British Association for the Advancement of Science

Draper and Darwin at Oxford 1860

There are many interesting ideas in Draper’s 1860 Oxford BAAS address. Although he invoked Darwin’s name in the title, “The Intellectual Development of Europe (considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others) that the Progression of Organisms is Determined by Law,” there is actually very little about Darwin in the speech. Draper and Darwin did share some key assumptions about geology, biology, and physiology. But there was also some clear differences. Perhaps most important is that Draper negated the process of “natural selection” in his Oxford paper. Draper was also more willing than Darwin was in 1860 to address the question of human evolution. In his Oxford paper Draper argued for the equal application of natural law in physics and biology:

In the higher physiology as well as in the physical sciences orderly sequences are proofs of the operation of law. It matter not from what direction the examples may be drawn[—]the path of a stone thrown from the hand, the motions of a planetary body, the unvarying stages of development of a plant or an animal.[1]

Draper was actually quite comfortable claiming parallels between human physiology and other animals. He explained to his audience:

In the Physiology of Man considered as an Individual we ascertain the law of his development from an examination of his state at successive epochs and obtain light on the obscurities encountered in our studies by turning to other animal forms. We regard him as the first member of an infinite series of organisms all composed of the same elements[,] chemical and anatomical[,] subject to the same influences[,] governed by the same laws. We see no shadow of a great gulf between him and them. When instead of limiting our investigation of his life to the period of maturity we examine all that long career though which he passes from a mere microscopic speck[,] we find that as he moves from epoch to epoch he repeats in an ascending progress successively the structure of those[,] his humbler comrades[—]like them ever under the control of physical conditions[,] and advancing in his development in submission to an universal law.

But Draper was, of course, also interested in arguing that “man in civilization does not occur accidentally or in a fortuitous manner, but is determined by immutable law.” That is to say, he wanted to show that the same physical laws for biological evolution also applied to human society as a whole. Concomitantly, Draper believed that an understanding of these laws shows that society was essentially progressive:

There is a progress for races of men as well marked as the progress of one man. There are thoughts and actions appertaining to specific periods in the one case as in the other. The march of individual existence shadows forth the march of Race existence[,] being indeed its representation on a little scale. In this manner there emerges into prominence the noble conception that man is the archetype of Society, that individual development is the model of social progress.

Society was a living organism, which, just like all organisms, responded to external and internal laws:

Whatever may be the present state it is altogether transient. All systems of civil life are therefore necessarily ephemeral. Time brings new external conditions[,] the manner of thought is modified, with thought[,] action. Persons are the sum of organic particles, nations are the sums of persons, all are only transitional forms which have a definite cycle of motion[,] and that motion is never retrograde. The succession of social transmutation is as irresistible as the constitutional metamorphosis of the individual and so[,] too[,] it is in the intellectual public[,] ideas which are the sum of individual thoughts follow in an inevitable train. Everything is in movement.

The apparent “immutability of species” was simply a temporary moment in  “physical equilibrium” and nothing more:

Not man alone but all organic species depend on the physical conditions in under which they live. Any variation[,] no matter how insignificant it might be therein[,] would be forthwith followed by a corresponding variation in them form. The present invariability presented by the world of organization is the direct consequence of the physical equilibrium[,] and so it will continue as long as the mean temperature[,] the annual supply of light[,] the composition of the air[,] the distribution of water[,] oceanic and atmospheric currents[,] and other such agencies remain unchanged unaltered[,] but if any one of these or of a hundred other incidents that might be mentioned should suffer modification[,] in an instant the fanciful doctrine of the immutability of species would be brought to its true value. The organic world appears to be in repose because natural influences have reached an equilibrium. A marble may remain in motionless forever on a level table but let the surface be a little inclined and the marble will quickly run off. Looking at it in its state of rest we should hardly be justified in affirming that it was impossible for it ever to move.

In concluding his address, Draper turned more directly to his larger historical thesis, that nations, including the British empire, were also temporary, and would eventually be overcome by others, all according to immutable laws:

From the considerations now presented we see how completely the origin[,] existence[,] and death of Nations depend on physical influences which are themselves the results of immutable laws. Nations are only transitional forms of humanity. They must undergo obliteration as do the transitional forms offered by the animal series. There is no more immortality for them than there is an immobility for an embryo animal in any one of the manifold forms past through in its progress of development. Empires, the creation of Nations, are only sand hills in the hourglass of Time.

It was, then, perhaps Draper’s willingness to go “the whole orang” and then quickly consider its social implications, or perhaps his undermining of the British empire, with the implication that the American empire was now in its ascendancy as the next stage in the social evolutionary process, that might better explain why Draper’s presentation at the 1860 BAAS at Oxford was met with much criticism by Huxley and other supporters of Darwinism.

[1] John William Draper, “The Intellectual Development of Europe (considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others) that the Progression of Organisms is Determined by Law,” container 8, John William Draper Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington DC.

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Huxley and Wilberforce at Oxford and Elsewhere

The Oxford Debate 1860In an amusing piece published for the Westminster Review in 1907, David Wilson provides readers with a “fanciful sequel” to the Oxford debate of 1860. Entirely satirical, irreverent, and missed by most scholars who have discussed the topic,  Wilson begins by calling Oxford the “backwaters of the Universe.” These “collection of boarding-schools” are compared to “a stock farm with good fences, where foals and calves are fed and groomed and as far as possible kept out of mischief. From such a place while all goes well there is no news to be expected.” Nevertheless, some “adult visitors” occasionally “disturb the monotony of [its] adolescent existence.” He then goes on to repeat the traditional version of the “famous debate” between Huxley and Wilberforce, taken largely, he admits, from “the ‘Life of Huxley’ and the books.”

