No Warfare between Science & Religion
Vicar of Cockerham, England
Over the last few years I have got quite annoyed with some of the "pop" history of science and how they often exhibit a heroic Whig view of the history of science and also forget that Andrew White's History of the warfare of Science with Theology is not the last word.
Mark Hineline mentions Simon Winchester's The Map that Changed the World (The Tale of William Smith and the Birth of a Science London: Viking, 2001. 338pp. hb. £12.99. ISBN 0-670-88407-3
I have recently reviewed it for two science and religion journals. Here are parts of my review which are relevant. Winchester gave a good account of the geologist Smith, which I found enthralling as I have visited the key geological sites near Bath.
" However Winchester's book suffers from two weaknesses. First, he makes too much of a hero of Smith and ignores his contemporaries thus giving the impression that Smith is the father of geology and not only the "Father of English Geology". The crucial decades for the growth of geology was from 1780 to 1800, as advances were made simultaneously throughout Europe. Winchester gives a little recognition to Hutton and the much-maligned Werner (whose work is now being recognised and who also attempted a map of his homeland), but does not refer to de Saussure of Geneva and the Frenchmen, Soulavie, Cuvier and Brogniart. Consequently the subtitle The tale of William Smith and the birth of a science gives insufficient recognition to the other numerous midwives of geology.
Secondly, Winchester has a totally inaccurate understanding of the British churches in relation to the rise of geology and simply repeats, with exaggerations, the old myths that there was a mighty war of Genesis and geology in the early 19th Century. He refers to the "church" negatively some thirty times and it gets tedious. His prejudice surfaces most blatantly on p29, 'The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,., was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.'' Or to put not to fine a point on it, only those who were not Christians in any way. Here Winchester is writing of the 1790s a mere one hundred years after the Revd John Ray and Edward Lhwyd were questioning the age of the earth. In fact throughout the previous century most thinkers Christian or deist thought the earth was
older than Ussher's estimate. What is the dogma and the law which forbade suggestions of an old earth? Granted some clerics did hold to Ussher's age but the vast majority did not. Lastly, who was under any threat from the law for holding to millions of years? How does Winchester explain that it was clerics Richardson and Townsend who spread Smith's ideas and Playfair Hutton 's? In his discussion of the clerical trio Buckland, Sedgwick and Conybeare he manages not to mention that they were ordained and any reader of the book could be forgiven if he did not realise that Sedgwick was a devout evangelical cleric! Winchester simply cannot accept that a clergyman could actually accept geological ages without challenging his faith, as is evidenced by his comments on Lewis, who helped Murchison unravel the Silurian in 1831. He wrote,'Many of the . fossilists were .called divines - a curious happenstance, considering the assault that any intelligent understanding of fossils would later have on divinity's most firmly held
notions, like the Creation and the Flood. The Reverend Thomas Lewis of Ross-on-Wye is characteristic of the type:' (p115) This can only be described as complete and utter nonsense, if not bigotry. The author has absolutely no knowledge of the doctrine of Creation or the Flood and is ignorant of how the clerical geologists actually thought. His section dealing with Ussher (p16-21) is both flippant and inaccurate and even gets the first day of creation on Monday 23 October (day one) and the creation of animals on the Thursday 26 October(day six)! Actually Ussher wrote, 'Sexto die, Octobris vigesimo octavo' and it was Friday the day before the Sabbath! This kind of lampoon is fine for Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph but not for a serious Guardian journalist. Winchester has simply not grown out of the outworn conflict thesis of science and religion, which by now should have been rejected by any who dabbles in the history of science and Christianity. However it is a persistent myth which is propagated through a popular misunderstanding."
