The New Theodicy of the Scientific Naturalists

I have come across several references to Frank Turner’s “The Secularization of the Social Vision of British Natural Theology” recently, so I decided to read it myself. The essay is part of the collection of essays under the heading “Shifting Boundaries” in his Contesting Cultural Authority (1993).

In this essay Turner traces the “demise” of classical British natural theology and how it was replaced by a “secular” theodicy. Classical British natural theology was always circumscribed and supported by a vision of commercial society. According to Turner, “British natural theology had addressed itself to both nature and society.” John Ray’s The Wisdom of God in the Creation (1691), for example, had a strongly supported economic expansion. The material world was indeed governed by God; but more importantly, it was “created intentionally for human uses.” “God placed humans beings on the earth,” Turner summarizes, “to realize or exploit the potentialities that inhered in the rest of the creation.” Thus Ray justified trade, commercial transactions, and the “dominion” of the earth for the benefit of mankind. This argument is also found in Lynn White Jr.’s “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” (1967), who maintained that orthodox Christian belief led western civilization to exploit the natural resources of the world.

In addition to Ray, William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802) and the Bridgewater Treatises (1833-40) similarly used natural theology to support the emerging industrial order. Paley’s “Divine Watchmaker” analogy “reflected the eighteenth-century fascination with machinery,” transforming God into “a skilled and ingenious English engineer.” Moreover, the authors of the Bridgewater treatises “presented natural theology as confirming the general superiority of humankind over the rest of the creation and as pointing toward modern European civilization as the end and natural state of humankind.”

But the “civilizing” effect of industrialization in early nineteenth-century Britain was becoming a problem for natural theologians. The writings of Dickens, Carlyle, Mayhew and others revealed how industrialization had brought on the conflagration of the earth. In Bleak House (1853), for example, Dickens depicted the hellish results of the industrial age—an earth engulfed with fog, mud, darkness, squalor, poverty, and disease. In short, a nightmare. England had become Blake’s “dark Satanic mills.” Mayhew’s contributions to the Morning Chronicle between 1849 and 1850 revealed the consequences of rampant industrialization, and Carlyle’s Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850) adds the spiritual dimension:

British individual existence [he writes] seems fast to become one huge poison-swamp of reeking pestilence physical and moral; a hideous living Golgotha of souls and bodies buried alive…These scenes, which the Morning Chronicle is bringing home to all minds of men…ought to excite unspeakable reflections.

To many of these writers, industrialization only reveled a “reign of death.” The world, as Hardy put it, was “God-forgotten.”

To deal with commercial society, British natural theologians had to develop a theodicy. According to Turner, Paley justified the evils and suffering caused by industry on utilitarian grounds. In the grand scheme of things, Paley seems to say “It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water, teem with delighted existence.” The hierarchical character of English society encouraged competition, which was good, and poverty only further induced one to work. What ultimately gave Paley comfort in the face of such social ills was human immortality. Turner writes, “lives of individuals on earth must be regarded as probationary for a life to come in which rewards and punishments would be meted out.” Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) argued similarly. The disparity between food production and population was a terrible injustice, but “actual justice lay in the hereafter.” The authors of the Bridgewater treatises likewise concurred.

Turner then turns to the rising authority of the scientific naturalists. To gain a hearing, the scientific naturalists had to dissociate themselves from the more radical opinions of a group of London medical men, who wholly rejected religion of any kind. Thus scientific naturalists such as Darwin, for instance, had used natural theology—particularly the kind the authors of the Bridgewater treatises had provided—to underpin his understanding of the natural world. It was only much later, in his The Descent of Man (1871), according to Turner, that Darwin began attacking classic British natural theology, and specifically its philosophical anthropology. By stripping away all of the unique qualities of humankind, Darwin “portrayed a brutish human past and a materialistic interpretation of human historical development.” But in doing so Darwin merely provided a new social vision that, in the final analysis, “paralleled the social argument of the traditional natural theology.”

Thus, at the end of the day, the scientific naturalists continued the “whiggish” analysis of the natural theologians, supporting “the fundamental character of contemporary British and European society.” What was truly unique about the scientific naturalist approach, however, is how they interpreted Baconianism. As Turner writes, “Although Francis Bacon had pointed to the double revelation of divine knowledge through both nature and the scriptures, he had also urged natural philosophers to resist the temptation to pose unanswerable questions and questions that had no practical import on the human condition” (my emphasis). On the one hand, natural theologians embraced Bacon’s first precept, but ignored his second. The scientific naturalists, on the other hand, ignored his first but embraced his second. Huxley’s “new nature,” for example, “accomplished Bacon’s goal of abandoning the pursuit of literally useless questions.”

But in placing the “God question” completely outside the natural realm, “humankind emerged as the creator.” This was the new theodicy of the scientific naturalists. In his Romanes Lecture of 1893, Huxley rejected the suffering in nature:

Social progress means a checking of the cosmic process at every step and the substitution for it another, which may be called the ethical process; the end of which is not the survival of those who may happen to be the fittest, in respect of the whole of the conditions which obtain, but of those who are ethically the best.

The suffering caused by the “cosmic process” must be opposed. We must fight against nature. This fight was the “new” ethical order, a new societal cooperation that would replace competition and eventually end human suffering.

The Romanticism of the Victorian Scientific Naturalists

The scientific naturalists were, according to Frank M. Turner, “successors to the eighteenth-century philosophes.” “Combing research, polemical wit, and literary eloquence,” Turner writes,  “they defended and propagated a scientific world view based on atomism, conservation of energy, and evolution.” Turner, however, in his “Victorian Scientific Naturalism and Thomas Carlyle” (1975), urges caution in showing the connection between nineteenth-century and eighteenth-century intellectuals. There is “considerable room for qualification in accepting contemporary or self-espoused views of the intellectual background of the scientific writers or in establishing a uniformitarian apostolic succession within naturalistic thought.”

These Victorian popularizers of science were all reared in a Christian home and attended clerically dominated universities, where scientific education was infused with metaphysics, idealism, and natural religion. Put succinctly, Turner reminds us that “Huxely as a boy would go off to the woods to deliver sermons from tree stumps. Tyndall had grown up amid the rigors of Irish Orange protestantism; Leslie Stephen, in a strict evangelical household. The latter had also taken holy orders. [And] Herbert Spencer’s childhood had been passed among liberal nonconformists in the provinces.”

There was, indeed, a gradual, transitional process to their more “naturalistic frame of mind.” Here Turner emphasizes the “rather unexpected influence of Thomas Carlyle on the naturalistic coterie.” Carlyle introduced German romanticism and idealism to the British, most well-known for his Sartor Resartus, published in 1836, but appearing in serial form from 1833-34 in Fraser’s Magazine. According to Turner, “Huxley, Tyndall, Morley, Galton, and even Spencer drew upon Carlyle’s wisdom in their early manhood.” Morley claimed that Carlyle “has done more than anybody else to fire men’s hearts with a feeling for right and an eager desire for social activity.” Huxley recalled “the bracing wholesome influence of his writings when, as a young man, I was essaying without rudder or compass to strike out a course for myself.” But highest praise came from Tyndall, writing: “I must ever gratefully remember that through three long cold German winters Carlyle placed me in my tub, even when ice was on its surface, at five o’clock every morning—not slavishly, but cheerfully, meeting each day’s studies with a resolute will, determined whether victor or vanquished not to shrink from difficulty.”

But Carlyle’s influence on the scientific naturalists went beyond mere temperament.  “Contemporaries of a rationlistic and naturalistic bent of mind,” Turner argues, “discovered the foundation for a view of nature, religion, and society that allowed them to regard themselves as thoroughly scientific and naturalistic without becoming either materialistic or atheistic and to accept secular society with good conscience and a finite universe without spiritual regret.”

The link between Carlyle and the scientific naturalists, Turner tells us, is social critique and the call for a new social and intellectual elite. “Carlyle believed the problems of Britain’s social and physical well-being should be addressed by leaders whose authority and legitimacy stemmed from talent, veracity, and knowledge of facts.” This appeal to a meritorious society characterized the “young guard’s” ambitious attempt to remove all aristocratic influence from the scientific societies. But this was not egalitarian enterprise. Like Carlyle, they “believed the new elite itself should formulate and direct policy. In Huxley’s words, “I should be very sorry to find myself on board a ship in which the voices of the cook and loblolly boys counted for as much as those of the officers, upon questions of steering, or reefing topsails.” In short, the naturalistic movement was a new elitist’s movement.

This is most clearly demonstrated in the thought and career of Galton. Indeed, Galton had nothing but contempt for democracy and equality. “I have no patience with the hypothesis,” he once wrote, “that babies are born pretty much alike…it is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretension of natural equality.” In Turner’s estimation, “a direct line of intellectual descent connects Carlyle’s demand for heroes and his devotion to great men with Galton’s eugenics.”

The scientist was the new hero, often represented in messianic imagery. This image of scientist as savor came, of course, with invectives against the current priesthood and clerical-scientist. In his Heroes and Hero Worship (1841), Past and Present (1843), and Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850), Carlyle declared that the reigning “sham” priesthood should (and will) be replaced with a more industrious, honest, courageous, effective, and active intellectual leadership. By the mid-nineteenth century, the new scientific elite asserted themselves as this new intellectual leadership. In a letter to Charles Kingsley, for example, Huxley claimed that the “caste of priests must give way to a new order of prophets”: “Understand that this new school of prophets [he writes] is the only one that can work miracles, the only one that can constantly appeal to nature for evidence that it is right, and you will comprehend that it is no use to try to barricade us with shovel hats and aprons, or to talk about our doctrines being ‘shocking.'” The scientists thus were the new teachers of truth.

This Carlylean influence, Turner says, solves an apparent paradox. Although the scientific naturalists attacked the clergy and Christian doctrine, they remained men of deep moral and religious sensitivity. Carlyle had separated religion from spirituality. Religion was “wonder, humility, and work amidst the eternities and silences.” True religion was the “inner man.” Huxley likewise declared that “a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology.” Other members of the naturalistic coterie would concur. Carlyle had been a religious and philosophical agnostic long before Huxley coined the term. In a letter to Scottish author John Sterling, Carlyle proclaimed:

Assure yourself,  I am neither Pagan nor Turk, not circumcised Jew, but an unfortunate Christian individual resident at Chelsea in this year of Grace; neither Pantheist nor Pottheist, nor any Theist or ist whatsoever, having the most decided contempt for all manner of System-builders  and Sectfounders—so far as contempt may be compatible with so mild a nature; feeling well beforehand (taught by experience) that all such are and even must be wrong. By God’s blessing, one has got two eyes to look with; and also a mind capable of knowing, of believing: that is all the creed I will at this time insist on.

According to Turner, Carlyle statement “stood as a statement of Huxley’s, Tyndall’s, Spencer’s, or Stephen’s religious and metaphysical position.” The Victorian scientific naturalists’ philosophical skepticism, optimism, work ethic, and conceptions of force and matter, all belong to this Carlylean intellectual heritage. “Carlyle’s impetus provided the foundation for their moral commitment,” Turner concludes, “for the scientific publicists approached their age in the guise of the man of letters confident with Carlyle that ‘What he teaches, the whole world will do and make.'”

Contesting Cultural Authority

Cover TemplateFrank M. Turner’s Between Science and Religion (1974) presented a new perspective on the relationship between science and religion. By carefully examining Victorian figures, such as Henry Sidgwick, Alfred Russel Wallace, Frederic W.H. Myers, George John Romanes, Samuel Butler, and James Ward, Turner demonstrated that the pervading “conflict thesis” was overly simplistic. In that same book Turner examined the influence of the “scientific naturalists,” a phrase employed by T.H. Huxley in his Essays upon Some Controverted Questions (1892), but which had an earlier history as a pejorative epithet among American evangelicals. For Huxley and others, the phrase came to encapsulate a particular set of assumptions, values, and cosmology (i.e. the three seminal theories found in the atomic theory, the law of the conservation of energy, and evolution).

Turner continued to develop his understanding of the scientific naturalists in a series of articles, most of which are collected in the volume Contesting Cultural Authority: Essays in Victorian Intellectual Life (1993).

In 1973, Turner published his article on “Lucretius among the Victorians,” which traced the rising interest on the Roman poet Lucretius in late-Victorian scholarship. In the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1875-1889), for example, W.Y. Sellar’s entry on “Lucretius” notes that “physical philosophy in the present day is occupied with the same problems as those which are discussed in the first two books of the De Rerum Natura” (“On the Nature of Things”), and that “the old war between science and theology, which has been revived in the present generation, is fought, though with different weapons, yet in the same ardent and uncompromising spirit throughout the whole poem, as it is in the writings of living thinkers.”

But according to Turner, associating Lucretius with science and the conflict with religion was an Victorian invention. “During this period,” he writes, “classical scholars, men of letters, and philosophers discovered commentaries on Lucretius to be convenient vehicles for attacking scientific naturalism.” In associating naturalistic and scientific thought with philosophical materialism, many authors saw a symbolic target in Lucretius. Liberal Christians in particular sought this connection. As religious philosopher and historian of Unitarianism James Martineau put it: “To get rid of a troublesome discoverer or vigorous thinker, there is no readier way…than to dismiss his new ideas as stale fallacies dug up again out of the discarded rubbish of the past.” The polemical advantage was clear. Huxley et al. modern scientific thought could be discredited as stale fallacies based on Lucretian philosophy.

But first Lucretius had to be transformed from a poet to a natural philosopher. Early Victorian commentators judged Lucretius on his artistic merit. Yet by mid-century, writers were beginning to see him in the spirit of modernity, as a precursor of the modern scientist. What happened? Turner cites Scottish scientist Henry Charles Fleeming Jenkin (1833-85) as the earliest to associate Lucretius with atomic theory, thus setting the “precedent for considering the thought of Lucretius in relation to modern ideas and scientific theory and for drawing parallels between the work of the ancient poet and the endeavors of contemporary scientists.”

But according to Turner, it was John Tyndall’s infamous Belfast Address of 1874 that solidified the association. In advocating his own naturalistic view of the development of science, Tyndall used Lucretius as giving “posterity the best and most eloquent explication of [atomic] theory.” In short, Lucretius became the “upholder of true science in the ancient world, a noble enemy of superstition, and a pioneer in the struggle to liberate science from the ideals, opinions, cosmology, and institutions of religion and theology.” This view continues to be popular, as Neil deGrasse Tyson’s first episode of the rebooted Cosmos so clearly demonstrated.

Victorian writers were quick to pounce on the association, however. From James Martineau, John Veitch, Robert Flint, John Tulloch, W.H. Mallock, and John Masson,  “Lucretius,” Turner writes, “became the pawn in the struggle for cultural domination between the men of science and the men of religion.” According to these writers, Lucretius had anticipated the doctrines of modern scientists. But then they argued that Lucretius’ philosophy was inadequate or incorrect. The implication being that so were the ideas of Huxley, Tyndall, Spencer, and other scientific naturalists. Perhaps most interestingly, these writers then “suggested that Lucretius’ critique of religion had been appropriate and necessary for the development of pure religion. However, his particular argument as resurrected by Huxley [et al.] had in the course of two millenia became inapplicable and invalid. Therefore the anti-religious arguments of the scientific publicists were both irrelevant and anachronistic” (my emphasis). In short, by re-constructing Lucretius as a precursor of modern science, these writers undermined Huxley and company. And whereas Lucretius presented a “high, reverential, moral, and spiritual purpose,” by contrast the scientific naturalists were simply “anti-religious.”

The scientific naturalists were not, of course, without a response. Huxley, Tyndall, Clifford and others were keen to disassociate classical atomic theories with those of the nineteenth century. But they also wanted to emphasize that they, too, “deduce social, philosophical, and religious conclusions from theories of matter and organic evolution,” thus indicating that they too sought to reform religion in ways similar to Lucretius.

The following year Turner came out with an article entitled “Rainfall, Plagues, and the Prince of Wales: A Chapter in the Conflict of Religion and Science,” published in the Journal of British Studies. Here he presented an early formulation of what would become his signature argument:  “Victorian conflict between religion and science,” he writes in his conclusion, “was something more than a dispute over ideas. It manifested the tension arising as the intellectual nation become more highly differentiated in functions, professions, and institutions. It was a clash between established and emerging intellectual and social elites for popular cultural preeminence in a modern industrial society.”

In this article Turner examines three episodes in the Victorian debate over the nature of prayer. First, the excessive rainfall in the summer of 1860, which Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce attributed to “the national sins of the Divorce Act of 1857, recent riots at St. George’s church in London’s East End, and the war with China,” spurred many in the Anglican church to call for appointed prayers for better weather. But this call was contested among many scientific practitioners, particularly physicist John Tyndall. The scientists were not alone, however. There were also others in the church who called for a new interpretation of nature without recourse to the supernatural. Charles Kingsley, for example, “told his parishioners that praying for fair weather was an act of unwarranted presumption,” and was thus unwilling to abide the call. For his resistance, Kingsley received several congratulatory letters, including one from geologist Charles Lyell. According to Turner, scientists were beginning to claim authority over matters that pertained to natural knowledge, and liberal churchmen were willing to oblige and support their position.

Another clash over prayer came in 1865, when a cattle plague hit English farmers. The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a special prayer for those affected. At the same time, a Royal Commission under Lyon Playfair instituted preventive measures and stricter regulations for cattle trade. Many saw the Archbishop’s call to prayer as a retrogression. Tyndall once again entered the scene with an article published by the Pall Mall Gazette, arguing that such prayers were no different than ancient and heathen prayers which called for some divine, spontaneous interference. The debate continued on into the monthly journals, such as the North British Review and Macmillan’s Magazine. Although presented with both scientific and theological arguments against such a conception of prayer, many bishops refused to back down. This led to a number of leading broad churchmen to declare that the “national church must encompass leading intellects of the nation and must not employ its dignity and power to block or discourage intellectual discourse and discovery.”

The final example Turner provides is when the Prince of Wales contracted typhoid in 1871. The Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with a committee drawn from members of the Cabinet and the Privy Council, issued a telegraph calling for prayers for the recovery of Prince Edward. The Prince eventually recovered and clergymen attested this to the power of prayer. This “vindication” was given further publicity in the Guardian, which saw the event as “a solemn recognition of the direct and personal working of the Hand of God in things of this life.” Without directly criticizing the special prayers offered, the professional and medical periodicals used the event as an opportunity “publicize the necessity for further sanitary reform and legislation.” Things became heated, however, when the “clergy explicitly and the government implicitly credited prayer rather than medical treatment for the recovery of the heir to the throne.” The medical journal Lancet, for example, declared that “while we recognize the hand of Providence, we still claim for modern medical science that she has signally won fresh laurels in the recovery of the Prince of Wales.”

Several months later, surgeon Henry Thompson challenged Christians, in an essay entitled “The Prayer for the Sick,” published in the Contemporary Review in 1872, and what would later be dubbed the “Prayer Gauge Debate,”  to “conduct an experiment to determine the physical efficacy of prayer.” The debate would appear very publicly in the British magazine, Spectator. What is more, eugenicist Francis Galton, in an article published in the Fortnightly Review, used statistical analysis to condemn the efficacy of religious practices and, more importantly, the general “ability of religious men to solve practical problems of society.” This same theme appeared in one of the Spectator articles, signed by a mysterious “Protagoras.” According to Turner, the article argued that “scientists had no intention of abolishing belief in the supernatural or reverence for God. Rather they sought to lead men to an understanding of the results of science and of their application to daily life.”

The removal of such base superstition from public knowledge required, Turner claims, “the recognition of a new intellectual elite who would displace the clergy on all levels of society as the interpreters of natural phenomena.” Once again, liberal religious thinkers were only too willing to oblige the emerging scientific elite. According to Huxley, Tyndall, and other leading scientific naturalists, “the scientist now stood as the mediator between modern man and a nature that could almost be commanded to serve his material needs.” In 1879, historian James Anthony Froude went so far as to argue that those who “observe the rules of health as ascertained and laid down by science…better deserve the name of religious men than those who neglect the means of protecting themselves which God has provided, and try to induce Him by prayers to suspend His ordinances in their favor.” Clearly, this was the “transfer of cultural and intellectual leadership and prestige from the exponents of one faith to those of another.”

Turner continued working on the scientific naturalists in his article, “The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: A Professional Dimension,” first published by Isis in 1978. The conflict between science and religion was not only a narrative; it was also a by-product of professional elites vying for cultural authority. Writers like G.H. Lewes and Huxley used polemical language to construct a progressionist ideology that juxtaposed a “good progressive science against [an] evil retrogressive metaphysics and theology.” This was not simply a reified “science” against “religion” but a battle between particular spokesmen for science and religion.

Working from statements made by James Clerk Maxwell, A.W. Benn and others, to the effect that there was “a transfer of authority from religious to naturalistic beliefs,” Turner states his thesis clearly: “the primary motivating force behind this shift in social and intellectual authority…was activity within the scientific community that displayed most of the major features associated with nascent professionalism.” This “young guard of science,” to use a phrase employed by Leonard Huxley, consisting of Thomas Huxley, John Tyndall, Joseph Dalton Hooker, George Busk, Edward Frankland, Thomas Archer Hirst, John Lubbock, William Spottiswoode, Herbert Spencer, Henry Cole, Norman Lockyer, Francis Galton, Lyon Playfair, and others, “had established themselves as a major segment of the elite of the Victorian scientific world.” They advocated a positivist epistemology as the exclusive epistemological foundation of legitimate science, which came to “discredit the wider cultural influences of organized religion.”

By the late-nineteenth century, these men held editorships, professorships, and offices in major scientific societies. Indeed, they had “established themselves as a major segment of the elite of the Victorian scientific world.”

Now, this “young guard” agreed among themselves that science should be pursued without recourse to religious dogma, theology, or religious authority. This exclusivity eventually came to serve as a weapon against the cultural influence of religion in general. This was all, of course, a recent phenomena. According to Turner, during the seventeenth century and up to the 1840s, scientists—or more precisely, natural philosophers—saw natural science and natural theology not alone compatible, but complementary. By the 1840s, a “naturalistic bent of theories in geology, biology, and physiological psychology drove deep wedges into existing reconciliation of scientific theory with revelation or theology.” In addition, the “young guard” pushed for the recognition of greater expertise in scientific practice, thus not only excluding the clergy but also women. Then came the rhetorical ploy of accusing clerical scientists of “dual loyalties”; according to Huxley and his acolytes, one could not both serve God and science. Francis Galton, for example, in his well-known English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture (1872), declared that the “pursuit of science in uncongenial to the priestly character.” Using the veneer of statistical analysis, Galton claimed that clerical scientists had significantly dropped by the mid-nineteenth century. But what Galton left out in his “analysis” was the membership reforms that took place in many scientific societies after 1850. “Had he not so skewed his numbers by choosing the date of 1850,” writes Turner, “more clergymen would have been included.” This would become a commonplace tactic of the “young guard.”

There were also major changes within the religious community of the mid-nineteenth century. Many clergymen—naturally enough—came to have nothing but contempt for the new scientific elite. They wanted to reassert their authority, in matters of religion but also in matters of natural knowledge. Others took the opposite approach, leaving the pursuit of natural knowledge to the scientists and religious matters to the clergy, thus creating two separate spheres of knowledge. As Turner puts it, “within the Church of England a clergymen-scientist confronted the choice of perpetuating traditional natural theology and risking ridicule by scientists or attempting further rationalization of theology in accord with science and encountering persecution by fellow clergymen.” All this gave further credibility to stereotypes on both sides of the debate.

One of the most admirable aspects of Turner’s scholarship—and character—was his willingness to admit his failings. A rare trait among scholars indeed. In his opening essay in Contesting Cultural Authority (1993) , “The Religious and the Secular in Victorian Britain,” Turner reflects on some of the assumptions scholars of Victorian Britain have made—including himself—about the “secular,” “religious,” and “professionalization” of Victorian scientists.

To begin, “the secular interpretation of Victorian and general nineteenth-century intellectual life,” he writes, “very much reflected the concerns of mid-twentieth-century American university intellectuals” (my emphasis). In other words, the secularization of the nineteenth-century Victorian mind is a clear example of modern ideas imposed on the past. It was an assumption accepted without question, and thus became an obstacle to real understanding. As Turner observes, it “prevented scholars from confronting in a direct manner the full spectrum of the secular and religious as the latter concretely manifested themselves in nineteenth-century life and crossed over the twentieth-century conceptual boundaries.” The change in Turner’s outlook came when gave his figures of study a closer and more sympathetic reading: “I had begun to reject the conceptual categories then widely accepted in the historical literature because those categories simply could not encompass nineteenth-century intellectual life as I found it.” What had changed, he says, was a new sensibility among social and intellectual historians, ultimately leading to a “rethinking of the character of the secular and the religious in the nineteenth century.”

As Turner’s thought developed, he came to see religion playing an immense role in nineteenth-century Britain, culturally, politically, and scientifically. Here Turner credits the work of Bernie Lightman, Ruth Barton, Jack Morrell and Arnold Thackray and others for changing his mind. In his “The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion” Turner argued against the view that the scientific naturalists were attempting to reform and free religion from dogmatic theology. Scientists sought to “reform religion for the sake not of purifying religious life but of improving the lot of science in Victorian society.” But as Lightman’s study of Victorian agnosticism reveals, “many agnostics [and scientific naturalists] sought to set forth a serious new, non-clerical religious synthesis.” In short, they pursued “genuine religious goals and not merely the substitution of something secular for something religious.”

The changes in scholarship in the last fifty years has revealed “religion” as a “far more many splendoured thing than most of us who pursue intellectual history have tended to recognize.” Turner’s challenge to us is to “recapture that world of concrete social reference that informed both religious and non-religious intellectual life and exchange.” When we do this, he says, our present categories of “secular” and “religious” will dissolve. “Although the words secular and religious, as well as the concept of secularization, remain and intellectual historians, including myself, will continue to employ them, those terms and the often unexamined assumptions that may lie behind them no longer in and of themselves provide an adequate analytic framework for probing the Victorian age.”

Between Scientific Naturalism and “an Antiquated Religion”

The other day I began reading Gowan Dawson and Bernie Lightman’s Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity (2014) only to be side-tracked by references to Frank M. Turner’s Between Science and Religion (1974). Indeed, the volume is dedicated to Turner. I had picked up Turner’s book some months back, made copies of the introduction and conclusion, and quickly paged through it. Over the weekend I decided to give Turner a closer look.

Turner focuses on six, nineteenth-century thinkers: Henry Sidgwick, Alfred Russel Wallace, Frederic Myers, George Romanes, Samuel Butler, and James Ward. These were men of alternatives. They lived between scientific naturalism and religious orthodoxy. Abandoning the Christian faith, they could not replace it with the new naturalism. Indeed, they recognized that the scientific naturalism of Huxley, Tyndall, Spencer, Clifford, and others smacked of religious sentimentalism, that it purported to be a new guide to life. Science, according to these men, were merely “mechanical aptitude.” Sidgwick et al. were not alone. These six figures, Turner contends, were part of a larger contingent protesting the “pretensions of science to dominate thought and culture.” But they could not simply return to orthodoxy either. Thus they rejected both naturalism and Christianity. As a result, they existed in some sort of intellectual limbo. Myers summarized the middle position: “There are still those who, while accepting to the full the methods and the results of Science, will not yet surrender the ancient hopes of our race,” the “ancient hope” being “a final reconcilement of spiritual needs with intellectual principles,” the “capacity to lead rational lives, a potential for transcendental knowledge, immortality, and a destiny that partook of a divine or transcendental purpose.”

Sidgwick et al. questioned the “integrity of the naturalistic interpretation of man and nature,” “challenged the philosophical foundations of scientific naturalism,” and “contended that the theories and methods of scientific naturalism failed to deal logically, rationally, or adequately with certain inevitable human questions.” In short, scientific naturalism failed to “fulfill the much-vaunted promise of its adherents to provide a complete guide to life.”

Scientific naturalism was the “cult of science that swept across Europe” during the second half of the nineteenth century. Huxley and company were rarely in complete agreement with one another. However, what bound them together was a conviction that “in the struggle of life with the facts of existence, Science is a bringer of aid; in the struggle of the soul with the mystery of existence, Science is a bringer of light.” Holding strongly to a triad of doctrines—atomic theory, the law of conservation of energy, and evolution—they maintained that science had revealed the “uniformity of nature.” This, of course, was a metaphysical doctrine, and many contemporaries criticized the scientific naturalists for presupposing it without the verification of the scientific method.

According to Turner, naturalistic writers established their position on an epistemology founded on the positivism of Auguste Comte and the empirical philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Yet both were problematic, forcing the scientific naturalist to oscillate between an idealism and naive realism. This resulted in the appeal to agnosticism. But Turner calls this agnosticism “self-serving.” That is, it wasn’t an “honest doubt,” but rather the deliberate negligence of ontological issues.

It is interesting how the scientific naturalists portrayed themselves to the public. Their public persona was often arrogant, overly-confident, metaphysically reductionistic. At the same time, in private letters and diaries, they revealed much doubt in their own ideas. Thus we may suggest that Huxley and company were the most Janus-faced thinkers of the century.

Criticism came, of course, from Christians; but the non-Christian voice, such as Sidgwick et al., was even more pointed and pervasive. And as Turner points out in his conclusion, “what each man had hated most about the Christian faith reappeared in secular guise within the context of scientific naturalism.” Scientific naturalism ultimately proved “incompatible with the life of the mind.” In summarizing their view, Turner says

“that they have outgrown the church as exemplified in Christianity, but who have not therefore been brought to deny the fact that a religious attitude to life is as essential to them as a belief in the authenticity of science. These people have experienced the soul as vividly as the body, the body as vividly as the soul. And the soul has manifested itself to them in ways not to be explained in terms either of traditional theology or of materialism.”

In short, Sidgwick et al. sought a synthesis between science and religion.

 

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.

Science and Religion: Some New Historical Perspectives: Ways Forward

Having forayed into the complexity of the history of reading and publishing, we now return to the remaining chapters in Thomas Dixon et al., Science and Religion: New Historical Perspectives (2010). Noah Efron’s essay, “Sciences and Religions: What it means to take historical perspective seriously,” pays personal tribute to the influence of John Hedley Brooke. Efron discovered Brooke as a young historian, forcing him to rethink what he understood then about science-religion relations, gleamed from the pages of Robert Merton, Ian Barbour, Andrew Dickson White, and others. From Brooke he learned that the real lesson from science-religion relations turns out to be “complexity,” and to abstract these categories from their historical contexts leads to “artificiality as well as anachronism.” What Brooke achieved, according to Efron, was a de-reified science and religion.

This was of lasting consequence for anyone seeking to understand the engagements of science and religion. First, it becomes impossible for the historian to sympathize with projects aimed at uncovering some essence of “science” or “religion,” and, therefore, some timeless, inherent relationship between them. Further, the engagements of science and religion can only be understood by attending to context, which includes the historical, cultural, social, political, economic, and more. Further still, a new emphasis on individuals, rather than ideas of individuals, takes precedence. More recent studies on Isaac Newton, for example, have demonstrated the complicated integration of his natural philosophy with the uniqueness, idiosyncratic, heterodox, and oddity of Newton’s theology.

To be mindful of context, furthermore, is to dislodge certain prejudices. In their Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science and Religion (1998), John Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor put it this way: “It helps us to break out of the tired moulds in which treatments of science and religion are routinely cast. If we are used to thinking only in terms of harmony, it can deliver uncomfortable shocks. If we are used to thinking in terms of polarity between extreme position, it can be liberating to discover other options through the many thinkers who have occupied middle ground and sought conciliation.”

Sophisticated and sympathetic readings of published and unpublished historical documents; a palpable delight in the richness and intricacy of intellectual histories; a rhetorical style which manages to convey caution and modesty at the same time as a certain steely resolve: this is the impression Brooke’s writings have on a reader.

