iSoul In the beginning is reality

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 8

Part 7 is here. Chapter 7 is on how the naturalists “won.” In short, they pushed their agenda with their opponents hardly noticing.

p. 242 – Huxley won. Modern science is practiced naturalistically, and most scientists would be baffled to think that there was any other way — precisely what the scientific naturalists were trying to achieve.

This is exactly how Huxley wanted one to think about science — it had always been naturalistic, just at times forced into a theistic prison that disguised it. All that needed to be done was to release it. However, as we have seen in previous chapters, this was not the case. The connections between theism and scientific values were deeply rooted, and indeed seemed completely necessary to most men of science.

The historical arc resulting in modern naturalism is long and complicated. Even in the Victorian period, many of the relevant ideas appeared outside science … However, I am interested in a precise, but critical, part of the story: how did practitioners of science come to embrace naturalism as essential to their work?

p.243 – The shift among men of science from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries was remarkable. There were surely many processes involved in the way naturalists came to dominate science. I will here concentrate on three possibilities. Two of these — taking control of science education in Britain, and naturalizing theistic concepts — were deliberate strategies on the part of the naturalists, which they carried out quite effectively. The third was the broader shifts in religious life in Great Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. All three built upon the common grounds of theistic and naturalistic scientific practices to create a smooth transition instead of a disruptive revolution. This gentle shift allowed for the sense that there had been no change in science — it had always been thus.

If the naturalists wanted to truly change science, as opposed to simply promoting themselves, they needed to alter the entire system by which professors of science were made and chosen. Huxley thought strategically about how best to achieve this. A major part of his strategy was to shape the next generation of science teachers, so as to start a pipeline of like-thinking practitioners.

[Huxley] was deeply involved in the creation of biology professorships all over Britain in the 1870s and 1880s, and worked hard to influence who received those positions. His goal was to place candidates who were ideologically sound (i.e., purely naturalistic) as well as scientifically talented. In this he was quite successful.

p. 244 – [Huxley] was not reticent to share his plans in colorful language: to one correspondent he described “a course of instruction in Biology which I am giving to Schoolmasters — with the view of converting them into scientific missionaries to convert the Christian Heathen of these islands to the true faith.” These courses trained new teachers to think naturalistically, and even to see naturalistically, as Graeme Gooday has shown.

p. 246 – The exams became a way to distribute and enforce a naturalistic catechism for science. Those hoping to become science students or teachers needed to study Huxley’s syllabus, lessons, and textbooks.

Lightman comments that “every school child that read [Huxley’s] introduction to science would be trained to reject the very premises of theologies of nature.”

p.247 –  By the end of the century Huxley’s methods were well entrenched …

p. 248 – Huxley designed his teaching to stand for what Adrian Desmond calls a “distinct ideological faction” that clearly marked off acceptable (naturalistic) from unacceptable (theistic) ways of thinking about science.

In order for the scientific naturalists to dominate, they had to make their view of science seem obvious and inevitable. This goal had the major problem of two centuries of theistic science — how could science be naturalistic by definition if it had been practiced theistically for so many years? The naturalists’ strategy was to rewrite the history of their discipline to erase the long tradition of theistic science.

Moore suggests that a critical part of this process was the development of a new naturalistic theodicy based on order and progress.

p.249 – So the practices and methods of theistic scientists could often be imported into naturalistic work with simple relabeling, or sometimes without comment at all. Huxley was particularly skilled at this.

[Huxley] simply stressed the points on which they agreed — natural laws — then elsewhere argued that natural laws were solely naturalistic.

p. 251 – For Maxwell (and most theistic scientists), it made perfect sense to discuss religious matters alongside unifications of the laws of nature.

p. 254 – Opportunities to recast theistic science as naturalistic often appeared in the form of memoirs and memorials, which Huxley and friends were happy to take.

p. 256 – The key to this naturalization strategy was for Huxley to tell a new story about the history of science. By naturalizing theistic science, he was able to argue that science had always been naturalistic. That is, by naturalizing the tradition of theistic science, he was able to remove it from history completely, making naturalism the obvious and solitary way to do science. This was why he was always eager to place his arguments in the mouths of historical figures — it gave historical continuity and gravitas to those arguments.

p. 257 – Huxley’s vision of the history of science was one of expanding naturalism, beaten down occasionally by orthodoxy, but never corrupted in its purity. Theism could be found beside science, or obscuring it, though never in it. The connections between theism and science, such as natural laws, that were so clear to Maxwell and his contemporaries were relabeled as something quite different.

The changes Huxley was seeking in science were supported in powerful ways by major shifts in the social role of religion in Britain at the end of the Victorian period.

p. 258 – Jose Harris suggests that this movement of religious practice from public to private spaces was itself the result of a critical Victorian religious value — religion should be purely a matter of private conscience.

Bernard Lightman has shown that the venerable “clergyman-naturalist” tradition survived the attacks of the scientific naturalists. … The survival of theistic science was, like Edwardian Christianity in general, quiet and easily overlooked.

p. 259 – Bowler documents the efforts of these liberals to “reconcile” science and religion. But these liberals did not see themselves as continuing the Victorian tradition of theistic science. Rather, they saw themselves as beginning a new tradition of religious science that would sweep away the alleged materialism of the nineteenth century. They accepted the story that the scientific naturalists told — that theology had never been in science. Their rhetoric about how the new science was welcoming religion only made sense if science had, in fact, been purged of religious thought.

However, naturalism by no means stayed in Britain. The works of Huxley, Tyndall, and Spencer moved to America quite quickly. Their writings proved just as popular as in Britain.

p. 260 – By far the most important American convert to naturalism was John Dewey. That educational philosopher was a major figure in making naturalism the default mode of conversation in science education.

p. 261 – Dewey’s naturalistic ideas about science became central to American educational reform in the early twentieth century.

Dewey classified religious thought as “not creative but conservative.” Anti-Darwinian ideas were not religious per se, because religion could not create new thoughts. … Conversations about science had to be purely naturalistic.

Dewey was not a ferocious [evangelizing] naturalist like Huxley or Tyndall, and that is precisely why he is significant. He had become convinced that naturalism was the ordinary and obvious way to do science, and he expressed that in his philosophy of education.

p.262 – It is remarkable how the naturalistic narrative came to be the standard even for religious figures, who seem to have forgotten their own intellectual ancestry. It is important to note that Huxley’s strategies did not make it impossible to be a religious scientist — rather, they flipped the default setting for scientists from theistic to naturalistic. Religious scientists in the twentieth century were the ones under the obligation to justify themselves, just as the young Huxley and Tyndall had been forced to do.

There was no dramatic break in which naturalistic men of science had to create their own community, as Boyle and friends had to do in the seventeenth century.

p.263 – A major remaining issue is why the theistic scientists let this happen. Why were they outmaneuvered by Huxley?

To a certain degree this was simply a matter of complacency. Theistic science had been the default mode for a very long time. Proactive organization and training to protect it seemed unnecessary for the system that was already embedded in power. Theistic men of science did not seriously think that theism could be completely displaced from science, any more than Christianity could be truly displaced from the core of British life. By the time that they realized that elementary science education was in the hands of naturalists (if indeed they ever noticed), it was far too late.

Conclusion

p. 265 – The transition from theism to naturalism was remarkably smooth.

[The author then contrasts this with the contemporary ID movement in terms that I think are inaccurate.]

Quite different, however, is the intelligent design community of the twenty-first century. ID scholars have not been able to participate in mainstream science journals and organizations. This is generally not because of scientific dogma or prejudice, but rather because they refuse to accept the principles of the uniformity of nature, the provisional character of science, and so forth, which have been the core methodological values of science since at least the dawn of the Victorian period.

p. 266 – A major factor that sets ID apart from theistic science is the deep concerns of Maxwell and others about the further development of science. Despite his reverence for the Bible and divine creation, Maxwell worked hard to avoid what are today called “science stoppers.” … a declaration that a mysterious phenomenon will never be understood, and must simply be accepted as divine action. An important example is Michael Behe’s claims that the lack of understanding of certain biochemical processes indicates that science will never understand those properties, and therefore nonnatural explanations (chiefly divine action) must be considered. If this claim is accepted, then biochemistry is at an end — no further research can be done, and nothing new can ever be learned.

p. 267 – … what we might think of as a “naturalism gap” — professional scientists and other intellectuals are thoroughly educated in the Huxleyian views of science, while the broader public is not.

This suggests a wider problem with the use of the term naturalism by science advocates today. They use it in the same sense that Huxley did, intending to point to positive scientific values while leaving “true religion” untouched. But the term cannot seem to shake its original pejorative connotation of opposition to the supernatural. It sounds irredeemably hostile to religion, regardless of the subtleties we might want to attach to it. Modifying it to “methodological naturalism” does not help much — Plantinga is correct that is sounds like a simple cover for “provisional atheism.” Certainly Maxwell would not have agreed that his work was methodologically naturalistic — he saw God and religious considerations as critical facets of his scientific methodology.

p. 268 – Laudan notes that philosophy has not been very successful at defining science, which makes accusations that ID is “unscientific” rather vague.

Laudan points out that if creationists make claims, “we should confront their claims directly and in piecemeal fashion by asking what evidence and arguments can be marshaled for and against each of them.” If their claims are testable, they should be tested.

But if we instead declare them unscientific because they fail the test of naturalism, those claims become irrefutable. And even worse, it makes the ground rules of science seem arbitrary and dogmatic by excluding certain claims by definition. This provides ammunition to those attacking science, who do not hesitate to paint science as functioning only through oppressive authority. Refusing to acknowledge an idea because it has its roots in religion makes scientists look as though they are afraid of open debate.

p. 270 – Theistic science was once the mainstream of science, and its successes suggest that there are a variety of ways to think about the foundations of scientific practice. Today we live in Huxley’s church, and it is easy to forget that it was not always there.

The end. Part 1 is here.

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