The following discussion took place on the evening of the lecture, after dinner in St Edmund's College.
Brian Stanley: Response to Professor Brooke's paper
Professor Brooke's highly illuminating lecture raises two general issues of interest to me as an historian of Christianity.
1. The boundaries of 'Science' and the scientific community
In 1860 the scientific and Christian communities in Britain overlapped extensively. Many 'scientists' (the term was still a novelty) were also clergymen; many more were practising Christians. The scientific community was itself divided over Darwin's theories, and, as Huxley himself later conceded, any 'general Council of the Church scientific' that had been convened in 1860 would have condemned the theory of natural selection by 'an overwhelming majority'. The arguments advanced by Bishop Wilberforce were, by the standards of the day, thoroughly scientific ones, conforming to Baconian inductivism though also influenced by natural theology. Equally they were assessed on the basis of current scientific criteria. Wilberforce's review of The Origin of Species in The Quarterly Review was at pains to point out that his criticisms of the book were on scientific rather than a priori theological grounds, and it seems clear that Wilberforce's contribution to the debate took the same line.
The substantial retrospective re-interpretation and indeed distortion of the Wilberforce-Huxley exchange that took place in the 1890s is evidence that within 30- 40 years, all this had changed. The scientific and clerical communities had pulled apart into their respective professional spheres. Natural theology had been vanquished and expelled from scientific discourse. Evolution had triumphed in the scientific community (though at this stage, more in a Lamarckian than a Darwinian form), and had also gained a large measure of acceptance in the Protestant Christian community. Arguments against Darwin which had in 1860 appeared indubitably 'scientific' were no longer regarded as such. The shift in scientific framework or paradigm that was just getting under way in 1860 was nearly complete by the 1890s. What had once been 'science' was now 'non-science' or 'non-sense' for the great majority of those in the scientific community. In more recent times, defenders of so- called 'creation science' have sought to argue that their reading of natural history is at least as scientific as the tenets of evolution. Whether that claim is sustainable has been the key legal issue at stake in those southern American states where evangelical Christians have sought to secure for 'creation science' a guaranteed place in a public education system which forbids the teaching of 'religion'. The scientific community remains generally unpersuaded that creation science is in any genuine sense science.
Whatever view may be taken of these more recent American debates, the undeniable inference to be drawn from the historiography of the Huxley-Wilberforce encounter is that what is, or is not, regarded as 'science' is to a significant degree historically and culturally contingent. This is not to espouse a destructive relativism. The stuff of material reality operates on the basis of certain principles of order and mathematical logic which are universal and entirely independent of cultural context. Nevertheless, the questions which human beings pose to this material reality, and the interpretative frameworks which we adopt in our attempts to understand it, are influenced very substantially by factors extraneous to science as narrowly defined. The boundary between 'scientific' and 'non-scientific' ways of understanding the world is not a fixed one, and the very notion that there is such a boundary is a recent invention. It is characteristic of human nature, and especially of human thinking in the post- Enlightenment West, to imagine that our present framework for understanding the world, unlike all previous frameworks, possesses finality. Historians tend to find such confidence unpersuasive. This is not to impugn the validity of the present Darwinian framework, but simply to appeal for an intellectual humility that recognises that this framework may yet undergo quite significant re-shaping.
2. Science and human values
The second broader issue raised by the 1860 debate relates to the interface between scientific 'truth' and the basis of human morality. Samuel Wilberforce was the third son of the anti-slavery pioneer, William Wilberforce. He remained throughout his life passionately committed to the continuing campaign against forms of commerce in the human species that were predicated on the assumption that some human beings were of less intrinsic worth than others on the basis of their skin colour or hereditary make- up. Prior to his encounter with Huxley, Samuel had addressed the geographical section of the British Association, contending for the fact that Africans, pace the contentions of contemporary racist theory, were just as capable as Europeans of participating in the benefits of both the Christian religion and 'legitimate' commerce. The Christian campaign against slavery was founded on an understanding of the unity and hence the distinctiveness of the human race. What worried Bishop Wilberforce most about Darwin's theory was its apparent undermining of that foundation for Christian morality. Although he did not base his arguments against natural selection on such moral concerns, but rather on scientific 'fact', he was greatly reassured that 'facts' appeared to invalidate claims that Christian theology and morality then felt to be objectionable.
Clearly it is possible to reconcile an acceptance of natural selection with a belief in the unique status and moral capacity of the human species. Nevertheless, there are questions here which to my mind deserve more careful exploration than they have generally been given. Science cannot simply pursue its quest for empirical truth without some consideration of the ultimate human values which undergird and protect the free pursuit of scientific inquiry as of all forms of inquiry after truth. In our own day, issues such as the psychology of 'race', cloning, or GM technology have forced onto the public agenda with new urgency the question of the social and ethical responsibilities of science. Serious dialogue between scientists, theologians, and others concerned with ultimate human values, is not a dispensable luxury in the modern world.
Further comments on Professor Brooke's paper
David Thompson: I would like to make two related points about religion and the professionalisation of academic life. First, it is important to remember that in 1860 Oxford (like Cambridge) was in a process of transition from being essentially an institution of the Church of England to being essentially an academic institution, with a new, secular understanding of what that meant. Only in 1854 had nonconformists been permitted to matriculate and graduate at Oxford, with the end of the requirement to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles; the opening of College Fellowships to non- Anglicans by the University Tests Act of 1871 was still a decade away. Hence in appraising what is meant by the 'religion' side of the debate, it is necessary to distinguish between particular theological views (which varied) and the institutional fact that a majority of senior members of the University were ordained clergymen of the Church of England. Huxley was very clearly identified with those who wished to open Oxford more widely; the tractarians, with whom Wilberforce had been identified, had been to the fore in resisting that development. This has absolutely nothing to do with Darwin and the theory of evolution by natural selection, but it gives an added edge to the conflict between the two men. (In Cambridge at the same time Henry Sidgwick felt he could no longer subscribe to the Articles, and this influenced J. B. Lightfoot to support university reform.)
Secondly, the professionalisation of academic study was not confined to what we now call science. Many years ago Professor Owen Chadwick described Charles Kingsley as the last Regius Professor of Modern History not to be a serious historian. As it happens, Kingsley was very interested in natural science in the characteristically amateur way Professor Brooke describes: though perhaps the assumptions behind the distinction between amateur and professional in that context are worth examining - is it simply the fact that the persons concerned did not earn their living by science, or does it refer to a significant difference in the quality of their work? What is new, in other words, is the emphasis on sustained research to solve problems - a procedure which presumes that evidence, rather than authority, will determine the outcome. But not evidence alone: as Professor Brooke points out, one of the issues in the reception of evolution was the question of method, what he calls the hypothetico-deductive rather than the inductive. This method was to be much more characteristic of humanities disciplines like history, and eventually theology itself, than it had been hitherto. Indeed one might say that the development of this more speculative approach to explanation was the crucial change. As such it had implications which went far beyond the realm of natural science.
Finally, I agree with Dr Stanley that there were underlying and largely unspoken reasons for anxiety on Wilberforce's part, related to a perceived threat to the coherence of a Christian world-view. Ultimately those anxieties could not be satisfied by a purely scientific discussion; they required the theological issues to be addressed as well. This explains the difference between the excitement of a Baden Powell (or Hort at Cambridge) about the possibilities of a new understanding of God and the worries of those like Pusey who felt the ground shaking under their feet. In that discussion the scientific data or theories were on the edge rather than at the centre.
Wanjiru Njoya: The issue of how we define science is of particular interest, and brings to mind the wider issue of how we define both 'science' and 'religion' when thinking about the interaction between the two. This issue is dealt with by Professor Brooke in greater depth in his previous work where he poses the questions, 'Whose Science? Whose Religion?' (Brooke, J. and Cantor, G. Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science and Religion, The University of Glasgow, 1998). As was pointed out at dinner, our definitional starting point is important, and often problematic, since perceptions of what constitutes science have changed considerably over time. What I would like to highlight is the influence of the wider social and cultural environment on the way we characterise both science and religion. It is interesting to think about how these definitional issues, and the parameters of our discussion, might change if we extended the debate beyond the boundaries of western culture. For instance, Prof. Brooke (in his book cited above) mentions the case of the African diviner (or 'medicine-man') to whose mind there is no distinction between science and religion, and to whom the Huxley-Wilberforce debate, had he been present at their 1860 confrontation, would therefore have been quite incomprehensible.
The historical analysis of the Lecture, and the subsequent discussion, elucidated the way the interaction between science and religion has changed over time; similar insights might emerge if we look at how our definitions, and hence our debate, would change in the context of an entirely different culture.
Sujit Sivasundaram: Prof. Brooke persuasively argued that the encounter between Wilberforce and Huxley cannot be interpreted in terms of a crude clash between science and religion, but that historians should pay more attention to such themes as professionalisation. I asked Prof. Brooke why this argument was a necessary one for historians of science. This seems particularly relevant in the light of some remarks in a forthcoming paper by James Moore (James Moore, `Religion and Science,' in David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds, The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 6, Modern Biological and Earth Sciences, ed.Peter J. Bowler and John V. Pickstone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, in press), suggesting that the phrase 'Science and Religion' is itself a historical construct, which has arisen out of institutional formations. Speaking of 'Science and Religion' implies a dichotomy, and this dichotomy makes the argument that there wasn't a crude clash a necessary one. So why do we speak of 'Science and Religion' at all?
Robert S. White: The Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, Richard Dawkins, announced recently that Government plans to expand the number of Church secondary schools are evil. Given his very public anti-religion stance there is nothing particularly surprising about that, although his use of the term 'evil' in the context of religious schools was guaranteed to catch the attention of the media.
Perhaps more interesting was the front-page article in The Independent on 24th February 2001 which reported these views by "the eminent scientist Richard Dawkins" and went on to say that he was "leading a growing intellectual revolt" against single-religion schools. The clear subtext of the article reinforces the old stereotype that clear-thinking intellectuals are pitted against obscurantist clerics and religious people.
In the light of the lecture we have heard today which demonstrated the powerful misconceptions about the Wilberforce-Huxley debate that have become ingrained in the public consciousness, what can we learn from history about how we might seek to counter some of the unhelpful views that are commonly expressed in the media suggesting that science and religion are not only in conflict, but that the way forward by thinking individuals lies with science rather than religion?
David Clifford: Prof. Brooke's input into the subject area of the Huxley-Wilberforce debate - which as was noted after dinner, has been discussed by historians for some time - was particularly fresh and welcome, in the context of these earlier studies. The mythology of a Huxley 'victory' over Wilberforce seems to me to arise from the fact that the debate in 1860 has mostly been of interest to pro-Darwinian historians of science. Huxley-Wilberforce therefore has a symbolic value which exceeds its historical importance: here indeed was a scientist and a theologian in direct opposition; ergo, there was a science/religion divide. History has tended to favour the conclusions of Darwinists, like Huxley, against the clerics who stubbornly resisted any shift in their pre-existing ideas about creation, like Wilberforce. One hundred and forty years of hindsight is projected back onto one afternoon's discussion in Oxford, as if the shift in ideology that followed was all foretold in Huxley's reply to his tormentor.
My own understanding of the historiography of Huxley-Wilberforce, however, is that the idea of any crushing victory/defeat has been long since dismissed. This is not to say that Prof Brooke's contribution was not new, because it was from a quite different perspective; only that even atheistic historians nowadays recognize that Wilberforce was a highly intelligent and compassionate man who has been badly treated by historians since Oxford (to say nothing of Huxley's own re-evaluation). The lack of contemporary accounts of the debate is as well-known as the ambiguity of what exactly was said by either side. What is (or should be) of most interest about this event to historians is not whether there was some titanic struggle between opposing giants, but how it came to be so mythologized. Pro-Darwinian (and often atheistic) historians of science might not sympathize much with Bishop Wilberforce, but few of them will tolerate bad history as a means of gaining a political advantage. I don't think history has quite finished re-evaluating the importance of this debate yet; but perhaps it's a good sign that it has recently been considerably downplayed, in relation to the rise of Darwinism generally.
This isn't to say that Prof. Brooke's lecture escaped any taint of ideology in its attempt to present a revisionist account of the debate. (Us relativistic Humanities scholars all take this for granted, of course!) I was a little disappointed that Huxley's reply was given as "I would rather have an ape for a grandfather than a Bishop" after so much care was given to account for the doubtful accuracy of what Wilberforce is supposed to have said. Like Wilberforce's remark, no-one has recorded accurately what Huxley said in reply, but this is the first time I have heard it condensed into such an unequivocally anti-clerical swipe. My understanding of what he said, from the various accounts given, has always been along the lines of "I would rather have an ape for a relative than a man who uses his considerable intellect to mock his opponent in a serious discussion". This (and its manifold variants) were summed up in the words "or something to that effect" in the lecture. This is unfair to Huxley, and the distinction is important. Representing Huxley as a man who regards the word 'Bishop' as insult enough for his purposes is to portray him as merely childish. From what little is known of the exchange, it's hard to see either Wilberforce's joke as other than a very poor joke, or Huxley's reply as other than a somewhat lame (and rather more pompous) retort.
What historians have little grounds for saying of either man was that they did not think about their subject seriously. If they do, then the Oxford debate might as well be seen as the equivalent of a mid-nineteenth century wrestling match, in which we are called upon to take sides. We all set out to investigate historical events as free from personal bias as possible, however hard that might be. I wonder if I should mention that I am most definitely either a Christian or an atheist. But I hope I've done my best, in what I've said above (whether I've succeeded or not is another matter), to make it difficult for those who do not know me to tell.
Stephen M. Walley: I am particularly interested in the (mis)use made of evolutionary theory by various political and social movements (e.g. eugenicists, nazis, communists etc.). This relates to the confusion about the true nature of Darwinism, shared even by Charles Darwin himself due to the lack of understanding of heredity at the time. It has been said, for example, that conservative Americans are social Darwinists who don't believe Darwinian evolution. However, many fundamentalist Christians in America (those anyway at the bottom of the society) lump corporate capitalism as one of the evils unleashed on the world by evolution.
I wonder how far we can go in addressing some of these concerns by presenting the is/ought distinction to people? That just because something 'is' says nothing about whether it 'ought' to be. Question: what is the status of the 'is/ought' distinction in present day philosophy? Does it have anything helpful to say about evolution and its links or otherwise with social and political matters?
Derek Burke: Surely Darwins' original formulation of the origin of species went way ahead of what the facts demanded at the time, and it was, in that sense, inspired 'guesswork'. We have now had over 100 years to challenge the theory and all the cumulative evidence has been in support of the theory. However, that was not the inevitable outcome.
Denis Alexander: I found the various nuances and complexities of the Wilberforce- Huxley debate that you described quite fascinating. It is intriguing that all the really great scientific theories have been used for ideological purposes to various degrees, and evolutionary theory seems to have suffered particularly badly in this respect. Over the years evolution has been used to support racism, capitalism and communism, to name but a few. I know it is not supposed to be the role of historians to attempt to draw lessons from history, but one cannot help thinking that the attempt by a small subset of scientists in our own day to use evolution to support their commitment to atheism represents yet another example of misusing the prestige of a great scientific theory to support personal ideology. My own view would be that evolution is a brilliant theory to explain the origins of biological diversity, but to try and extract from it answers to questions about the existence of God or the ultimate meaning of the universe is simply to lay upon the theory a burden that it is quite unable to bear. This represents an abuse of science.
Historically what I find really surprising, given the genuinely novel aspects of the theory, is that Darwinian evolution, albeit in the more Lamarckian form in which it was generally presented in the late 19th century, was accepted so widely and so quickly within academic circles in general, and by the churches in particular. The British historian James Moore has written that 'With but few exceptions the leading Christian thinkers in Great Britain and America came to terms quite readily with Darwinism and evolution' and the American sociologist George Marsden reports that '...with the exception of Harvard's Louis Agassiz, virtually every American Protestant zoologist and botanist accepted some form of evolution by the early 1870's'. So within only 20 years of the publication of the 'Origin of Species' Darwin's theory had been broadly accepted by the mainstream churches.
In light of these observations it does seem really surprising that the reception of Darwinism in the 19th century is today often presented as if it were a historical precursor of the recent creationist campaigns in the USA and the conflicts that they have generated between certain segments of the Church and the American scientific community. Do you think that in this case scientists have been so eager to defend evolutionary theory that they have unwittingly bent the historical data to make it appear more supportive to their cause ("we scientists will triumph today just as scientists did over the stupid religious protagonists in Darwin's day")? Or do you think that the historical accounts that have been widely read until now misrepresent the reception of Darwinism in the 19th century and have tended to gloss over the fact that the churches in most places had baptised the theory in to their Christian worldview well before the end of the 19th century? Perhaps both types of explanation have some bearing on the issue?
Brian Heap: Professor Hedley Brooke has clarified the underlying tensions that underpinned the Hilberforce-Huxley debate. Recognition of their existence reminds us of the danger of reliance on a God who is seen to answer the unknowns - the God of the gaps. In today's world, neurobiologists have turned to explore the human mind with the tools of molecular biology and genome research and once again threaten to shift the boundaries.
The domain of the mind has long been seen as the preserve of the philosopher, poet and psychoanalyst but it is now investigated increasingly by 'hard' science. It remains to be seen how successful that will prove. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing from a Nazi prison said that 'we should find God in what we do know, not in what we don't: not in problems still outstanding but in those we have already solved. God cannot be used as a stop-gap. We must not wait until we are at the end of our tether. He must be found at the centre of life. The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Christ. Christ must be in the centre of life, and in no sense did He come to answer our unsolved problems' (Letters and Papers from Prison, 1953; letters of 30 April 1944 and 25 May 1944, shortly before his execution).
We are greatly indebted to Professor Hedley Brooke for his enlightening analysis of a fractious nineteenth century debate that still reverberates and threatens our understanding of the relation between science and religion.
John Brooke respondsI am grateful to all those present who helped to generate such a lively discussion and especially for the responses that have been recorded above. These raise far more issues than can be properly explored in a brief compass but I welcome the opportunity to comment on the main points.
The question of boundaries, raised by Brian Stanley, is indeed of fundamental importance for the reason he gives – that they have changed with time. In the seventeenth century when what we discern as the modern scientific movement first gathered momentum, the study of nature was usually categorised as a branch of philosophy. Isaac Newton's great book that we know as the Principia (1687) was entitled the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Those who adopted experimental methods were often said to be following Francis Bacon's 'experimental philosophy'. Those, such as Descartes and Boyle, who likened the universe to an elaborate piece of clockwork, were said to be proponents of a 'mechanical philosophy'. This makes it inappropriate to ask how such figures reconciled or harmonised their 'science' with their 'religion', as if our modern categories can be imposed on earlier debates. Certainly, each of these thinkers would have resisted any suggestion that the study of nature should be conflated with the study of scripture, but the boundaries that we take for granted were certainly not yet in place. The word 'science' had often meant knowledge that could be definitively established through rational demonstration. This helps us to understand John Locke's remark that he could not see how 'natural philosophy' could ever become a science. For Isaac Newton, natural philosophy included discourse about the deity. This is why a question such as 'how did Newton reconcile his science with his religion?' is the wrong one.
It may also be helpful to point out that popular literature on 'science and religion' is often too generalised to be incisive. Boundaries between the sciences have also changed with time, especially when new sciences have been launched. As long ago as the 1830s when William Whewell first coined the word 'scientist' he found it necessary to distinguish clearly between sciences such as chemistry, physiology, crystallography and paleontology, not just in terms of their subject matter but also in the light of their different methods. In his view, the practice of each of these sciences depended on different fundamental ideas, as he called them. In the life sciences, for example, he attached great significance to questions about the function or purpose of an organ that would be of out of place in the study of, say, crystal form. In studying crystals, however, an idea such as symmetry would play a prominent role; and in chemistry the idea of electrical polarity. In a historical science, it was obvious that in order to reconstruct the past one needed special assumptions that one might not need in a purely descriptive science. I believe it follows from such considerations that the word 'scientific' is not always conducive to clarity of thought. Like the word 'unscientific' (often a term of abuse) it tends to be used in polemical exchanges when questions of authority and belief are at stake.
There are of course strong drives for unification in our scientific theories. It would be uncomfortable if the different sciences gave us conflicting views about the structure of the natural world. In discussion it was said that currently there is a remarkable unity in what the sciences contribute to our understanding of the earth and its history – notwithstanding well known difficulties in integrating quantum mechanics with Einstein's general theory of relativity. There was also the suggestion that evidence for such unity could be particularly satisfying to a Christian theist (and to other proponents of monotheistic faiths) because it would be consonant with the belief that the universe is the product of a single mind. This prompts the further question as to whether the drive for unification in our theorising about the world has itself been driven, at least in part, by theological presuppositions and their secular legacy. A good case can be made for the claim that Newton's understanding of space as homogeneous and absolute reflected his belief in the one God who had made the world. Questions about boundaries and about unification are, however, currently under intense philosophical scrutiny. Two recent books that discuss them at a sophisticated level are Nancy Cartwright's The Dappled World and Margaret Morrison's Unifying Scientific Theories.
In some ways the most challenging point raised by Dr Stanley concerns the finality of our present frameworks and boundaries. I agree with him that historians tend to be suspicious of claims that we have finally got the right ones after centuries of error. Nor is it just historians who have been sensitive to the issues. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once asked the rhetorical question whether we should not mistrust the 'jaunty assurance' with which each age believes it has at last got the concepts with which to understand the world.
In his comments about 'science and human values', Dr. Stanley suggests that what worried Wilberforce about Darwin's theory was its apparent undermining of a foundation for Christian morality that lay in the unity and distinctiveness of the human race. If the emphasis is placed on the word 'distinctiveness', I would entirely agree. Wilberforce was one of many who recoiled at the thought that our moral sense might have no transcendental significance, as appeared to be the case if Darwin's account of its emergence and development were correct. Darwin's wife Emma was one who found her husband's views painful in this respect, ensuring that at least one contentious passage in his Autobiography was excised before publication. Darwin developed his ideas on how the moral sense had evolved in his later book The Descent of Man (1871), so neither Wilberforce nor Huxley could have known his considered views when they had their encounter. In fact Darwin's own views on morality were not as relativistic as was often supposed. He regarded the principle that we should treat others as we would wish them to treat us as an expression of the highest form of morality. His purpose was not to attack it but to explain how it had evolved. If in Dr. Stanley's sentence the emphasis is placed on the 'unity' of the human race, the story becomes more absorbing because Darwin was himself vehemently opposed to slavery. In his persistent opposition residual Christian convictions have been discerned. While it is true that his theory was used to countenance discrimination between different human races, both he and especially Alfred Russel Wallace were sympathetic to the broader view that all human races were bound by a common unity in that they had all ultimately descended from the same ancestral forms.
In responding to Dr. Stanley I have agreed that the word 'science' covers many ideas, methods and practices that have changed with time. I am grateful to Wanjiru Njoya for reminding us that the same is true for the word 'religion'. The challenging question concerning how the debate would look from the standpoint of another cultural tradition is extremely important. Such comparative studies are badly needed but remain relatively rare because few of us have the necessary skills and familiarity with other cultures to achieve a rigorous analysis. There are hidden problems, too, which one example might illustrate. Historians of science have sometimes asked why an abstract science of physics, in which the 'ideal case' was modelled mathematically, developed in the West but not in China. One, albeit partial, answer that has been given is that in China the crucial concept of a 'law of nature', understood to be imposed on nature from outside, was missing as a consequence of the absence of the theological conception of a Sovereign legislator. It can therefore be tempting to ask the question, 'What was missing in Chinese culture that prevented the development of an abstract theoretical science?' And it can be tempting to give the answer in theological terms: what was missing was a particularly propitious understanding of the relation between science and religion whereby the search for mathematically expressible laws of nature was a search for the laws impressed by the deity on the world. This may indeed have been a propitious formula in the West but to raise the question in the form 'What was missing in China?' may already betray a degree of cultural chauvinism. The hidden complication is that in another culture neither 'science' nor 'religion', as we have come to use those words, may have had anything like the same prominence that they have had in ours. In which case it may not help us in understanding that other culture to suppose that they did (though differently) or that they should have done.
This takes us to the striking question of Sujit Sivasundaram: why do we speak of 'science and religion' at all? I have a lot of sympathy with the views of Jim Moore that the conjunction that creates the composite does itself need scrutiny. One of his essays on this theme is already in print in the journal History of Science vol. 30 (1992), pp. 311-23. One point he makes with which I unreservedly agree is that in many of the disputes that have been conventionally analysed in terms of some notional relation between science and religion the underlying issues were principally about neither science nor religion, nor the relationship between them, but were matters of social, ethical or political concern in which the authority of either science, religion or both was invoked (often on both sides) to defend a view held on other grounds. Wilberforce would provide an engaging example, if Brian Stanley is correct in suggesting that his ultimate concerns were moral. Put another way: if we wish to understand the deepest concerns of past, or present, scientists or religious thinkers, to ask how they conceived the relation between science and religion can be a way of missing the point. Anyone who is troubled by this thought should read the essay by David Wilson in volume 1 of Facets of Faith and Science, a four volume collection of essays edited by Jitse Van der Meer and published by the University Press of America. If there is a 'field' of study designated by 'Science and Religion' it has surely come about in large measure by the efforts of scientists who happen to have a strong religious commitment and therefore an interest in seeking to relate their respective loyalties. To a lesser extent it is a field constituted by theologians and religious thinkers who have a genuine interest in the sciences and who might wish to appropriate their methods or to re-evaluate the threat that they might be thought to pose. Because I am privileged to hold a Chair in 'Science and Religion' I might be thought to have a vested interest in putting a boundary around the field to protect it. On the contrary, I believe that it does not stand as an autonomous discipline but requires inter-disciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches.
Robert White's question concerning lessons that might be learnt from history in order to counter anti-religious views often expressed in the media is important but difficult. It is difficult because reference to the genuine religious beliefs of eminent scientists can itself be countered in at least two ways. There could be the riposte that when the scientists of the past uttered religious opinions they were merely placatory remarks: they would say that, wouldn't they, given the religious pressures of the day? There could also be the riposte that, even if their religious affirmations were genuine, they were misguided, given the subsequent advances in the sciences and in critical philosophy. Richard Dawkins has no trouble with the claim that the sciences were supportive of religious belief – until Darwin pulled the rug from under the design argument. There are replies to these rejoinders but they require us to do serious work and (here's the catch) the replies may become too sophisticated to permit sound bites. In our book Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science and Religion (Edinburgh, 1998), to which Wanjiru Njoya kindly referred, Geoffrey Cantor and I did include an example (pp.233-5) to show how an historically informed account could be used to critique the kind of aggression to which Professor White refers. I believe it helps greatly when the religious authorities invoked by the media show themselves to be supportive of scientific research, even if they may harbour misgivings about aspects of its application. The current Bishop of Oxford is very good in this respect and it helps to break the popular stereotyping of religion versus science. As I indicated in the lecture itself, it can also be useful to emphasise the mediators, the conciliators – in order to avoid the habitual polarities between extremes. Richard Dawkins' anger over single-religion schools is no doubt compounded by their singleness, but there is an interesting cultural question here on which an appeal to history might be useful. Are there differences between religious traditions concerning the way they envisage the relationship between education and the sustenance of their distinctive faith? Might Richard Dawkins' fears be legitimate in some cases more than others?
