SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND IDEOLOGY.
THE CASE OF E VA NGELICA LS A ND EVOLUTION
David N. Livingstone
This Communication was previously published in Science and Faith, Newsletter No. 6 of the RSCF, June 1986, pp. 5-15.
From: PSCF 39 (March 1987): 41-45.
In recent years the status and image of science have undergone something of a revolution as historians, philosophers and sociologists have plied the tools of their trade. Scientific claims to objective knowledge have been challenged from various philosophical quarters, and these have been more than matched by the ethical dilemmas arising from apocalyptic visions of nuclear holocaust, the chilly winds of environmental decay, and the human face of technology in assembly-line alienation. Besides these reassessments is the even more radical critique of those who see the scientific enterprise as a cultural product and a political resource, and therefore as nothing less than a tool of ideological imperialism. It is on this latter rereading of the science story that I wish to focus by taking another look at that old chestnut, "evangelicals and evolution." Old it may certainly be, but the "Darwin industry," as it has been styled, continues to be one of scholarship's most productive multinational enterprises, packaging its product, to continue the metaphor, in many new wrappings. Via the examination of some of these major trends in historical interpretation, it will be possible to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the more radical critics.1
Traditional histories of science, Whiggish in spirit and triumphalist in character, conventionally resorted to the language of warfare and struggle in their reconstruction of faith's encounter with science. This conflict model, with its military metaphors and campaign veterans, was enshrined in the celebrated best-seller, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, published in 1875 by John W. Draper. Clever metaphor that it was, the book provoked a whole spate of similar crusade reveries most notable in the works of Andrew Dixon White and James Y. Simpson.2
As the documents of the scientific past have been ransacked, however, the whole apparatus of this "conflict" arsenal has been dismantled with forensic precision by a squad of historical revisionists. In the period before 1850, for example, it has long been recognized that the vocabulary of controversy is just simply inappropriate. The new science of geology, to take just one case, happily counted among its advocates such English clergymen as Sedgwick, Buckland and Coneybeare, and sombre Scottish Calvinists like Playfair, Hugh Miller and John Fleming.3 Again, the pervasive influence of the natural theology ethos throughout the entire nineteenth century, not to speak of earlier, has had to be taken more fully into account,4 while, as we will presently see, many evangelicals found the conceptual resources necessary to absorb any shock-waves emanating from the Darwinian revolution. Even the Wilberforce-Huxley melodrama, so colourfully portrayed by popularists like Irvine,5 now appears more the product of historical predisposition than a description of what really happened. Gilley, recently raking over the ashes of this supposed fracas, have succeeded in finally dispelling the disarming simplicity of the so-called "Victorian crisis of faith."6
These revisionists have certainly made their case. But it would be foolish at the same time to deny the secularizing role that science has played since the late Victorian period. Although, as a source of religious scepticism, science probably did less harm than the ethical revolt against Christian convention, the explosion of radical biblical criticism popularized in Essays and Reviews, working class defection from institutional religion and inter-denominational feuding.7 Nor should it be taken to mean that no one felt a tension between the call of faith and the findings of science. Many examples could be cited, and among them Charles Hodge's dismissal of Darwinism as atheism must figure prominently. For him, as for many others, there was a direct clash between the claims of natural theology and those of natural law!8 Among evangelicals of a different tradition, to take another random case, Alexander Winchell, a prominent American geologist and Wesleyan Methodist, devoted some 400 pages to the subject in his tome Reconciliation of Science and Religion in 1877-a task evidently assuming mutual antagonism.9 And certainly the accommodationist strategies of classical liberalism only make sense against the background of a perceived need to reconstruct Christian theology along lines dictated by scientific overlords. The scientific dogmatics of a Tielhard de Chardin or a Don Cupitt only represent the latest in a long line stretching back to John Fiske, Henry Ward Beecher and Frederic Myers.10 Again, the fact that the vocabulary of hostility is not far from the lips of latter-day creationists. and their evolutionary opponents should caution against a too facile expulsion of the warfare analogy to the mists of historical fantasy.
Still, the warfare model has, by and large, done little to advance our understanding of the interface between science and Christianity in history, and it is because of its ambiquities and crudities that some historians of science have recast it in a more restricted vein. Here, the conflict is transmuted into a competition, and is applied not so much to science and faith per se, but to the "struggle" for cultural ascendancy in society contingent upon the appearance of the new scientific professional. Frank Miller Turner is the leading architect of this interpretative realignment, and he has made out the case for a Victorian battle for social preeminence between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the new, thrusting scientific elite. The "conflict," then, is to be seen in terms of a shift in intellectual authority from the pre-professional clerical sage to the middle class professional intelligentsia. The amateur parson-naturalist who had hitherto played a noble role in the advance of science's discoveries was somehow by late Victorian days a quaint anachronism in the laboratorial world of the emerging disciplinary specialist.11 So when men and women fell on hard times, whether because of the threat to harvest, cattle plague, or typhoid in the Royal household, it was questionable whether they should obey the clergy's call to prayer or turn to the agricultural, veterinary, and medical experts. If the choice was initially hazy, it was rapidly resolved in a predictable direction. The manifest success of sanitary engineering, preventive medicine, and the surgeon's knife heralded an increasing privatization of religious observance, and an accompanying transfer of societal kudos into the hands of a willing scientific fraternity. As Turner concludes: "If the movement from religion to science in western culture represented, as some would contend, the exchange of one form of faith for another, it also meant the transfer of cultural and intellectual leadership and prestige from the exponents of one faith to those of another.... It was a clash between established and emerging intellectual and social elites for popular cultural preeminence in a modern industrial society."12 All this, moreover, has been reinforced in the writings of another student of Victorian intellectual life, T. W. Heyck, who finds at least one locus of the "conflict between science and theology" in "the effort by scientists to improve the position of science. They wanted nothing less than to move science from the periphery to the centre of English life."13
This analysis certainly does throw light on some infernally stubborn problems in the history of the science-religion saga. It helps explain, for example, the rise of the Wilberforce versus Huxley legend. The later passion to purge the British Association of the stain of clerical dilettantism would evidently favour a reconstruction of that debate in the baldest mediaeval versus modern terms. On the other side of the Atlantic, some of the early Princeton opposition to evolution clearly needs to be seen in the context of the attempts to dissolve links between the College and the Seminary, and therefore disengage science from theology.14 Although in that same institution the very substantial willingness of evangelicals to negotiate a modus vivendi with the new evolutionary doctrine and the shared religious world-picture of the scientific professionals and their theological colleagues doubtless played an important role.15 Besides this, the competitive reading, I think, clarifies much of the otherwise ambiguous rhetoric on the lips of certain scientific publicists. Huxley's craving for an evolutionary teleology, Galton's hankering after a "scientific priesthood," and Geddes's substitution of Darwin for Paley, certainly invite such exegesis. 16 Indeed, if intellectual authority in modern society has not passed to the professional scientist why is it that cries of "pseudo-science" are so often on the lips of both creationists and evolutionists? And why is it that unbelievers and believers alike continually resort to science for ideological selfjustification? As Eileen Barker, in her sociological wanderings through a variety of scientific gatherings, concludes: "The Biblical literalist, the Evangelical revivalist, the political visionary and even the slightly perturbed old priesthood of the established theologies turn to the new priesthood [of science] for reassurances that their beliefs have not been left behind in the wake of the revolutionary revelations of science. The new priesthood has not been found wanting. Sometimes with formulae, sometimes with rhetoric, but always with science, the reassurance is dispensed."17
Plainly this approach has much to commend it; but it surely is worth emphasizing that by itself it cannot accommodate all aspects of the science-religion question. Indeed it is in connection with some of the model's greatest strengths that most care must be taken. Religious knowledge, to be sure, cannot be cut loose from religious knowers, nor scientific theory from scientific practice. Both are rooted in society, and it is well to remember that they can be manipulated to serve particular group interests. But this in and of itself tells us really very little about the nature of religious and scientific understanding, nor about the adequacy of the grounds for resorting, say, to surgical operations rather than to spiritual observance. Such theoretical questions would clearly have to be resolved by other criteria whatever the legacy of historical judgment may have been. Then too, by focussing on the social struggles of theologians and scientists, the "competition approach" solidly ties both enterprises to the moorings of popular culture. Clearly this has advantages in explaining the flowering of Victorian naturalism. But since the average Jesus-freak knows as much about theology as the average hip-ecologist knows about environmental science, we may well be justified in asking what relation Victorian folk religion bears to biblical Christianity. The substitution of popular confidence in hygiene for the faith of vernacular supernaturalism leaves quite untouched the relationship between Christian theism and scientific naturalism. Let us remember too that there were evangelical spokesmen prepared to relinquish their theological hold on some things. Here I am thinking of Warfield who told his readers that "teleology is in no way inconsistent with ... a complete system of natural causation. Every teleological system implies a complete 'causo-mochanical' explanation as its instrument."18
Predating this rereading of the record is an alternative historical interpretation characterized by its emphasis on the cooperation science has received from Christianity. In this context its advocates are well known. Briefly, the sociological work of Merton correlating the rise of English science with the advent of Puritanism was later supplemented by the theological reflections of Hooykaas, whose seminal work, found in the doctrinal thought-forms of the Reformation, specific principles foundational to the very possibility of experimental science."19 Support for, and opposition to, this general narrative need not detain us here. Suffice it to say that so far as the nineteenth century is concerned, James Moore's monumental survey of Protestant responses to Darwin suggests, as a broad generalization, that it was among orthodox believers who retained a firm hold on Calvin's doctrine of Providence that the least religious nervousness was experienced.20 Indeed I have discovered a vibrant tradition of evangelical evolutionism, particularly in the United States, which has been ignored or suppressed by certain propagandists.21 It was, for example, through the efforts of three evangelicals-James Dana, Asa Gray and George F. Wright--that Darwin got a fair hearing in the New World; in the denominational journals George Macloskie, a Presbyterian, and Alexander Winchell, a Methodist, disseminated their evangelical brand of theistic evolution; among the theologians such revered names in the evangelical tradition as Warfield, Orr, A. A. Hodge, Iverach, Strong, Pope, and McCosh, not to mention a host of lesser known individuals, all embraced the new biology in one form or another.
This general scheme of interpretation is plainly attractive. It accommodates both theoretical and social dimensions of our subject, for example, by engaging both the theological ideas and the human networks in which scientific practice was ultimately rooted. Even for controversial periods like Darwin's century, it redraws our attention to aspects of that drama that have lain hidden beneath a veneer of positivist rhetoric. At the same time, the cooperative agenda is not complete, If Christianity was so central to the growth of science, how may we explain its secularizing ethos, its reductionist and materialist inclinations, and the sense of cosmic loneliness which came with the breakup of the natural theology canopy? Besides, to leave the nineteenth century for a moment, there is the ethical challenge forthcoming from those frankly critical of scientific rationality itself and therefore of its Judaeo-Christian underpinnings. The advanced state of environmental pollution, the unprecedented threat of nuclear holocaust, the exhaustion of the soil by agricultural mismanagement and forest clearance, and the undreamt of horrors of biological warfare are just some of science's nasty gifts that have to be weighed in the balances against the evident benefits of engineering, agriculture and medicine.
Perhaps the most coherent effort to transcend the emphases on conflict and cooperation is the argument for ideological continuity, most forcefully articulated by the Marxist historian of science, Robert M. Young. In a number of influential articles, Young advanced the proposal that "conflict" readings of the great Victorian debate on "Man's Place in Nature" have only obscured the fact that both religion and science are socially sanctioned ideologies.22 And, in developing his critique, he has made use of the old idea of theodicy, a doctrinal move originally designed to diffuse the problem of evil. What Young suggests is simply this: the theodicy grounded in theology (justifying the ways of God to humanity) has been replaced by a scientific theodicy (justifying the ways of nature to society). In both cases the existing social order is ratified and therefore science, no less than religion, continues to support the principles of adjustment and conformity. Darwin is nothing but a secular Paley.
Whatever the inadequacies of Young's ultimately Marxian programme, he has nonetheless compiled an imaginative travelogue to guide us through the maze of the Victorian intellectual landscape. The much vaunted talk of a "Church Scientific," lay sermons, a Scientific Priesthood, and what not, begin to make sense in the context of a transition to a new theodicy. Then the ultimate imprimatur of establishment acclaim, burial in Westminster Abbey, which was accorded to Darwin, thanks to the frenetic string-pulling of John Lubbock, can now be read in a new light. Moore, following the broad sweep of Young's portrait, finds much symbolic significance in the solemn bearing of Darwin's body "up the nave by Huxley, Wallace and other dignitaries ... to its resting place a few feet from the monument to Sir Isaac Newton." It was, he suggests, "the trojan horse of naturalism entering the fortress of the Church."23 Besides, Young's arguments do full justice to the pre-Darwinian roots of secularization and to the resort to the scientific creed by the intellectuals of the new status quo casting about for some new consensus..That religious believers shared much of this value-system only seems to strengthen the case.
Let me mention one particularly dramatic instance of this kind of conceptual maneouvre where the pressing of evolution into the service of ideology is all too clearly paraded. Throughout the last century, numerous individuals were intoxicated with the hope of isolating some scientific measure of racial differences. A whole subfield of anthropology- anthropometry or somatometry---emerged to satisfy their needs. This sub-disciplinary specialism had no necessary ideological undertones, but many practitioners believed that the inferiority and superiority of particular races could thereby be unambigously established. Scientific racism, drawing from disciplines as diverse as evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, the new human geography, and certain schools of history, rapidly contributed ammunition for a battery of social policies ranging from eugenics to immigration restriction." Here the "constitutive role of evaluative concepts" in science, to use Young's own terminology,25 is all too clear. Nor were evangelicals immune from such machinations. Consider, for example, the judgments of two prominent evangelical scientists in the America of last century. In the case of Arnold Guyot (Princeton's Professor of Physical Geography and Geology and guest lecturer to the Seminary's students), it was the Creator who had "placed the cradle of mankind in the midst of the continents of the North ... and not at the centre of the tropical regions, whose balmy, but enervating and treacherous, atmosphere would perhaps have lulled him to sleep the sleep of death in his very cradle."26 For Winchell, by contrast, it was "Nature," conscious of the "irremediable estrangement" of the black races, that had condemned them to inhospitable and inaccessible regions of the globe." A more dramatic shift from a theological to a scientific theodicy within a religious frame of reference can scarcely be envisioned.
Still, for all that, Young's treatment is open to objections both historical and philosophical. If we momentarily pursue the question of scientific racism it has to be pointed out that both Asa Gray and B. B. Warrield used evolution to challenge these racist assumptions and to support the biblical doctrine of the unity of the human race." Then the relative incoherence of the natural theologians' strategies in the pre-Darwin period has been highlighted by some historians, and Young's "common context" begins to look in disarray." There is too, I think, some sense of the over-determination of Young's theoretical framework. To say that science and society are closely related, indeed that scientific theory is often socially determined, is one thing; but to claim that values and politics are necessarily constitutive of scientific explanation is quite another. Philosophy of science, surely, can not be so easily transmuted into the sociology of knowledge, nor science into ideology. Various strategies are open to those who see science as finding out something about the way the world is, rather than merely being the expression o soc al relatings. Ernan McMullin's policy of tracing the longterm resilience of particular theories in different contexts as an indicator of their truthfulness is one that I have found attractive." And yet, at the same time, Young's trenchant questioning of scientism, scientific idolatry if you will, is certainly timely. Surely it is right to demand, as he does, that the philosophical, ethical, religious, and political factors that are invariably assumed or promoted in the practice of science be brought out into the open and discussed for what they are, rather than being concealed behind the facade of scientific jargon. For, as Colin Russell has recently reminded us it is "the sacralisation of science (or the secularisation of society by putting science in the place of cultural leadership once occupied by institutional religion occupied by institutional religion) [that] has meant a burgeoning of the uses of science as an argument for justifying, or delaying, changes in society."31By now it is, I hope, clear that the Christian engagement with science cannot rest content with resolving purely epistemological questions. If history teaches us anything it surely is that that pursuit cannot be severed from the social, ideological and ethical contexts in which science as a cultural enterprise is embedded. Even if we sustain the argument that science is not all ideology, that it can in principle make substantive claims to objective knowledge, the fact that it can be and often is ideologically biased is surely sufficient grounds for it to feature high on any Christian agenda for science. The Christian call to self-awareness and self-judgement is particularly cutting at this point, as is the biblical teaching that the image of God in men and women is defaced, scarred and distorted. The ideological captivity of science to particular interests should therefore come as no surprise. Evangelical scientists too, it goes without saying, are no less inclined to partisanship than their secular colleagues. But the implication of biblical anthropology is surely that they should be in the vanguard of scientific self-criticism. And at the same time, aware as they are of humanity's constitutional disfigurement, Christian scientists should best understand the irrepressible idolatry of humankind that has resulted in the transfer of the sacral from the spiritual to the scientific realm.
3. See Charles Coniston Gillispie, Genesis and Geology: A Study in the Relations of Scientific Thought, Natural Theology, and Social Opinion in Great Britain, 1790-1850 (New York: Harper & Row, 1959); Davis A. Young, "Nineteenth Century Christian Geologists and the Doctrine of Scripture," Christian scholar's Review 3 (1982): 212-28.
4. Many studies have appeared on this subject, but one useful survey is John
Hedley Brooke, "The Natural Theology of the Geologists: Some Theological
Strata," in L. J. Jordanova and Roy Porter (eds.), Images of the Earth: Essays in
the History of the Environmental Sciences (Chalfont St Giles: British Society
for the History of Science, 1979), pp. 39-64.
5. William Irvine, Apes, Angels and Victorians. A joint Biography of Darwin and Huxley (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1956).
6. Sheridan Gilley and Ann Loades, "Thomas Henry Huxley: The War Between Science and Religion," Journal of Religion 61 (1981): 2&5-308; J. R. Lucas, "Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter," Historical Journal 22 (1979): 313-30.
7. See H. R. Murphy, "The Ethical Revolt against Christian Orthodoxy in
Early Victorian England," American Historical Review 60 (1955): 800-817;
James R. Moore, "1859 and All That: Remaking the Story of Evolution and
Religion," in Roger G. Chapman and Cleveland T. Duval (eds.), Charles Darwin, 1809-1882: A Centennial Commemorative
(Wellington, NX: Nova
Paci ica, 1982), pp. 167-94.
8. See David N. Livingstone, "The Idea of Design; The Vicissitudes of a Key Concept in the Princeton Response to Darwin," Scottish Journal of Theology 37 (1984): 329-57.
9. Alexander Winchell, Reconciliation of Science and Religion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877).
10. For similar strategies see Frank Miller Turner, Between Science and Religion: The Reaction to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).
11. Frank Miller Turner, "The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: A Professional Dimension," Isis 69 (1978): 356-76.
12. Frank Miller Turner, "Rainfall, Plagues, and the Prince of Wales: A Chapter in the Conflict of Science and Religion, " Journal of British Studies 13 (1974): 65.
13. T. W. Heyck, The Transformation of intellectual Life in Victorian England (London Crom Helm, 1982), pp- 87 - 89.
14. See J. David
Hoeveler, Jr, James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual
Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 274.
15. See Livingstone. "Idea of Design."
16. Gilday and Loades, "Huxley," p. 290; , Francis Galton, English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture ( London: Macmillan, 1874), p. 193; Patrick Geddes. "Biology," Chamber's Encyclopaedia (London and Edinburgh: W. and R. Clambers. 1925, orig 1882,. Vol. 2, pp. 157-464.
17. Eiken Barker.
"Thus Spake the Scientist: A Comparative Account of the
New Priesthood and Its Organ1zational Bases," Annual Review of the social
Sciences of Religion 3 (1979): 99.
18. B. B. Warfield, Review of Darwinism Today by Vernon L. Kellogg, Princeton Theological Review 6 (1908) 649.
19. See P, Fiw,.k=L -PositListsm and Science," in Open University, Science and Belief. fivas C4pernicas to Darwin- Block 3. Scientific Progress and Religious Dtitsent WAaaa Xemm The Open University Press, 1974), 7-32.
20. James R Moore, The
Post-Darwvnian Controversies. A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to
Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and
America, 1859-1900,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
21. I discuss ths in my forthcoming book, Darwin's Forgotten Disciples: Rediscovertag an Evangelical Tradition.
24. See John S Haller Jr- Outcasts from Evolution. Scientific Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859-1900 (Chicago and London: University of Illinois Press, 1971); David Livingstone, "Science and Society: Nathaniel S. Shaler and Racial Ideology." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers N.S. 9 (19&4):191-210-
25 Robert.M. Young,
"Evotutionary Biology and Ideology: Then and Now,"
Science and Studies 1 (1971): 177.
26. Arnold Guyot, The Earth and Man. Lectures on Comparative Physical Geography in its Relation to the History of Mankind (New York: Scribners 1879, orig. 1849), p. 251.
27. Alexander Winchell, Preadamites; Or a Demonstration of the Existence of man before Adam, Together with a Study of Their Condition, Antiquity, Racial Affinities, and Progressive Dispersion over the Earth (Chicago: S. C. Griggs and Company, 1880). p, 157.
28. See A. Hunter Dupree, Asa Gray (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959); Benjamin B. Warfield, "On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race," Princeton Theological Review 9 (1911): 1-25.
29. See John Hedley Brooke, "Natural Theology and the Plurality of Worlds: Observations on the Brewster-Wbewell Debate," Annals of Science 34 (1977): 221-86. Robert J. Richards, "Instinct and Intelligence in British Natural Theology: Some Contributions to Darwin's Theory of the Evolution of Behavior," Journal of the History of Biology 14 (1981): 193-230; Peter J. Bowler, "Darwinism and the Argument from Design: Suggestions for a Re-evaluation," Journal of the History of Biology 10 (1977): 29-43.
30. Ernan McMullin, "History and Philosophy of Science: A Marriage of Convenience?" in R. S. Cohen et al (eds.), Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1976), pp. 585--6W; idem, "A Case for Scientific Realism," in Jarrett Leplin (ed.), Scientific Realism (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 8-40.
31. Colin Russell, Science and Social Change 1700-1900, (London: Macmillan, 1983), p. 259.