But then he turns to his “fanciful sequel,” comparing such stories to women: “they please best when they please by their intrinsic attractions.” I quote the story in full:

When Huxley died, he was agreeably surprised to find himself doing a journey in an electric railway underground, in a carriage better than the best Pullman cars but not unlike them, and just sufficiently filled to be pleasant. The train was incredibly fast, but went without a jolt. Only by feeling for it, so to speak, could he, when standing, discover a gentle wave of motion, which became imperceptible when he subsided into a chair. Before he could talk to any fellow-passenger, the train came to a stop. He got out with the others, and went through a long and spacious passage, bright with shining tiles and electric lamps. It was more like the nave of Westminster Abbey than any tunnel, and, long though it was, he had not ceased admiring it when he came out into what seemed to be an infinitely improved Crystal Palace, expanded into boundlessness. At any rate, the eye could see no bounds.

The light was bluish, but soft, abundant and agreeable. Circular fans were whirling above little round tables, at one of which he took his place and called for ice.

“I fear there must be some mistake,” he said to the smiling waiter, who stood rubbing his hands after fetching the ice-cream, and was asking what he wanted to drink.

“Mistake, sir?” asked the waiter, looking at the plate he had just put down.

“Oh, not in this; this is all right,” said Huxley, sipping, and looking again round the bustling scene, where every man and woman seemed to be cheerful and merrily employed. “What I fear is that some mistake has been made about my destination. The ticket I gave up at the door was for…” He paused.

“Hell, sir?” asked the waiter, briskly.

“Yes.”

“Then that’s all right; and even if it had been different, you could not have been better off anywhere than we are here.”

“But, but,” began Huxley, ” I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but in fact it was commonly reported and believed on earth that this place was,—well,—disagreeably warm.”

“Oh, to be sure, it used to be so, but so many scientific gentlemen have come down of late that we have now all the latest improvements, with additional advantages of our own. Besides, there’s nobody here against his will. You can extinguish yourself as easily as a candle, whenever you like. People stay here far longer than they used to do, and lots of those in the other place envy us now. I assure you that the Celestial Inspector who has just been down to look at our arrangements—they come regularly, you know, to prevent overcrowding and make sure the fires are equable—a mere excuse for an outing, I do believe—was saying to His Highness a few minutes ago—I heard it myself, I was taking him some liquor, as he felt thirsty in the heat of the furnace-rooms—I heard him say—and I don’t think it was politeness, for you know these people up there cannot make polite speeches, they have always to talk straight—so I’m sure he meant what he said, and says he: “I wish I could remain here altogether, you are so snug. The wet clouds on the way are not attractive.” Then His Highness said, “You cannot be afraid of sciatica, surely,” and they both laughed and laughed, and when they were done laughing, “It’s the company,” said the Inspector. “The company here would atone for any climate. It makes me hoarse to think of the eternal Hallelujahs, and these tiresome old women. They are in millions, like the sands of the desert, and every one of them thinks herself The Queen, and wants Jesus all to herself! It is as absurd and as monotonous as a lunatic asylum. Poor Jesus!” Look! There’s the Inspector passing now, sir,—not unlike yourself, if I may venture to say so.”

As everybody else was rising, in honour of His Highness and the Celestial Inspector passing, Huxley rose too, and the Celestial aforesaid happening to look round,—

“I hope to come back and see you another time, Huxley,” cried Wilberforce, for he it was! He waved his hand affectionately and smiled, as if he were alive again for a moment; and then as he looked elsewhere his countenanced gradually changed. Mephistropheles stood grinning sardonically while the sad Celestial turned reluctantly Heavenwards, and floated upwards and away with a look of constrained resignation on his features, an expression of infinite ennui, if that can be called an expression, which seemed to have become suddenly as unchangeable as the streak of the Milky Way.

 

Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science

Livingstone and Withers - Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science“Science,” writes Nicolaas Rupke, “is not just a collection of abstract theories and general truths but a concrete practice with spatial dimensions.” It is, indeed, “situated knowledge.” Rupke comes to this conclusion in an Afterword for David N. Livingstone and Charles W.J. Withers’ (eds.) Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science (2011). The essays in this volume “situate a range of scientific knowledge claims in civic, metropolitan, and even colonial island sites, and in such architectural spaces as museums and laboratories.” Its authors convincingly argue that “Nineteenth-century scientific knowledge…constituted a plurality of knowledges, each shaped by local customs and norms, dependent on locally generated authority and credibility, and serving partisan political purposes.”

Thinking geographically about nineteenth-century science, the editors argue, evinces a science practiced “in different ways in different places.” Accordingly, “scientific knowledge is differently spread across the surface of the earth, and moves from place to place through complex circulatory networks.” At the same time, “scientific institutions occupy distant locations in different settings.” A corollary to all this is that “scientific theories are shaped by the prevailing political, economic, religious, and social conditions, as well as a host of other cultural norms in different geographical localities, and…[thus] may bear the stamp of the environments within which they are constructed.”

Livingstone and Withers want to show how thinking geographically helps to disclose how “science—the sciences—became professional, popular, disciplined and discursively discrete, precisely institutionalized and widely instructive.” The volume contains 17 chapters and over 400 pages of text divided into three parts: “Sites and Scales,” “Practices and Performances,” and “Guides and Audiences.” All chapters work together in contributing to a continuing interdisciplinary debate about “the placed nature of science’s making and reception, about the processes that were adopted to make scientific knowledge mobile for whom and with what consequence…[revealing] that what has held to be science varied—but within institutions, at different scales, and for different audiences in different places.” Here I provide a synopsis of chapters I found particularly insightful.

Bernard Lightman’s “Refashioning the Spaces of London Science: Elite Epistemes in the Nineteenth Century,” turns to how space mattered. Following John Pickstone’s Foucauldian analysis of different “epistemes,” or ways of knowing, Lightman seeks to “identify broad epistemic patterns across disciplines and to see how they change over the course of time.”

Lightman begins by discussing sites of gentlemanly and utilitarian science. Under the helm of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), a vast scientific network was constructed around the sites of the Royal Institution, Royal Society, and Kew Gardens. “All three were to play a significant role throughout the nineteenth century, but at that point they were spaces of the landed aristocracy and the upper class…” After Banks’ death, however, these scientific sites gradually began to shed their aristocratic layers. Whereas Banks and his supporters had exploited and reinforced relations of genteel patronage and obligation, a group of reformers—i.e., the “gentlemen of science” and the untilitarians—altered the politics of science. These were the “young Turks” of the nineteenth century, who pushed for reform of aristocratic spaces of science. For these reformers, science was a “professional tool to be used to create a body of knowledge useful in government and in the professions.” This vision of science was in embodied in the founding of the “Godless” University College London in 1827, “which was set up as a secular institution modeled on the universities of Berlin and Bonn, and, unlike Cambridge and Oxford, it opened up its doors to non-Anglicans.”

Banks’ network of scientific sites also underwent metamorphosis under the leadership of new men. At the Royal institution, for example, the chemist William Thomas Brande (1788-1866), who led the Institution from 1813 to 1831, embodied utilitiarian ideals, undertaking a series of activities that gave it the reputation of being a metropolitan powerhouse for the scientific management of social problems. Subsequently, Michael Faraday (1791-1867) had become an important figure by the end of the 1820s, and “Faraday and the Royal Institution were well suited to each other.” The establishment by Faraday in 1825 of the very successful Friday Evening Discourses gave the Royal Institution an even greater public presence. In 1840, the Kew Gardens was transferred to the British government, and thus by the time William Hooker (1785-1865) took charge of it, it was already a public institution. According to Lightman, “Hooker strived to transform it into a center for scientific research as well as a place for the amusement and edification of the nation.” Banks’ Royal Society was a bit more dogged, but by “1848 traditional loyalties to the Crown and Church were replaced by new contractual allegiances based on serve to knowledge and utility to the state.”

Refashioning aristocratic sites of science was only one part of a larger plan. Reformers also sought to create new sites of science. Along with the museum, which, according to Lightman, the “central institution of Victorian science, the “British Association for the Advancement of Science was created in 1831 as a peripatetic organization.” “Embracing natural theology, [members] pointed to a divine order behind both nature and society, and to the role of science as a neutral means for obtaining desirable ends.” And “like the Royal Institution and Kew Gardens, the BAAS reached out to the public.”

But as the founding of University College London makes clear, for some the “reformist inclinations of gentlemen and Utilitarians did not go nearly far enough.” Such thinkers were “enamored with French evolutionary theory,” using “radical Lamarckianism to challenge the Tory-Anglican establishment and argue for the [further] reform of aristocratic institutions.” Other thinkers thought the radicals went too far, particularly Henry Brougham (1778-1868), who attempted to counter radicals with establishing mechanics’ institutes and, more importantly, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK), which published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific material for a rapidly expanding reading public. The latter’s central aim, Lightman tells us, “was to undermine political radicalism with rational information.”

Apparently the radicals had been more effective, for after 1850, a new generation of practitioners arrived on the scene, their aim “included the secularization of nature, the professionalization of their discipline, and the promotion of expertise.” Lightman selects three man that epitomize this new aim: Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), John Tyndall (1820-1893), and Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911). These “scientific naturalists” were “sensitive to the power of place,” and set out to reconfigure, once again, several sites of science. Under Hooker, for example, “a fundamental change took place in Kew’s identity as an institution,” refashioning it into a research space as defined by scientific naturalists. As the mantle of leadership passed from Faraday to Tyndall, the Royal Institution too came to be defined under the rubric of scientific naturalism. And in his biological laboratory in the Science Schools Building in South Kensington, “Huxley was free to teach his students to view nature through secular eyes.” Ironically, the agenda of scientific naturalism, Lightman writes, “emphasized training, expertise, and laboratory research,” and thus led to “an even greater split between the public and professional spaces of science.”

There were, of course, contested spaces and sites of resistance to scientific naturalism. Although Tyndall used his presidential address in Belfast in 1874 to aggressively challenge the authority of Christian clerics, several men—Rayleigh (1884), Salisbury (1894), and Arthur Balfour (1904)—used the BAAS as a platform to deliver their defense of theism and criticism of scientific naturalism. Interestingly, it was the museum, however, that became the key space for “resisting the aims of scientific naturalists.” For example, the Oxford University Museum (1860) was embedded with “the principles of the natural theology tradition in its architecture.” Other museums, including the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, the Hunterian Museum, and the British Museum emphasized the “harmonious relationship between science and religion.” Laboratories and print culture were also generally hostile toward the agenda of scientific naturals, particularly the labs of the North British physicists and British publishers George Routledge (1812-1888) and Thomas Jarrold (1770-1853), who published a “steady stream of books containing theologies of nature that challenged the scientific naturalists’ secularized perspective.”

