Spiritualism, religion and mathematics in the Victorian period

Late nineteenth-century British culture was somewhat preoccupied with the presence of ghosts. Conjuring spirits at séances was a popular pastime, with the exploits of some spiritualists, such as the medium Henry Slade, the fodder of press gossip and celebrity. Communicating with spirits became of deep interest to some scientists, including the physicist William Crookes and the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who debated their peers about aberrant physical phenomena and whether certain observations confirmed the reality of spirits or not. Continue reading Spiritualism, religion and mathematics in the Victorian period

“The most pestilential book ever vomited from the jaws of hell”

Radicalism and science at the publisher John Chapman

In the latter nineteenth century several British doctors, philosophers and naturalists embraced scientific principles as the ones upon which society should best form itself for the future. The theory of evolution, the atomic theory of matter and the theory of the conservation of energy were the core theories upon which this new group hoped to reshape society for the modern period. Historians now call this group of high profile Brits the “scientific naturalists”. Herbert Spencer, whose philosophical exposition of evolutionary principles for society became highly influential, John Tyndall whose essays on religion were widely read and debated, and Thomas Henry Huxley, who later acquired the name “Darwin’s bulldog”, were tireless advocates of this scientifically infused world-view. Continue reading “The most pestilential book ever vomited from the jaws of hell”

Why I am not a Christian: Bertrand Russell on Science and Religion

The philosopher, logician and peace activist Bertrand Russell lived for almost a century, with his life spanning from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. He grew up in Britain at the height of its empire, and lived through much of the twentieth century’s major upheavals including two European world wars, the rise of communism, women’s emancipation, America’s rising imperialism and the cold war. By the age of 40 Russell was deeply involved in political movements. Russell’s achievements in philosophy and logic had given his opinions on broader political and contemporary issues deeper significance. Many of these opinions concerned both science and religion. Although Russell gave up his Christian faith in childhood, he continued to write about religion as well as moral, ethical, and scientific questions in books and essays such as Mysticism and Logic (1917), “Why I am not a Christian” (1927), The Scientific Outlook (1931) and Religion and Science (1935). The media, including many British newspapers and BBC radio and television programs, sought out Russell’s perspective on many topics including those on science and religion. Continue reading Why I am not a Christian: Bertrand Russell on Science and Religion