I seem to be in good company as Stephen Gould makes similar points. The recognition that Winchester misrepresents the theological and cultural climate of the day also comes out in Steve Gould's review in the N.Y. Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/14605
And then ;
London: Fourth Estate, 2001. 331pp. hb. £16.99. ISBN 1-84115-060-6
The picture painted of Annie and the Darwin family is excellent and having worked extensively on Darwin's correspondence and his British geology I found he dealt with it well but. This is what I wrote;
" The material on Annie's life is sparse and is limited to family letters from 1841 until 1851 and "Annie's Box", which was her writing case kept and treasured by her mother. The vignette given is excellent on both the Darwins ' family life and Annie's brief life. It gives a superb portrait of mid-Victorian family life, which appears very un-Victorian. Images abound - Darwin humming the hymn-tune All through the night and the children using the living-room furniture as an express train. On Annie, Keynes has drawn out as much as anyone could and having been to Annie's grave in Malvern I felt the poignancy of the account. Keynes then tried to show how Annie's death influenced the writing of The Origin of Species but he is unconvincing. He reiterates the hackneyed story of the mental turmoil caused to Darwin by his theories. This is compounded
by his poor understanding of Victorian Christianity, as he assumes that most Christians had problems with the age of the earth. They did not. In the early chapters Keynes narrated Darwin's scientific development, but fails to see that Darwin was first a geologist and only after 1840 a biologist. In assessing Darwin's religious questioning in 1838 - the most important year in relation to Darwin's faith - he goes far beyond the evidence from Darwin' s notes and Autobiography (which was written 40 years later and contains many inaccurate memories). He wrote 'After rejecting a literal reading the Genesis account of the Creation as he learnt about the vastness of geological time, Charles questioned other historical parts of the Hebrew Bible.'(p43) Charles did question the latter, but there is no evidence that he ever took Genesis literally, despite a reference in his unreliable Autobiography. While at Edinburgh and Cambridge he was taught old earth ways by Grant, Jameson, Henslow and Sedgwick. He did not need Lyell to tell him!
Keynes' poor grasp of Christianity is also demonstrated by stating that Emma's 'liberal Unitarian views .was also the message of the Evangelical movement.'(p50) This type of inaccurate understanding of Christianity past and present is a common feature of much recent popular history of science and occurs frequently in writers like Steve Jones, Simon Winchester and John Gribbin. The cause seems to be a prejudice that all Christians were
literalists until the heroic Darwin made them submit! It is also manifest in much Christian writing whether by creationists or liberals. Examples of the latter are John Spong, Don Cupitt and Paul Badham, yet they berate evangelicals for poor scholarship. Keynes subscribes to the unproven view that Darwin's illness was caused by angst over evolution, but fails to give references(p135). If religious concerns over evolution made Darwin ill, then why are there no other recorded instances of this, whether by agnostics such as Huxley and Hooker, or by Christians whether "evolutionists" such as Tristram, Temple, Church, Gray, Babington or Kingsley or "anti-evolutionists" such as Wilberforce, Sedgwick, Rorison, Birks or Hodge - just to cite a few? At times he becomes too sweeping as when he said that in Malvern in 1849 Charles went out for long walks on his own 'on the great hill above the house'. Writing to his cousin Fox in April 1849, Darwin said that, 'in four walks I managed seven miles!' For someone just turned 40 that is a feeble effort and is a far cry from the 25 miles he walked in a day in the Highlands in 1838. Unless, of course, Darwin suffered from a physical illness overlooked by post-evolutionary psychologists. Is this book worth reading? Yes, as it gives a good insight into Victorian family life and the tragically short life of a Victorian child. No, as it is typical of much recent popular Darwin writing as it is not well-researched or referenced and dependent on a very negative view of Victorian Christianity. It is another example of the false perspective given by Andrew White's The Warfare of Science and Theology, which passes from generation to generation like a rogue gene. However, the book is worth reading just to present Darwin as a delightful person - which he was - and the joys and sorrows of his life, but there is not enough material for a full-length book. "
I mentioned the geneticist Steve Jones above. Three years ago he did a TV programme on Darwin's Welsh geology and consulted myself , Jim Secord and Jim Moore. I have spent 10 years sorting out Darwin's Welsh geology and took Jones' researcher round the many sites in Wales for which I received the princely sum of £50. When the programme came out I was appalled at the mistakes and sweeping comments. He had his own ahistorical agenda.He simply dismissed Sedgwick and Darwin for not recognising evidence for an Ice Age in Snowdonia in 1831 as if Sedgwick was not competent. He had simply remained with his own reading of Darwin's Autobiography and took no notice of Darwin's field notes or my detailed retracing of his steps where I often identified the actual outcrops Darwin visited. (My method on the history of geology is what Oldroyd advocated in his article in Annals of Science 1999)
One also finds poor history in writings on Church and Religious History as we are told ad nauseam that Lyell introduced ideas of the great age of the earth. He must have been a genius to do it before he was born. It goes on.
My concern is greater than Mark Hineline's. I feel that they don't want to know what historians have said, and ignore the fact that we have often spent hours over manuscripts and tried to relate matters to the life of the subject and the wider context.
Vicar of Cockerham, near Lancaster, England