Secularizing Science: Secularism and the Emergence of Scientific Naturalism

  • Michael Rectenwald
Part of the Histories of the Sacred and the Secular, 1700–2000 book series (HISASE)

Abstract

The received notion regarding the relationship between science and secularism is that modern science is undoubtedly a secular and secularizing formation. As science advances, so this story goes, religion inevitably retreats and is eliminated from the domains of knowledge production, the public sphere, and even private belief. As we saw in Chapter 1, Richard Carlile’s hopes for a materialist science were leveraged on such a narrative. Assuming this article of positivist faith, at least until the last quarter of the twentieth century, Whiggish historians and positivist sociologists continued to work under the assumption that in order to understand secularization, one should begin with science (among other factors) and chart its impact on the broader public sphere.1 As I suggest in Chapter 2, this approach begs the question of just how science became secular in the first place — or moreover, how science came to be understood as secularizing per se. Matthew Stanley notes in a related context that scientific naturalism was not always the dominant philosophical framework for conducting science; its emergence and later prominence were by no means natural or inevitable.2 Similarly, science was not always ‘secular’, and there is nothing inevitably secularizing about its growth and development. It should be quite clear that the belief in an essentially secular and secularizing science is itself in need of explanation (although this chapter does not aim at such an explanation, at least not directly).

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    The best example is O. Chadwick (1975) The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). For the persistence of this view, see A. Keysar and B. A. Kosmin (2008) Secularism & Science in the 21st Century (Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M. Stanley (2015) Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), p. 2.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    D. Martin (2008) ‘Does the Advance of Science Mean Secularisation?’, Scottish Journal of Theology 66.1, 51–63, at 61.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    B. V. Lightman (2014) ‘Science at the Metaphysical Society: Defining Knowledge in the 1870s’, in B. V. Lightman and M. S. Reidy (eds) The Age of Scientific Naturalism: Tyndall and His Contemporaries (London: Pickering & Chatto), pp. 187–206, at 193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    Recent studies include M. Stanley, Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon; B. V. Lightman and M. S. Reidy (eds) The Age of Scientific Naturalism; and G. Dawson (eds) (2014) Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press). The last of these includes a review of the historiography on the category (pp. 11–17), as well as a bibliography of major secondary sources that treat it.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    F. M. Turner (1993) Contesting Cultural Authority: Essays in Victorian Intellectual Life (Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press), pp. 132–33. See also B. V. Lightman (1987) The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), p. 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8.
    Similarly, while Turner credits Thomas Carlyle for the scientific naturalists’ emphasis on moral discipline and temperament, it is just as conceivable that the self-disciplined, self-improvement tradition of artisan freethought served as a moral example. 9. J. Van Wyhe (2004) Phrenology and the Origins of Victorian Scientific Naturalism (Aldershot: Ashgate), p. 12.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    A. Desmond (1987) ‘Artisan Resistance and Evolution in Britain, 1819–1848’, Osiris 3, 2nd Series (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), pp. 77–110; A. Desmond (1989) The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London (Chicago: University of Chicago Press); and J. A. Secord (2000) Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), pp. 299–335.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    B. Lightman (1989) ‘Ideology, Evolution and Late-Victorian Agnostic Popularizers’, in J. R. Moore (ed.) History, Humanity and Evolution: Essays for John C. Greene (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 285–309; B. V. Lightman (2007) Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), pp. 264–65; S. Paylor (2005) ‘Edward B. Aveling: The People’s Darwin’, Endeavour, 29.2, 66–71; and E. Royle (1974) Victorian Infidels: The Origins of the British Secularist Movement, 1791–1866 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press; Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield), pp. 149–77.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    M. Rectenwald (2013) ‘Secularism and the Cultures of Nineteenth-Century Scientific Naturalism’, British Journal for the History of Science 46.2, 231–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 14.
    J. R. Moore (1988) ‘Freethought, Secularism, Agnosticism: The Case of Charles Darwin’, in G. Parsons (ed.) Religion in Victorian Britain: I, Traditions (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press), pp. 274–319.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    G. Dawson (2007) Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 151; B. Lightman, ‘Ideology, Evolution and Late-Victorian Agnostic Popularizers’, p. 301; and M. Mason (1994) The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    J. Wiener (1983) Radicalism and Freethought in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Life of Richard Carlile (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press), pp. 110–12.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    G. Holyoake (1892) Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life, 2 vols (London: T. F. Unwin), Vol. 1, p. 142.Google Scholar
  15. 32.
    W. Chilton (4 June 1842) ‘The Cowardice and Dishonesty of Scientific Men’, Oracle 1.24, 193–95.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    W. Chilton (24 June 1843) ‘Theory of Regular Gradation’, Oracle 2.80, 219–21, at 220.Google Scholar
  17. 34.
    J. A. Secord (1989) ‘Behind the Veil: Robert Chambers and Vestiges’, in J. R. Moore (ed.) History, Humanity and Evolution: Essays for John C. Greene (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 165–94, at 182–87.Google Scholar
  18. 35.
    W. Chilton (8 January 1845) ‘Vestiges’, The Movement 2, 9–12, at 12.Google Scholar
  19. 36.
    W. Chilton (1846) ‘“Materialism” and the Author of the “Vestiges”’, Reasoner 1, pp.7–8. See also W. Chilton (1846) ‘Anthropomorphism’, Reasoner 1, pp. 36–37; and F. B. Barton, B.A. (1846) ‘The Laws of Nature’, Reasoner 2, 25–30.Google Scholar
  20. 38.
    B. Lightman (2002) ‘Huxley and Scientific Agnosticism: The Strange History of a Failed Rhetorical Strategy’, British Journal for the History of Science 35.3, 271–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 39.
    L. Grugel (1976) George Jacob Holyoake: A Study in the Evolution of a Victorian Radical (Philadelphia: Porcupine Press), p. 83; and E. Royle (1971) Radical Politics 1790–1900: Religion and Unbelief (London: Longman), pp. 54–55.Google Scholar
  22. 40.
    See for example, (1877) ‘Questionable Imputations Made by Mr. Bradlaugh’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 65–66;C. Watts (Sr.) (1877) ‘The Late Trial’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 77; F. Neale (1877) ‘The Knowlton Case’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 78; (1877) ‘Extraordinary Statements Corrected’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 85–86; (In this item, a letter is included by G. J. Holyoake bitterly chiding Bradlaugh for claiming that he (Bradlaugh) had overseen the printing of Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy at Holyoake’s Fleet Street premises); F. Neale (1877) ‘The N.S.S. and the Knowlton Pamphlet’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 93 and 142; (1877) ‘Re-opening of Cleveland Hall’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 122–23; and F. Neale (1877) ‘The British Secular Union’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 189.Google Scholar
  23. 41.
    T. L. Crosby (1997) The Two Mr. Gladstones: A Study in Psychology and History (New Haven: Yale University Press), pp. 177–78.Google Scholar
  24. 42.
    G. J. Holyoake (1859) Principles of Secularism Briefly Explained (London: Holyoake & Co.); G. J. Holyoake (1870) The Principles of Secularism Illustrated (London: Austin & Co.);and G. J. Holyoake and C. Bradlaugh (1870) Secularism, Scepticism, and Atheism: Verbatim Report of the Proceedings of a Two Nights’ Public Debate between Messrs. G J. Holyoake & C. Bradlaugh: Held at the New Hall of Science … London, on the Evenings of March 10 and 11, 1870 (London: Austin).Google Scholar
  25. 43.
    T. H. Huxley (February 1889) ‘Agnosticism’, The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 25.144, 169–94; T. H. Huxley (March 1889) ‘Agnosticism: A Rejoinder’, The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 25.145, 481–504; and T. H. Huxley (June 1889) ‘Agnosticism and Christianity’, The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review 25.148, 937–64.Google Scholar
  26. 44.
    G. J. Holyoake (1896) English Secularism: A Confession of Belief (Chicago: Open Court Pub. Co.), pp. 45–49.Google Scholar
  27. 46.
    G. Dawson and B. V. Lightman (2014) ‘Introduction’, in G. Dawson and B. V. Lightman, Victorian Scientific Naturalism, p. 3. See T. Dixon (2008) The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 49.
    G. J. Holyoake (1854) Secularism, the Practical Philosophy of the People (London: Holyoake & Co.), pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
  29. 50.
    M. Rectenwald (2013) ‘Secularism and the Cultures of Nineteenth-Century Scientific Naturalism’, p. 234; and J. Marsh (1998) Word Crimes: Blasphemy, Culture, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 240.Google Scholar
  30. 54.
    G. J. Holyoake (1896) The Origin and Nature of Secularism; Showing that Where Freethought Commonly Ends Secularism Begins (London: Watts), p. 51.Google Scholar
  31. 57.
    K. R. Popper (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books, Inc.).Google Scholar
  32. 63.
    In an introduction to her compilation of Comte’s major works, G. Lenzer (1975) Auguste Comte and Positivism: The Essential Writings (New York: Harper & Row), p. xxxiii, described Comte’s form of materialism as an ‘anticipatory conservatism’.Google Scholar
  33. 69.
