Old Categories, New Territories, and Future Directions: A Response to Bernard Lightman

Map of the universe, from Petrus Alphonsi, Dialogi cum Moyse Judaeo. Shelfmark: MS. Laud Misc. 356, fol. 120r

By Peter Harrison

A note from the editor: In a previous article on this site, historian of science Bernard Lightman offered a reflection on the new work of Peter Harrison. Harrison’s book, The Territories of Science and Religion, seeks to outline how conceptions of science and religion have changed throughout history, and details the inadequacy of projecting our present categories onto the past. In his reflection, Lightman raised four points about Harrison’s work: concerning the influence of Darwin’s evolution, the role of ‘professionalization’, the impact of evolution on natural theology, and how Harrison’s Territories relates to the ‘complexity thesis’, the current dominant idea in the historiography of science and religion. Below is Harrison’s response to Lightman’s post:

I’m grateful to Bernie Lightman for his thoughtful and perceptive comments on The Territories of Science and Religion. Lightman is a leading authority on science and religion in the nineteenth century, and a scholar from whom I have learned a great deal. Accordingly, I was interested to see his assessment of my treatment of a pivotal period in which he has a particular expertise. Fortunately, it seems mostly to have passed muster, although Lightman has issued a few challenges and identified some important issues that warrant further attention.  Continue reading Old Categories, New Territories, and Future Directions: A Response to Bernard Lightman

“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’s in a name? Does Darwin hinder the acceptance of evolution?

Copyright: Charis Tsevis, TIME Inc. 2009. Licensed under the Creative Commons scheme for Non Commercial Use.

For nearly 35 years, Gallup has polled Americans regarding their views on human evolution using a polling question that gives respondents three options to choose from regarding human origins. Surprisingly, the results of the survey question remained relatively steady over time. Since 1982, the percentage of Americans that believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years has remained relatively stable at just over 40%. Continue reading What’s in a name? Does Darwin hinder the acceptance of evolution?

Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying

Today, Friday February 12th 2016, is the 207th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Celebrated around the world as ‘Darwin Day’, events across 6 continents from Tel-Aviv to Tokyo will commemorate the English naturalist’s work, explore his legacy, and discuss the current state of affairs in the field of Evolutionary Biology and beyond. Whilst the majority of those attending lectures or participating in events today may do so to simply learn more about Darwin’s work, it is an opportune time to consider more deeply ‘why Darwin?’ Why not Newton, Einstein or Turing Day? Further, are we naïve to presume that such commemorative days are purely about celebrating history and science? Is what on the surface seems like a secular celebration of a historical scientific figure, in danger of alienating those with religious beliefs, and deifying one figure above all others? Continue reading Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying