John William Draper

McCabe and the Land of Bunk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Father Almighty—but not all-powerful,

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

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

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

Born of the Virgin Mary—who was not a virgin

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

He descended into hell—which does not exist;

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

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

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

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

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

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

The communion of saints—by telepathy,

The forgiveness of sins—each man forgiving himself,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Political Effect of the Decline of Faith in Continental Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John W. Draper as Protestant Historian

In his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), Draper commences his historical review of the interactions between science and religion by declaring that “modern science” was born in the aftermath of the conquests of Alexander the Great, and indicates that Alexandria, particularly its Museum, was the first civilization to pursue a “practical interrogation of Nature.”[1] This was the enlightenment of humanity before Christianity arose. He then follows with a more elaborate and gloomy account of the origin, spread, and ultimate degeneration of Christianity. He relates a common idealized image of primitive Christianity when he writes that

Jewish people at that time entertained a belief, founded on old traditions, that a deliver would arise among them, who would restore them to their ancient splendor. The disciples of Jesus regarded him as this long-expected Messiah. But the priesthood, believing that the doctrines he taught were prejudicial to their interests, denounced him to the Roman governor, who, to satisfy their clamors, reluctantly delivered him over to death. His doctrines of benevolence and human brotherhood outlasted that event. The disciples, instead of scattering, organized. They associated themselves on a principle of communism, each throwing into the common stock whatever property he possessed, and all his gains. The widows and orphans of the community were this supported, the poor and the sick sustained.[2]

The primitive church, the early followers of Jesus, was thus a movement of purity, according to Draper. It was a matter of life and practical goodness, enjoining veneration toward God, purity in personal virtues, and benevolence in social life.[3]

But the purity of the Christian movement did not last, according to Draper. It became popular, and was eventually adopted by many solely from interest and expediency. “Crowds of worldly persons,” he writes, “who cared nothing about its religious ideas, became its warmest supporters.” It thus relapsed into many of the forms and ceremonials of paganism, and subsequently incorporated pseudo-Christian dogmas. Indeed, according to Draper, Christianity had become “paganized” by the reign of Constantine, the first “Christian” emperor. These “modifications,” Draper argues, is what “eventually brought it in conflict with science.” He then offers an exposition of Tertullian’s famous second-century Apology as an example of Christianity’s purer days, exemplifying a life of innocence, justice, patience, temperance, chastity under persecution and struggle. All that changed, he says, when Christianity gained imperial power. “Great is the difference between Christianity under Severus and Christianity after Constantine,” he declares.[4]

It should be clear that Draper’s account of the rise, spread, and corruption of the Church was imbued with Protestant polemics. To strengthen his case, Draper even quoted a long passage from English cleric Bishop Thomas Newton’s (1704-1782) Dissertation on the prophecies, which have been remarkably fulfilled, and are at this time fulfilling in the world (1754) to demonstrate the paganization of Christianity:

Is not the worship of saints and angels now in all respects the same that the worship of demons was in former times? The name only is different, the thing is identically the same,…the deified men of the Christians are substituted for the deified men of the heathens. The promoters of this worship were sensible that it was the same, and that the one succeeded to the other; and, as the worship is the same, so likewise it is performed with the same ceremonies. The burning of incense or perfumes on several altars at one and the same time; the sprinkling of holy water, or a mixture of salt and common water, at going into and coming out of places of public worship; the lighting up of a great number of lamps and wax-candles in broad daylight before altars and statues of these deities; the hanging up of votive offerings and rich presents as attestations of so many miraculous cures and deliverances from diseases and dangers; the canonization or deification of deceased worthies; the assigning of distinct provinces or prefectures to departed heroes and saints; the worshiping and adoring of the dead in their sepulchres, shrines, and relics; the consecrating and bowing down to images; the attributing of miraculous powers and virtues to idols; the setting up of little oratories, altars, and statues in the streets and highways, and on the tops of mountains; the carrying of images and relics in pompous procession, with numerous lights and with music and singing; flagellations at solemn seasons under the notion of penance ; a great variety of religious orders and fraternities of priests; the shaving of priests, or the tonsure as it is called, on the crown of their heads; the imposing of celibacy and vows of chastity on the religious of both sexes—all these and many more rites and ceremonies are equally parts of pagan and popish superstition. Nay, the very same temples, the very same images, which were once consecrated to Jupiter and the other demons, are now consecrated to the Virgin Mary and the other saints. The very same rites and inscriptions are ascribed to both, the very same prodigies and miracles are related of these as of those. In short, almost the whole of paganism is converted and applied to popery; the one is manifestly formed upon the same plan and principles as the other; so that there is not only a conformity, but even a uniformity, in the worship of ancient and modern, of heathen and Christian Rome.