    F. M. Turner (1974) Between Science and Religion: The Reaction to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian England (New Haven: Yale University Press); and F. M. Turner (1978) ‘The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: A Professional Dimension’, Isis 69, 356–76.Google Scholar
  34. 70.
    See A. DeWitt (2013) Moral Authority, Men of Science, and the Victorian Novel (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press), pp. 21–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 71.
    B. V. Lightman, ‘Huxley and Scientific Agnosticism’, esp. 280–82; and B. Cooke (2003) The Gathering of Infidels: A Hundred Years of the Rationalist Press Association (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books), p. 14. The Agnostic Annual was to become the RPA Annual, the Rationalist Annual, and finally Question. See the subsequent section of this chapter for a fuller discussion of this episode.Google Scholar
  36. 74.
    Holyoake relinquished proprietorship to Watts (Sr.), who joined with G. W. Foote, with whom Holyoake had published the Secularist, and whose antagonism of Bradlaugh Holyoake disapproved. Watts and Foote combined the two papers and launched The Secular Review and Secularist in June 1877. See L. Grugel, George Jacob Holyoake, pp. 142–43; L. Brake and M. Demoor (2009) Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland (Gent: Academia Press; London: British Library), p. 566. William Stewart Ross, following Charles Albert Watts’s lead, pushed the Holyoake brand of Secularism towards the new agnosticism. In January 1885, William Stewart Ross took over the Secular Review and gave it a new subtitle, A Journal of Agnosticism. Four years later he renamed it the Agnostic Journal and Secular Review. See B. V. Lightman, ‘Huxley and Scientific Agnosticism’, p. 284, and the discussion of Charles Albert Watts, below.Google Scholar
  37. 79.
    T. H. Huxley (1893) ‘Prologue’, in Essays upon Some Controverted Questions (New York: D. Appleton and Co.), pp. 26–27, emphasis mine.Google Scholar
  38. 83.
    G. Dawson (2007) Darwin, Literature and Victorian Respectability, p. 120.Google Scholar
  39. 84.
    A. Desmond (1997) Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley), p. 160.Google Scholar
  40. 85.
    Here I am recognizing the divergent views of Desmond and P. White (2003) Thomas Huxley: Making the ‘Man of Science’ (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press); Desmond figures Huxley as a champion of industrial, middle-class values, while White sees him as working to construct science as part of an elite culture that stood in judgment of middle-class values.Google Scholar
  41. 91.
    G. H. Taylor (1957) A Chronology of British Secularism (London: National Secular Society), p. 4.Google Scholar
  42. 99.
    J. Tyndall (1915) Fragments of Science: A Series of Detached Essays, Addresses, and Reviews, 2 vols, Vol. 2 (New York and London: D. Appleton and Company), p. 366.Google Scholar
  43. 100.
    H. V. Mayer (1877) ‘Professor Tyndall and Mr. G.J. Holyoake’, Secular Review and Secularist 1, 293.Google Scholar
  44. 103.
    R. J. Hinton (1875) English Radical Leaders (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons), pp. 71–72.Google Scholar
  45. 104.
    G. J. Holyoake (27 September 1867) ‘Science — The British Association for the Advancement of Science’, New York Tribune, 2.Google Scholar
  46. 109.
    B. Grant and G. J. Holyoake (1853) Christianity and Secularism. Report of a Public Discussion between Brewin Grant and George Jacob Holyoake, Esq. Held in the Royal British Institution, London, Commencing Jan. 20 and Ending Feb. 24, 1853 (London: Ward).Google Scholar
  47. 112.
    G. J. Holyoake (1894) ‘Characteristics of Prof. Tyndall’, in H. L. Green (ed.), John Tyndall Memorial (Buffalo, NY: H. L. Green), pp. 1–5, at 2.Google Scholar
  48. 114.
    J. McCabe (1908) Life and Letters of George Jacob Holyoake, 2 vols (London: Watts & Co.), Vol. 2, p. 74.Google Scholar
  49. 117.
    See J. Green and N. J. Karolides (2005) Encyclopedia of Censorship (New York: Fact on File), p. 186.Google Scholar
  50. 123.
    E. Royle (1980) Radicals, Secularists, and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain, 1866–1915 (Manchester: Manchester University Press; Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield), p. 165.Google Scholar
  51. 132.
    T. H. Huxley (1892) ‘Possibilities and Impossibilities’, The Agnostic Annual, 3–10; and J. V. Jensen (1991) Thomas Henry Huxley: Communicating for Science (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses), p. 122, also agrees that Huxley voluntarily published the essay in the Agnostic Annual.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael Rectenwald 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Rectenwald
    • 1
  1. 1.Liberal StudiesNew York UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations