SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
KENNETH I. CLARKE, SR.: --audience of 50 plus persons, alumni and visitors, for a talk Professor Noll gave on race, religion, and the ballot box, how the prophetic legacy of the Civil Rights Movement continues to shape America's political life. It was a great event, featuring a very engaging talk by Professor Noll and equally engaging questions from the audience, an audience that continued to linger on well into the evening. We began at 7:15. And by 9:30, we were clearing out the place finally, because people were so interested in what had taken place in the exchange last night.
The event in New York City would be the first of a series of annual events CURW will host in the city, bringing the intellectual experience of East Hill to Midtown Manhattan. Cornellians relish opportunities for networking and intellectual engagement. And taking the Wood lectures on the road provides a means for fulfilling those aspirations, while also fulfilling our campus obligation as well.
Both Wood lecture events this year are sponsored by Cornell United Religious Work, Cornell Mosaic, Africana Studies, and Chesterton House, a chaplaincy of CURW. I want to acknowledge Rene Alexander, Director of Minority Alumni Affairs, the staff of CURW, Janelle Cabrera, Carrie-Ann Johnson, Janet Shortall, and Joe [? Tagliff ?] there; Laura Hunsinger, Director of External Relations for Student and Academic Services; the wonderful staff of the Cornell Club; and Carl Johnson, CURW Chaplain for Chesterton House, for their contributions to this year's Wood events.
Today, Professor Noll will prob one of them lightning-rod issues of our contemporary cultural life, the dynamic regarding religion and science and the historical roots of that sometimes contentious dynamic, as reflected in A.D. White's book, "The Warfare between Science and Theology and Christendom," written in 1896. The contention that sometimes is reflected in this dynamic regarding religion and science is captured in the title of Glenn Altschuler's 1979 biography on A.D.W. White. And the title of that chapter, which I will commend to your reading, is called "The Dilemma of a Christian Rationalist."
Professor Noll will be introduced momentarily by Professor Nick Salvatore of Industrial and Labor Relations. But I have one brief announcement to make that is in keeping with our conversation this afternoon. On Tuesday, March 10, in Beta House Commons number 235, Dr. Guy Consolmagno, from the Vatican Observatory, an astronomer, will be talking about the Galileo affair, a modern perspective, and will be addressing a number of matters related to science and related to Galileo, the famous and important scientist, and the way in which Galileo's work challenged the science of that day, how it was shaped by the personal ambitions of the main players in the field of natural philosophy at that time, and how Galileo's standing rose and fell during his era and beyond.
So we want to make you aware of that event, which is related to the conversation about religion and science that we will engage in this afternoon. Now, professor Salvatore comes to introduce our speaker.
NICK SALVATORE: Just to get hooked up. OK, hello. It really is a pleasure to welcome Mark Noll back to Cornell to give the Frederick C. Wood Lecture. Mark is now the Francis A. McAnaney And professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, a position he took in 2006, after teaching for many, many years at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Between 1977 and the present, Mark Noll has authored or edited, at times with colleagues, some 43 books, to say nothing of an unimaginable number of articles in both scholarly and popular journals. This vast intellectual effort has had certain key themes that reflect his commitments, his training, and his experience as a professed Christian and an outstanding historian.
As his colleague John Wilson once suggested, Noll's interest and greatest impact has been in re-imagining our collective sense of the American past, in exploring in detail the complexity of the Evangelical tradition in America and across the world, and in understanding more clearly the historic role of the Bible in American public life.
I would briefly note just two of these books today. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, published in 1994, literally rocked the Evangelical world. Despite the success of Evangelicals in the 20 or so years before in American public life, Noll's first sentence of chapter 1 was more critical in its evaluation than most previous Evangelicals had offered and certainly had offered in public. "The scandal of the Evangelical mind," Noll wrote, "is that there is not much of an Evangelical mind."
But rather than writing a screed, Noll used that challenge to examine the history of America and specifically of American evangelicalism and to explore the intersections where faith and thought can-- indeed, he would say, must co-join. It is a book that yet reverberates in Evangelical and more secular circles.
The second book I would note is his 2002 masterpiece, America's God, from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. His commitment to the craft of history, to deep research, the weighing of evidence, to honest complex thought, permeates his re-conceptualization of this formative period of American politics, society, and thought in a fashion that reminds all of us of the depth of religious commitments that influence both popular and intellectual thought, culture, and civic ritual. The Atlantic Magazine then was correct when it designated that book, quote, "the most significant work in American historical scholarship for that year."
In a 2004 essay marking the 10th anniversary of Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Noll wrote of the qualities yet needed in many parts of the Evangelical community, to move beyond what he termed-- and I quote-- "the eccentricities of American Evangelicalism into the spacious domains of self-critical, patient, rooted, and productive Christian tradition." Those qualities are indeed the very ones he has brought to his work for decades now and help explain why he is an historian who claims attention and interest of so many within and well beyond an Evangelical or a Christian commitment. Please welcome Professor Mark Noll.
MARK NOLL: Well, I thank Professor Salvatore for a welcome that's almost as warm as the weather outside. It's a real treat to come from the snowy reaches of northern Indiana to tropical New York in the middle of March. As a historian who has long pondered the controversies in recent Western history involving religion and science, I'm naturally much interested in the founding president and initial genius of Cornell University, Andrew Dickson White.
In general, I'm much grateful to the sponsors of the Wood Lecture for the opportunity to talk about science and religion. But I'm even more pleased that this invitation has provided a specific opportunity to read works by A.D. White and works about A.D. White. This afternoon, I'm planning to spend a fair bit of time talking about White and the founding of Cornell, but this effort is meant to advance a general thesis.
And to express that thesis, I'm shamelessly paraphrasing the opening line of Stephen Chapin's wonderful little book, The Scientific Revolution. And here's the thesis. There has never been such a thing as warfare between science and theology, and this is a lecture about it.
Andrew Dickson White was a man of many parts. Besides working energetically with Ezra Cornell to use the fortune Cornell had amassed in the telegraph business to build their new university; besides taking on several substantial political tasks for the state of New York; besides filling US diplomatic posts in Santa Domingo, Germany, and Russia; besides shouldering many duties as a reformer and public advocate; besides all this, White was an indefatigable historical researcher and a tireless writer.
As a scholar and author, White doggedly pursued a single theme for nearly three decades. At random moments, snatched from the crushing pace of his official duties, White researched, wrote, researched, and wrote some more, but always in service to one grand historical theme. The argument received its first full statement in a lecture delivered at the Cooper's Union in New York City on December 18, 1869. And do try to remember that year.
It was a bold statement asserted bluntly. He said, in all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, resulted in the direst evils both to religion and to science, and invariably. And on the other hand, all untrammeled scientific investigation, no matter how dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed for the time to be, has invariably resulted in the highest good, both of religion and science.
For the next 30 years, White exploited the travel necessitated by his official duties to gather vast quantities of evidence in support of this thesis. The result of this continuous research was a short book in 1876 entitled The Warfare of Science, then an expanding series of articles published in magazines like The Popular Science Monthly, and finally in 1896, the 900-page, two-volume, brickbed of a tome entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.
One of the main purposes of White's 1896 volume was to spell out what he saw as a difference between religion and dogmatic theology. This difference enabled him, as he came to the end of his volume 2, to move from describing warfare to predicting peace. In White's picture, the atmosphere of thought engendered by the development of all sciences during the last three centuries had enjoyed a tremendous success in the dissolving what he called vast masses of myth, legend, marvel, and dogmatic assertion.
Because of what all these sciences had achieved, White confidently concluded that accounts formerly supposed to be special revelations to Jews and Christians were but repetitions of widespread legends dating from earlier civilizations and simply based on ancient myths. These legends and myths were what White called dogmatic theology. But with such theology swept away, White was confident that a purified form of religion would flourish.
Because of what modern science in general had achieved and especially what he called the evolution doctrines, which have grown out of the thought and work of men like Darwin and Spencer, White thought he was witnessing in his own day what he called the most striking evolution of morals and religion in the history of our race. With dogmatic theology ousted by the labors of modern science, White held that the world at large was moving from a place where belief in tribal gods provoked every sort of cruelty and injustice to a new conception of humanity as a vast community in which the fatherhood of god overarches all and the brotherhood of man permeates all.
White held that since science had dethroned dogmatic theology, religion of a beneficent sort would prevail and unprecedented moral progress would sweep over the globe. A.D. White remains a consequential figure in Western intellectual history, but not for his prediction that religion stripped of dogmatic theology would join with scientific progress to usher in a golden age of universal human flourishing under a benignly accommodating deity.
Rather, White remains important for the controlling metaphor of his great historical work. And of course, that image is of warfare. The staying power of White's image has been extraordinary. It's continuing force can be illustrated by widespread reactions to current events like lawsuits over the teaching of evolution in public schools, or widely publicized books denouncing traditional religion as a superstitious relic of barbarism, or debates concerning the use of embryonic stem cells for research.
The power of the warfare metaphor persists strongly in some religious communities that equate evolution with atheism. The metaphor seems almost as powerful in some academic communities that equate Bible believing with anti-science fanaticism. Whenever we react, upon hearing of such matters, by thinking, here we go again or, more tellingly, if we instinctively lapse into cheerleader mode and hope that our side in these controversies will somehow win, we testify to how pervasively White's depiction of warfare between science and theology has taken hold.
This afternoon, I'm suggesting that White's history was fundamentally mistaken. In point of fact, his metaphor of warfare grossly oversimplified the actual relationship between science and dogmatic theology. Before, during, and after the time he was writing his landmark book, relationships involving science and theology have rarely amounted to warfare.
You need to know that I'm making this judgment from my standpoint as a Christian believer of a traditional sort. And by traditional, I mean Christianity defined as straightforward belief in the propositions of the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. For the sake of simplicity today, I'll be talking most about Western science in relationship to Christian dogmatic theology. Though, I think it's the case that similar talks could to be offered by traditional Muslim believers or traditional Jewish believers as well.
So my first argument is that, for patent historical reasons, it is nonsensical to speak about a condition of warfare between science and dogmatic theology. But I'm also hoping to develop a second argument. Despite being wrong in the conclusions he drew from his research, A.D. White's big book nonetheless made a genuine contribution to a better understanding of religion and science. And that contribution came directly from the last word in his title, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.
Christendom, I hope to suggest, offers much better insight for White's theme than his trope of warfare. With his reference to Christendom, White explained why though, in fact, there has never been a state of war between science and theology, incidents of conflict and the perception of conflict appear everywhere in Western history. So the second task this afternoon is to isolate some of the factors that have made for the continuing appearance of struggle between science and theology.
But before setting out these two arguments, I need to briefly explain how White developed his own position. Throughout his book, he referred continually to the theological view and the scientific view or the naturally opposing tendencies of theology and science. On the theological side stood a disdain for observation and empirical method, combined with a commitment to authority, tradition, and a literal interpretation of the Bible.
Early in his exposition, White illustrated the self-defeating effects of these characteristics by describing the retrograde understanding of the animal kingdom that prevailed during the Middle Ages. He wrote, "Neglecting the wonders which the dissection of the commonest animals would have afforded them, these naturalist attempted to throw light into nature by ingenious use of scriptural texts, by research among the lives of the saints, and by the plentiful application of metaphysics," Which was a kind of a swear word all throughout this book.
To the rescue of such hopelessly misguided efforts eventually came what White called "one after the other, five of the greatest men our race has yet produced-- Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton. And when their work was done," he said, "the old theological conception of the universe was gone." In White's account, each of these great scientist insisted upon privileging direct observation over inherited authority, each refused to be bound by traditional literal interpretations of scripture, each courageously thought for himself instead of heeding the concerns of intellectually-timid ecclesiastical officials, each showed how all prevailing law provided a vastly superior account of the physical world and references to capricious divine action, and each valued truth more than the reputation of the truth.
White's account of the judicial case against Galileo in 1615, 1616, which ended by reaffirming the Catholic Church's traditional stance of a non-rotating world positioned at the center of the universe, was particularly graphic. He wrote, "The whole struggle to crush Galileo and to save him would be amusing were it not so fraught with evil. There were intrigues and counter-intrigues, plots and counter-plots, lying and spying. And in the thickest of this seething, squabbling, screaming mass of priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, two Popes appeared, Paul V and Urban VIII.
It is most suggestive to see, in this crisis of the Church, on the eve of the greatest errors in Church policy the world has ever known, in all the intrigues and deliberations of these consecrated leaders of the Church, no more evidence of the guidance or presence of the Holy Spirit than in a caucus of New York politicians at Tammany Hall." I think, maybe, he knew what he was talking about.
Despite this temporary defeat of science by theology, however, the upward arc of untrammeled truth eventually prevailed. Most of White's chapters took the form of showing how the various scientific disciplines and other schools of modern inquiry were liberated, when intellectually-decrepit theology gave way to intellectually-vibrant science. And so we have chapters entitled "From Creation to Evolution," "From Magic to Chemistry and Physics," "From Miracles to Medicine," "From the Divine Oracles to the Higher Criticism," and so on. In each chapter, dogmatic theology is the culprit. Science is the hero.
There is a stunning array of solidly-grounded research to show that White was simply wrong in how he told his story. And doing things as you do as a historian, I actually have 16 fairly well-developed instances of why this research was wrong. You need to get out of here by midnight. So I've cut the list down to eight.
First, the origins of modern science-- beginning even in White's own day, an array of learned scholars had been showing how particular aspects of traditional Christianity, even medieval Christianity, played critical parts in the rise of modern natural science. While the scholars differ considerably in highlighting which aspects they think encourage modern science and how that encouragement of function-- the work of Michael Foster, Alfred North Whitehead, Robert Merton, Charles Webster, [INAUDIBLE], Stanley Jaki, and many others have shown how important various aspects of dogmatic thinking were to Western scientific advance.
Second, White's big five-- A.D. white highlighted the work of Nicholas Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, and Sir Isaac Newton as critical in the triumph of science over theology. In fact, as more than a century of careful historical work has demonstrated, all five of these pioneering early modern scientists were traditional Christian believers of one sort or another. Much as all five engaged in controversy with various church officials none of them believed that their scientific work undermined what they considered to be the main affirmations of historical dogmatic theology.
Three-- Charles Darwin. A.D. white made much of Darwin's theory of evolution as breaking the paralyzing grip of dogmatic theology. But the actual unfolding of Darwin's life was much more complicated. As outstanding historical reconstruction has shown, Darwin became an agnostic, not because of his scientific researches, but because of the moral trauma he experienced at the untimely death of his favorite daughter.
One of the finest books to appear in this year marking the bicentennial of Darwin's birth makes a surprising argument about Darwin's willingness to publish The Descent of Man in 1871. And this, of course, is the book where Darwin proposed that humankind was included in the evolutionary descent of all life from one primeval origin.
A claim of Adrian Desmond and James Moore's Darwin's Sacred Cause is that the naturalist published his findings as much to promote an ethical principle concerning the unity of the human race as for narrowly scientific reasons.
Four, Huxley and Wilberforce-- White wrote several pages on the momentous significance of an exchange in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, that showed Wilberforce twisting scientific evidence to deny the force of evolution and Huxley defending the high truths of unfettered scientific investigation. The problem with this account is that, though some kind of exchange doubtless took place in Oxford before the British Association on June 30, 1860, no one at the time ascribed much significance to it at all.
The conclusion that the Huxley-Wilberforce exchange was one of the turning points in the battle between science over theology turns out, itself, to be just a myth.
Five, promoting Darwinism-- White did include brief mention of the Harvard botanist Asa Gray in his warfare book. But Gray deserved more attention as the first, strongest, and most effective American promoter of Darwin's theory of natural selection. Gray, a renowned botanist at Harvard, did this work on behalf of Darwinism, while maintaining, in frank correspondence with Darwin, that Gray saw no difficulty in understanding the theory of natural selection as fully compatible with traditional Christian doctrines of Divine Providence. Gray went to his grave affirming classical Christian beliefs concerning the deity of Christ and the traditional Christian accounts of human sinfulness and Darwin's theory of evolution.
Perhaps even more notable as someone who promoted major aspects of Darwin's science in the United States was a theologian from Princeton Theological Seminary. Benjamin B. Warfield was alive and active when White was publishing his big book. Warfield's support for evolution is especially noteworthy since he was, in his day, the nation's strongest supporter for the theological concept of the inerrancy of the Bible, the doctrine that the Bible makes no mistakes whatsoever.
Warfield wrote carefully about evolution and with several qualifications. But he also articulated his conviction, on many occasions, that natural selection did not, in principle, contradict historic Christian faith nor undermine a very high conception of the Christian scriptures.
Six, testimony of the Popes-- the last two pontiffs of the Roman Catholic Church have made nuanced statements about what balanced Christian teachings should say about scientific investigations concerning humankind In 1996, John Paul II gave an address to the Pontifical Academy of Science on the question of evolution, in which he affirmed traditional Catholic dogma that humankind was created in the image of God. Yet, this address also explained why the Church could and did accept modern evolutionary theory, so long as that theory did not lead to what the pope called materialist or reductionist metaphysical conclusions about the nature of humanity.
Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, said much the same in a series of lectures defining what he called a Catholic understanding of the story of creation and the fall.
Seven, recent scientists as traditional Christians-- the recent past also reveals many instances where anything but warfare is characterized science and theology. Particle physicist John Polkinghorne, whom I undersand has been here at Cornell, and physician-geneticist Francis Collins are only two of the many contemporary scientists respected for their leadership and research who have written eloquently about how their practice of science fits easily within a framework of traditional Christian belief.
Eight, recent scientists as peacemakers-- even better known are modern scientists who have labored to defuse tensions between religion as such and science as such. The late Stephen Jay Gould is the most prominent of these figures. His principle of NOMA, Non-Overlapping Magisteria, certainly has not resolved all possible tensions involving science and theology. But it represented a major effort to differentiate proper goals of scientific and religious inquiry and, by differentiating them, to ease artificial tensions.
An action taken by the National Association of Biology Teachers in 1997 showed the same desire to minimize needless occasions of conflict. In 1995, this association had issued an official statement about what its leaders took to be a modern scientific consensus. The statement went like this. "The diversity of life on Earth is the outcome of evolution, an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process."
When, however, the objection was raised that words like "unsupervised" and "impersonal" represented metaphysical conclusions rather than the results of empirical inquiry, the Association agreed and dropped the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal" from its definition of evolution.
In sum, a plethora of well-established historical conclusions, along with observations from the present day, demonstrate beyond cavil that no simple formula can adequately describe the rich, thickly-textured, and complex history linking Christianity and science. Throughout most of the last 1,700 years, Christian believers have simply shared the intellectual conventions of their day. Sometimes, they acted to retard the empirical investigation of nature. Sometimes, they promoted it.
Since the 16th century, religious controversies over science have been driven by dogmatic theology, by secular belief, by factors having nothing directly to do with science or religion, and by much else. Since that same time, religious cooperation with science has been driven by dogmatic theology, by secular belief, by factors having nothing to do directly with science or religion, and much else.
The historical picture is complex. And Western history has certainly witnessed much argument that involved science and religion. But warfare-- warfare is simply not the best metaphor to capture that history. Rather, negotiation, dialogue, competition, workaday hiccups, isolated thunderstorms-- these are all better metaphors to describe what has actually occurred.
But now, having shown what I think are fatal problems attending White's notion of warfare, I would like to describe White's wisdom in placing the dramas he misdescribed in Christendom. The perceptive contribution offered by that one word offers a key that unlocks a conundrum. Why, if there are no well-grounded reasons for using the warfare metaphor, does warfare nonetheless remain very much alive in popular perceptions of issues involving science and religion?
The answer, I think, is provided by understanding Christendom and, particularly, the shape that Christendom has taken in the history of the United States. The significance of White's reference to Christendom hinges upon understanding what Christendom meant and how it functioned in the intellectual history of the West. Christendom arose in the 4th century.
And here, I'm suggesting that it is a legacy of Christendom that, if I say 4th century AD, some of you will be offended. If I say 4th century of the common era, some of the rest of you may be offended. So in the 4th century AC or CE, the Roman emperors Constantine and Theodosius themselves became Christian adherents. They used the power of the imperial state to promote Christianity. And they looked to Christianity to advance the interest of empire.
From that time, Christendom meant a vision of society in which the institutions of an inherited and respected Christian church provided the main organizing principles for education, culture, and much else, where government deferred to the Church for matters concerning family, personal morality, culture, and education and where, in turn, the institutions and personnel of Christianity provided legitimation for governments that carried out or were considered the god-ordained task of preserving social stability and perpetuating the favored social position of the visible Church.
The vision behind Christendom enjoyed remarkable staying power, especially its commitment to two foundational principles. First of all, life in all its dimensions-- social, political, intellectual, cultural, religious-- was joined together under God. And second, because of that unity, the institutions of church and state had a mutual obligation to cooperate closely, in order to realize the potential of life under God.
In the Middle Ages, these institutions were roughly balanced in their effective authority. Sometimes, emperors and kings took the lead. Sometimes, popes, bishops, and abbots provided direction. In the Byzantine East and then in Russia, the Eastern Roman Empire and the czars dominated the system so much that Christendom came to be known as caesaropapism.
In the West, the assumption of Christendom survived the Reformation of the 16th century almost entirely intact. Except for a tiny fringe of Anabaptists and other radicals, Protestants were content with the social order inherited from the Middle Ages. The main difference was that, in Protestant areas, mini-Christendoms-- Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican-- replaced the maxi-Christendom of the Catholic Middle Ages.
Only in the 17th and 18th centuries, did direct challenges arise to the Christendom ideal. But these challenges were marked not by questioning the total overlap of religious and political spheres. Rather, they were marked by struggles of increasing intensity to control the means of intellectual production. Some early champions of the Enlightenment looked to a Republic of Reason to supplant the inherited intellectual regime of the church.
The French Revolution may be considered a palace revolt in which a dictatorship of throne and altar was replaced by a dictatorship of tribune and guillotine. In the 19th century, anti-clericalism became the badge for those who worked to replace the inherited church regimes with newer regimes of secular liberal reason. Early in the 20th century, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia successfully replaced Byzantine caesaropapism with a totalistic form of anti-Christendom.
Only in the 19th century did some Europeans begin to think that the various spheres of life could be disaggrevated in such a way that innovations in one sphere need not be perceived as threatening stability in all spheres. For science, under Christendom and the secular successors of Christendom, intellectual disputes invariably became political disputes. Disagreements over how the physical world functioned regularly became struggles for power over the authority to determine scientific orthodoxy.
Examined superficially, we see science at war with theology. Examined with care, we find individuals and interest groups, usually with mingled scientific and theological allegiances, struggling to control the broadly-defined universalism of Christendom.
It's been one of the great triumphs of the modern history of science to demonstrate the remarkably consistent pattern in intellectual disputes from the Middle Ages to the present. Historians of the Middle Ages have shown how crucial it was for Thomas Aquinas to secure the support of Louis IX of France for his Christianised Aristotelian in combating the double truths of Averroes.
The Galileo story has long since passed beyond a simple tale of enlightened science versus ecclesiastical despotism to a complicated story of papal politics, partisan advantage, and personal self-assertion. Stephen Chapin's outstanding works on the era of Robert Boyle show how trust in science grew from a particular set of circumstances that encouraged trust in scientists.
A host of historians-- led by Frank Turner, Bob Young, James Moore, Adrian Desmond-- have demonstrated that, in 19th century Britain, all battles over the truth or falsity of Darwinism were also battles between a [? settled ?] cohort of gentlemen clerical naturalists and a rising cohort of newly professional scientists. In the Soviet era, when Trofim Lysenko's objections to Mendelian genetics won Stalin's favor, published opinions in a wide range of biological phenomena could win scientists either instant preferment or instant imprisonment.
In all of these situations, we see at work the dynamics of Christendom or anti-Christendom. It was the great merit of Andrew Dickson White that he recognized the persistence of intellectual warfare in Christendom. It was the fault of his analysis to describe that this warfare existed between science as such and theology as such.
In American history, Christendom has taken a greatly modified form. Throughout the colonial period of our history, the peculiar circumstances of European settlement pushed towards a separation of church and state. That separation between became constitutional policy with the First Amendment of 1791.
The United States of America did not replicate European Christendom. Presidents and Congress have not passed legislation telling churches what to do. Churches and religious advocates have tried to influence public policy. But they have not been able to dictate that policy. Not until the Moral Act of 1862 did the federal government offer any serious sponsorship for higher education of any kind. Not until World War II did government funding for research become a central part of the modern history of science.
But if the entanglements of European Christendom have not existed in the United States, it does not mean that the Christendom pattern vanished entirely. Rather, in US history, Christendom was democratized. Informal and populist persuasion through the public media replaced the formal and institutional links that adjoined church and state in Europe. The result was the society that Alexis de Tocqueville described in the 1830s.
In his view, the US was the most successful democracy in the world. And de Tocqueville expanded at great length, as those of you who are students that have had to read this work know, on how relatively successful he felt American democracy had been. But it was also a system susceptible, in de Tocqueville' opinion, to what he'd call the tyranny of the majority. Democracy did not mean the absence, of course-- a force exerted upon ideas. It meant, rather, the transformation of top-down authority into bottom-up conformity.
For the development of an American style of informal Christendom, science or natural philosophy, as it was long called, played a very important part. The United States gave up formal ties between church and state. It repudiated the corrupt authority of inherited monarchies and inherited titles of nobility. Its republican principles placed the onus for creating stable government on the people at large. And it was the first new nation in a new order for the ages.
The only traditional European authorities that Americans did not jettison in the revolutionary era were the Bible and the deliverances of empirical natural philosophy. With both of these authorities, Americans could read and reason for themselves. With both, those who convinced others of their own expertise in reading scripture and in reading nature exerted much greater power than those who simply clung to tradition, aristocratic privilege, or inherited authority.
In the early decades of the 19th century, well-known Christian leaders were successful in demonstrating to the people at large that the best empirical science supported a traditional understanding of scripture. Ernest Layman and the leaders of the nation's colleges, most of whom, of course, were clergymen, persuasively put to use the methods of Baconian science and the natural theology of William Paley to demonstrate the truths of Christianity and the harmony of scripture and science.
To take one example, Timothy Dwight was a much-beloved president of Yale College. He became president of Yale College in 1795, when a majority of the rambunctious undergraduates in that day thought that they could imitate painlessly and without violence what had happened recently in France. They challenged Yale's traditional Christian position and claimed that that position was being enforced by authority rather than argument.
Timothy Dwight won great renown in the whole United States by challenging these upstarts to bring the facts to an honest investigation and then-- as his own writings explained in great length and then some people writing about him explained in just a few words-- Dwight proved to the students that their statement was mistaken or irrelevant and, by the exposure of argument, recovered the ground for Christianity.
He showed, in other words, by persuasion, that the European traditional joining together of religion and science was proper, but he did it in an American democratic way. Later in American history, the outcome was different when leaders appealed, as Dwight had done, simply to the facts. By the time that A.D. white first addressed questions of religion and science, spokesmen for the intellectual equivalent of the French Revolution were doing a better job at persuading the American public that they should be heeded than were the defenders of traditional Christianity.
In White's era, new intellectual leaders like himself were using their persuasive powers to convince others that nonsectarian science deserved the support that had once been bestowed on sectarian science. Nonetheless, the venues of popular opinion that Dwight had exploited for his victory remained the venue that the new breed of educators exploited to win their battles. Persuasion by means of popular opinion, in other words, became the American substitute for coercion by means of monarchical dictate.
But of course, even in a democracy, the will of the people has to take institutional shape. Once persuaded, legislatures, courts, taxing bodies, and other instruments of public policy have often acted as self-confidently as the aristocrats of Christendom acted in carrying out their wishes. And I think the early history of Cornell shows how these particular American dynamics worked.
Early plans for one university that could combine a traditional focus on the liberal arts with a newer emphasis on the mechanical arts, funded by the Moral Act, did not seem controversial. But as these plans were taken up by two leaders in the New York Senate, the aging Ezra Cornell and the young A.D. White, things became more complicated. For different reasons, Cornell and White had become strong advocates of what they called nonsectarian learning.
Cornell had been offended when the Society of Friends ousted him when he married a non-Quaker. White had become disillusioned with his era's standard church-sponsored higher learning when he spent a year at a denominational college where, in his account, everything was pandemonium. As a young man, White had also become personally convinced that theologically-specific education stood in the way of the progressive evolutionary religion he favored.
At first, it seemed a natural thing for Cornell and White to propose that their university be simply nonsectarian. But when the legislature established the university-- well, the legislation was passed in 1865-- opposition from leaders of denominational colleges sprang out of the woodwork. In hard-hitting attacks, opponents claimed that nonsectarianism was simply a stalking horse for infidelity. They described the White's plan for hiring faculty of all denominations as simply a pathway toward atheism. They blasted White's proposal for a nonsectarian chapel program.
Some of this criticism was motivated by principle. Some was motivated by desire to share the funding for the Moral Act. Much of it was simply over-the-top. Decades later, White reported that, at first, he resolved simply to ignore the criticism. But then he decided on another course, which he put like this. "I stood for a time on the defensive," he said. "But finding that this only provoked new attacks, I determined to take the offensive, which I did in my lecture on the warfare of science."
Instruction at Cornell began in 1868. This lecture was delivered at the Cooper's Union in New York City the very next year. So in this manner, the battle for public opinion in New York state become Christendom, and strident debate over the educational needs of New York in the mid 1860s became the entire history of the warfare of science with theology.
In the contemporary United States, with our democratic form of Christendom, disputes involving science and religion play out in democratic venues that much resemble the venues in which A.D. White struggled to get Cornell University off the ground. Popularly-elected legislators pass laws to define the boundaries between science and religion. The same bodies collect taxes and disperse public funds in ways that control investigation of science and religion. Courts work to find the right balance between particular religious and scientific interests and the general public good.
The United States does not have a monarchy. But we do have talk radio. We do not have close collaboration between church and state. But we do have dueling media. Think, for example, of the play Inherit the Wind on one side and the movie by Ben Stein Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed on the other side. We do not have a divine right of kings. But we do have expert publishers, who know how to market books with titles like The God Delusion and Defeating Darwinism.
We have many religiously-inspired statements about science from people with little or no scientific expertise. We have many statements by people claiming to speak for science who have little or no philosophical expertise. Here's the critical point. If misinformed people making such statements are more persuasive for a particular audience than those who speak about such matters with expertise, then for that particular audience in this democratic polity the uninformed exercise a coercive authority over the informed.
A.D. White knew what he was talking about when he wrote about warfare. But he misunderstood the nature of the conflict. His own life experiences had well-prepared him to write a big book on what he had experienced-- not, to be sure, a history of the warfare of science with theology and Christendom. But he should have written a book with a title something like The Struggle for Hegemony over Public Discourse among Interested Parties in a Democratic Polity.
To be sure, the title of that book is not quite as snappy as the one he actually wrote. But it would have described much more accurately what actually was going on. I've come to the end of my historical account. But I suspect that the nature of my topic leaves at least some interested in what my own positive peace plan would look like. And so I'm going to give two suggestions, which grow out of my understanding of American history that I've tried to sketch so rapidly today.
First, is a council of peace for those who are convinced that the Bible demands a young Earth, or that belief in the Bible dictates a particular approach to design in nature, or that trust in scripture must oppose reliance on the methods of modern science. To such ones, my advice is to accept the possibility that traditional interpretations of scripture can be changed without weakening the main messages of scripture.
The simplest way to implement this advice would be to urge those who believe the Bible is the word of God to listen carefully to others who also believe this very same thing and who have obtained expertise in trained study of nature. A more complicated way to frame this advice would be to follow a chain of reasoning like this. First, traditional Christians believe what the Bible says about the origin of all things in God's creative acts. But traditional believers also hold that natural processes are sustained by God and that human minds can discover how nature works only because God made the human mind able to understand nature.
What God-enables minds find out about God-sustained nature must therefore come into play when believers in God-inspired scripture are interpreted. God is the author of the Book of Nature as well as the Book of Scripture. There is no future in trying to read these books against each other.
My council of peace, for those who fear the threat of religious believers, focuses on a clear understanding of the development and nature and actual workings of modern science. From my angle, it's simply an intellectual scandal to see how often capital S Science is enlisted to defend or attack concepts like the existence of God. Modern science, by its definition, studies empirically the natural world and naturally-occurring cause-and-effects relationships.
As such, it must be entirely neutral on questions of teleology or purpose, on questions of intelligent design, or questions of Divine Providence. Since these are all questions that, in principle, cannot be answered by close examination of the natural world, inference, deduction, application, or some other intellectual move is always required when going beyond systematized observations in the realm of nature to larger claims about the existence or nonexistence of God.
About purpose, about design, and I would say, even about miracles-- of course-- of course, science makes a contribution in all such moves and all such arguments that are for or against traditional understandings of God. But it's a logical fallacy of the first order to suggest that science by itself solves any of the major questions about the nature of human destiny.
In the midst of one of the recent debates over design in evolutionary biology, a physicist from Washington University in St. Louis made the necessary but all too uncommon self-denying assertion. He wrote, it all comes down to what is said about the mutations that provided the genetic variation underlying the observed evolution of life on Earth.
Simplifying to one sentence-- "We have no evidence one way or the other about the randomness or purposelessness of those mutations. And it is reasonable to ask teachers not to claim that we do." Evidence about mutations abound. Evidence for purpose, strictly considered, must come from domains other than science defined as systematic empirical study of natural phenomena.
But given the long history of conflicts swirling around issues of science and religion, I have no illusions about the ability of my hasty suggestions to bring about a just and lasting peace on these issues. But I hope that, after this kind of preliminary historical account, it may be possible to entertain the possibility that there has never been such a thing as the warfare between science and theology, and that you will forgive me for taking so much of your time to lecture on something that never took place.
We have time for questions and comments, refutations. And I'm sure I've managed to offend some of you along the way somehow today. I think my task will be to repeat the questions and then try to answer them. Yes?
SPEAKER 2: We have here an article from The Wall Street Journal, 2006, about a leading scholar of Mormon studies who cannot find a job because universities, including state-owned secular universities want to hire professors that are friendly to the believers and will not upset them. [? End quote. ?] [INAUDIBLE] this sort of interference in genuine scholarship by religion is still going on.
MARK NOLL: Right. I think your question is, what about this case reported in The Wall Street Journal about a practicing Mormon scientist--
SPEAKER 2: He's a practicing scientist. I believe he's no longer a practicing Mormon.
MARK NOLL: The practicing scientists is no longer a practicing Mormon. I'm guessing that the two are related in some way. It would seem to me that such a such issue is an example of my lecture, that the disputes that would keep up either a practicing Mormon or ex-Mormon or anti-Mormon from obtaining a job in a scientific profession illustrates that systematic observation of cause and effect in nature is not really what's at stake. But what's really at stake is the effort to control the authority behind the systematic exploration of causes and effect in nature. Yes?
SPEAKER 3: What is your opinion on how the intelligence design movement plays into this current [INAUDIBLE] growing from warfare-- this friction that we observe, this talking and talking? Where do you think ID stands in the interface between science and religion stands?
MARK NOLL: Where do I think the intelligent design movement stands in this interface? Which is a much better word, I think, than warfare of science and religion. My own opinion is mixed on intelligent design. I think the positive contribution of advocates of intelligent design has been to draw attention to-- White's least favorite word-- the metaphysical foundations of much that is claimed by using results from evolutionary biology.
In other words, some of the expert intelligent design people have, I think, made it a very convincing case that the term "evolution" is often used as a statement about naturalism all the way down that excludes the possibility of deity, excludes prima facia any effort to link together investigations of the natural world and larger concerns about God and human purposes.
I have difficulties with the intelligent design movement, because I am not a real strong advocate-- in fact, I think there is just a lot of problems with traditional arguments from design. My own reading in William Paley and Darwin then-- who was, of course, a Paley-ite-- suggests that the William Paley view of the world enshrined a great confidence in the human ability to see phenomena in nature and, on the basis of those phenomena, to make pretty elaborate claims about the nature of God, the nature of creation, the nature of Providence is [INAUDIBLE] in the world.
I, myself, do not think that those arguments are effective. I happen to believe in what some people have called the argument "to" design. Because I am a Christian believer and have what I think is a reasonably orthodox traditional view of divine creation, I can see when evidence is presented to me-- and I'm going to risk offending scientists with my ignorance here. But like the gravitational constant or developments that are inexplic-- the black box things-- I'm in a position, as a Christian believer, to see Providence at work, because I am a Christian believer.
I find a great deal of well-articulated high-power science confirmatory of what I already believe. I don't think that scientific evidence by itself is in a position to constrain belief. So to repeat, the value of the ID discussion has been, I think, to raise the sophistication, philosophically, of what's at stake. If the positive contribution is intended to do, in a more sophisticated way, what William Paley attempted to do, then I think there's problems with it.
There was a-- just behind. Yes?
SPEAKER 4: This is more for Christians specifically. You mentioned that there's a book of nature, and it's the book of scripture. As Christians [INAUDIBLE] in the world to recognize [INAUDIBLE]. I guess, my question is simply, how should we go about reconciling the two when they seem to contradict and they seem to say different things?
MARK NOLL: Right. Yeah, the question is, it seems, to Christian believers, the book of nature and the book of scripture contradict-- how to go about handling these things? Well, since I'm a historian and, therefore, dispositionally cowardly, the first answer is to take your time and wait, see what happens.
I'm sure that scientists who are in the room today could bring forth just many, many examples of what were well-considered fairly reliable readings of nature that later changed and were later given up for other interpretations of the natural world.
More positively, it does seem to me that, if one takes a broadly Christian view of why modern science is possible, you've actually taken a couple of positive steps already to the possibility of bringing together interpretations of nature and of scripture. I would say that a traditional Christian understanding of why modern science is possible depends upon a very high valuation of God-created humanity.
In other words, modern science doesn't just come out of nowhere. It comes out of the application of the human mind to human experience. At least my view of the Divine Creation is that the ability of humans to understand the natural world is a created ability, so that systematic attention to what is experienced from the natural world is a God-created possibility.
When a God-created possibility leads in a direction that contradicts or seems to contradict an interpretation of scripture, then I think it's responsible for the one who thinks the violation is taking place to ask the students of nature, are you sure? But it's also responsible for the students of nature to ask the ones interpreting the Bible, are you sure?
I'll say one other thing. I do think a Christian understanding of Christianity itself hinges upon a strong commitment to empirical investigation. So in the Hebrew scriptures, we have many times, in Psalms, the injunction, taste and see. In the Christian New Testament, we have many times when questions were asked of Jesus when he said, come and see. And it would, on that basis, seemed to me that Christian believers would always be more eager to find out new things from their experience and would trust new things from their experience more than the deductions from the truths they already hold.
That's not the best or maybe the only possible answer to your question. It is a question for those who do believe in something like the two books' metaphors. But it's a good one. And thinking about it, I think, will enable those who do believe that the Bible is the word of God to make a more responsible presentation of that particular belief amongst those who don't share that belief that the Bible is the word of God. Yes?
SPEAKER 5: Thanks for your talk. I feel like someone should ask you a question about the history. But everyone's asking philosophy questions.
MARK NOLL: Very good.
SPEAKER 5: And my [INAUDIBLE] is too. It seems like, at the end, you said that science is something like the systematic study of cause and effect in relationship with nature. So there's [? absolution. ?] But something that must be entirely thought of as questions regarding creation, purpose, and design. And you added, a little bit more tentatively, miracles.
And I wondered whether you might think that there is a place where there's real warfare? And I think [INAUDIBLE] to think it's not just systematic cause-and-effect relations, but rather systematic and unexceptional cause-and-effect relations. So as somebody who believes in at least one major violation of the natural laws in the year 33 CE--
--do you see that as a place where there might be ongoing warfare?
MARK NOLL: The question is about miracles and my statement that I was defining modern science as limited to the systematic observation of naturally-occurring cause-and-effect in nature. Yes, at the risk of offending philosophers and almost everybody else, it just doesn't seem to me that this is a difficult question. Because modern science has to be restricted to what's naturally occurring, or it doesn't work.
So this might be, actually, an objection to the argument for design too or the modern intelligent design movement. Because obviously, scientists and others who do modern science are interested in more than just what they discover in studying naturally-occurring cause-and-effect in the realm of nature. But it does seem to me that modern science exists because people chose to, as it were, bracket their labors with that kind of definition.
And here, I think I stand with A.D. White that one of the great things that Copernicus and Kepler and Newton-- who would have been the more systematically dogmatic people of his great five. One of the things they did was, while they continued to believe in Providence, Creation, and probably also miracle, they, in effect, said, for a certain limited number of-- or even quite expansive number of-- exercises, we're just not going to think about direct Divine action.
Newton certainly would say, I continue to believe in direct Divine action. But for what I'm doing to try to figure out the natural world, I'm not going to think about the other possibilities. Andrew Chignell's a good philosopher. He's not going to like me saying this either. But I just can't see the David Hume kind of arguments against miracles as stutterers, the way that some philosophers do.
Because what he is asking-- and this is a parallel to the scientific issue. He is asking people to take what normally transpires and the sphere of what normally transpires to judge what's claimed to be something that normally does not transpire. Claims for miracles have to be adjudicated. I'll speak in the other direction. I don't think that scientific evidence can demonstrate a miracle in the modern scientific sense. Because modern science only works if you limit yourself to what's naturally-occurring in the realm of nature.
This is not a real satisfactory response. But I'll say that I've thought about this issue, because Benjamin Warfield-- whom I mentioned just in passing is a defender of Darwinism-- was always, in his many, many writings, about 60 writings on evolution throughout his life, always more concerned about miracle than he was about evolution. Evolution, he did say, may or may not have taken place.
The way we adjudicate that issue is to listen to the best scientists. Miracles, he wanted to say, really did take place. And he was trying, in some way, not to make them into tightly-isolated separate domains, but to disentangle ways of thinking about them. I wish people would ask historical questions, because--
Yes, way in the back.
SPEAKER 6: Sorry, [INAUDIBLE].
The reason scientists are--
MARK NOLL: Just a little louder, please, if you could.
SPEAKER 6: Sorry. The reason scientists are [INAUDIBLE] to systematic investigation of natural phenomenon is it's [INAUDIBLE] of evidence-based reasoning. Particularly, there's some kind of conflict going on there, at the core of Christian-related is [INAUDIBLE] for which [? they acknowledge ?] it.
MARK NOLL: If these two domains are separate, there's a problem with Christianity, because the claim is that people should believe something for which there is no evidence. I don't think that's actually the case. There's a whole lot of evidence for Christianity. Much of the New Testament was written in the form of the things that we have seen and touched with our hands and seen with her eyes, we report to you. This is evidence. It is, however, evidence for which modern science is not going to be able to have a definitive answer, I would say, either pro or con.
The way in which the evidence for Christianity must be adjudicated is not with solid laboratory procedure but with full thinking about life as a whole. Certainly, there will be evidence. For some people, it will be insufficient evidence. For some people, it will be false. For some people, it will be explainable entirely in natural terms. For others, it will be evidence that points to questions that can only be answered by the supposition that something like the Christian god exists.
Why this is not a contradiction in Christianity seems to me to grow out of the character of Christian belief itself. I would say, the whole of the scriptures and, certainly, the Christian New Testament presents a narrative in which transcendence and imminence come together. Modern science lives in the domain of the imminent and very productively so.
The claim of classical Christianity is that there is no contradiction between the realm of the transcendent, which can include divine actions in the material sphere. There's no contradiction between the realm of the transcendent and the realm of the imminent, not because of a philosophical argument, because, in Jesus Christ, the transcendent and the imminent were there.
I don't think there is an argument from evidence to Christ. But there certainly is an argument from Christ to evidence. Because, in the classical Christian view, Jesus lived in the realm of the modern science and he was the transcendent god in human flesh. Those who don't believe Christianity can say, that's just mumbo-jumbo. It's just mystery. Once you go down that path, you can say anything. And in some sense, that's true.
But in classical Christian terms, there's certainly no contradiction between a belief system in which transcendence and imminence-- we know exist, because it existed-- and particular ways of dealing with the sphere of the imminent. Evidence is important for the sphere of the transcendent in Christian terms, because transcendence became imminent. So we had philosophy now and theology. I would like a historical question, if you don't mind.
SPEAKER 7 : I'm wondering-- I've heard some other people speak on the issue of science versus religious miracles. And one of the things they cling to is the fact that modern science [INAUDIBLE] of science now based on an enlightenment kind of claims they're connected, where if something isn't repeatable, then it's not real. And that that perpetuates a conflict in our present culture, where we can't believe in miracles if we believe in science.
MARK NOLL: Right.
SPEAKER 7 : But maybe, if you [INAUDIBLE] the Enlightenment, [INAUDIBLE]--
MARK NOLL: Good. We have a question to define the Enlightenment, which of course can only taking another hour and a half. A very good question, though, to ask-- is it not the case that, beginning, say, in the 17th, 18th century, that people we know of as leading thinkers of the Enlightenment defined a realm of human investigation that featured actions that could be repeated and studied. And does not the success of that Enlightenment way of looking at the world rule out miracles or events that can't be adjudicated by the repetition of naturally-occurring phenomena?
I will try to answer the question substantially. But the historical answer is really the better one. So who are these people that did this kind of enlightenment science? They are people like Johannes Kepler who, all his life long, looked upon what he was doing as discerning the ways of Providence.
They are people like Isaac Newton, who spent much more time trying to figure out the prophetic passages in the book of Ezekiel than he did apples falling from the tree, whose investment in what we would today call dogmatic theology, in terms of his lifelong expenditure of time, was considerably greater than his expenditure on-- what we'd say-- natural science.
So the historical answer is that those who were the first promoters of this modern view of the natural world did not themselves see anything contradictory in what they were doing to a picture of the world in which miracles could take place.
The substantive matter, I would say, is that the reason for the great prestige of modern science is that limiting statements of fact to what could be ascertained by repeatable experiment proved productive, worked, was greatly effective in understanding things about the natural world. That effectiveness, that productivity, has, of course, been used by quite a few people to say, as White did, what had been believed previously about God's constant obvious working in the world, such that people could say, that was God at work-- what the consequences are of that modern science is, therefore, to rule out any kind of activity by God.
But at least as I conceive of the modern scientific venture, I conceive of modern science as being possible and taking place because the God of Miracles had made people in such a way to be able to figure out nature. And so if you start from that premise that modern science and its vast expansion of human understanding of the natural world is a gift of the miracle-working god, then there is no possible way in which systematic exploration of what happens repeatedly could rule out miracles. Yes?
SPEAKER 8: I really appreciate what you were saying [INAUDIBLE]. I do have a question that's kind of about history of science--
MARK NOLL: Good.
SPEAKER 8: --and philosophy.
I appreciate what you were saying about the philosophy of science, that it's one thing for a scientist to constrain his [INAUDIBLE] to natural phenomena. But it's still possible to [INAUDIBLE]. The one difference between you and me is that you're [INAUDIBLE] on the science. And easy enough for me to investigate observable phenomena in the present and come to inductive and productive conclusions about them.
It's very different, as a historian. Claims of miracles more recently stare you in the face. And also, your basic observations come through the filter of [INAUDIBLE]. So my [INAUDIBLE] question is, is history a science?
MARK NOLL: Well, the lead-up was in some ways more interested than the question. But--
--the question is, is history a science? And the answer would have to be, of course, yes and no. Because the "yes" part is the responsibility of historians to gather evidence. But I'm sure you recognize, and it was sort of in the preface of your question-- the major difference is that historians are working with non-repeatable events. And I think, in principle at least, many scientists are working with at least potentially repeatable events.
I am a traditional Christian who believes in miracles. But I'm also, as a historian, almost always skeptical about reported miracle stories, not because they can't happen, but because I'm aware, in my own circle of personal experience-- which, of course, is very limited-- but then, in reading about more human experience-- exactly what you said-- how easy it is to see something and misunderstand what it is or how easy it is to deceive oneself in reporting about an event.
But I think it's important for people like me to say, if there is skepticism about miracle stories, the root of that skepticism has to be in traditional Christian teachings about human nature. What do human beings do? Misperceive the world or lie about the world. Now, that's not all they do, of course. But these things do happen.
Now, that kind of skepticism has been increasingly challenged, in my thinking, by a increasing array of well-verified historical accounts of, not just Christian belief, but Christian belief in the non-Western world, where all kinds of strange things are reported all the time. And I recognize, again, that I'm a product of the Enlightenment West. And so, although I believe strongly in a miracle-working god, I might actually just be shocked if I ever saw what I thought was a miracle.
History is not scientific when large-scale narratives are being put together. I think, maybe for history and maybe for other fields, I like the image of, say, a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle where you've got, in some cases, 200 pieces, some cases, 600 pieces, but never anything close to 1,000 pieces.
But if you think you need to present a total picture, what it means is that, after you've worked very carefully to assemble as many pieces as you can, you've got some real big gaps in your puzzle-- and you want a picture-- you must, from your mind, fill in-- or your personality-- you fill in the rest of the piece to get a completed picture.
I suspect that that's true for science too, but with maybe many more of the real pieces in the borders. So that the part of history that's not science is what the historian contributes to making the full picture out of the pieces that are there or the full story out of the elements that he or she has discovered. Yes.
SPEAKER 9: Well, I'm a evolutionary geneticist [INAUDIBLE]. And you talked about this power struggle. And as a scientist, I seek to describe nature as I see it and as I experience it. So the power struggle that occurs [INAUDIBLE] as a Christian, I not only believe in [INAUDIBLE], I see the [INAUDIBLE]. And so it's easy to take the opposite view and polarize people like [INAUDIBLE]. If you're [INAUDIBLE].
MARK NOLL: Now, the question is, as an evolutionary biologist and Evangelical Christian, how can I describe or talk about the conflicts that really do exist? And oftentimes, in the church, people who are offended by some things that people claim as scientists and then tend to have a negative view of the scientific project in general and then specific things like evolutionary genetics-- it's not quite your question. But--
SPEAKER 9: I was just asking whether, historically, the Church takes the opposite view of science. [INAUDIBLE]
MARK NOLL: Whether historically the Church takes the absolute view of science. And the answer is no. Like, for example, Asa Gray, who was a not just a regular churchgoer at Park Street Church in Boston but was a convinced congregationalists of, he said, a Nicean type. So he believed the Nicene Creed. He wasn't the congregational church. But he was active in it. And he promoted Darwinism.
Since the 1920s, in the United States, there have been many instances of, what we would say, institutional power struggle between religious institutions and educational institutions. For hundreds of years, in other places, in other circumstances, those didn't exist. Humans are, of course, always believing, scientific creatures but, then, always something else. And I ascribe most of what the warfare, as existed with churches and scientists, as the something else, not the believing part, not the scientific part, but the humanity that surrounds believing in science.
SPEAKER 9: But people like Gray and Francis Collins don't really represent the Christian Church.
MARK NOLL: People like Gray and Francis Collins don't really represent the Christian Church.
SPEAKER 9: I mean--
MARK NOLL: They do for me.
SPEAKER 9: Well, right. They do for us. But for the 49.9% of the rest of the country, they do not.
MARK NOLL: Right. No, a very accurate statement is made that, when Christianity and science are used in the same sentence, many people don't think of John Polkinghorne, which is true. That, to me, is a very serious problem. That is not a problem of science and theology. It's a problem of politics, as politics has developed in the modern, American, intellectual climate.
I'm actually getting a little tired. But these philosophically-challenging questions keep coming.
SPEAKER 10: I'm sorry, but this is [INAUDIBLE]. There are a number of--
MARK NOLL: OK.
SPEAKER 10: --different ways of knowing things.
MARK NOLL: Yeah.
SPEAKER 10: There's a knowledge that can be [INAUDIBLE]. There's a knowledge that can be gained by empirical observation. That can be more probabilistic. There's knowledge that can be gained through a relation. And there's historical knowledge. Do you think that your average college graduate these days leaves school with the [? rhetorical ?] ability to comparably discern knowledge claims and what categories they [INAUDIBLE] them and the consequences of those [? differences? ?]
MARK NOLL: Yeah. What about the average college graduate's capacity to differentiate between different kinds of knowledge claims and the different spheres that these knowledge are aimed at? Not very much. I don't think that this is a skill that's well-taught, in part because of the reputation of empirical science that began, I would say, more generally in the Western world, in the 18th century, and then that, for special American reasons, became so strong in the United States.
In my reading of the history of the social sciences in the US, there has been a lot more scientism than the development of the social sciences in Europe. This is not a statement about friendliness to faith, but a statement about what kind of confidence there was in knowledge derived from the systematic observation of experience related to other forms of knowledge. In the United States, I think there was more confidence in those kinds of knowledge, because of the attacks that had successfully been made on knowledge by tradition, knowledge by history, knowledge from authority.
And I don't think, in many cases-- actually, this is relevant to the previous question. I don't think there would be as much power struggle between church-university over issues like science if students were better trained in these different ways of knowledge and then helped in bringing them together. Because of course, they do need to be brought together. I'll take one more question.
SPEAKER 11: The microphone? I've got a history question.
MARK NOLL: Excellent.
SPEAKER 11: Based in history of science, if you want [INAUDIBLE], it seems that the modern tension in-- I don't want to call it warfare, but it would be faith in the science-- to some extent goes to what many perceive as an over-reaching of science, in terms of the claims of Carl Sagan or others. And historically, was there a key point, at some point, where that became more prevalent? Or what could you trace to the origin [? of this ?] claim?
MARK NOLL: Yeah, when in Western history did-- what I would call-- extravagant claims about the finding of science-- when did they become as dominant is as we see them today? I do think, in enlightenment venues in France, for example-- for those people responsible for the [FRENCH]-- in the mid-18th century, the tipping point was there. For Diderot, for Voltaire, Newton had proved something close to atheism. Newton didn't prove that for Newton. But he did for Voltaire.
In the United States, I think it's this generation of A.D. White when the changes were made. And in some ways, I'm a little bit sympathetic for the large-scale Carl Sagan-type claims, Richard Dawkins-type claims. Because there was a long history where there was equally foolish claims by church people. And it's just the payback time now.
But in careful intellectual terms, in careful terms that really are important for religious belief or non-belief, you don't advance when there's an imitation of what had gone wrong before, but just with different uniforms, by people making mistakes. Thank you very much. You're a very nice audience.
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Just over a century ago, Cornell's first president and co-founder Andrew Dickson White published a two-volume work entitled, "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom," which was influential in framing conversations about science and religion throughout the twentieth century. Although the last thirty years have seen a significant amount of research challenging the notion that science and religion are incompatible, the metaphor of warfare persists, especially in the popular imagination.
Mark Noll, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, revisits A.D. White's thesis and the persistence of the warfare metaphor, and suggests some paths forward in the relationship between science and religion. Noll is the author of many books, including "America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln," "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," and most recently, "God and Race in American Politics."
The Frederick C. Wood Lecture, established by Emma T. Wood and former Cornell trustee Frederick C. Wood in 1984, is intended to bring scholars of innovative religious thought to campus.