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.