James C Livingston

In this chapter we explore the various ways in which nineteenth-century theologians responded to quite extraordinary advances in the sciences and to their theological and larger cultural significance. These sciences included not only geology, biology, and physics, but also the new social sciences of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and, most importantly, historical-critical research. At least initially, efforts toward some form of theological reconciliation with science were predominant. This may astonish, since the common belief over the past century is that the nineteenth century ushered in a long war between science and theology. Recent historical work has exposed this portrayal as essentially a legend that does, however, contain a modicum of truth.

The notion of a pervasive nineteenth-century conflict between theology and science was due, in large measure, to the popularity and influence of two books that portrayed the relationship between the two parties as a "conflict" or "warfare." John William Draper (1811-1882), chemistry professor and rationalist, published his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science in 1874. Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) - the first president of Cornell University, an intrepid defender of intellectual freedom, and an opponent of sectarianism - published his two- volume A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom in 1896. On inspection, it is evident that Draper's real target was the institutional Roman Catholic Church; White's bête noir was "dogmatic theology." While neither author opposed a theology open to scientific advance, their choice of examples and their militant rhetoric belied the fact, and their books incited a combative polemic on both sides, producing the image of two discordant, contending powers. The scientist T. H. Huxley (1825-1895), who referred to himself as the "Bishop of the church scientific,"1 thus interpreted the situation and its outcome:

Whenever science and [religious] orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter have been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules.2

It mattered not whether there really was warfare between science and theology; everyone was led to believe that there was.3 The "conflict" model had hypostatized science and theology as two opposed entities. It failed to see them as complex personal and social activities in which, often, the same individual or group participated, rather naturally, in both spheres. On the other hand - and here is the measure of truth in Draper's and White's polemic - there were some substantive intellectual disagreements between theology and specific, new scientific hypotheses and claims, as we will see. Writers who picture a harmony between nineteenth-century science and theology are, therefore, as guilty of distortion as were Draper and White. Some historians have suggested that if there was, in fact, a real polarization, it was the intramural conflict among scientists themselves, since most scientists were religious men and numerous clergy before 1870 were scientists. Alvar Ellegard can, with some justification, suggest, "The Darwinian controversy can ... be best characterized as one engaging religious science against irreligious science."4 But the majority of the religious scientists and theologians agreed on one or another form of mediation or reconciliation between the two fields. This was especially true in the extended discussions of natural theology in Britain during most of the century. The militant "irreligious scientists" were, in fact, a rather small but vocal group represented, for example, by Huxley and his associates in the X Club in Britain and by scientists such as Ludwig Büchner (1824-1899) and Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) in Germany.

While a comprehensive chronological account of the theological encounter with science is not feasible here, we can examine a variety of types of theological response, with attention both to notable theologians and to some lesser-known figures who, nonetheless, are highly representative of this nineteenth-century encounter.5 We should keep in mind that the use of a typology serves only a practical, organizational purpose. It does not assume that these forms of engagement and response represent "essential" prototypes, that is, hard and fast alternatives. We will see that a number of the theologians discussed here held varied and conflicting views of the relationship between theology and science over long careers - and they often could hold in tension contrasting, but not irreconcilable, positions at the same time. So, mindful of their limits, these types can help to illuminate the variety of positions taken by nineteenth-century theologians engaged in this historic dialogue.

First, we will examine two quite opposed ways of understanding theology's relation to science. The first acknowledges a real, even intrinsic, linkage of theology and science. The second approach envisions theology and science as incommensurable domains, having nothing to do with one another. The other types that we explore demonstrate theological accommodations to science, or see their complementarity, or attempt to bring theology into some form of mediation and reconciliation with science; whether they are successful or not is, perhaps, moot.

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