I entirely agree with David Clifford's remark that we need to know how the myths surrounding historical episodes arose and, just as importantly, what needs they met and often continue to meet. There are constituencies who want there to be a conflict between 'science' and 'religion'. For them the anecdotal accounts can be positively attractive. Moreover, as I indicated in the lecture, there is a sense in which Huxley's alleged victory became a kind of foundation myth for professionalised science in its emancipation from the clerical-amateur tradition. I take his point, incidentally, that in deliberately setting up the debate in its popular form before proceeding to my revision, I may have caricatured Huxley more than I should. I think it is clear, however, that he had one bishop in mind! In one of the reports I cited there was the statement that from his remark there was no mistaking his meaning. Huxley was opposed to the link between Church and State that privileged the Anglican clergy. This means that some of his seemingly anti-religious remarks were not so much directed against religious sensibilities per se as against a political system by which dissenting religious traditions had been disadvantaged. David Thompson makes a similar point in his contribution: Huxley's concern that Oxford should be open to dissenters.
Stephen Walley's comments on the (mis)use of evolutionary theory to support any number of political positions are very apt. As he indicates with his reference to Darwin himself, there is a problem in knowing how best to discuss this. He speaks of confusion about the 'true nature of Darwinism'. I have a problem with this because I am not sure one can speak of a 'true nature' in this way. As with the words 'science' and 'religion', it can be unhelpful to assume an essentialist, timeless, definition. The extent to which Darwin himself, either wittingly or unwittingly, gave social meanings to his theory has been discussed in a useful article by John C. Greene, 'Darwin as a Social Evolutionist', Journal of the History of Biology vol.10 (1977), pp. 1-27, which is also accessible in his Science, Ideology and Worldview (Berkeley, 1981), pp. 95- 127. I think it is helpful to stress the 'is/ought' distinction because it is clear that card-carrying Darwinians have had to do so themselves. In his famous Romanes Lecture 'Evolution and Ethics', which Huxley gave at the end of his life, he insisted that the 'is' of naturalistic evolution had to be qualified, even resisted, in the interests of higher ethical imperatives. Richard Dawkins has, in fact, said something rather similar. On this point the recent discussion by Holmes Rolston III, in his Gifford Lectures, Genes, Genesis and God (Cambridge University Press) is helpful because he presses Dawkins on the question where his over-riding 'ought' comes from.
Derek Burke makes the pertinent point that an evaluation of Darwin's theory in 1860 would necessarily look different from one given from our retrospective standpoint when far more supportive evidence has accumulated. A similar point can be made in the context of Galileo's defence of Copernicanism and his trial in 1633. It is easy to blame the Catholic Church for condemning a theory we know to be substantially correct. Galileo's arguments were, however, less decisive at the time and, in particular, he found it difficult to disprove the earth-centred model of Tycho Brahe, who had proposed that all the planets (with the exception of the earth) revolved around the sun, which in turn revolved about the earth carrying the planets with it. It would, however, be going too far to suggest that Darwin (or Galileo) was merely speculating. A principal reason for the success of Darwin's theory was that he had spent twenty years and more collecting supporting evidence. What he did say, to Joseph Hooker in 1855, was that all he expected to be able to show was that there were 'two sides' to the species question – not that he would be able to establish the supremacy of his 'side' beyond doubt.
