From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 6

Part 5 is here. Chapter Five is on Intellectual Freedom.

p. 153 – The narrative presented by the scientific naturalists was one of liberation. Only with the escape from dogmatic theology was science able to pursue truth and accuracy.

But this value was also widely held by religious figures, including Maxwell and his fellow theistic scientists. They agreed completely with Huxley that intellectual freedom and the right of individuals to pursue ideas were fundamental to science. However, they linked these values to true religion while Huxley defined them as opposite to false theology.

p. 154 – Huxley proclaimed his “untiring opposition to that ecclesiastical spirit, that clericalism, which in England, as everywhere else, and to whatever denomination it may belong, is the deadly enemy of science.”

p. 155 – Huxley, despite counting a number of personal friends in the ministry, concluded that “clerically-minded people cannot be accurate, even the liberals.”

p. 156 – [Huxley] blamed his own difficulty with accepting evolution on how in his “early childhood he was indoctrinated with the reasonings of a great divine [Paley].”

Even further, he was reluctant to allow women into science because they were too susceptible to these “ignorant parsonese superstitions.”

p. 157 – [Huxley:] “Ecclesiasticism says: The demonology of the Gospels is an essential part of that account of that spiritual world, the truth of which it declares to be certified by Jesus. Agnosticism says: There is no good evidence of the existence of a demoniac spiritual world, and much reason for doubting it.”

p. 158 – Huxley delighted in demonstrating the shifting sources of ecclesiastical authority, especially if he could find disagreement among the members of a group.

p. 159 – [Huxley:] “I know that I am, in spite of myself, exactly what the Christian world call, and so far as I can see are justified in calling, atheist and infidel.”

The core version of Huxley’s narrative, around which several variants were formed, was this: a pure religion emerges and provides ethical guidance, but later figures encrust that religion with dogma and doctrines that corrupt it.

p. 161 – In seeking a life free from unjust authority, Huxley regarded as the last redoubt the right to think and believe as one wished. If liberty did not mean an unbound mind, it meant nothing.

p. 164 – [After describing Huxley’s anti-Catholicism:] As bad as the Anglicans were, at least they had good taste.

p. 166 – [Huxley on the Catholic Mivart:] … “let him not imagine he is, or can be, both a true son of the Church and a loyal soldier of science.”

p. 167 – Huxley’s placement of the Catholic Church as the distillation of all that was wrong with theology also helps explain his rejection of positivism. Some of the philosophical and methodological aspects of positivism were appealing to Huxley, but he could never accept the “religion of humanity” cloak in which Auguste Comte had wrapped them. It was no better to worship philosophers than to worship saints.

p. 168 – An essential part of Huxley’s vision of intellectual freedom was the right to doubt, to criticize, and be criticized. Vigorous, even fierce debate was held to be essential to science.

p. 171 – Huxley’s praise for the open-mindedness of himself and his friends did not, of course go unchallenged. Some of his students reported that his teaching fell far short of encouraging students to think for themselves. Critics declared that men of science had come to “constitute in our day a sort of lay-priesthood, as narrow, and intolerant, and tyrannous in temper as the priesthood of the Church ever was in the days of it darkest supremacy.” Some attacked the scientific naturalists’ idolization of Darwin as exactly the sort of argument from authority that they claimed to despise.

p. 172 – It could be phrased this way: for Huxley, religious education was acceptable, but not sectarian or theological education.

p. 174 – [Huxley] had a plan for a purely secular education that involved no religious ideals, individuals, or values.

The great surprise came when Huxley approved of the reading of the Bible in the schools.

And beyond this moral value, Huxley posited that the Bible was so interwoven with English culture and life that it would be a great crime to ignore it.

p. 175 – As an antidote to theological poison, [Huxley] recommended deep drinks from “the undefiled spring.” He emphasized that it was the right and duty of every man to address the scriptures with his own judgment and without any doctrinal filter.

p. 176 – Huxley went so far as to call the Bible “the most democratic book in the world.”

p. 178 – Maxwell provides an important lesson in the variety of religious belief and practice that was sometimes mistaken for orthodoxy.

Maxwell was known to say “I have no nose for heresy” and to look for points of agreement and cooperation with those of different positions.

p. 180 – Personal decision and responsibility were the keys. Maxwell argued, from a deeply religious position, against thinking of clerics as having any special authority and for the need of individuals to come to their own conclusions — points that would seem very familiar to Huxley.

p. 182 – Victorian Protestants saw themselves as guardians of freedom as much as political radicals did. However, they saw the source of liberty to be God …

p. 184 – Like Huxley, [Maxwell] saw Roman Catholicism as a terrible institution that functioned by compelling belief and practice.

p. 186 – The theists and naturalists’ shared values provided a solid foundation on which they could work productively.

p. 187 – Beyond this intellectual and educational intercourse, the theists and the naturalists maintained “easy social relations.”

p. 188 – The theistic and naturalistic scientists were, generally speaking, not close confidants. They were colleagues.

p. 189 – Anger at Belfast

[Note: In 1874 John Tyndall addressed the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAA) at Belfast in which he declared science to be naturalistic. This broke the collegiality between theistic and naturalistic scientists. See Lightman.]

The sentiments offered by Tyndall were not particularly new. However, I suggest that it appeared to the theists that Tyndall was trying to use his position as president of the BAAS to enforce his naturalism: precisely the sort of institution-based coercion of belief that both parties had agreed was antithetical to science.

Maxwell recorded his reactions to the [Belfast] address in two [satiric] poems … [which] show his visceral feeling of being attacked and coerced by the scientific naturalists.

p. 191 – Calling [Tyndall] a “poet-philosopher,” Maxwell mocked the molecular creation story that depended on nothing but incompressible spheres and force, particularly the idea that such stories could explain emotion and will.

p. 192 – [Maxwell] worried that the scientific naturalists were claiming the complete monopoly on power and political absolutism of Hobbes. And as the citizens ruled by Leviathan gave up their individual political activity in favor of the monarch, Maxwell feared that the diversity of individual views within British science might be quashed by the naturalistic ideology.

Part 7 is here.