Lightman inspection of the places of London science reveals how different scientific sites operated different epistemes. These sites, and many others, were not simply physical locations; they were, as Lightman shows, symbolic urban places whose occupants were aligned for or against aristocratic privilege, radical reform, or scientific naturalism.

Charles W.J. Withers’ “Scale and the Geographies of Civic Science: Practice and Experience in the Meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Britain and in Ireland, c. 1845-1900” examines the geographical mobility of the BAAS, with a particular concern over what he calls “nineteenth-century civic science” in Britain. He asks, “how did the BAAS experience vary locally, by and perhaps even within, different towns?”

Withers begins by considering BAAS officers’ decision making process for choosing a host. This was a complex process that involved, among other things, apprehending “the scientific capacity of the location, the educational advantages for the local inhabitants, and the financial support that local civic bodies would give the association.” What is more, “hosting an annual meeting involved at least a three-year cycle of negotiations (often more) between BAAS General Committee officers and representatives of local civic and scientific bodies.”

The most interesting section of Withers’ chapter is his account of private responses to BAAS meetings, or how he terms it, “experiencing civic science.” According to Withers, “women formed a large part of BAAS audiences, especially from midcentury.” The diaries of Agnes Hudson, Caroline Fox, and Lady Caroline Howard are particularly instructive. Hudson attended the 1875 Bristol and 1879 Sheffield meetings, but complained about the intolerable heat because of the “insufficiently ventilated building” and the overcrowding. The Anthropological Section sessions in particular were so crowded that “several persons sat on the mantelpiece.”  According to Withers, “attendance at a BAAS meeting could be tiring, require a change of clothes (for a women perhaps more than for men), and last well into the evening.” Fox attended meetings in 1836, 1837, 1852, and 1857. She too recalls the crowds at certain meetings, succeeding in gaining admittance only “by most extraordinary muscular exertions.” She also recalls problems of audibility: “people made such a provoking noise, talking, coming in, and going out, opening and shutting boxes, that very little could we hear.” Howard likewise complained about her inability to hear the speakers at the geography session at the 1857 Dublin meeting, particularly famous African explorer David Livingstone, who spoke “in a whisper.”

The BAAS promoted what Withers calls “civic science”—science as a public good, a unifying, moral vision under the banner of scientific and political neutrality. But particulars of this mission were moderated by the different urban and institutional contexts where the BAAS convened. “Different practices in different setting—waiting for a lecture whose timetabling and audience behavior meant that hearing particular topics was a matter of luck, conversing with one’s fellows, viewing specimens without comprehension, going to lectures to seek sensation or instrumental mediation through lantern slides not understanding of scientific principles—were all elements in the making and reception of association science.”

Diarmid A. Finnegan shares a similar emphasis on the location of locution. As he writes in his “Placing Science in an Age of Oratory: Spaces of Scientific Speech in Mid-Victorian Edinburgh,” in the mid-Victorian period, “logic and location along with propositions and performances were tightly bound together in the delivery of science lectures.” He supports his claim with a close examination of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution (EPI). According to Finnegan, in EPI meetings, “science no less than any other subject was knotted together with local conditions, politics, and protocols.” The cultural significance of public speech during the Victorian period necessitated that “science had to sound right as well as look right to retain its place as part of intellectual culture in mid-nineteenth-century urban Britain.”

Founded in 1846, the EPI attracted many eminent speakers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Ruskin, John Hutton Balfour, David Brewster, Samuel Brown, Hugh Miller, Edwin Lankester, Thomas Henry Huxley, John Tyndall, John Pringle Nichol, John Henry Pepper, John Lubbock, and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. EPI lectures generally took place in Queen Street Hall, which was owned by the United Presbyterian Church. Much like the BAAS meetings, inadequate facilities, overcrowding, and poor acoustics were common maladies. But in addition to these “external” forces, internal forces pressed upon the lecturers. According to Finnegan, “tacit codes of behavior also applied to lecturers.” Indeed, “what could and could not be heard in the lecture hall was conditioned by the regulative ideals associated with the notion of a free platform.” Thus lecturers had to “position their scientific discourse” by taking in consideration “etiquette, aesthetics, and moral probity.”

This “positioning” is best seen in the 1850s popular lectures of Hugh Miller and George Wilson. Both Miller and Wilson “integrated literary charm and moral sobriety” into their scientific lectures. More importantly, both “held in common a commitment to creedal Christianity.” In his EPI lectures, Miller sought to “refute the charge that science lacked poetic power.” What is more, science affirmed theological orthodoxy: it was Miller’s belief, Finnegan writes, “that nature’s hieroglyphics, properly deciphered, would bring to light God’s own artistry and that the basis for the substantial harmony between geology and poetry was the identity between the aesthetic and musical sense in the mind of God and the mind of man.” This literary mode—modeled after Thomas Carlyle, albeit without his pantheism—appealed to the audience of the EPI. Similarly, Wilson’s lectures exhibited “a high strain of moral eloquence that linked every topic to man’s joys, and sorrows, and deep enduring interests.” As Finnegan puts it, “the earnest moral tone, the personal intensity of delivery, and the Carlylean tenor that characterized the scientific speech of Wilson and Miller resonated with the general intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities of members of the EPI.”

By the 1860s, however, there was a dramatic “change in the character of science lectures given to the EPI.” In the geology lectures by David Page, for example, he “actively opposed attempts to present science as a handmaiden to theology.” A more striking secular note were also delivered by Tyndall, Huxley, Lubbock, and Hawkins. Unsurprisingly, Huxley “caused the greatest stir both within and outside the institution…provoking the opprobrium of Edinburgh’s evangelical press.” All except for Hawkins, (who only spoke again in 1887) never returned to the EPI. The lectures of these men caused such a stir, that remaining science lectures of the decade had a decidedly more “combative and controversial tone.” There were even charges that the EPI had “contravened its own principles” of moral sobriety. These science lectures of the 1860s were “frequently suspected of instilling moral confusion and of severing the link between intellectual talk and moral culture.”

David N. Livingstone’s “Politics, Culture, and Human Origins: Geographies of Reading and Reputation in Nineteenth-Century Science” explores how “scientific meanings are imagined and reimagined through encounters with scientific texts and treatises,” drawing our attention particularly “to the cultural politics of origin narratives, whether creationist or evolutionary, throughout the nineteenth century.” Here the characterization of reputation become critical. Livingstone’s case study of Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676), the father of anthropological polygenism, assessed as either heretic, hero, or harmonizer, demonstrates how persons, and their ideas, were made to stand for different things at different times and places.

Livingstone’s varieties La Peyrère, a “reputational geography,” is simply a prerequisite for his discussion of the varieties of Darwinism in the nineteenth century. In the final section of his chapter, Livingstone triangulates “a number of Irish readings of evolutionary theory,” namely Dublin, Belfast, and Londonderry. Presbyterian layman and distinguished Trinity College anatomist, Alexander Macalister, for example, although unconvinced about psychic, religious, moral evolution, he was nevertheless “enthusiastic about the power of natural selection to account for both animal and human physiological evolution,” and thus embraced Darwin’s Descent of Man. Yet another Presbyterian, professor of biblical criticism and later president of Queen’s College, Josiah L. Porter, “could find no empirical evidence in supper of the ‘essence’ of Darwin’s theory ‘that all forms of life, from the humblest zoophyte up to man, have evolved from one primordial germ.’” And yet another fellow Presbyterian, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Presbyterian Magee College, John Robinson Leebody, praised Darwin’s theory as the “most complete attempt to prove with absolute continuity of the chain which connects man with the lower animals,” but that it also reveals its empirical dearth and therefore “we must decline, in the interests of science, to accept the Darwinian view of the origin of man’s body, until it is proved.”

More than personal predilection and professional preoccupation directed these judgments. According to Livingstone, the spaces these men occupied, in Dublin, Belfast, and Londonderry, “critically implicated both in the stances they assumed and the rhetorical tones they adopted in their public declarations.” Macalister, for instance, was not only a part of progressive set of scientists congregating around Trinity College, he was also part of a local Presbyterian community that fostered a particularly “secular” education in opposition to a Catholic “religious” one. Porter’s judgment was no doubt a reaction to Tyndall’s presidential “Belfast Address” in 1874. Indeed, Porter’s comments on Darwin were collected, along with others, into a single volume “intended to rebut the president’s attack.” And again, Leebody occupied a different rhetorical space. As president of Magee College, he too wanted to distance his institution from Catholic pedagogy, once quipping that “there is no Protestant Mathematics or Chemistry as distinguished from that taught in a Catholic college.” In conclusion, “the geography of Darwinism in Ireland,” Livingstone suggests, “was the compound product of long-standing feuds over who should control the curriculum, the iconic impact of Tyndall’s attack, the institutional spaces occupied by commentators, and the relative security local spokesmen felt in their own sense of cultural identity.”

And finally Jonathan R. Topham’s “Science, Print, and Crossing Borders: Importing French Science Books into Britain, 1789-1815” demonstrates the critical importance of print. There are a number of discrete, but nevertheless inextricably linked, geographies operating here, including publishers, booksellers, translators, and editors. Key figures in the Franco-British book trade were Arnaud Dulau (1762/3-1813), Thomas Boosey, who established his Boosey & Company in London in about 1792, and most important Joseph De Boffe (1749/50-1807). De Boffe himself was the son of a French bookseller based in Fribourg, Switzerland. De Boffe followed in his father’s footsteps, and soon after moving to London he became a “significant figure in the supply of French-language publications.” Topham notes that “a catalogue issued by De Boffe in 1794 listed more than twenty-five hundred French books, many relating to the arts, sciences, travels, and natural history.”

The “decisions and activities of” De Boffe and others, Topham argues, demonstrates how “technicians of print affected the availability of French science books in Britain.” This is most visible in periodicals. The Monthly Review, Critical Review, Anti-Jacobin Review, British Critic, Analytical Review, Edinburgh Review, and Quarterly Review all included a section of reviews and notices on foreign literature, some, such as the Monthly seeking to “provide a regular retrospect of French literature.”

After discussing booksellers and periodicals in general, Topham turns specifically to four case studies of imported French science books: (1) Antoine Lavoisier’s Traité élémentaire de chimie, présenté dans un ordre nouveau et d’après les découvertes modernes (1789); (2) Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Traité de mécanique celeste (1799-1805); (3) Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s Philosophie zooloqique (1809); and (4) Georges Cuvier’s Recherches sur les ossemens fossils (1812). In this section Topham introduces a cast of characters, including booksellers, translators, publishers, and reviewers. Despite the revolutionary war, and the subsequent mutual blockade between Britain and France, these events had little impact on the importation of French science books and their reading and reviewing in public periodicals. What becomes clear in these case studies, as Topham argues, “far from being automatic” the mechanism of publications “require the agency of a wide range of people, including not only scientific practitioners but also technicians of scientific print, often motivated by financial considerations.” It shows, in short, that all knowledge-making is a situated process, and thus “renders problematic any assumptions that scientific knowledge, either in its words or in its pictures, simply diffuses across the globe in a straightforward manner. Disruption of supply, translation between languages, selective reviewing of scientific literature, the local interpretations of meaning, all point to the salience of textual geography in the study of the forms of its representation in the movement of scientific knowledge.”

These essays and others in Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science convincingly show “the placed nature of science’s making and reception”—its “practices and forms of communicative action are always grounded in particular settings, and questions regarding site, institutional organization, and social relationship in place will for that reason always continue to matter to an explanation of science’s cognitive content and variable reception.”

Sites of Speech at the British Association for the Advancement of Science

Earlier this month I mentioned Ciaran Toal’s “Preaching at the British Association for the Advancement of Science,” which argued that there was a “vast homiletic literature preached during the British Association meetings throughout the nineteenth century.” Narrowing his focus, a more recent essay by Toal, “Science, Religion and the Geography of Speech at the British Association: William Henry Dallinger (1839-1909) under the microscope” (2013), investigates how the “separation of scientific and religious knowledge played out in practice by examining the speech of William Henry Dallinger, the prominent English microscopical researcher and Methodist preacher.”

Reverend William Henry Dallinger “carefully navigated the speech space of the Association.” The example Toal discusses is the Association’s Canadian meeting in Montreal in 1884. According to Toal, “on the BAAS platform Dallinger presented his science without any religious commitments, yet in other venues, and away from the Association’s constraints on speech, he presented science and religion as harmonious and inexorably tied.”

Raised an Anglican but converted to Methodism in his teen years, Dallinger “played an important role in popularising science among his fellow Methodists.” He worked with the Christian Evidences Society, an ecumenical Christian apologetic association founded in 1870 which aimed to address the problem of unbelief in Victorian society. Among its positions, the Society claimed that Christianity had nothing to fear from biblical criticism and that there was no conflict between science and religion. Indeed, in its 1889 report, T. Vincent Tymms spoke on behalf of the Society:

We ask for facts, not fancies, nor assumptions, nor dogmatic declarations of what must have been and what could not possibly have happened, because fatal to a theory of texts. We have no horror of Biblical criticism; we have no jealousy of geology, or biology, or archaeology, or any other science; we have no desire to live among illusions, however fair; no wish to live or die in the faith of anything which the future must destroy. But we have convinced ourselves that the Gospels are narratives of facts, that Christ is the central fact of history, that God is a fact, that revelation is a fact; and if these are facts, nothing in the universe, nothing in the past or present, or in things to come, can be at variance with them.

What is more, beside this enterprise, Dallinger was also a member of the Wesley Scientific Society and a regular contributor for the Wesleyan Magazine, reporting on “almost all British Association meetings in the 1870s and 1880s.

When the BAAS came to Montreal, McGill University acted as host, its Queen’s Hall the site of lectures and meetings. Here Dallinger delivered a talk on the “Modern microscope in the researches on the least and lowest forms of life,” subtitled, “the theory of spontaneous generation not proven.” Discussing the life of monads, the “lowest and least forms of life,” Dallinger asked:

how do they originate? Do they spring up de novo from the highest point on the area of not life which they touch? Are they, in short, the direct product of some yet uncorrelated force in nature changing the dead, the unorganized, the not living into definite forms of life?

Dallinger answered “No.” “Careful and prolonged experiment and research” had shown that the “not living” could not be “changed into that which lives.” Turning to evolution, Dallinger moved to “distance the spontaneous generation hypothesis from the theory of evolution.” As Toal nicely sums things up, “the process of evolution outlined by Darwin, and in contrast to Lamarck, did not require continuous instances of spontaneous generation. Indeed, Darwin set aside the issue of first origins, and avoided controversy, by claiming that his focus was solely on the evolutionary processes form the emergence of the first primordial form onwards.”

Dallinger’s lecture at Queen’s Hall was an official BAAS event, and thus his speech was tacitly delimited. By contrast, Dallinger entitled his address at James Ferrier Hall, McGill’s theological college, “The probability of a divine moral manifestation on Man’s behalf considered in the light of recent science.” According to Toal, “Dallinger was speaking in a very different speech space, and somewhat reflecting this turn to more theological concerns, the local press now referred to him as ‘Rev Dallinger’ and not Dr Dallinger.” The details of the speech are told well by Toal, and here it will suffice to say that in this address, Dallinger put forward four propositions for divine manifestation: that God molded the atom; that the origin of life was a direct result of God’s intervention; that the injection of consciousness into man was another direct act by God; and therefore “if divine intervention was necessary to fashion the atom, ‘quicken the not-living in to the living’ and insert consciousness into Man, was it not logical, he queried, that God, through Christ, had intervened to further elevate the ‘moral nature of man?’”

On the same day, Dallinger also delivered a sermon at the St James Street Church, in downtown Montreal. Here, interestingly enough, Dallinger focused on how “science was, in fact, imperfect.” Science can only conceive God from nature; but this is, according to Dallinger, the God of pantheism, “a force you ‘may tremble at’ but ‘cannot adore’, a force that ‘awes you, but does not bend your knee.’” Only the Gospels could reveal the “moral grandeur” and “beauty” of God. Ultimately, knowledge of “God’s character—the knowledge that really mattered—was only accessible through revelation.”

According to Toal, “Dallinger’s lecture, address and sermon in Montreal neatly highlight the close connection between, what David Livingstone has called, ‘location and locution,’” and thus “should be recognized as another aspect of the geography of speech attached to the British Association.” At the same time, as Bernard Lightman has also highlighted, popular authors, as opposed to narrow groups such as the scientific naturalists, played an increasingly important role in presenting science to the mass-reading public.

Indeed, I am currently digesting two important volumes—Livingstone’s Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science (2011) and Lightman’s Victorian Science in Context (1997)—that deal extensively and explicitly with issues of “Sites and Scales,” “Practice and Performance,” “Guides and Audiences,” and the nature and definition of Victorian science. I will post on these volumes in the coming week.

Charlotte Sleigh’s Literature and Science (2011)

Since my post on Huxley’s treatment of “Nature,” I have occupied my time with readings from Laura Otis’ Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century (2009) and Charlotte Sleigh’s Literature and Science (2011). Otis’ work is an anthology of over 500 pages of excerpts and explanatory notes. Sleigh’s work is a sustained argument about the natural relationship between science and literature, covering a diverse range of topics, such as “Empiricism and the Novel,” “Epistolarity and the Democratic Ideal,” Idealism and the Inhuman,” Realism in Literature and the Laboratory,” Scientists, Moral Realism and the New World Order,” “Subjects of Science,” and “Says Who? Science and Public Understanding.” Both books serve well as introductions to the relatively recent field of science and literature.

Charlotte Sleigh - Literature and ScienceIn this entry I begin with Sleigh. She starts by debunking several myths about science and literature, namely science as objective and literature as subjective, essentially the “two cultures” argument presented by C.P. Snow (1905-1980) in a 1959 lecture. Science, she says, is all about persuading others that certain hypotheses are true, and “persuasion is primarily an art of language and literature.” “Science,” she goes on to say, “cannot be conducted without language, and language is not a neutral tool. It actively shapes knowledge just as much as does the decision to dissect this animal, use that microscope, perform this test, and so on.” The advent of modern scientific knowledge, moreover, was “intimately connected to the gentlemanly trustworthiness of the reporter. Who did this? Who saw this? Was it someone they could trust?” Further, scientific knowledge is also representational, and thus depends on language. Scientific facts are only meaningful when they are made up of words and images, “and these words and images bring a host of allusions, history and connotations that themselves become part of the representation as the science is further developed.” Indeed, language constructs scientific discovery, “since no scientist can think through the process without the words and images of their culture.”

The distinction between an object science and a subjective literature also breaks down when “one considers the human identity of scientists.” Scientists, like everyone else, experience passion, curiosity, and awe that motivates their work. Again, these are human motivations. Indelibly, literary and scientific work “remain human activities undertaken for very human motives.”

During the nineteenth century, “the distinction between scientific writing and other kinds of publications blurs considerably.” Indeed, other scholars have argued that during the nineteenth century “science was literature.” “Knowledge was less specialized than it is today,” Sleigh explains, “and educated readers would respond to both the scientific and the literary elements of any text.”

In chapter one, Sleigh considers “the transition to modern science that took place in the later seventeenth century and the literary implications of the natural philosophers’ switch from textual to observational knowledge,” that is, “empiricism.”  She focuses on Robert Boyle and the founding of the Royal Society of London in 1660. Recent scholarship shows, however, that “experimental science and novelistic prose were not merely parallel developments born of the social shifts of the seventeenth century.” Rather, “there was also a closer and more necessary relation between them, stemming from the fact that not all scientific witnessing could be done face-to-face.” Thus some scholars have “characterized Boyle’s writing as a ‘literary technology’ that was no less important than physical technology (the air pump) and social technology (the new gentlemanly codes of observation) in making knowledge.” She then compares these developments to several pieces of literature, particularly Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1727), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table (1975) and The Wrench (1978).

In chapter two, Sleigh shows how a Benthamite model of law in courtroom hearings is employed in the reading and writing of epistolary fiction, “the layers of the text allow[ing] the reader to hear multiple perspectives and even to simulate participation in the dialogue concerning the novel’s economy of virtue.” Mary Shelley’s lusus naturae, Frankenstein (1818), an “examination of the powers of reason and experience,” is “both epistolary in nature and presented for readers’ judgment” over heated debates regarding vitalism.

Chapter three looks at the early Victorian era, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS), and William Whewell’s model of scientific method. For Whewell, science was more “than the grindings of pure, mathematical, deductive logic.” “Induction, rather than deduction,” he says, “is the source of the great scientific truths which form the glory, and fasten on them the admiration of modern times.” The underlying assumption here, as Sleigh points out, is that “a person had to have the correct idea in mind before she or he could weigh up the claims of scientific observations.” Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, first published in Fraser’s Magazine 1833-34, and then published as a single volume in Britain in 1838, and Edgar Allen Poe’s editorship of Southern Literary Messenger and other writings “did not conform happily” to Whewell’s agenda. Poe goes so far as to suggest that “science could be done by the power of imagination better than it could by either of Whewell’s methods; that is, by inductive or deductive logic.”

Chapter four discusses the origin of realism in literature and laboratory, situating it in the “political turbulence of mid-nineteenth-century continental Europe.” Here Sleigh works closely with the work of French novelist and critic Emile Zola (1840-1902), who “came to present the scientist as a heroic figure.” Zola, among many other mid-nineteenth-century writers, artists, and dramatists, “professed a commitment to reality in their work.” They espoused “naturalism,” who “claimed to describe [things] as they inevitably were.” The science of evolution, Sleigh points out, “provided yet more evidence for Zola and the realists that humans obeyed the laws of nature.” “From positivism, statistics and evolutionary theory,” she continues, “naturalists gained confidence that they could explain and predict human behaviour, through a mixture of hereditary and environmental factors.” Zola subsumed this confidence in his novels, particularly his Thérèse Raquin (1867), where its characters are depicted as “predictable as chemicals in a test tube.”