With Denis Alexander, I agree that evolutionary theory is often made to carry a burden it is unable to bear. This observation also relates to Stephen Walley's concerns. I would always be suspicious of claims to the effect that some particular scientific theory entails a specific metaphysical conclusion. But religious apologists have had to learn the same lesson. Much of the natural theology literature of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries exuded the confidence that the latest science demonstrated the truth of Christian propositions about the attributes of God. This was also to place too great a burden on the sciences and helps us to understand why the Darwinian challenge was so poignant. It did not so much challenge a neutral position on the mutual bearings of 'science' and 'religion' as a position in which the sciences had been on the side of the gods. On the receptivity of scientific communities and the various churches to Darwin's theory, the story is inevitably messy and complicated. One finds widely disparate reactions within the same religious traditions. Even among the scientists there were eminent physicists who were not so quickly converted. It is therefore very easy to distort a complex picture as both evolutionary scientists and religious conservatives are inclined to do in the interests of a streamlined history that supports their cause. This is another reason why revisionist histories are so necessary. There are more of them now and one hopes that they will be more widely read. An obvious example is David Livingstone's Darwin's Forgotten Defenders (Edinburgh, 1987), which set out to expose the receptivity of major Presbyterian thinkers to certain elements, at least, of evolutionary theory. Jim Moore's early book The Post-Darwinian Controversies was a sustained critique of the 'conflict' model as applied to the Darwinian debates. Books by Jon Roberts and Ronald Numbers have also showed us the diversity of responses to the Darwinian theory, both in Europe and America.
The contrast between the professional scientist and the clerical amateur, on which my argument in part rested, is open to qualification and further analysis as David Thompson rightly observes. The term 'professional' can be ambiguous for exactly the reason he gives. I think, however, that Huxley would have regarded himself as professional in both senses mentioned: in seeking to establish rigorous standards for scientific research and in drawing an income from it. A qualification worth mentioning is that one could be a rigorous 'professional scientist' and yet still be sympathetic to the continuation of a natural theology. This would be true of William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) who complained that the argument for design was being too much 'lost sight of' in the life sciences. One could be a rigorous physical scientist such as the Cambridge Lucasian Professor, George Stokes, and still be an evangelical Christian. Conversely, an amateur interest in natural history did not have to be combined with strong religious faith. Another complication would be that one could be up to 'professional' standards in one branch of the sciences but an amateur in others – a situation we know only too well today. Dr. Thompson's thesis that what was really new in the professionalisation of the disciplines was a commitment to sustained research in order to solve problems fits the case very well. Huxley would undoubtedly have felt secure on this score and his attitude survives to this day in the minds of scientists who sometimes imply that no-one has a right to be heard on questions about the nature of science unless they have done research themselves. Once again, however, the picture is not black and white. When membership criteria had been discussed in the early 1830s for the British Association for the Advancement of Science, it was the supposedly 'clerical amateur' William Whewell who had proposed research-based publication as a desideratum. The fact that the history is always so much richer than our categories assume is one of the reasons why it is enriching and endlessly fascinating.
In conclusion I should like to thank Brian Heap for having hosted such an enjoyable discussion and for his own concluding remarks, which remind us that the reasons why many come to a religious faith in the first place usually have very little to do with the supposition that there are things science cannot explain. This is immensely important because scientific materialists and atheists, when attacking religious belief, often operate with the mistaken assumption that to demonstrate the possibility of a naturalistic explanation for every phenomenon is all that is required to render a deity redundant. From Bonhoeffer's enlightened position, even a demonstration that such an explanation had been given for every phenomenon would not vitiate a religious response to such an explained world.
Dr Denis Alexander is Chairman of the Programme of Molecular Immunology at The Babraham Institute, a Fellow of St. Edmund's College, Cambridge, and Editor of the journal Science & Christian Belief.
Professor Derek Burke is former Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and President of Christians in Science.
Dr David Clifford works on nineteenth-century literature, science and religion. In particular he is interested in the relationship between ideas on transformism before Darwin and their cultural crossover into mid-19th century reformist political movements.
Professor Brian Heap is Master of St. Edmund's College, Cambridge and Vice-President and Foreign Secretary of The Royal Society, the UK's Academy of Science. He is an endocrine physiologist.
Mr Wanjiru Njoya is an Advocate at the High Court Bar, Nairobi, Kenya, doing research for a PhD at St Edmund's College, Cambridge.
Mr Sujit Sivasundaram is currently completing his doctoral thesis, tentatively titled, 'God, Man and Nature: Evangelical Explorations of the Pacific, 1795-1850', in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge.
Dr Brian Stanley is a Fellow of St Edmund's College and Senior Research Associate in the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. He is an historian of Christian missions and Christianity in the non-western world.
Dr David Thompson is Senior Lecturer in Modern Church History and Director of the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies, University of Cambridge. He is a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.
Dr Stephen M. Walley is a Research Associate at the Cavendish Laboratory (Department of Physics), University of Cambridge, with research interests in Impact Mechanics. He is International Secretary of 'Christians in Science', and has an ongoing interest in the history and philosophy of the theory of evolution.
Professor Robert (Bob) S. White is Professor of Geophysics at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St. Edmund's College, Cambridge. He studies volcanoes and earthquakes, and the structure of the earth resulting from plate tectonic motions.