merciful God would ever make our eternal salvation depend upon such slender links, as conformity with what some are pleased to call the essentials of religion. I was long fettered by these things, but now thank God they are placed upon the same shelf with the swaddling clothes which bound up my infancy.

But as Lightman points out, “this rejection of Christian doctrines did not lead him to atheism.” Indeed, Tyndall actually “believed that science and religion, as he defined them, could exist in peaceful harmony.” He saw subjective religious feeling “as true as any other part of human consciousness,” and thus was safe from any kind of scientific attack. According to Lightman, Tyndall thought “religion, in its subjective dimension and its articulation through symbol, could be reconciled with the objective facts of science if the boundaries between the two ‘magisteria’, as Stephen Jay Gould referred to them, were maintained.” In this sense, Tyndall rejected the label “materialist,” arguing that “materialism was fruitful as a scientific methodology, but it could not be a complete philosophy of life.” (Incidentally, this seems to be contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel‘s own position.) Rather, he ascribed to a “higher materialism” that “found in matter ‘the promise and potency of all terrestrial life.'” Religion was the “inward completeness and dignity of man.” And as pointed out by Ruth Barton elsewhere, “Tyndall voiced his debt to [Thomas] Carlyle” for much of his understanding of science-religion relations.

Although a physicist, Tyndall made little mention of Newton in his history of science and religion. As Lightman puts it, Tyndall displaced Newton “from the centre of the story of the making of modern science.” This is unsurprising as Newtonianism was central to nineteenth-century natural theology, which, like Carlyle, Tyndall completely rejected. Tyndall’s rejection of natural theology deserves closer inspection because it seems he did so on the basis that it led to deism. In 1849, for example, after reading William Paley’s (1743-1805) Natural Theology, Tyndall wrote in his journal that “the Great Spirit is not to be come at in this way; if so, his cognition would only be accessible to the scientific and to very little purpose even here,” and later wrote that he rejects “a detached God—a God outside his Universe who superintends the clockwork thereof.”

Huxley, the “self-styled ‘gladiator-general’ of evolutionary science,” took a surprisingly similar position on the science-religion relationship. Like Tyndall, “Huxley held to the idea that science and religion belonged to two distinct realms,” and once rightly conceived “science and religion could never come into conflict because each realm was distinct and without authority outside its proper sphere of interest.” What is more, Huxley argued that “atheism is as absurd, logically speaking, as polytheism.” For Huxley, agnosticism was the only legitimate course regarding religious questions. In Science and Hebrew Tradition (1893), Huxley declared that

the antagonism between science and religion about which we hear so much, appears to me to be purely fictitious—fabricated, on the one hand, by short-sighted religious people who confound a certain branch of science, theology, with religion; and, on the other, by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension.

However, when it came to understanding Newton, Huxley falls victim to his own short-sighted position, ignoring Newton’s “profound relationship between universal natural laws and a divine being” and simplistically arguing that “Newton stands as the exemplary empirical scientist.”

In conclusion Lightman highlights how contemporary atheists, particularly Steven Weinberg and Richard Dawkins, have “far more in common with Enlightenment philosophes like d’Holbach than they do with Victorian agnostics such as Huxley and Tyndall.” But unlike the philosophes, who tried to “finesse Newton, as did early modern unbelievers, their atheism, and their perpetuation of the conflict thesis in history…seems, to the uninformed, to have the complete backing of history.” In other words, the so-called “New Atheists” not only misread the history of science, they ultimately distort it for their readers. As Borden Painter points out in his reprimanding “New Atheism’s Old—and Flawed—History” article in Historically Speaking (2012), “the deficiencies of New Atheist history should be obvious to professional historians: choosing evidence to suit a predetermined and state ideology while ignoring the rest; lack of nuance and context; simplistic and monocausal explanations; anachronism and moralism; [and] poor choice or misrepresentation of secondary sources.”

Preaching at the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Secularism of George Jacob Holyoake

Wrapping up a series of essays I have been reading from The British Journal for the History of Science, I now come to two interrelated and complimentary essays by Ciaran Toal, “Preaching at the British Association for the Advancement of Science: Sermons, Secularization and the Rhetoric of Conflict in the 1870s” (2012), and Michael Rectenwald, “Secularism and the Cultures of Nineteenth-century Scientific Naturalism” (2013).

Toal argues that there was a “vast homiletic literature preached during the British Association meetings throughout the nineteenth century, ” despite Reverend Vernon Harcourt’s—one of the founders of the BAAS—dedication to neutrality and admonition against any discussion of religion and politics. As Toal writes in another context (see his “Science, Religion, and the Geography of Speech at the British Association: William Henry Dallinger (1839-1909) Under the Microscope” [2013]), “concerned that the BAAS would become embroiled in theological disputes, and distracted from its mission of bringing science to the provinces, [Harcourt], along with the rest of the leadership, founded the Association as a ‘neutral’ body.”

However, the Sunday of the BAAS meeting, and the sermons preached on that day, constitutes an indelible part of its history. Toal’s essay “focuses on the range of sermons preached in connection with the British Association meetings in the 1870s,” and particular “attention is given to the differing views on the relationship between science and religion in the homiletic record, and the rhetoric of ‘science-religion conflict’ following John Tyndall’s 1874 ‘Belfast Address.'”

In an age often described as the “golden age of preaching,” sermons played an important role in the social and religious life of the Victorian. “Thomas Henry Huxley,” for example, “recognized the cultural power of the sermon, naming his own collection of essays, addresses and reviews ‘Lay Sermons.'”

The religious geography of nineteenth-century Britain often dictated what was preached during the British Association meeting. Although multifarious in style, content, proclamation, and instruction, the most important function of any sermon was the imparting of religious truth. In other words, sermons were didactic, especially those preached at the BAAS.

Sermons preached at the BAAS were responsive to the expectations and sensibilities of its audience. They were not your normal Sunday service, as Toal points out, for the preachers who preached on a Sunday of the BAAS “were aware that their discourses would be widely published and digested.”

Thus lines were often blurred between official BAAS business and associated religious activity. Broadly, sermons were either preached in the week preceding, the week during, or the week immediately following the visit of the BAAS to a host town or city, and directly addressing the prominent scientific issues under discussion.

Turning to the content of sermons and the varying views on the relationship between science and religion in them, Toal reiterates John Hedley Brooke’s warning that discussing science and religion in essentialist terms often obfuscate understanding by importing anachronistic boundaries. But he also argues that “many of the preachers did discuss science and religion in discrete terms, before commenting on how they were or were not related.” For example, a 1870 sermon by Rev. Abraham Hume preached the Connexion between Science and Religion: A Sermon Preached at Christ Church Kensington, Liverpool, 18th Septemberduring the Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Hume quoted from Psalm 100.24, 25 “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches. So is the great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable.” He used the passage to argue that God’s works in nature and God’s word in Scripture both reveal him and our allies. Even more explicit, Anglican Charles Coombe, in 1879, preached a sermon entitled ‘Sirs, Ye are Brethren;’ or Science and Religion at One: Sermon Preached in St. Paul’s Church, Sheffield, on the Occasion of the Meeting of the British Association, August 24th, where he argued against antagonism between science religion, and that both should stop “maligning, fighting and devouring” each other.

In general, according to Toal, three positions in the relationship between science and religion dominate the sermons preached throughout the 1870s. First, the relationship between science religion was underpinned by the idea that they were essentially separate entities. This is usually the position taken by liberal Anglicans and the Unitarians, who were more open to “speculative science.” Other Unitarians, such as itinerant preacher Charles Wicksteed, wanted to separate science and religion into spheres of physical and spiritual knowledge, “as they were different modes of God’s voices, and [thus] should not be judged against each other.” But a number of preachers also maintained that science and religion were integrated as inextricably linked forms of knowledge. Those who took this position often preached that science and its conclusions had to be limited by religion: “relation is crucial, as it could provide a fuller interpretation of nature and, more importantly, offer salvation for nature could not.” Those who took up this position often expressed the views that physical and experimental science, and especially the theories of Darwin, sought to destroy religion. They were also the fiercest critics of Tyndall.