Chapter five develops these themes further, in the form that realism took in Victorian Britain. Unlike continental thinkers, “Victorian realism was essentially moral rather than ontological,” which transitioned from “a theological form in the nineteenth century to a rather more secular version of authoritarianism in the twentieth.” Here we find case studies on George Eliot (1819-1890), Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), and H.G. Wells (1866-1946). Like the continental realists, Eliot’s novels were packed with accurate details. But unlike Zola and continental realists, rather than just explaining the “how,” she concerned herself with the “why” of human behavior. Sleigh makes comments on Eliot’s translation of David Friedrich Strauss’ Life of Jesus (trans. 1860), Romola (1862-63), Middlemarch (1871-2), and Daniel Deronda (1876). According to Sleigh, these writings suggests “that it is not so much facts captured that matter as the spirit in which they are searched out,” a “kind of moral realism.” Similarly, Charles Kingsley’s writings, particularly his Two Years Ago (1857) and The Water Babies (1863) expresses the authority of the heroic scientist on firmly moral grounds. Indeed, the true scientist has Christ-like qualities, who courageously and selflessly pursues reform and truth.

In the later part of the nineteenth century, scientists became “more assertive in their efforts to dominate moral culture.” As Sleigh correctly points out, “histories of the supposed ‘conflict’ between religion and faith were written at this time.” The teaching—and, quite honestly—preaching of T.H. Huxley and John Tyndall are noted. As Ruth Barton pointed out, Tyndall’s 1874 Belfast Address “demonstrates an almost religious faith in science. “Believing, as I do,” writes Tyndall,

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

Similar to Eliot, “there came for Tyndall a point where observations had to stop and only ‘veracious imagination’ could stand in. What governed this imagination was a moral economy of heroism: a lonely servitude to truth.” And here is where H.G. Wells comes in. He was, according to Sleigh, a “spokesman for the truth and social value of science.” It was Huxley’s views on evolution that guided his The Time Machine (1895). Other writings of Wells are more explicitly didactic in nature, including Anticipations (1901), A Modern Utopia (1905), The Outline of History (1918-19), The Open Conspiracy (1928), The Science of Life (1929-30), and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1932). Sleigh concludes this chapter with a brief look at William Morton Wheeler’s “The Termitodoxa, or Biology and Society” (1920), which she describes as “a thinly disguised demand for biologists to be given the social authority to practice their eugenics in human society,” and Aldous Huxley’s more ambivalent view of the value of science in his Brave New World (1932). Aldous Huxley and others began to “recognize that ‘pure’ science was in fact nothing of the sort, and that its alternative title, ‘high science,’ actually gave a great deal away about its class identity and purposes.”

Chapter six discusses the subjectivist reaction against the objective, realist perspective, particularly in subjectivist psychologies of associationism, Bergsonism, Freudianism, and beyond, producing literature and art that came to be known as “modernist.” According to Sleigh, the two brothers William (1842-1910) and Henry James (1843-1916) “form a happy pairing of science and literature.” Briefly discussed are William James’ “subjectivity of thought” in The Principles of Psychology (1890) and Henry James’ “The Jolly Corner” (1908), which is an example of “subjectivity without a subject.” Sleigh also includes May Sinclair’s Mary Olivier (1919), which more explicitly than the James’s combined “the relativistic insights of physics and psychology.” Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1905) is called “novel of modernity,” incorporating the science of thermodynamics, Darwinian and biological degeneration, and the subjectivity of time and space. Finally, and perhaps most interesting, is the subjectivity of William Golding’s 1955 novel The Inheritors, “an astonishing attempt to write a work of literature focalised by a character—whom we are given to understand is a Neanderthal—who barely possesses language.” Golding’s book “tapped into a specific debate of about fifty years’ standing regarding the order of mental and physical evolution.”

The final chapter brings us to the twenty-first century. The production of science is now inextricably linked to its consumption. Thomas Kuhn is noted for his “distrust of the big-progress story told by scientists.” The 1960s counterculture movement disputed scientific authority. “[The] promise of happiness, wrapped up in fake scientificity, together with the gabbled list, obligatory under the advertising code, of bizarre and occasionally horrific possible side-effects…undercuts the notion of heroic progress, and offers instead a cynical account of the promises of science in a climate of profit.” A crucial account of scientific hubris is told in Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast (1981), the maverick scientist “Allie Fox is arguably more of a Frankenstein figure than Frankenstein himself.” This theme of uncertainty is also exemplified in Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1984) and Jonathan Franzen’s Strong Motion (1992) and The Corrections (2001), each responding to a number of man-made environmental incidents.

Sleigh offers at the end of each chapter a helpful selection of annotated relevant texts for further reading. This is extremely helpful as a reading list, encouraging readers to broaden or reconsider their existing arguments in light of the issues she raises. “Even though science and literature are more specialist fields than they were in Darwin’s day,” as Sleigh writes at the close of her introduction, “novels can still open up these questions about the credibility and value of science. Indeed, literature reveals that belief in science depends on many things—credibility, trust, rhetoric, representation and human motivation—beyond facts themselves.”

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.”

The God of Science on the Neck of her Enemies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Tyndall, the Pantheist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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