But Brooke’s emphasis on complexity can bring out a radically pluralistic historiography. If there is no single “relationship between science and religion,” if each faith tradition has encountered the sciences in very particular ways, and if neither “science” nor “religion” has even had a stable meaning across time, then it become extremely difficult for a discussion to take place about common experiences and shared concerns. After all, master-narratives allow some lessons or morals to be drawn from accounts of the past; by contrast, the sort of “complexity” advocated by Brooke, focusing on the historically specific, the contingent, the unique, the sui generis, does not encourage such easy moralizing. Indeed, it may “demoralize,” in the literal sense of removing the “moral of the story” from history. On the one hand, it may indeed invalidate polemical uses to which the history of science and religion has so often been put, namely by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, but also by Rodney Stark and Chris Hedges, and others; but, on the other hand, by historicizing science-religion relations, it “provides neither aid nor solace” to religious believers as well.

But according to Efron, “it may be that the complexity Brooke seeks is not narrative complexity at all but moral complexity.” “The real lesson,” Efron continues, “turns out not be the complexity itself but the decency it demands of the historian dedicated to providing for the complexity an adequate account. The real lesson turns out to be a moral one.” Brooke’s method looks at the humanity of the individual. The moral behind Brooke’s method, says Efron, is that “it approaches its subjects with respect. It treats them with dignity. It applies compassion and empathy and sympathy and imagination painstakingly to understand the lives of its subjects. And it does this delicately and with humility.” It is a method that has the uncanny ability to uncover the humanity of individuals, discovering their “intentions, visions, memories, hopes, and moods, as well as their passions and judgements.”

Brooke’s method leaves little to the imagination, leaving many feeling emotionally and intellectually unsatisfied because “complexifying history seems to have little to recommend it besides its truth.” We need themes and patterns and Brooke’s method leaves us with neither.

Ron Numbers seeks to redress the balance in his essay, “Simplifying Complexity: patterns in the history of science and religion.” In this essay he identifies five mid-scale patterns, or mid-scale generalizations, that can be used to understand trends in the relationship between science and religion: naturalization, privatization, secularization, globalization, and radicalization.

Naturalization refers to the rise of methodological naturalism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The supernatural could no longer have any part in science and no scientist today, religious believer or not, thinks “divine agency” in scientific practice is a good idea.

A second, and related, pattern is the increasing number of scientists who do have religious beliefs keep them private or at least completely separate from their scientific work. “By the 1880s,” writes Numbers, “references to God were seldom appearing in the increasingly specialized literature of science, and scientists were saying less about their religions convictions.”

A third pattern seems to be the increasing secularization and loss of faith among scientists. For example, the majority of leading scientists, up until the turn of the twentieth century, were religious believer, and many of them were Christians. But  today many scientists not only privatize their religious beliefs but abandoned them altogether. Interestingly enough, surveys of American men of science on the eve of the First World War show “belief was lower among biological scientists than among physical scientists and, as a subsequent survey showed, lowest of all among social scientists, such as psychologists and sociologists.” Some eighty years later, another survey shows virtually no additional loss of faith among ordinary scientists. But this time many traditional religious beliefs were being replaced with an amorphous “spirituality” among scientists. According to Numbers, “about 66 per cent of the natural scientists and 69 per cent of the social scientists consider themselves ‘spiritual’ people.”

Another pattern is that of globalization, and in particular the globalization of the anti-evolution movement. Anti-evolution has become “a global phenomenon, as distinctly American in its origins and yet also as readily exportable as hip-hop and blue jeans.” The movement’s most robust institution, Answers in Genesis (AiG), a Kentucky-based operation begun in 1994 by the Australian Ken Ham, has not only spawned other groups, such as Creation Science Foundation (CSF) and the Institute of Creation Research (ICR), but a network of organizations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, and South Africa, distributing books in Afrikaans, Albanian, Chinese, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian (Magyar), Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish, and maintaining websites in Danish, Dutch, Greek, and Korean as well. “Contrary to almost all expectations, geographical, theological, and political barriers had failed to contain creationism.”

A final pattern Numbers addresses is the increased intensification of debates about science and religion, which stems from the latter half of the nineteenth century. These extreme views were elevated to positions of high visibility at the neglect of more moderate ones. Irish physicist John Tyndall and English naturalist Thomas Henry Huxley were given wide press while more measured and thoughtful writers were ignored. In the United States the zealous historical polemics of Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper drowned out the voices of moderate harmonizers. “In the Sermon on the Mount,” Numbers concludes, “Jesus blessed ‘the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.’ Perhaps some day they will, but they seem unlikely ever to inherit the celebrity that assertive ideologues do.”

In the final essay of this volume, Geoffrey Cantor’s “What shall we do with the Conflict Thesis?” shows how the conflict thesis can be reconceptualized if we concentrate on what happened within the minds of individual religious believers grappling with new scientific discoveries. Using the example of eighteenth-century Dublin Quaker, physician, and naturalist, John Rutty (1697-1775), we see a man “assailed by inner conflict as he was repeatedly pulled between the opposing poles of the pursuit of science and of the pure spiritual life.” The case of Rutty, Cantor explains, raises two important issues. First, looking at sources such as diaries and letters make visible certain aspects of science-religion relations that rarely find expression in published work. And second, such sources manifest one specific form of conflict between science and religion. Rather than some meta-narrative of conflict, the case of Rutty clearly shows an inner conflict in trying to be both religiously pious and a man or woman of science.

What is more, the old, tired conflict thesis has never been a homogenous category, and has never had a consensus over precisely the nature of “conflict” involved. Was the conflict between science and religion epistemological, in the sense of conflicts between the worldviews of science and religion? Or does it involve different methodologies? Is it a conflict over values and applied science? Or does it reflect social conflict between competing groups of authority, as was the case between scientific naturalists and the Established Church in Victorian Britain? The contingency of conflict, rather than the necessity, therefore, cannot be emphasized enough.

In marked contrast to recent research, the traditional conflict thesis posits a necessary conflict. It is a master narrative which portrays science as inevitably pitted against religion, because of some essential difference between the two. Classic versions are found in John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between religion and science (1875) and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of science with theology in Christendom (1896). According to Cantor, “throughout the ensuing century this thesis has become part of our general culture, and it continues to be repeated ad nauseam in the popular media and even on academic contexts.” Although recent researches of historians have demonstrated “the immense diversity and complexity of the issues and arguments used by historical actors when discussing matters of science and religion,” the conflict narrative continues to prosper.

Cantor returns to why this is the case in his conclusion, but first he wants to preserve conflict by reconceptualizing it as a “potentiality or a situation, as a structure or a manifestation, as an event or a process.” Cantor focuses conflict within an existential framework. From the Quaker Rutty to many others, individuals have encountered what we might call “tensions or conflict arising from their joint engagement with science and religion.” Using American social psychologist Leon Festinger’s (1919-1989) two-part theory of cognitive dissonance—i.e., the incompatibility between two cognitions, where “cognition” is understood as any element of knowledge—we may begin to understand how, for example, Charles Darwin, “exercised by the doctrine of eternal damnation following the death of his father in 1848,” struggled with such inner tensions or conflicts. “He could not accept,” Cantor continues, “that his father would be subjected to eternal torment—that ‘damnable doctrine’, as Darwin described it—just because his father was not a true believer. This dissonance played a significant role in Charles Darwin’s loss of faith.”

The second element in Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance involves the attempt to frame new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, in order to reduce the dissonance between parts of knowledge. An example of this is found in what synthesist Ian Barbour has called, in his Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (1997), the Independence model, which views science and religion as “two enterprises as totally independent and autonomous” from one another. Specific examples of particular individuals modifying their existing beliefs, found in James Moore’s Post-Darwinian Controversies (1979), reveal how many Protestants in the post-Darwinian controversies made sophisticated moves towards resolution, while at the same time retaining significant parts of both their religion and the challenging theory of evolution. Cantor puts it like this:

Individuals try to make sense of their experience, which for each individual includes knowledge or beliefs concerning many diverse aspects of both religion and science. Individuals may perceive tensions within religion…and also within their view of science. Moreover, conflicts, tensions, dissonances, or whatever you want to call them are likely to occur between a person’s understanding of science and of religion. Historical actors who recognize these tensions will often try to minimize them (especially if the tensions lead to distress), one strategy being to frame a relevant problem for which a solution can be sought.

Conflict, in the sense that Cantor is arguing for, is not solely negative or destructive. “In the context of science and religion,” he argues, “conflict has been the engine of change, even perhaps of what we might call progress.” Cantor goes on to argue that conflict is “necessary for any innovation in science, in religion, but also in the science-religion domain.”

In addressing how internal conflicts morph into public controversy, Cantor examines the case of John William Draper. Following Festinger once more, he argues that one way to reduce dissonances is to reject compromise and instead try to convince others of the correctness of one’s own system. An example of this is found in Draper’s historical writings. As one of the first books to be structured on the idea of a preordained and necessary conflict between two opposing worldviews, Draper’s three-volume History of the American Civil War (1868-70) attributed the war to two hostile groups of states, the North and the South, the former being committed to freedom, the latter to slavery. This book was published only a few years before the publication of his more well-known History of the conflict between religion and science, this time postulating a preordained and necessary conflict between science and religion. Furthermore, Draper History of conflict “appeared very shortly after John Tyndall’s famous presidential address before the British Association in Belfast, for which Tyndall was widely criticized for endorsing materialism and therefore atheism.” The close temporal connection between Tyndall’s address and Draper’s back-to-back narratives of conflict makes one wonder whether individual psychology as well as social history needs to be employed in an explanation of the origins of our ideas of a conflict between science and religion.

Developments in both science and religion during the third quarter of the nineteenth century conspired to give the discourse of conflict a far higher cultural profile, extensive popularity, and social legitimacy than all the David Humes, Baron d’Holbachs, and Thomas Paines of the previous century.

This is but one course of conflict. More commonly, as in the cases of Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Robert Boyle (1627-1691), and Isaac Newton (1642-1727), conflict and tensions, far from undermining religion, is necessary for its intellectual development.

Cantor’s parting thoughts hits close to home, as it is relevant to my own research interests. If he is correct in suggesting that the conflict thesis gained prominence in the 1870s, “why were books like Draper’s and White’s so influential? And what has sustained this myth for the last century and a half? What functions does it perform? And, lastly, why has it proved so difficult for revisionist historians to eradicate?”

Answering these questions is the task I have chosen to pursue in my doctoral research, which I have already noted and will continue to discuss in forthcoming entries. But I stand on the shoulders of a giant. John Hedley Brooke’s project has emphasized the complexity of individuals and their intellectual commitments, cautioning historians against trying to group people or ideas into pigeon-holes labeled “science” or “religion,” or historiographical ones labeled “conflict” or “harmony.” In 1991, he wrote that “serious scholarship in the history of science has revealed so extraordinary rich and complex a relationship between science and religion in the past that general theses are difficult to sustain…Much of the writing on science and religion has been structured by a preoccupation either with conflict or with harmony. It is necessary to transcend these constraints if the interaction, in all its richness and fascination, is to be appreciated.” Addressing a group of scholars in his Presidential Address to the British Society for the History of Science in Leeds in 1997, Brooke maintained that “as scholars in the field we can map the multiple spaces in which the sciences have taken shape and we can relish the differentiation.”