With these “positional readings” in mind, Toal turns specifically to the conflict rhetoric before and after Tyndall’s Belfast Address in 1874. According to Toal, before Tyndall’s attack, preachers explained any science-religion antagonism as a result of either human error, inept theology, over eagerness, a lack of full knowledge of both science and religion, or inattention to the “varieties of God’s voices.” After the Belfast Address, the tone of sermons changes, and, importantly, preachers began leveling “accusation for promoting science-religion conflict at a distinct group, or groups, particularly the scientific naturalists.”

But these accusations had little effect on the reputation of the BAAS. According to Toal, throughout the sermon record in the 1870s, in the context of hostility to religion, the BAAS was without exception received favorably; that is, little criticism is ever directed at the BAAS as a body. This demonstrates, according to Toal, that preachers deliberately differentiated between the BAAS and the antagonistic statements of some of its members. This shows that the responsibility for propagating antagonistic science-religion is rhetoric was identified with a particular group, often labeled as “dogmatic scientists,” “materialists,” “atheists,” or “unbelievers,”and not with the BAAS as a whole. In short, the BAAS was seen, broadly, as an institution favorable to religion and religious groups.

Toal concludes his essay with a note on how “the explanatory power of a ‘secularization thesis’ is diminished in the context of the vast number of Sunday sermons preached at the [BAAS].” “Victorian culture,” he adds, “was arguably no less religious in 1870s than it had been before…[and], similarly, many Victorian scientists were no less religious.”

George Jacob HolyoakeRectenwald’s essay nicely compliments Toal’s, in which he argues that in the mid-1840s, a philosophical, social and political movement named Secularism evolved from the radical tradition of Thomas Paine, Richard Carlile, Robert Owen and the radical periodical press. George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906) founded and named Secularism at mid-century, and it was this Secularism that acted as a “significant source for the emerging new creed of scientific naturalism in the mid-nineteenth century.”

Rectenwald writes, “Secularism drew from the social base of artisan intellectuals who came of age in the era of self-improvement; the diffusion of knowledge; and agitation for social, political and economic reform—but it also enrolled the support of middle-class radicals.” Holyoake developed secularism as a creed with a naturalistic epistemology, morality, and politics; its principle as an ontological demarcation stratagem, “dividing the metaphysical, spiritual or eternal from ‘this life’—the material, the worldly or the temporal.” But Holyoake’s secularism did not require atheism as a prerequisite; “secularism represented ‘unknowingness without denial.” As Rectenwald puts it, “one’s beliefs in the supernatural were a matter of speculation or opinion to which one was entitled, unless such beliefs precluded positive knowledge or action.” And unlike Charles Bradlaugh’s (1833-1891) politically active atheism, Holyoake’s secularism was not aimed at “abolishing religious ideology from law, education and government.” In short, “secularism represented the necessary conciliation with respectable middle-class unbelief and liberal theology that would allow for an association with the scientific naturalism of Huxley, Tyndall and Spencer,” and as such it was “constitutive of the cultural and intellectual environment necessary for the promotion and relative success of scientific naturalism beginning in the 1850s.”

There was indeed a “circuit of exchanges” between Holyoake and the scientific naturalists, suggesting that secularism was important to scientific naturalism from the outset. Rectenwald gives us fascinating overview of secularism in the periodicals, pamphlets, and other publications with which Holyoake was associated with in the mid-century. Freethought periodicals such as Oracle of Reason—with its epigraph on the front of every issue, “Faith’s empire is the World, its monarch God, its minister the priests, its slaves the people”—Movement and Anti-persecution Gazette, The Investigator, and the Free Thinkers’ Information for the People were founded in the 1840s and “began as working-class productions aimed at working-class readers.” The Oracle of Reason proudly boasted that it was “the only exclusively atheistical print that has appeared in any age or country.”

When Holyoake took over many of these radical publications, he opened the pages to “respectable” radicals, such as Herbert Spencer and Auguste Comte, forming an alliance between radical artisans and middle-class unbelievers. As many historians have shown, Lamarck’s theory of evolution was taken up by various radical political thinkers, which seemed to provide scientific underpinning for their reformist political views. Rectenwald recounts how “evolutionary ideas were marshaled to counter a static, hierarchical, theocratic social order with a vision of a transformative, ‘uprising’ nature” in the pages of the radical press, particularly under Holyoake’s editorship.

