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

Podcast: Science and Religion Live

In partnership with the British Science Association and their regional branches, we recently ran a series of public events about our research and the relationship between science and religion in general.  Do not fear if you were unable to attend one of our events in person, below you can listen to the panel on evolution from our London panel discussion.

The panel includes Professor Steve Fuller (University of Warwick), the Reverend Philippa Turner (Royal Veterinary College), Dr Kris de Meyer (Kings College London), and myself (Dr Alexander Hall). Continue reading Podcast: Science and Religion Live

‘How much faith does it take?’ Arguing for Creationism on Facebook

By Dr Stephen Pihlaja

For the last 10 years, I have been studying interactions between Christians and atheists on YouTube and social media, focusing particularly on how they structure arguments and categories to fit very specific social contexts. One recurring issue in my work, and one that seems particularly prescient as we collectively practice saying the words ‘President Tump’, is how arguments about theology and science are often used to reinforce beliefs which a user’s audience might already hold. They need not be logical or fact-based, but they must appear to be delivered by an ally and broadly comport with a viewer’s own belief system.

One social media user, Joshua Feuerstein, provides a particularly good case study of how this operates. He has over 2 million likes on Facebook and holds a set of intersectional beliefs that are not uncommon—the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, the right to bear arms, a small government, and Donald Trump. His videos are portrait—shot on his phone—and feature two minutes of focused and simple sermons meant to be shared for the encouragement of all.

Continue reading ‘How much faith does it take?’ Arguing for Creationism on Facebook

Henry Neville Hutchinson: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and Faith

By Richard Fallon

No one could accuse the Reverend Henry Neville Hutchinson (1856-1927) of being close-minded. He belonged to the Geological Society, the Anthropological Institute, the Royal Geographical Society, the Zoological Society, the Folk-Lore Society, the Palæontographical Society, and the Hampstead Scientific Society. He wrote a great number of popular science books, especially during a prolific period in the 1890s. He sculpted models of dinosaurs and gemstones, made scientific instruments, and even proposed designs for gas fittings that would leave a room smelling ‘fresh and sweet’.

Hutchinson was also a clergyman. Admittedly, due to illness, for most of his adult life he was an unbeneficed clergyman and worked as a writer. But, as his Geological Society obituarist observed, the ‘expository power which his ill health lost to the Church was a gain to science’. Amongst the most famous—and, according to some reviews, infamous—of Hutchinson’s popular science books were the lushly-illustrated, dinosaur-filled Extinct Monsters (1892) and controversial Prehistoric Man and Beast (1896).

Continue reading Henry Neville Hutchinson: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and Faith

Persuasion in the Evolution Wars

Wikimedia Commons
By Tom Aechtner

I would like to think that I’m a rational person; an individual who logically considers my actions and attitudes.  For instance, it’s my hope that when faced with an advertising campaign I would thoroughly study every claim an advert might make, rather than being affected by flashy images or persuasive rhetoric.  My guess is that I’m not alone in thinking this about myself.

Many of us perceive ourselves to be sensible people who are not easily swayed by the guiles of persuasive techniques, such as those found in advertising pitches or political speeches.  The problem, however, is that decades of persuasion research has revealed we usually don’t have the ability or the motivation to diligently evaluate the many persuasive messages we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Continue reading Persuasion in the Evolution Wars

Can creationists be pro-science?

Paolo creation

If someone asked you the question: “What do creationists think about science?” It’d be quite understandable for you to answer: “Well, they must hate it.” After all, we define these people by their rejection of one of the most well-known scientific theories of all time. But beyond evolution itself, how do creationists view science in general? The first problem with answering this question is that it assumes creationists are a monolithic group of like-minded people, who all hold the same beliefs for the same reasons. In recent years, much work has been done to smash this monolith, and to rebuild the pieces into a more nuanced understanding of this group of individuals.

Continue reading Can creationists be pro-science?

“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”

What is the history of “Antievolution”?

Credit: Corbis/Getty

Perhaps nobody wants to be an “Anti.” In the American abortion debates, both sides typically self-identify as “Pro-” (Choice or Life) and debase their opponents as being “anti” something-else; anti-abortion, anti-life, anti-women. People, organizations, and statements may be described as Anti-Islamic, Anti-Family, Anti-Semitic, Anti-EU, Anti-LGBT; those descriptors are most often used critically.

We seem to live in an anti-anti era, and as a historian, it’s important to be highly sensitive to “actors’ categories” describing and classifying ideas and issues in ways people themselves used. This is why some historians of “science” and “religion” have argued against using those terms to describe human activity in the ancient world, or in non-Western cultures. At the same time, respecting actors’ categories does not mean giving historical figures license to define their own legacy. Hindsight and context allows historians to observe the larger trends that individuals are part of, even when people at the time couldn’t see them. Continue reading What is the history of “Antievolution”?

Prophecy, Mistrust and Development: Religion and the 2014-15 Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone

By CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One night in June 2015 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the Ghanaian Prophet Daniel Amoateng roared to a crying, praising and screaming crowd that there would be ‘No more Ebola’. Backed by the clanks of an electric keyboard, the noise became rapturous with call, response and cheers as Amoateng declared over and over that the disease must ‘touch nobody’. Aside from prophecy, Amoateng donated scholarships to orphans affected by Ebola and, for his efforts, received the 2015 Ghana UK-Based Achievement (GUBA) Humanitarian Award. Continue reading Prophecy, Mistrust and Development: Religion and the 2014-15 Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone

What’s the best way to think about creationists?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg

What’s the best way for non-creationists to think about creationists?  Some view them, unhelpfully, as inescapably anti-modern, utterly unwilling to face facts.  This unwillingness is often supposed to be linked to religion itself, with religious belief understood as diametrically opposed to the scientific process.  Science, we are told, is about facing facts, being open to correction, being willing to be wrong.  Religion, we are sometimes told, is about none of those things. Continue reading What’s the best way to think about creationists?