[1] Ibid., 19-23, 33.

[2] Ibid., 36-37.

[3] Ibid., 38.

[4] Ibid., 39-45.

John William Draper and His Sources

It has often been said, by his contemporaries as well as modern scholars, that John William Draper made little reference to other authors. This is not entirely accurate. To be sure, there are no footnotes or endnotes in Draper’s books. But he does refer to a variety of authors and sometimes even quotes directly from their work. Below is a complied list of some of the more significant authors Draper specifically refers to in his publications. Draper mentions some of these authors merely in passing. Others are used to support his argument in various places. Still others serve more as guiding principles of his narrative. Draper was obviously influenced by other thinkers, ones he alludes to wittingly or unwittingly simply by the style of his rhetoric. His reasons for not including all his sources are presumably complex. At any rate, this list is not exhaustive. Moreover, I have selected authors that peak my own interests. But the important point here is that Drapers explicitly mentioned all of them in the body of his work.

A Treatise on the Forces which Produce the Organization of Plants (1844):

  • Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
  • Joseph Priestley (1733-1804)
  • William Herschel (1738-1822)
  • Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753-1814)
  • Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833)
  • William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828)
  • Charles Bell (1776-1842)
  • Henri Dutrochet (1776-1847)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • Siméon Denis Poisson (1781-1840)
  • David Brewster (1781-1868)
  • Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826)
  • Louis Daguerre (1787-1851)
  • Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
  • John Herschel (1792-1871)
  • Charles Daubeny (1795-1867)
  • Macedonio Melloni (1798-1854)
  • John Lindley (1799-1865)
  • David Boswell Reid (1805-1863)
  • William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885)
  • Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891)

A Text-book on Chemistry (1846):

  • Robert Hare (1752-1811)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • Robert John Kane (1809-1890)
  • Thomas Graham (1805-1869)
  • Olinthus Gilbert Gregory (1774-1841)
  • George Fownes (1815-1849)
  • Jean Baptiste André Dumas (1800-1884)
  • […] Millon

A Text-book on Natural Philosophy (1847):

  • Thomas Dick (1774-1857)
  • François Arago (1786-1853)
  • John Herschel (1792-1871)
  • Gabriel Léon Jean Baptist Lamé (1795-1870)
  • Oscar Ferdinand Peschel (1826-1875)
  • Friedrich Eisenlohr (1831-1904)

Human Physiology (1856):

  • George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
  • Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-1800)
  • Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840)
  • Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828)
  • John Dalton (1766-1844)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
  • Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832)
  • Humphry Davy (1778-1829)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848)
  • Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)
  • Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874)
  • Henri Milne-Edwards (1800-1885)
  • Jean-Baptiste Joseph Dieudonné Boussingault (1801-1887)
  • Alcide d’Orbigny (1802-1857)
  • Justus Freiherr von Liebig (1803-1873)
  • Ernst Freiherr von Bibra (1806-1878)
  • Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)
  • Robert Bentley Todd (1809-1860)
  • Georg Friedrich Karl Heinrich von Bidder (1810-1894)
  • William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885)
  • Claude Bernard (1813-1878)
  • James Paget (1814-1899)
  • William Bowman (1816-1892)
  • Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894)
  • Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894)
  • Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902)
  • William Senhouse Kirkes (1822-1864)
  • Carl Schmidt (1822-1894)

A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe (1863):

  • Alhazen (965-1040)
  • Avicenna (d.1037)
  • Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)
  • Averroes (1126-1198)
  • Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202)
  • Roger Bacon (1214-1292)
  • Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)
  • John Calvin (1509-1564)
  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
  • Jan Baptist van Helmont (1580-1644)
  • John Milton (1608-1674)
  • Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
  • John Locke (1632-1704)
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
  • Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Christian Charles Josias von Bunsen (1791-1860)
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)
  • James Anthony Froude (1818-1894)
  • Max Müller (1823-1900)

Thoughts on the Future Civil Policy of America (1865):

  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)
  • Ernest Renan (1820-1892)

History of the Civil War (1867-1870):

  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596)
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
  • John Adams (1735-1826)
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
  • Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
  • François Guizot (1787-1874)
  • Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
  • Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874):

  • Alhazen (965-1040)
  • Avicenna (d.1037)
  • Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)
  • Averroes (1126-1198)
  • Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
  • Petrarch (1304-1374)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
  • Jean-Félix Picard (1620-1682)
  • Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
  • Humphrey Prideaux (1648-1724)
  • John Toland (1670-1722)
  • Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
  • Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755)
  • Samuel Shuckford (1693-1754)
  • Thomas Newton (1704-1782)
  • Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783)
  • Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794)
  • William Jones (1746-1794)
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Henry Hallam (1777-1859)
  • Jean-Pierre Huber (1777-1840)
  • Benjamin Collins Brodie (1783-1862)
  • François Guizot (1787-1874)
  • Richard Whately (1787-1863)
  • Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886)
  • Hermann Hupfeld (1796-1866)
  • Ernst Wihelm Hengstenberg (1802-1869)
  • John Colenso (1814-1883)
  • Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896)
  • Ernest Renan (1820-1892)
  • George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll (1823-1900)
  • William Huggins (1824-1910)

“Dr. Draper’s Lecture on Evolution: Its Origin, Progress, and Consequences,” Popular Science Monthly (1877):

  • Benoît de Maillet (1656-1783)
  • Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708)
  • George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
  • Jean-Baptiste Lamacrk (1744-1829)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Lorenz Oken (1779-1851)
  • Robert Chambers (1802-1871)

John W. Draper on Natural Law and Providence

Descartes viewed nature as created by a wise Creator, who had created the universe from nothing and let it run, like a machine, by itself. That is, there was no need for God to constantly intervene. By contrast, Gassendi believed that the laws we discover in nature are our laws, not God’s, and therefore he is not constrained by them. Likewise, for Boyle, God’s laws were palpable and plain for anyone to see; but God could tinker with them if he so chose. Newton shared Gassendi’s and Boyle’s view of divine freedom. He opposed Descarte’s mechanical philosophy and argued that the universe in fact could not sustain itself without God’s continual supervision.

By the early decades of the nineteenth century, the conception of God as a “law-giver” or “law-maker” became extremely popular. Babbage and Powell placed great emphasis on the idea of God as law-maker. Indeed, the most incontrovertible evidence of God’s existence and wisdom is found in uninterrupted law. Lyell believed that natural history is fixed by invariable laws. Herschel argued that experiment demonstrated principles of law, and told Lyell that God operated thought a series of intermediate causes. Whewell too believed that “final causes” are unnecessary. For Whewell, though, they were enough to prove God’s existence. Law was uniform but no absolute. Natural laws were not independent of Providence. Thus the very practice of science is an exercise in proving his existence.

But as we all know, later practitioners of science would eschew all this God-talk. Some have argued that John W. Draper is partly to blame. His progressive narratives of the history of science took God out of the story. But that view is entirely mistaken. Behind his “law of development” and his understanding of the nature of science was not “inconsistent with the admission of a Providential guidance of the world.” His concern was that man was not always the most reliable interpreter of the ways of God. Draper, in short, seems to be returning to the older idea of rational religion, that God was indeed behind creation, but not constantly supervising it. Towards the close of his Intellectual Development of Europe, for example, Draper argued that

It might be consistent with the weakness and ignorance of man to be reduced to the necessity of personal intervention for the accomplishment of his plans, but would not that be the very result of ignorance? Does not absolute knowledge actually imply procedure by preconceived and unvarying law? Is not momentary intervention altogether derogatory to the thorough and absolute sovereignty of God? The astronomical calculation of ancient events, as well as the prediction of those to come, is essentially founded on the principle that there has not in the times under consideration, and that there will never be in the future, any exercise of an arbitrary or overriding will. The corner-stone of astronomy is this, that the solar system—nay, even the universe, is ruled by necessity. To operate by expedients is for the creature, to operate by law for the Creator; and so far from the doctrine that creations and extinctions are carried on by a foreseen and predestined ordinance—a system which works itself without need of any intermeddling—being an unworthy, an ignoble conception, it is completely in unison with the resistless movements of the mechanism of the universe, with whatever is orderly, symmetrical, and beautiful upon earth, and with all the dread the magnificence of the heavens.

Joachim and Draper

A number of historians of the idea of progress trace the notion to the mystic Joachim of Floris (1131-1202). Karl Löwith, in his classic Meaning in History (1949), believed that Joachim had delineated a “new scheme of epochs and dispensations by which the traditional scheme of religious progress from Old to the New Testament became extended and superseded.” This new scheme is found in his work that came to be called the “Eternal Gospel,” which outlined three stages in history, the Age of the Father, Age of the Son, and Age of the Holy Spirit, corresponding with the Old Testament, New Testament, and an impending apocalyptic event, or eschaton.

Robert Nisbet, in his History of the Idea of Progress (1994), also saw in Joachim and his followers, the Joachimites, a combination of “belief in the necessity of a period of catastrophic violence to usher in the golden age on earth with a philosophy of cumulative, stage-by-stage progress from the past to the future.” Both Nisbet and Löwith explain how Joachim’s vision of history had unintended consequences, when Saint-Simon, Comte, and other positivists appropriated his vision for their own purposes.

Joachim had rejected the Church of his day as corrupt. His followers, the Spiritual Franciscans, or Fraticelli, also decried the corruptions of the Church.

I mention Joachim because about midway through his Intellectual Development of Europe (1863), Draper praised his “Everlasting Gospel.” He observed that “notwithstanding its heresy, the work displayed an enlarged and mastery conception of the history of progress of humanity.” Earlier in his book, Draper had also concurred with the Fraticelli when they claimed that the “fatal gift of a Christian emperor had been the doom of true religion.” According to Draper, the Spiritual Franciscans were reformers, and those generations who had survived the fires of the Inquisition became followers of Martin Luther.

John W. Draper on the Rise and Corruption of Christianity

Historians of science have long been frustrated that “no reference stains the clear white pages” of John W. Draper’s work. But searching for Draper’s sources has been made easier in recent years thanks to online databases and search engines such as Google Books. One particularly interesting search I’ve recently come across had to do with Draper’s understanding of the rise of Christianity. In his 1863 A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, Draper spends several chapters discussing the origins and progress of Christianity. At the outset, he makes an important distinction that scholars have usually ignored.

I here, at the outset, emphatically distinguish between Christianity and ecclesiastical organizations. The former is a gift of God; the latter are the product of human exigencies and human invention, and therefore open to criticism, or, if need be, to condemnation.

Now, historians have typically taken Andrew D. White at his word when he claimed in his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) that Draper failed to make such distinctions between “religion” and “theology.” But in his Intellectual Development of Europe, that is exactly what Draper did.

The argumentative spine of Draper’s discussion is actually borrowed from an older author. In these chapters Draper is laying out essentially a “pagano-papism” polemic. Here he quotes “a very astute ecclesiastical historian,” writing that

A clear and unpolluted fountain, fed by secret channels with the dew of Heaven, when it grows a large river, and takes a long and winding course, receives a tincture from the various soils through which it passes.

This “tincture,” according to Draper, is ultimately what had corrupted primitive Christianity. The ecclesiastical historian in question was John Jortin (1698-1770), the quote taken from his well-known and popular Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, a five-volume collection first published in 1751. Jortin was the product of the Huguenot diaspora, his father a refugee from the persecutions of Louis XIV. Interestingly enough, Edward Gibbon had also made several approving references to Jortin in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a text which Draper almost certainly made use of as well. Gibbon, for example, noted that Jortin had treated the Arian controversy “with learning, candour, and ingenuity” and he described him as “a correct and liberal scholar.” According to ODNB, Jortin’s writings “constitute the most significant Anglican ecclesiastical history of the eighteenth century and were written from a markedly latitudinarian perspective.”

That Draper found inspiration from the historical work of an ecclesiastic who had rejected the Athanasian creed, but not “Christianity” nor religion, should complicate our understanding of his philosophy of religion.

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.

John W. Draper at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Cooper UnionBefore he went to Oxford for the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, John W. Draper delivered an address at the opening of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York in 1859. Most of the lecture was published in the New York Herald (Nov 3, 1859). In this lecture Draper’s background as a Methodist and his training at the University of London (esp. the influence of Henry Brougham and the Utilitarians) are clear. His focus is education and the advancement of civilization, and here we find hints of ideas and themes that will be expanded in his later work. The following is taken directly as it was printed in the Herald.

There are two different means by which a community may assert superiority over its contemporaries—by brute force and by intellect. In the old times nations attached supremacy by a successful exercise of physical force. Successful wars were the basis of their authority, disastrous battles often their end. But the affairs of men have gradually taken such a form that power must rest on intelligence. He who seeks the improvement of his fellow men, the ennobling of the community among whom he lives, or the true glory of the nation to which he belongs, can only accomplish his purpose by spreading forth the light of knowledge, and strengthening and developing the public understanding. In his letter to the trustees of the Cooper Union, the founder of this institution, whose princely magnificence we here enjoy, has said “that it is his wish that we should see, feel, understand and know that there are immutable laws designed in infinite wisdom, constantly operating for our good—so governing the destiny of worlds and of men, that it is our highest wisdom to live in conformity to them.” So, in truth, it has pleased God to place the government of this world, in its onward progress, under the same laws as the development of man. And what does it signify if the one completes his career in a few months whilst the other demands for its majestic progress  scores of centuries? In these affairs, to Him who has eternity to work in, time is nothing—a day is with him as a thousand years, a thousand years are only as a day.

Ask the historian what is the impressive, the final conclusions to which he has come from his examinations of the life of nations, he has still the same story to tell. Nations, like individuals, are born, run through an unavoidable career, and then die, some earlier, some more maturely, some at a still later date. In their infancy some are cut off by mere feebleness, some are destroyed by civil diseases, some commit suicide, some perish of old age. But for every one there is an orderly way of progress—the same pursued by the individual and assigned to the globe. Empires are only sand hills in the hour glass of time; they crumble away of themselves, or are totally obliterated when he turns over his glass. Read, if you choose, the history of the race from which we are sprung—the white, the European race. Not long ago our forefathers were wild savages in the woods; finding refuge in caves, delighting in the adornment of ochre, and wore the red and blue daubed over their skins; some, the dwellers in the southeast of the continent, tattooed themselves; some, still worse, were accused by common fame of cannibalism. A few years elapsed; the social disposition emerges; villages and  towns appear; there is an instinctive but not an intellectual life. Still a little time more, and the rudiments of religious perceptions are distinguishable; these, from mere fetish adorations, unfold in a definite way, and better and better ideas appear, until finally the age of truth and reason in which we live has come. We look back—the opinions that were entertained perhaps only a century ago strike us with the utmost surprise, and we are fain to deny that our grandfathers could ever have really believed such things: it matter not whether they are ideas in philosophy or maxims in politics. We turn to ourselves inquiringly, to see in what consists the difference between us and them, and forth comes the same grand truth that we have recognised in the individual and on the globe.

There has been an intellectual advance, and we can no more adopt the habits, the sentiments, the opinions that guided them, than the adult man can be swayed by the trivialities which have governed the conduct of the boy. So thus I approach the great truth that I wish to inculcate here tonight—that the life of the nation is meant for intellectual development. Intellectual development overrides all other things. I do not exclude even morals. Morality without intellect is superstition. Whoever designs to improve the people among whom he lives must do so by influencing their intellect. The voice of history proclaims that all other schemes are abortive. Our European ancestors for a thousand years tried other means, and the result was a total failure. Where did the fifteenth century find them? The only ruling powers were the military and the monastic. They had carried their influence to its full extent. Had they endured for a thousand years longer, they could have done no more. They had stood by while society rose from the abyss of barbarism; to a certain extent they had assisted it; but now their work was done. The appearance of the continent and the condition of human life show what their uses and what their failures had been. There were great forests extending over vast districts, fens reeking with miasm and fever; some, even in England, forty or fifty miles in length, though round and walls of the abbey there might be beautiful gardens, green lawns, shady walks and many murmuring streams. Over trackless woods where men should have been, herds of deer were straying; the sandy hills were alive with conies, the downs with focks of bustard. The peasants’s cabin was made of reeds, or sticks plastered over with mud, with a chimneyless fire, or perhaps of peal [?] in the object and manner of his life was but a remove from the industrious beaver, who was building his solitary dam in the adjacent stream. There were highwaymen on the roads, pirates in the rivers, vermin in abundance in the clothing and beds. The common food was peas, vetches, fern roots, and even the bark of trees: there was no commerce to put off the extremity of famines. Man was altogether at the mercy of the seasons; the population, sparse as it was, was perpetually thinned off by pestilence and want. Nor was the state of the townsman better than that of the rustic. His bed a was a bag of straw, with a fair round log for a pillow; if he was in easier circumstances his clothing was of leather—perennial in duration, but not conducive to personal cleanliness; if poor, a wisp of straw wrapped round his limbs kept off the cold. It was a social condition, sad to the last degree, where nothing intervened between the cabins built of reed in the fen, the miserable wigwams of villages and the conspicuous walls of the castle and monastery. Well might they who lived near those times bewail the lost of the age-stricken peasant, and point, not without indignation, to the troops of “pilgrims, mendicants, pardoners and ecclesiastics” of every grade, who hung round the monastery and the church; to the might wassail and rioting drunkenness in the castle hall, secure in its moats, its battlements and its warders. The local pivots round which society revolved were the redhanded baron, familiar with scenes of outrage and deeds of blood, and the abbot, indulging in the last extreme of luxury, magnificent in dress, exalting in his ambling palfrey, his hawk and hounds. Rural life had but little improved since the time of Caesar; in its physical aspect it was altogether neglected. As to the mechanic, how was it possible that he should exist where there were no windows of glass, no, not of oiled paper, no workshop warmed by a fire? There was no physician for the dying rustic, but, merciful as ever, the good monk was there with his crucifix. The aim was to smooth the sufferer’s passage to the next world—not to save him for this. In the cities the pestilence walked unstayed—its triumphs numbered by the sounds of the death cryer in the streets, or the knell for the soul that was passing away. No such thing as over population was heard of: it was considered to be singularly successful statesmanship if the number of the population was kept up to its average sparse amount.

Europe thus woke up at the end of the fifteenth century, and found, so far as the domestic comforts and family life of its common people were concerned, that since the days of Caesar absolutely nothing had been accomplished. It is commonly said that this was owing to the extinction of civilization by the barbarian overwhelming Italy and Greece. But that is not the truth. In those countries the sacred fire of learning was fast dying out. It would have spontaneously become extinct had no barbarian touched it. As when you add fresh coal to a fire that is burning low you may for a time still further diminish it, perhaps risk its entire putting out, but in due season, if all goes well, the new material will join in the contagious blaze. The countless savage barbarians of Europe thrown into the foci of Greek and Roman light perhaps did reduce for a time the general heat, but by degrees it spread throughout their mass, and the bright flame of modern civilization was the result. Such was the result of a thousand years. The really influential agent, the ecclesiastic, was a man animated by intentions just as good, by perseverance just as unwearied, by an energy just as vigorous as our own. The defect lay not in him, but in the system, which vainly tried to accomplish improvement through the morals, whilst it abased or ignored the intellect. The time came at last when a different principle prevailed, and men sought to improve the social state through intellectual development. We are witnessing the wonderful result. Though scarcely three hundred years have elapsed, how many of the powers of nature have been brought into servitude to us! Nor has the apprehension which many good men in the old times entertained—that if you instruct the mind you may injure the morals—been at all verified; indeed, we find that men are better in proportion as they were wiser. In whatever direction we look we see how vast is the improvement. The physical man is more powerful, the intellectual man more perfect, the moral man more pure. For the poor, in the midst of all this social activity, this business energy, is charity any the less overflowing? For him who is eager for knowledge is there not certain to be a helper?

What is it that the very building we are sitting in and the occasion that brings us together loudly proclaim? Benevolence, a love for our race and a desire for its amelioration are as strong as ever. For the enterprising is there not an open career to wealth and consideration? The system under which it is our lot to live mingles together all climates, and tends to bind together in the bonds of commerce men of all nations and of all opinions. Under the stormy Atlantic the old and the new world will soon be whispering to one another. Whoever, therefore, I repeat, desires to better his fellow man, must take care that there shall be no ignorant man. Ignorance is not as in the old times they used to say—and it was a double blasphemy against God and man—the mother of devotion; she is the mother of superstition and misery. Brute force holds communities together just as a nail binds pieces of wood by the compression it makes—a compression depending on the force with which it has been hammered in; it also hold more tenaciously if it is rusted with age. But intelligence holds like a screw; the things it has to unit must be carefully suited to its thread; it must be gently turned, not driven, and so binds the connecting parts firmly and well together. If we want to know how we may best clear from this continent the superabundant forests that encumber it, how we may best lay the iron rail and put the locomotive upon it, how we may most profitably dig the abounding metals from the veins, how we may instantaneously communicate with our most distant towns, how we may cover the ocean with our ships, we must provide for all classes of our population improved means for scientific and practical instruction—for every man and for every woman, too, we must provide occupation.

The morality of a nation is the aggregate of the morality of individuals; a lazy man is necessarily a bad man, an idle is necessarily a demoralized population. It was doubtless such reflections which led Mr. Cooper, the founder of this institution, to establish it as a seat of practical science and art, to devote it to the pursuit of philosophy and letters, to make it a depository for historical collections, physical apparatus, mechanical models, books, drawings, pictures; to give it essentially a practical direction, not forgetting , however, that theory in the short way to successful practice, and to bestow its privileges on all the inhabitant of the United States, but especially on the working classes and on women.


It is emphatically to these that the Cooper Union offers its privileges. For them indeed is it especially intended. It engages to provide for them when their daily duty is over nightly instruction, without charge, in the various sciences and in their application to the arts, and to the useful occupations of life. Here my be learned mathematics, chemistry, natural philosophy, the various branches of physics—sciences at the basis of all those pursuits which increase the manufactures, the trade, the riches of our country. Not only those does the Cooper Union manifestly offer to every one willing to avail himself of it a knowledge of the truths of science: it also furnishes the light and perhaps more pleasant information of what is going on in the world around us—contemporary events. In its free reading room, open to all, abundant provision is made in the way of newspapers, journals, magazines. I have said  that this institution, beside providing for the mental improvement of the artisan, has likewise, so far as possible, devoted itself to the interests of a class too often overlooked, too often neglected—women. On many occasions our social requirements press with a melancholy severity on great numbers of the female sex. They cannot engage in the rough conflicts of life—God never intended them for it. Few are the occupations to which they can with propriety turn, and even in these few—to the disgrace of men be it said—they are jostled and crushed and crowded out. Yet often the friendless woman has duties to perform for herself and these dependent on her of the highest kind. Society inexorably binds her with all its rules and usages, yet society too often yields her but a feeble help. She asks no more than freedom for her hands, no more than opportunity; yet how often is that freedom, that opportunity, denied? How countless, also, is the number of women whom in like manner we compel to a profitless inaction? How many of the fearful evils of the great cities of America and Europe may be directly traced to this source! There is nothing which more solemnity, more imperiously, appeals to the philanthropist than to find suitable, and honourable, and remunerative occupation for females. By the establishment of a school of design for women, the Cooper Union has marked out one of the means by which this great evil may be abated. Yet, after all, it can only be regarded as worthily showing us the way. At this time a complete cure is far beyond the power of any man  or of any institution. For our own city doubtless what is done in these walls will be of excellent use, but what is that when we consider our widespread country?

J.W. Draper’s Introductory Lecture in the Course of Chemistry at the University of New York

John William Draper is often accused of cribbing after Comte and Buckle. But Draper had formulated his own ideas years before these other men published their work. Draper was considered a popular lecturer by his contemporaries. Thus when he began lecturing at the University of New York in the 1840s, many of these lectures were immediately published. In his introductory lecture to the course of chemistry for the medical department, Draper spoke of the intimate relationship between chemistry and medicine. “There is not a force in nature which does not affect us,” he told his students. To understand the physical agent, we must have a “general idea of the structure of the earth, the ocean, and the atmosphere; the various laws which regulate each, and the phenomena they exhibit.” In other words, to understand the individual, one must know something of his environment.

Draper goes on to argue that “The changes that we see in living things, are the consequences of fixed and immutable laws.” To understand these laws is to enter the “house of REASON.” Anticipating T.H. Huxley’s later sentiments in his “On A Piece of Chalk,” Draper informed his audience that “in each single grain of tripoli, which is found in beds and strata many feet thick, and extending over areas of many miles, it is known that there are the remains of more than a hundred and eighty millions of individuals…There is not a spot on which you place your feet, that does not cover the remains of unspeakable millions.” The dead beneath our feet provides us with a moral lesson, Draper relates. “We see that not only have individuals passed away, but also whole species, tribes, and genera, have become extinct. In the periods of human record has not the same thing happened? Great empires and mighty republics have ceased to exist, and the specific tribes of men that founded them have vanished.” According to Draper, this has all come to pass through the “operations of general laws.” “The march of events in the human family, is as little under your control as the march of those planets in the sky.” Interestingly, Draper closed his lecture by stating that “the broad hand of an overruling PROVIDENCE is also plainly discovered, dispensing with an unerring justice the rewards of national merit and national crime.”[1]

[1] John William Draper, Introductory Lecture in the Course of Chemistry: University of New-York, Medical Department (New York: Hopkins & Jennings, 1841).