In late 1849 Holyoake joined the radical journalist Thornton Hunt’s (1810-1873) group, Confidential Combination, with the vision of enlisting “wary middle-class freethinkers into an anonymous groups where they might voice advanced opinion on ‘politics, sociology, or religion’ without fear of reprisal.” According to Rectenwald, this group “no doubt included…Herbert Spencer, W. Savage Landor, W.J. Linton, W.E. Forster, T. Ballatine and George Hooper,” all of whom contributed to the radical press. In their meetings, Holyoake regularly met with Spencer, becoming “lifelong friends, with regular correspondence continuing to 1894.”

This same circle of London writers often met at the publishing of John Chapman, the publisher of the Westminster Review, “the organ of philosophical radicalism.” The gatherings consisted of contributors George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans), Spencer, Harriet Martineau, Charles Bray, George Combe and Thomas Henry Huxley. It was through Martineau and Eliot that Holyoake “came to know Comte’s ideas” in the Positive Philosophy. It was also here where Holyoake began a friendship with Huxley.

In the early 1860s, Holyoake “regularly corresponded with Spencer, Huxley and Tyndall.” According to Rectenwald, “the letters covered numerous issues, including polemics against religious interlocutors, the mutual promotion of literature, the naturalists’ financial and written support for Secularism and Secularists and health, amongst other topics.” And when Huxley sought to dissociate himself from materialism and coarse atheism, his association with Holyoake’s secularism offered  a “respectable” alternative. Tyndall also once extolled Holyoake as an exemplar of secular morality. This correspondence was not merely professional, but, as Rectenwald points out, quite personal, as when each man supported, morally and financially, the other during certain illnesses.

Rectenwald demonstrates, by careful readings of a vast array of radical publications and personal correspondence, “the importance of freethought radicalism to the emergence of the powerful discourse of scientific naturalism” in the second half of the nineteenth century. Holyoake in particular “modified freethought by pruning its atheistic rhetoric, allowing freethinkers to discount the supernatural and to disavow the clergy in matter relating to knowledge and morals, without the expected bombast and negation.” Popular among an audience of sophisticated working-class and lower-middle-class readers, Holyoake’s secularism “did much to advance the world view developed and promulgated by Huxley and Tyndall.”

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.

Wrestling with Nature – Science and Religion

Harrison et al - Wrestling with NatureWrestling with Nature: From Omens to Science (2011) uses the popular-case study format to examine “how students of nature themselves have understood and represented their work.” The essays are thematic but roughly chronological, beginning with “natural knowledge in ancient Mesopotamia” (Francesca Rochberg), moves on to “natural knowledge in the Classical World” (Daryn Lehoux), and then two essays on natural knowledge in the “Arabic Middle Ages” (Jon McGinnis) and “Latin Middle Ages” (Michael H. Shank). The book then transitions into the Renaissance and early modern periods with essays on “Natural History” (Peter Harrison), “Mixed Mathematics” (Peter Dear), and “Natural Philosophy” (John L. Heilbron). The second half of the book is less chronological and more thematic, concentrating on how “science” demarcated its territory, separating itself from other ways of understanding or manipulating the natural world, particularly in the nineteenth century. Here we find essays on “Science and Medicine” (Ronald L. Numbers), “Science and Technology” (Ronald R. Kline), “Science and Religion” (Jon H. Roberts), “Science, Pseudoscience, and Science Falsely So-Called” (Ronald L. Numbers and Daniel P. Thurs), and “Scientific Methods” (Daniel P. Thurs). The book concludes, as with the previous book reviewed on this blog, with essays by Bernard Lightman (“Science the Public”) and David N. Livingstone (“Science and Place”).

Here I want to focus only on three chapters I found particularly interesting. Roberts in “Science and Religion” observes that in recent years studies on relating science and religion “has become hot.” Everyone is doing it: from colleges and universities, journals and newsletters, organizations and think tanks, to books and magazines—everyone is talking about “science and religion.”

But “prior to about the middle of the nineteenth century, the trope ‘science and religion’ was virtually nonexistent.” The two only came together when both terms attained modern form. We have seen this argument before. Here Roberts emphasizes that it was “elite members” of the church who devoted themselves to theology, whereas “most adherents” treated “religion” primarily as a “life of piety and communal devotion and a set of ritual practices.” This however contradicts what Jaroslav Pelikan, Claude Welch, and many others (including Roberts himself, only a few pages further down) have said on the matter of creeds and dogma throughout the history of the Christian church.

The tracing of “science” is less contested. Roberts claims that “God-talk” was once central in the work of natural philosophers. But as early as the mid-eighteenth century, an “ever-growing number of investigators in the realms of natural philosophy and natural history began making determined efforts to pursue their inquiries untrammeled by concern with the testimony of biblical narrative.” By substituting “natural laws” for divine agency, “men of science” began “bringing all phenomena within the scope of natural laws and secondary causes,” a view that would become known as “methodological naturalism.”

But it was during the late nineteenth century where “science” underwent its most significant constriction. Once thought of as “systematized knowledge,” it was restricted to “empirical investigation of natural (and sometimes social) phenomena.” Many intellectuals at this time began casting science and theology as distinctly different enterprises. Thus John William Draper conceived science and religion as “two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.” By the end of the century, a deluge of books and articles addressing “science and religion” swept across the Anglo American landscape.

Conceptualizing science and religion as distinct entities with distinct enterprises led to their ultimate separation. Friedrich Schleiermacher and Immanuel Kant, for example, located religion in “a sense of contingency, or dependence,” in the “feelings associated with the human condition.” Albrecht Ritschl held that religion and science “appealed to different elements of human experience.” Twentieth-century Anglo American liberal Protestants often stressed inner experience and minimized doctrinal beliefs, in what Pelikan has acutely called the “discomfort with creed caused by the consciousness of modernity.” We see this sentiment in Andrew Dickson White’s qualifications that the villain was not “religion”—which defined as “the love of God and of our neighbor”—but “Dogmatic Theology.” This distinction, Roberts tells us, “became increasingly common among liberal Christians, including scientists, in the United States and Great Britain during the half century after 1890.” Science and religion had become “separate spheres of experiential data.”

Many Christians rejected such artificial separation. Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen, and William Jennings Bryan were only a few of many who called for a more traditional, “Baconian” conception of science, one that would include theology among the sciences. In the 1920s “fundamentalism” emerged, pushing for a conception of science that would ban teaching evolution in public schools. But there were also more peaceful separatists. In 1923 Robert A. Milikan and a group of scientists, clergymen, and theologians signed a “Joint Statement upon the Relations of Science and Religion,” which maintained that science and religion “meet distinct human needs” and thus “supplement rather than displace or oppose each other.”

Between the two world wars, many theologians, and even some scientists, “insisted that the natural world served as an appropriate object for theological reflection.” For example, F.R. Tennant, Sir James Jeans, Arthur F. Smethrust, William Grosvenor Pollard, and Ian Barbour essentially called for a “re-merging of the spheres” of science and religion. Some conservative Protestants even began reasserting the theological perspective to once again bear on our understanding of the natural world.

More recently, the rise of young-earth creationists, who aggressively contest the notion that the “vocabulary of modern science” alone “provides an adequate description of the natural world,” has appealed to philosophers of science such as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, who have even suggested that “creationism constitutes a ‘research program’ no less rigorously ‘scientific’ than Darwinism.” This in turn encouraged creationists to demand “equal time” in the public classroom. On the other side, “militance among proponents of scientific naturalism has also escalated.” Scientists such as Steven Weinberg, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Richard Lewontin, Edward O. Wilson, Francis Crick, and philosopher Daniel Dennett, “have dismissed, even scorned, the beliefs of orthodox Christians.”

More measured minds have resisted such efforts to compartmentalize science and religion. From theologians, philosophers, sociologists, to historians of science, these thinkers have called for a more contextualized understanding of science and religion. “Most modern intellectuals,” concludes Roberts, “have joined their predecessors in assuming that both enterprises possess distinctive elements and in exploring their interrelationship.” This congenial conclusion may strike one as deeply unsatisfying, however, especially in light of the fact that the fastest-growing religious category in the United States is what are called “nones“—people who say they have no religious affiliation—or the explosion of New Atheist “churches,” which proselytize “science” and calls to “unconversion.”