Summary The object of this study is to analyse certain aspects of the debate between David Brewster and William Whewell concerning the probability of extra-terrestrial life, in order to illustrate the nature, constitution and condition of natural theology in the decades immediately preceding the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin's Origin of species. The argument is directed against a stylised picture of natural theology which has been drawn from a backward projection of the Darwinian antithesis between natural selection and certain (...) forms of the design argument. Contrary to the popular image of natural theology as an essentially static, autonomous and monolithic set of presuppositions about the existence of design in nature, the paper underlines the existence of a fundamental divergence of strategies within natural theology, a divergence that, in the case of Brewster and Whewell, can be correlated with the religious cultures to which they most closely belonged. The fact that, in the plurality of worlds debate, their respective positions became mutually exclusive suggests that the fragmented and disordered state of natural theology, only too apparent before the Darwinian impact, was occasioned as much by the ulterior problem of rationalising the excessive space of the astronomers and the excessive time of the geologists as it was by any principle of the uniformity of nature in the biological sphere. The argument is substantiated with particular reference to the breakdown in communication as Brewster and Whewell developed conflicting strategies to expose the ?development hypothesis? that had appeared in Vestiges. Their altercation also reveals a certain conflict of status concerning the conclusions of astronomy and geology which, in turn, suggests that tensions between the physical and life sciences were not peculiar to the period following the publication of Darwin's theory. (shrink)
In The life of Richard Owen by his grandson there is an inference to the effect that Owen had objected to his name being used to authorize various statements that Whewell was drafting in opposition to the Vestiges. The inference is drawn from letters that Whewell wrote to Owen on 13 and 15 February 1845. Corroboration of this would corne from a letter of Owen to Whewell, dated 14 February 1845, if extant. Among the Whewell papers at Trinity College, Cambridge, (...) there are several letters from Owen to Whewell, none of which bears that date. There is one, however, dated 14 February 1844 which, on doser inspection, turns out to be the missing link in their correspondance. The evidence for the misdating is not merely that the letter falls naturally into a later sequence. The conclusion is inescapable because Owen refers to an ‘opinion which I have always entertained, and still do strongly, on the subject of a refutation of “Vestiges”’. Since the first edition of Chambers's book did not appear until October 1844, the letter must belong to the following year. My object in this paper is to examine the implications of this letter for a reconstruction of Owen's attitude to that book which Adam Sedgwick could so detest for, among many things, its ‘gross views of physiology’. (shrink)
Abstract The primary purpose of this essay is to review Nidhal Guessoum's Islam's Quantum Question from a perspective outside Muslim tradition. Having outlined the main contours and contentions of the book, general issues are raised concerning the reconciliation of religious belief with the sciences. Comparisons are drawn between the resources available to Christian and Muslim cultures for achieving reconciliation, with particular reference to scriptural exegesis and natural theology. Speculative questions are then raised concerning possible differences between the Christian and Islamic (...) experience and whether these may shed any light on the facilitation in Europe of an enduring scientific movement. (shrink)
Proclaiming Louis Pasteur as the “Founder of Stereochemistry”, the distinguished Scottish chemist, Crum Brown, addressing a late nineteenth-century audience of Edinburgh savants, drew attention—as Pasteur had incessantly done—to the intimate relationship between living organisms and the optical activity of compounds sustaining them. It seemed to Crum Brown “that we must go very much further down in the scale of animate existence than Buridan's ass, before we come to a being incapable of giving practical expression to a distinct preference for one (...) of two objects differing only in being one to the right and the other to the left”. Crum Brown's lecture must have been entertaining, but it was also motivated by a serious desire to do justice to a particular assertion of Pasteur—an assertion which had, moreover, been misunderstood and dismissed by no less a chemical genius than Wilhelm Ostwald. Writing at a time when the majority of his colleagues were stressing the resemblances between inorganic and organic compounds, Pasteur had insisted that he “could not point out the existence of any more profound distinction between the products formed under the influence of life and all others” than that “artificial products have … no molecular asymmetry”. Pasteur was obliged to concede that the chemist might produce enantiomorphic pairs of isomers, but without resorting to a manual separation of crystals he was powerless to imitate Nature's performance, powerless to fabricate by chemical means a separate optical isomer, divorced from its partner. Now it was not only Crum Brown who felt that chemists had brushed aside this proposition of Pasteur. In his 1898 Presidential Address to the chemical section of the British Association, Professor F. R. Japp also complained that the possible vitalistic implications of Pasteur's distinction between natural and artificial products had been misapprehended or tacitly ignored. (shrink)
Abstract. The purpose of this essay is to introduce a collection of five papers, originally presented at the 2009 summer conference of the International Society for Science and Religion, which explore the reception of Darwin's science in different religious traditions. Comparisons are drawn between Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Indian responses to biological evolution, with particular reference to the problem of suffering and to the exegetical and hermeneutic issues involved.
The separation of science and religion in modern secular culture can easily obscure the fact that in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe ideas about nature were intimately related to ideas about God. Readers of this book will find fresh and exciting accounts of a phenomenon common to both science and religion: deviation from orthodox belief. How is heterodoxy to be measured? How might the scientific heterodoxy of particular thinkers impinge on their religious views? Would heterodoxy in religion create a predisposition towards (...) heterodoxy in science? Might there be a homology between heterodox views in both domains? Such major protagonists as Galileo and Newton are re-examined together with less familiar figures in order to bring out the extraordinary richness of scientific and religious thought in the pre-modern world. (shrink)
It has been a singular privilege to preside over the BSHS as it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. As we share our festivities with the British Association annual meeting at Leeds, I am doubly honoured to be giving this address. A fiftieth anniversary is a sentimental occasion. It is a moment when we can express our gratitude to our many friends and forebears who by their dedication have enabled the Society to grow and flourish. That so many of those friends should (...) be with us to share in our celebration is a source of delight to us all. To our past presidents, former editors, officers and councillors, I extend the warmest welcome. And to our visitors and guests from overseas, I should like to say how much we value your presence and contribution to this conference.Is there not, then, an incongruous note in my title – a hint of foreboding perhaps? If tempted to speculate on its source one might have wondered whether it is in those rumours we sometimes hear that the end of science is nigh. When we can almost clone humans and almost explain the moment of creation, what is there left? Might the end of science not spell the end of its history? A moment's reflection suggests that this cannot be. After all, the question why science should have come to an end when it did would still keep historians in business. And the more intriguing question of why the end of science has been proclaimed at the end of each of the last four centuries would keep us in business even longer! (shrink)
. The object is to examine strategies commonly used to heighten a sense of the sacred in nature. It is argued that moves designed to reinforce a concept of Providence have been the very ones to release new opportunities for secular readings. Several case studies reveal this fluidity across a sacred‐secular divide. The irony whereby sacred readings of nature would graduate into the secular is also shown to operate in reverse as anti‐providentialist strategies invited their own refutation. The analysis is (...) used to support the claim that the sciences have put fewer constraints on religious belief than is generally assumed. (shrink)