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Science and Religion in America

Summary and Keywords

Science and religion provide alternative ways to understand the world. In American history, they have each commanded authority at different times and for different people and groups based on the varying appeal of knowledge and belief, of inquiry and conviction, and of liberal and traditionalist values. Science and religion have interacted with each other in many ways ranging from widespread harmony between them until the late 19th century to a spectrum of interactions that have included conflict, separation, integration of their insights, and spiritual kinship.

Colonial American science was dominated by religion, both in the concentration of ministers practicing what was then called natural philosophy and in the conviction that such inquiries would inevitably support religious truths. Common Sense philosophy articulated this calm confidence and buttressed the assurance of harmony between science and religion that dominated until the 1860s. However, even during this period, the tremendous growth in scientific information strained the harmonious relations of science and religion. Darwinism presented the most significant challenge to traditional religion by inaugurating a new approach to science: it was a theory supported by probabilistic plausibility rather than deterministic proof; Darwinian theory served as a synthetic framework for organizing natural facts and ongoing research, and its investigations did not require religious assumptions.

Since the late 19th century, science began to grow still more rapidly with greater professional organization and specialized investigations into a vast amount of information about the natural world, while religion became more pluralistic and more private on the American scene. With their distinct social and intellectual paths, science and religion could no longer operate with assumed harmony. Some advocates of each field took this as a reason to understand them in sharp conflict, however many more sought to renew their harmony, but on new, more intricate and diverse terms. The simplest ground for harmony, consideration of each domain in separate spheres, was suggested by their very distinct practices. However, when the very inquiries and reflections of these fields spilled beyond each of their own domains, other practitioners and observers in science and religion comprehended them in relation, with science adapting to religious questions or religion adopting scientific answers. For those who sought still deeper integration, inquiry about the relation of science and religion took them beyond the mainstreams in both fields for embrace of their spiritual kinship.

The varied methods and insights championed by science and religion have provided Americans with their deepest guideposts for being and doing: these fields supply varied paths of inquiry and conviction for comprehending the deepest character of the world and for choosing ways of living.

Keywords: empirical facts, knowledge, belief, rationality, conviction, certainty, uncertainty, faith, probability, liberal, traditionalist

Science and Religion as Worldviews

Science and religion are two ways of comprehending the world and the human place within it. From ancient times before their names or current cultural traits, and in their most comprehensive purposes, these fields have each emerged from human puzzlement and wonder, in response to primal questions about the character of the world and our purposes in it, with countless specific and practical variations. Science and religion each propose to address what is most real about the world, and they each suggest or insist on what we should do. Despite these broad commonalities, each field has developed very different cultural forms in the American past and present, with those distinctions becoming increasingly amplified in recent history, as science and religion have evolved strikingly different institutional structures, methods of thinking, and ways of appealing to their supporters. These are the most recognizable features of science and religion, especially in our own time, but their mutual roles providing orientation for human life offer reminders that much of their divergence, and especially their points of conflict, have emerged from their similar functions; and this similarity has produced periods of compatibility and competition, with both tensions and hopes for reconciliation.

The common perception that science and religion are in persistent and pervasive conflict has been only one among a wide variety of ways that Americans have understood the relation of scientific inquiry and religious belief. And in fact, the conflict motif only emerged with significant support in the Western world since the late 19th century, and even then, only as one among a variety of positions. There have been two broad phases of thinking about these fields on the American scene: (a) before the 1860s, with pervasive confidence in the harmony of science and religion, and (b) with a dispersal of perspectives emerging afterward. Science’s early harmony with religion ran deep because science had not yet emerged as a field distinct from learned knowledge in general. What we now call “science” went by the names natural philosophy or natural history, with learned inquiry into the book of nature complementing religious study of books of revelation. The term “scientist” was first used in 1834, and in the following decades, these investigators into the natural world refined their methods with increasing precision. The refinements of their work led to many specializations and vast increases in knowledge, and their disciplined thought encouraged social identification separate from citizens without their knowledge and careful methods of investigation. Those without scientific training are often even called the lay public, suggesting ways that scientists were thought to be a kind of clergy in a modern alternative religion, with science as a modern way of orienting to the world.

By the late 19th century, scientific investigations reached a critical mass of knowledge and social confidence that would lead to the formation of professional organizations with standards for training and status in each specialized field, none of which made any reference to religion or other fields. These trends eclipsed tacit assumptions of harmony with religion, even as some still sought its possibility. Harmony was no longer assumed; new versions of this orientation required deliberate effort in the face of direct challenges emerging from the robust growth of science. Thereafter, interpretations about the relation of science and religion went through three major phases.

First, the bold advances of science encouraged a widespread cultural assumption about its inevitable conflict with religion. This modern tradition emerged with dramatic clarity in John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, which depicted rational, objective science triumphing over the obscurantist, subjective visions of religion, especially doctrinal theology supported by unquestioning faith.1 This interpretation has been so forceful that it still shapes the popular imagination, especially in the media environment of recent history, which favors depictions of controversies in sharp contrasts.

Since the late 20th century, scholars led by James Moore, in his Post-Darwin Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin, and David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, who collected essays in God and Nature: On the Encounter between Christianity and Science, have inaugurated a second phase, with revisionist challenges to the “warfare motif,” especially in pointing out that many scientists retained their religious beliefs and many religious believers welcomed new scientific theories, with plenty of intermediate positions between the either/or approaches to science and religion.2 This revisionism is very intellectually persuasive, but it has done little to reverse the popular perception of conflict between science and religion.

This condition, a microcosm of the widening rift of intellectual and popular thought in recent times, has prompted a third phase of interpretation, which seeks integration of the now-popular first phase and the intellectual significance of the second. Counter-revisionism offers respect for the abundant examples without conflict, but it maintains recognition of the power of the contrast between science and religion, not for its universal truth, but as an exaggerated expression of the genuinely sharp differences in the outlooks, goals, and practices of science and religion especially since the late 19th century. With this perspective, the conflict interpretation has not been eliminated but, rather, demoted with recognition that it has become one way of relating science and religion among many others.

These choices of interpretation only became available since the late 19th century. While the assumptions of recent thinking did not, of course, touch the imaginations of earlier times, some trends from earlier eras would serve as preludes to later thought, even as the tone of expected harmony prevailed until at least the 1860s. The most radical features of the 18th-century Enlightenment included great confidence in the power of human reason understood to contrast directly with faith. Because this form of Enlightenment thinking did not get much support in the United States, views of conflict between science and religion remained viable but only as possibilities, lurking mostly as foreign specters. Also, even while assumptions of harmony predominated, the lived practices of increased professionalism in science and the increasingly private expression of religious belief brought fewer points of contact or mutual support. These social experiences in science and religion added to the gradual but steady erosion of the dominant harmony motif. And alternative forms of spirituality challenged both mainstream science and mainstream religion, but they remained small scale. Each of these trends would grow in influence, as would more amplified versions of harmony, during the years of greater contention between science and religion from the 1860s to the early 21st century. But before that time, with religious believers and scientific investigators unaware of later trends and assumptions, a largely comfortable harmony endured in the relations of science and religion.

Until the Late 19th Century: Harmony Assumed between Science and Religion

Establishing Intellectual Authorities in the Emerging United States

The European exploration and settlement of North America in the 16th through 18th centuries became a colonial prehistory of “American” culture that included the gradual settlement and social formation of the thirteen British North American colonies, enslavement of African Americans, and persistent contest with Native Americans. This mingling of people and the lack of precedents created a “New World” that would set the stage for the emergence of the United States. Animated by republican ideologies from its founding in 1776, the first new nation of the Americas would develop impatience with authority, democratic exuberance, and marketplace social relations shaping its culture, including in science and religion.

The phase of European expansion that would lead to the United States was one facet of mostly Christian European contact with a range of non-Christian people in the modern world. This era also witnessed Reformation fissures within European Christendom and great increase in learning that would contribute to the Scientific Revolution. The British and largely Protestant settlers whose descendants would form an independent United States showed indifference or hostility toward the spiritual perspectives of not only African Americans (who included many Muslims) and Native Americans but also the Roman Catholics in the French- and Spanish-controlled parts of the continent. The British colonists accepted some degree of religious pluralism, by contemporary standards and in degrees, with the most diversity in the Middle Colonies, while Anglicans dominated the South, and the Puritans in New England. Exceptions reinforced the partial steps toward pluralism; for example, Maryland was a haven for Catholics as Rhode Island was for Jews. In a society with few established hierarchies, even these limited encounters with religious and cultural differences were a product of marketplace competition, and that atmosphere contributed to cultural preferences for judgments about beliefs based less on social status than on practical impact. This approach to religion reflected similar social dynamics in commercial relations, politics, intellectual life, and science.

For the Americans of British North America, European contexts shaped their views of science, or more precisely, those inquiries into the natural world associated with learned studies and called at the time natural philosophy. The changes that culminated in the formation of Protestant variations on Christianity from the 16th century and in the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century had long been developing. During the 11th to 13th centuries, improved material conditions in Western Europe brought increased attention to the role of nature for its tangible facts, not just as a theater of symbols or analogies to spiritual life, based on metaphorical ways of thinking that had been popular since ancient times. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, becoming Church doctrine only in this period, surely made transcendent references, but it did so through ordinary bread and wine. This type of thinking reflected and encouraged motivations to seek knowledge of nature; and this craving for more precise natural facts would also encourage the Reformation, with its impulse to connect with authentic, original Christianity. Protestants turned to the Bible as the reed of connection to original Christianity, uncluttered by the intervening Roman Church that they scorned; their form of precision was biblical literalism, with the Bible likewise shorn of symbolic readings. As scholars who would become the pioneers of modern science turned to the authority of natural facts in empirical inquiry.

Protestants generally greeted these developments as complements to their religious beliefs, with literalism for both the book of nature and the Bible. In late medieval times, Catholic trends also contributed to thinking that would become scientific. The trust in God-given human reason brought realization that this human power produced more contingencies and changing results than absolute certainties. This generated openings for the significance of clarifications that would come from new information and interpretations. The Scientific Revolution drew upon these impulses for identifying precise natural facts and for constant inquiry and extended them much further with experimentation and the development of new explanations based on natural law. The contexts of overseas expansion, which magnified the quantity of facts available and prompted the need for frequent updates on their interpretation, further amplified the significance of these early modern scientific ways of thinking.

These religious and social trends, along with science’s own sound methods of inquiry, contributed to its growing authority as a standard for knowledge and belief in modern times, and this increasing intellectual and cultural power sometimes pushed into religious ideas and practices. This pattern set the tone for the popular expectation even into the 21st century that science was the wave of the future. For many, scientific standards prompted an urge to adapt religious beliefs to empirical understanding of the world. This outlook figured prominently in natural theology, which portrayed orderly patterns in nature confirming the designing hand of the creator, a position endorsed by most scientific inquirers of the 17th and 18th centuries, and with continuing widespread appeal.

While science pulled many religious believers toward more empirical forms of faith throughout the modern centuries, advocates of tradition sometimes objected that scientific innovations violated prior scientific authorities who generally had religious sanction. In the 17th century, Galileo Galilei faced charges that his natural inquiries violated the teachings of both the Catholic Church and Aristotelian science. In the following century, advocates of radical Enlightenment defied tradition, especially in churches, not only with democratic values but also with depictions of the world as material stuff. Similarly, traditionalists since the 19th century have often objected to Darwinism for violating scientific convention and for indifference to religion. These tensions have supplied the most vivid artifacts offering seeming confirmation of substantial warfare between science and religion. However, the tensions generally pitted only some approaches to religion against science, often with claims that they represented the most authentic religious beliefs, which further amplified the popular suspicion of cultural conflict. Meanwhile, however, still more approaches to religion coexisted with science; expecting mutual support, these believers harbored little spirit of conflict while often providing downright eager support for scientific methods and discoveries. Until the middle of the 19th century, science steadily increased in cultural power, at least as a force to be reckoned with, as religious believers watched it carefully, choosing either to ally with its authority or to be wary of its power. These trends and concerns operated largely beneath a broader harmony, with the works of science operating within larger frameworks of religious belief throughout the European world, including in American culture through the growth of the early republic.

From Colony to Country: Science and Religion Supporting Civilization

The British settlers in eastern North American from the early 17th century onward felt the impact of these European trends, including religious and scientific changes, even as they faced the immediate problems of sustenance and social formation. Confronting both the challenges and the opportunities of a new land, the settlers, especially in New England, sought to instill and maintain Christian piety and morality while they also remained eager to spread their vision of proper civilization, including authoritative understanding of the natural world, in what they regarded as an untamed wilderness. Ministers were in the forefront of both these religious and worldly goals, and they received higher education with both theological and classical training. In Massachusetts Bay, Harvard College was founded in 1636, just six years after the colony itself, for the training of ministers, who as learned citizens, often incorporated natural philosophy inquiry into their pious and learned studies. John Foster and Thomas Brattle observed the comet of 1680 with such careful precision that Isaac Newton used their measurements in explaining his theory of universal gravitation. Cotton Mather studied and promoted the use of vaccines, and Jonathan Edwards made close study of the behaviors and webs of spiders. These inquiries did not lead to skepticism about religion but remained linked to deep belief in the pervasiveness of the Divine, with use of God-created reason and the beauties of nature to demonstrate the reality and beneficence of the Divine. This grounding in religious belief also took the work of “science” in alternative directions; for example, George Starkey wrote learned works of alchemy. Outside New England, the same combination of religious and classical education prevailed, with even more emphasis in the South on refinements and social standing associated with classical learning. For example, George Sandys took time from the challenges of establishing the Jamestown settlement to translate Ovid’s treatise on mutability, Metamorphoses (1632/1638), perhaps solace from the overwhelming mortality during the early years of this Virginia colony.3 Inquiries in literature, philosophy, and natural philosophy were various paths of the intellectual life, which reinforced the tacit close ties between science and religion, with expectations that greater knowledge would lead to good behavior and even paths to salvation, while ignorance would promote moral and spiritual evil. Although these perspectives would seem counter-intuitive to later generations, in early America, scientific study was godly work.

The late 18th century brought not only the formation of the United States, after the war for independence from Britain, as confirmed by treaty in 1783, but also greater attention to natural philosophy and some erosion of support for classical language training in favor of education for agricultural and mechanical knowledge. For example, Benjamin Franklin became a scientific savant without conventional higher education, and he encouraged youth to pursue such practical studies. His varied achievements exemplified the intermingling of theoretical and practical approaches to science. While the 18th-century growth of Enlightenment thinking throughout the Western world often brought enthusiasm for scientific inquiry in critique of religious belief, the wave of enthusiasm for the power of human reason in America was dominated by more moderate thinking. Scottish Common Sense Realism, especially as presented by John Witherspoon, the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), shaped what historian Henry May identified as the Didactic Enlightenment, with belief that reason could produce truth through self-evident sense experiences in investigations of the natural world, and through common sense in matters moral and religious. Right moral behavior, the truths of the Bible, and scientific comprehension of the natural world were all hooped together in harmony as alternative versions of common-sense thinking. The truth was obvious, and its achievement and uniformity would come with enough diligent and honest effort. Natural theology, offering a religious corollary to common sense philosophy, not only encouraged scientific investigation but also relied on evidence of the intricacy and order of natural facts to confirm Divine truths. Despite its lack of overt connection to religion, even practical learning, like theoretical inquiry about nature, was widely perceived to confirm Divine operations in the world, including in the most mundane of natural facts.

The Harmony of Science and Religion: Mutually Reinforcing Confidence

The double topical coverage of The American Journal of Science and Arts, starting in 1818, shows the way scientific investigation was still embedded in broader learning. The journal’s editor, Benjamin Silliman, had a general education with little training in science, in keeping with the social role of science as the practice of cultured elites. The coining of the term “scientist” in the 1830s, signaling a contrast to those imbued with book knowledge, reflected the rise of vocational distinctiveness and rigor of investigation into natural facts. In the early-to-middle 19th century, colleges and academies proliferated, for the education of both men and women, although generally in separate spheres. Scientific studies remained part of the liberal arts curriculum, with the addition of specialty scientific schools starting in the 1820s, and more laboratory study by the 1840s. Proliferating local scientific societies encouraged specialized study and professional support. These impulses took on more national scope with the formation in the 1840s of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Smithsonian Institution. The American Medical Association, founded in 1847, coincided with the medical use of science, especially laboratory study for physiological knowledge as an adjunct to patient care. Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), Swiss-born professor of zoology and geology at Harvard, and Alexander Bache, the first president of the National Academy of Sciences, organized the Lazzaroni, pointedly named after Italian beggars, to promote support and funding for scientific research.

The government employed one-third of all scientific investigators, on exploring parties and boundary surveys, especially for the Coast Survey, which added specialized language to its title, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, in 1878. Theoretical assumptions endured regarding expectations for the harmony of science and religion, even as scientific thought and practice operated with fewer references to religion. Scientific investigators of the time honored Francis Bacon, the 17th-century pioneer of the scientific method, in calling their method Baconianism, with emphasis on fact gathering rather than theoretical speculation. Yet the sheer accumulation of information raised pressure for more theorizing to enable the organization of facts learned and the planning of future researches.

Technological innovations enabled printing at lower costs with greatly increased quantity; the resulting mass publications carried not only a proliferation of religious tracts and entertaining stories but also a critical abundance of scientific and humanistic texts, with many popularized for broad dissemination. Excluded from more prestigious jobs, many women, including Almira Phelps, who was also elected for membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, excelled at writing texts with popular appeal. Lectures at natural history societies, the Lowell Institute, founded in 1836, and other public forums, brought scientific investigations to the public. In fact, one-fifth of presentations at general-interest lyceums were on scientific topics. Even less formally, scientific discussion was often part of general household sociability, as part of a cultured life. While popularized science reinforced the harmony motif, its texts with less rigor and more emphasis on religious messages in the natural world contrasted with the professionalizing trends and mushrooming of information that made Baconian fact gathering steadily more unsatisfactory. The popularization of science offset the tendency for those learned in science to be perceived as social elites. Throughout American history, scientists would be, in turns, admired for their public service, with knowledge appealing for its interest and usefulness, or challenged for bringing a modern meritocratic version of aristocracy to democratic America.

By the end of the 19th century, that confidence in the harmonies of science and religion, within the framework of common-sense philosophy, was challenged deeply, but the first steps in those directions emerged from the very efforts promoted by common-sense thinking itself. Expectations that scientific inquiries into the natural world would produce harmony with religion also spurred confidence that use of similar methods in study of the Bible and the origins of Christianity would produce more accurate versions of the same self-evident truths. This Higher Criticism of the history and texts of ancient Judaism and Christianity, along with the growth of science in institutional structures and in intellectual authority, indeed strengthened religious belief for many. These believers supported the winnowing effects of these scholarly and scientific developments. For those ready to accommodate their religion to science-inspired inquiry, more scriptural scholarship and sophisticated science promoted a shift in faith from belief in unchanging truths to support of religion’s guidance though wise stories, with their ability to continue to speak to the evolving understandings of different ages.

While these intellectual trends undercut confidence in the certainties of religion, social changes in the 19th century brought similar erosion to the authority of religion, especially for Protestant denominations. As more work was done outside the home, that private sphere then became more exclusively a domestic sphere distinct from public and workaday life. The home became more sharply associated as the realm of women and of religious nurture. Women’s ability to exercise authority within households emerged with the declining ability of religious institutions to reach average citizens. As religion showed more strength in private and domestic spheres, churches increased their efforts to reach the market of public opinion, especially with spiritual tracts and other religious publications, and with the organization of fraternal organizations and lodges. The upsurge of immigration, especially the late-19th-century arrival of large numbers of adherents of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Judaism, further undercut the authority of Protestant churches, even as it added to the robust pluralism of American religious experience as a whole.

These social trends reinforced fears, especially among traditional Protestant believers, that the liberalizing intellectual trends would undercut confidence in Christian worldviews. The traditionalists began to view recent scholarly and especially scientific inquiries as exaltations of the merely human elements of religion, which not only threatened faith in the otherworldly power of God but also defied kindred assumptions that traditional religion supported about the character of the natural and social worlds. For support of the unchanging truths of the Bible, Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge spoke out in the 1870s with support from the philosophical frameworks of common sense, including its approaches to science. He maintained confidence in the self-evident accuracy of inquiry for understanding both the Bible and the natural world. These assumptions would face enormous shocks from scientific theories that undercut everyday understanding of the world. For the first time in human history, greater knowledge brought less support for common sense. The vastly increasing complexity of science encouraged both increased respect for its often-elusive powers, as well as alienation and distrust. By the early 20th century, scientific facts and theories, for many nonscientists, seemed unclear and not particularly persuasive: The age of the earth and the size of the universe, as determined by science, were on scales beyond human imagination; scientists demonstrated their truths with probabilities and hypotheses; and matter itself seemed to lack solidity.

Ironically, as traditionalists felt the looming threat of scientific authority, the work of science itself became less certain, with fewer expectations of determinism and proof, even as scientists themselves increasingly treated uncertainties as launching points for further inquiry. In the face of these complexities, the very common sense of the traditionalist view gave it enduring strength because it supported interpretations that actually seemed more plausible than scientific theories, especially to those unaffiliated with professional science. In place of widespread harmony in science and religion, debates proliferated, and they surged with particular intensity because these topics of inquiry and commitment pointed to what their adherents regarded as most real—and that made otherwise academic discourse into sets of fighting words. From the late 19th century, a diversity of views would proliferate, each making its case with vehemence and with the backing of robust social support.

After the Late 19th Century: Diverse Relations between Science and Religion

Science and religion and their relations have changed decisively after the American late 19th century in three major ways. First, science became much more sophisticated in its paths of inquiry, social practices, and applied impacts, and these intellectual, professional, and technical achievements produced dramatic increases in the authoritative respect that science was able to command in the culture as a whole, including in its relation to religion. Second, religious impulses included a proliferation of choices, from historical and theological inquiry raising questions about founding events and canonical texts, from democratic impatience with institutional authority, and from more acceptance of individual interpretations. These choices reinforced the diversity of religious responses to science. Another difference manifested in both fields. Science and religion each experienced fewer reasons to maintain intellectual confidence in the certainties of their positions, yet, with the amplified scale of professional scientific work and with religions robustly appealing for citizen choices, most supporters of science and religion possessed more social confidence in the plausibility and significance of their work. These changes have been a microcosm of larger trends that brought reduced certainty about the immediate clarity or universality of any truth, even while paradoxically increased material wealth and marketplace competition brought growing confidence in the application of useable theories. In this period of history, with increases in both intellectual uncertainty and practical certainties, the structures and social authority of science in the United States have grown exponentially, and Americans have become exposed to a great diversity of religious beliefs, each often maintained with steadfast conviction, among an array of competing worldviews.

The mutual reductions in intellectual certainties have provided significant openings for mediation of science and religion, even as their increased scales of operation, with accompanying intensities of commitment and reduced contact between them, have led to social lives in separate spheres. These changes in science and religion following the late 19th century parallelled the changes in culture as a whole. By the early 21st century, issues in science and religion have steadily become as polarized as political disputes. In fact, science and religion supply some of the strongest forces encouraging these contrasting positions in politics. However, the predominant polarization is not between science and religion in themselves, but between those who emphasize openness and inquiry in both fields in contrast with those who value certainty and steadfast commitment.

With science and religion each nurtured by cultural settings that have had, since the late 19th century, virtually nothing in common, and with assumptions of their harmony already fraying, the relations of science and religion have sometimes become contentious. The very lack of consensus in intellectual resolutions or public endorsements has prompted a dispersal of positions. Four broad patterns have emerged among diverse groups regarding the relation of science and religion: conflict, separation, institutional integration, and spiritual kinship. Arising in direct contrast with harmony, conflict displays the most universal clarity, and its blunt positions have been well suited to the dramatic simplifications of mass communication, but outlooks based on conflict have remained minority positions, even as they have endured as iconic types, even in the minds of those who could not endorse such views. The nonconflicting positions have absorbed the impulses of harmony between science and religion, even as that legacy has become dispersed and dissipated. The hopes for harmony have been sought through separation, integration, and spiritual kinship. Although the harmony of science and religion no longer reigned supreme, its influence has endured. Within the whole recent range of positions, each has been shaped by the legacy of harmony, either in strong reaction against it or in longing to embrace it again by different and generally by more subtle means.

The warfare of science and religion is the product first of the birth of science as a set of independent professional practices. This perspective has been maintained by scientific boosters and religious traditionalists who use their differences to justify their own firm commitments, respectively, to professional science, which is largely materialist at least in its working assumptions, and to orthodox doctrines of particular churches with strong otherworldly beliefs. The conflicting perspectives are also the product of population growth and mass culture; reduced opportunities for personal relations prompt people to view each other and their intellectual affiliations in more abstract ways. In particular, mass media, with its communication among strangers, encourages characterizations of differences in relatively extreme terms. While these views receive a disproportionate amount of attention, they have also served as bookends to a spectrum of diverse ways to understand the relation of science and religion. These include calm separation and fruitful integration both inside traditional institutions and outside them—and these very efforts highlight the counter-revisionist point that science and religion increasingly operate in different cultural universes, which different people approach with hopes to reconcile, separate, or set in conflict. In place of self-evident assumptions that have supported the earlier views of harmony in science and religion, these fields have entered recent history engaged in constant debate, with exposure to countless mixtures of rational argumentation, ideological advocacy, temperamental leanings, social dynamics, and marketplace pressures.

Science and Religion in Conflict: Shared Oppositions

Scientific social practices in recent history have greatly increased natural knowledge. Especially from the 1840s onward, more laboratory research has produced an increasing stream of detailed information about the material world, and natural history expeditions, operating on the heels of American expansion across the North American continent and of Western imperial reach around the globe, have generated a global dimension to scientific knowledge. The mushrooming of information has brought increased attention to the intricacy and majesty of the physical world, which has supported the possibility that this world possesses dimensions rivaling the awesome claims of religion. Western science would be enriched and challenged by contact with indigenous people around the world, including Native Americans in the United States. However, only recently have mainstream scientists and others even begun to appreciate the ideas of contingency and reciprocity in Native relations with nature.

By the 1850s, the quantitative increases in knowledge brought an urge in scientific circles to organize and explain all that information. Charles Darwin’s theory of species development by means of natural selection, presented publicly and persuasively with The Origin of Species published in October of 1859, addressed that impulse by putting forth a grand narrative with enormous sweep across time and across subfields of science about the relationship between all living creatures and their environments. The constant struggle for survival serves as an engine for continued adaptation to the environment with differential success among peers within each species and among creatures across different species. Natural selection, with its dynamic of variation, struggle, adaptation, and innovation toward the emergence of new varieties and species, has served to organize many natural facts and explain their abundance and diversity.

Darwinism initially met with scientific resistance because it was a hypothesis relying more on probabilistic than deterministic explanations; in addition, the physics of the time presented an age of the earth that could not accommodate the enormous spans of time needed for the gradual operations of natural selection. In effect, Darwinism anticipated later scientific developments with increasing use of probabilities to explain chance-based features of nature not only in biology but also in chemistry and physics and with measurements showing the vast age of the earth. By the 1870s, Darwinism persuaded almost all working scientists of the plausibility of species development, especially as a framework for ongoing research; young scientific psychologist William James already endorsed Darwinism in 1868 for “setting naturalists to work, and sharpening their eyes for new facts and relations.”4 Yet in these new streams of research, many adopted a different Lamarckian form of evolution, depicting species change propelled by the use and disuse of structures rather than by Darwinian natural selection.

Darwinism’s new methods of doing science also challenged religion because its picture of the world contrasted with the portraits emerging from traditional beliefs in divine creation with providential oversight of an orderly world. The naturalism of the Darwinian argument, with its references to the natural actions of species variations adapting to the environment, left little room for divine agency. Darwinism also offered an explanation for change, with minute variations leading to probabilistic trends rather than deterministic proof, and it assumed enormous spans of time, well beyond the reach of common sense or even much existing empirical evidence, for presenting the plausibility of evolutionary change. In addition, the centrality of competition, leading to relentless and often painful struggle, as an engine of adaptation and change, meant a vision of nature operating with ruthless moral standards. Darwinism would create cultural divisions unlike any other modern scientific theory.

The Religion of Science, with the Authority of Materialism

While Darwin himself remained fairly ambivalent about religious beliefs, he was keenly aware of potential threats his theories posed for religion. Supporters of Darwin’s theory went further than he did in defying religion. The philosophy of evolution included not only admiration for Darwin’s ideas as guides to scientific practice, but also propositions to apply such successful scientific thinking to other realms. In an early example of what philosopher Mikael Stenmark calls “scientific expansionism,” this admiration for science would gain support from positivist thought.5 Auguste Comte presented a grand narrative beginning with a patronizing view of primitive humanity relying on religious beliefs, then progressing to greater understanding with philosophical reasoning, before the culminating guidance of science, the only positive basis for knowledge. Even without the particulars of Comte’s ideas, the historical narrative of his positivism has had enormous persuasive power with ability to prod nonscientific thought into defensiveness or hopes to join in the power of science. Positivism amplified support for evolution and encouraged association of science with progress, especially with its ability to produce tangible knowledge and its support of technologies that would bring vast material improvements to human society. A technocratic enthusiasm gained popularity not only for its connection to economic success but also to solve social problems. The applied sciences of technology, with their improvements on natural conditions raising expectations for constant material progress would capture the imagination of most Americans, with visions of the technological sublime, as Leo Marx observed. Meanwhile, a restless minority of alternative voices warned about the dehumanizing impact of machines bringing ever-more standardization and regimentation. Technological achievements boosted the popularity of the scientific ethos, encouraging the application of evolutionary thinking to theorizing about personal and social relations.

The social sciences emerged from expectations that the success of science in understanding the natural world could be applied to human spheres, a view that carried the assumption that human interactions could best be explained as naturalistic processes and as theaters of adaptation to evolving environments. Emerging in the late 19th century, the new psychology presented humanity ready not only to adapt to new conditions but also to shape environments in the direction of human interests; in particular, the selective power of conscious attention was the key human tool of adaptation and influence. Later psychological theories would place less emphasis on consciousness (behaviorism) or more (cognitivism), but they have largely retained the field’s focus on adaptation. Applications of science to society included the social Darwinism of William Graham Sumner, who considered struggle and adaptation central to “what the social classes owe each other.” His answer was that each social class, in an era of swelling differentials of wealth, possessed what it deserved as a result of its power to compete effectively, with the same holding true for the differential fate of each individual. This application of science to society has continued to serve as a sanction for the social authority of the wealthy and as a support for valuing enterprising behavior and the accumulation of material possessions. By contrast, a reform-oriented social Darwinism, first expressed forcefully by Lester Frank Ward and supported by progressives ever since, has suggested that the adaptive ability of the mind to think, foresee, and design enables planners to transform society in stronger and more equitable directions.

While evolutionism achieved enormous influence in both the natural and social sciences, natural selection, Darwin’s proposed force driving evolution, would gain widespread scientific support only with the development in the 20th century of Neo-Darwinism. This confident, professional form of Darwinism added the science of genetics with capacity to identify the particular inherited traits whose variations drive evolutionary change. The synthesis of natural selection with genetics solidified the place of Darwinism in biology, as it also became the lynchpin of 20th-century science in general, crucial for understanding geological change, physiology and medicine, the microworlds of biochemistry and neuroscience, and the cosmological dimensions of physics.

Even early on in this evolution of science, the theory of species development was well suited to the growing professionalization of science. A major part of Darwinism’s initial scientific appeal was its comprehensive but flexible framework, which offered support for countless research programs, not only in botany and zoology but also in homology, geology, geography, morphology, and embryology. These fields were already straining beyond the bounds of expectations for ready harmony with religious beliefs. Darwinism did not openly defy religion, but it did not require religious assumptions for its work. Darwinian thinking also coincided with and reinforced trends toward less deterministic expectations about scientific inquiry. Probabilistic but plausible explanations, with hypotheses for further inquiry rather than proof, would become increasingly the norm in ensuing decades from James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of gases to the uncertainty principle of Werner Heisenberg. Karl Popper crystalized this modern scientific trend with the identification of the hypothetical-deductive method. These approaches to science were well suited to liberalizing impulses in religion, even as they inspired fear and outrage among traditional believers who associated new scientific developments with speculative uncertainties. The advent of Darwinism was a key tipping point toward increased polarization in religion and throughout American culture, but these trends also brought opportunities for the simultaneous proliferation of readings of science and religion with hope for their renewed harmony.

From the applications of science in society to the work of science itself, its most ardent advocates have presented a virtual religion of science, with the view that science serves as a gold standard for thinking, and thus for identifying and verifying truths in the social or natural worlds, far surpassing the dramatic but insubstantial claims of religion. Scientific explanations have presented natural forces taking on the tasks that many religious believers had attributed to divine action. With positivist theory forcefully applied, supporters of scientific standards presented the human mind on a conceptual urban-renewal project with powerful methods finally enabling clearance of habitual assumptions and misunderstandings. In the late 19th century, geologist William North Rice was confident that science would convince people to rely on natural facts and the rationality of natural law rather than supernatural explanations. In the early 21st century, philosopher Daniel Dennett both evaluated scientific methodology and strongly supported scientific thinking; his writing has been forceful in declaring that religious belief presents a swamp of fanciful hopes and ideas by contrast with the concreteness of scientific inquiry and the soundness of scientific results.

Religion against Science, with the Authority of the Transcendent

The vigor of scientific views in contrast with religion has been matched in recent history by the intensity of those traditional religious believers who defend the certainty of religion against science. Traditionalist Protestants have been at the U.S. center of this orientation. Responding immediately to the advent of Darwinism, Presbyterian Hodge and his fellow Princeton theologians defended science with empirical common sense that coincided with their empirical approach to religion. Unitarian Louis Agassiz promoted prodigious fact gathering and teaching about the natural world organized by an idealist view of God’s guiding hand throughout. They shared a commitment to a transcendent God specially creating each species and maintaining loving watch over the natural world. From the late 19th century onward, this stream of thought increasingly grew to be at odds with the direction of mainstream science, which had progressed—or they would say strayed—in more naturalistic directions with less reliance on the divine or any other sources of certainty. The providential portrait of divine relations with the natural world, however, had a long and distinguished heritage; the views promoted among traditionalists in recent history had formed the mainstreams of earlier times.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam had long maintained that God, with august power, created the world from nothing and, with immanent caring, remained constantly involved. These religious beliefs contrasted with ancient Greek beliefs in the steady state of the world, with no particular beginning. Early modern natural philosophers adopted similarly naturalistic deist beliefs in divine creation of natural laws, with limited or no role for ongoing divine providence; their work deeply influenced early American thought. Until the 19th century, however, these ideas remained exceptions to the mainstream endorsements of divine transcendence and immanence in relation to the natural world, the very perspectives that would sustain widespread assumptions of harmony between science and religion. By the late 19th century, when these views were challenged by professional science and by liberal religion, traditionalists identified themselves as creationists even as they were largely continuing earlier but less self-conscious versions of the same views. Creationism had been a label for the widespread belief in the supernatural origins of the universe before it became a distinguishing characteristic of recent traditionalist religion; ironically, “creationism” is modern.

As modern creationism gradually formed in the late 19th century, its supporters could refer to a few like-minded contemporary scientists, including Agassiz and the Canadian paleo-botanist John William Dawson (1820–1899), who was even elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. With their passing, creationism formed more decisively as a movement against science, in particular against the professional directions of modern science, since creationists could rightly cite support for their views in an older science. By the 1910s, this traditionalist impulse had grown sharply critical of modern culture in general with its erosion of respect for traditional social relations. The Fundamentals gave thorough and popular expression to these views.6 This series of books was designed to establish the Protestant traditionalist base line in a world that they perceived to be corrupted by human pride, with science as the chief culprit. With the honorific place of the Bible in Protestant Christianity, creationists presented God’s inspired word as not only their theological centerpiece, but also as a literal alternative to modern science, whose work they regarded as vain human efforts to understand God’s cosmic work. In effect, creationists viewed scientific research as redundant: in Holy Scripture, God already told us all we need to know; albeit with descriptions less intricate. The divinely inspired Bible provides the only authentic lens for viewing the facts of nature in their created order and beauty, they have claimed, and for appreciating them as blessed indicators of divine care for humanity.

Religion-shaped science gained little traction among the most sophisticated citizens, whose education in science, at least in outline, confirmed their respect for its methods and achievements. Supporters of science tended to live in larger cities, and they filled the ranks of writers and editors in opinion-shaping publications who accepted, even when just tacitly and without connection to thorough training or skills, reality as understood by science. By contrast, the creationists appealed to a large body of citizens concentrated in rural areas, suspicious about modernizing trends in general and about scientific sophistication in particular. Within these constituencies, creationists could bypass scientific debate and appeal to majority rule; while that democratic impulse could not veto scientific professional authority, it could have significant impact on science education.

By the 1920s, with creationism linked to democratic sentiments, a series of state anti-evolution laws restricted the science that could be taught in public schools. Shortly after Tennessee passed the Butler Act in 1925 prohibiting teaching endorsing “that man has descended from a lower order of animals,” science teacher John Scopes broke the law, and the American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend him on the ground of free speech. Popular politician William Jennings Bryan joined the prosecution of Scopes.

The case reinvigorated the narrative of science and religion in warfare, and agnostic lawyer Clarence Darrow took on the case in the teacher’s defense. The standoff between Bryan’s hearty speeches supporting biblical literalism and majority rule against Darrow’s withering skepticism and support of free inquiry, and the sheer stifling heat of the mid-summer packed courtroom transformed the case into a grand public drama. Broadcasts on the new medium of radio amplified the drama of the standoff by relaying local proceedings to a national audience whose distance from the immediate scene of the event contributed to making those polarized judgments still more robust. In the legal case, Scopes lost; in his science classroom, he had in fact violated a state law. However, in the court of public opinion, he became a hero to liberal supporters of science and of modernizing cultural trends in general, and the case became an embarrassment to traditionalists. The whole scene in Dayton helped to fix in the public imagination that science and religion are indeed in conflict, but the polarization also showed up in different ways. While the authority of science soared both professionally in its ability to gain funding and in its reputation in popular culture, creationist objectors to science solidified their hold among traditionalist supporters and continued to lobby against scientific ideas they called downright Godless.

In the wake of a court case framed by warfare, the polarization continued. With little public fanfare, traditionalists actually achieved still more local and state support for their resistance to Darwinian science in education. Unfazed by such public opposition, the sciences thrived from the 1920s to the 1960s, and the tremendous growth of higher education during this period added to their robust strength. Science became tightly associated with prosperity and power through the innovations that fueled much business productivity and expansion, and through the awesome force of nuclear weapons and the inspirations of space rocketry. The detonation of atomic bombs in Japan at the end of the Second World War in August of 1945 and the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union for supremacy in weapons with world-destroying capacity incited both deep respect for science and chilling fear of its capacities. Building on public respect for science, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program, founded in 1958, inspired widespread enthusiasm, while public fears dispersed into persistent anxiety. Another fear, of Sputnik, the Soviet satellite circling the earth in 1957, motivated expansion of the space program. As with the Manhattan Project for swift development of the atomic bomb, NASA enlisted scientists, especially physicist and engineers, and public support of large government funding for scientific research. These projects represented a turn toward “big science,” for large projects that required whole teams and massive funding for research on enormous scales, often with governmental purposes and most often for military research and development. This practice became standard for much scientific work after the 1940s, with most scientists employed by the government, at businesses with government contracts, or in universities with government grants.

The new heightened scale of scientific work and the broad support for it inspired a religious backlash, especially when scientists were able to persuade passage of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in 1959, which presented the need for widespread science education, often with naturalistic assumptions using the framework of Darwinian theory, as a Cold War patriotic necessity. This trend incited creationists to develop a new approach in their attacks on mainstream science. Their manifesto was The Genesis Flood (1961) by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, and they institutionalized their energies with the establishment of the Creation Research Society, starting in 1963.8 These new ideas for the 1960s were based on the work of Seventh-Day Adventist teacher George McCready Price (1870–1963), who from the early 20th century had made the first modern attempts to systematize the argument for a young earth. At the time, creationists had defended the Bible against science, but they still conceived of Genesis verses allowing for naturalistic activities. The Gap Theory identified large lapses of time in the history between the events described in successive verses of the Bible, and the Day-Age Theory, supported by Bryan himself, proposed that passages about days in the Bible corresponded to whole long ages of time. These approaches to creationism insisted on God’s action in the natural world as reported in the Bible, but they accommodated modern scientific assumptions about eons of time. Price called these theories callow compromises with naturalistic thinking. He attacked the heart of scientific methodological innovations with blunt dismissal of evolution for its lack of certainty and its inaccessibility to empirical verification, and he proposed an uncompromisingly religious alternative: God’s creation of the universe 6,000 years ago, over six days, accomplished as written in Holy Scripture.

Morris and Whitcomb used Price’s model of a young earth, emphasized that a worldwide flood—namely the one described in the biblical story of Noah—can explain the seeming antiquity of rocks and fossils. While other creationists promoted the Bible against modern science, young-earth creationists presented an alternative science, creation science. In the contentious atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, this new brand of creationism gained popularity among traditionalists in backlash against not only the rush to support the BSCS and the growing authority of science in general but also against the counter culture and the political radicalism of the era. While all forms of creationism have grown in strength and popularity since that time, young-earth creationism has been particularly influential especially because of its simple and bold clarity.

Ironically, young-earth creationism also benefitted from some key ideas of liberals. From the 1960s onward, as rights activists called for equal opportunity for members of underrepresented genders and races, the creationists called for equal time for their ideas alongside mainstream science. Correctly perceiving that they were no longer the mainstream, they presented themselves as another beleaguered minority. Creationists also received backhanded support from liberal theorists opposed to mainstream patriarchal and imperialist power structures. These postmodern thinkers critiqued scientific support of such hierarchical power and argued that scientific truths are not universal but are relative to historical contexts. Creationists distrusted such theorists but gladly welcomed these theories for their assaults on mainstream science, even as they stood for a much more inflexible set of truths. Especially since the 1980s, theorists for the intelligent design of the universe have also sought equal time in contrast with what they have called the materialist and atheistic assumptions of mainstream science—and “secular humanism,” what they characterize as the de facto science-adhering religion of modern culture. They present themselves as a philosophical alternative, but they have gained virtually no academic support, and political and legal decisions have repeatedly evaluated intelligent design as a religious support for creationism.

Through all these assaults, science has continued to thrive, with robust professional structures and significant public influence in both the natural and social sciences; the social sciences became both powerful tools of scholarly inquiry and centerpieces of policy making. Statistical methods facilitated these inquiries by allowing previously uncertain aspects of human life, including personal choices, to be understood in aggregates, then organized and analyzed as with the natural facts of the natural sciences. By the late 20th century, the sciences had become entrenched features of academic and public life, yet they did not command the high public reputation that they enjoyed in the early-to-middle 20th century. While Protestant traditionalists and progressive theorists have critiqued science, it has continued to receive widespread institutional support and public respect, including from a range of other religious traditions.

Roman Catholics have generally understood scientific advances as the most recent expressions of God-given rational capacities, so that even challenges to traditional portraits of the world could be interpreted as part of a historical unfolding of human understanding. Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio” [“Faith and Reason”] endorsed modern scientific inquiry, even as he showed impatience, as with traditionalist Protestants, for philosophical materialism. He endorsed continued scientific inquiry, which because of human fallibility, requires the leaven of religious wisdom. While Catholicism has shown little concern for Darwinian challenges to traditional biblical understanding, the church has raised more objections to scientific medicine when its work has conflicted with its personalist commitments on the sanctity of life. The Catholic Church, along with other religious traditionalists, has objected to abortion, and especially to stem-cell research with use of tissues from aborted fetuses. Here, they part company with liberals who support the breakthrough medical therapies that these scientific procedures have enabled. Judaism has also shown relatively little concern for scientific contrasts with the Bible. The emphasis among Jews has been less on Genesis creation stories than on Exodus messages about the Jewish people’s relations with the divine in history. Similarly, Islam has not traditionally raised many concerns about creation, with comprehension of origins as a foundational reason to bow in humility in the face of Allah’s power over all and with eagerness to accept the latest science in the spirit of pride in medieval Muslim scientific achievements. Despite these histories of overall harmony between science and religion in these major monotheistic religions, the creationist messages about a young earth and an alternative creation science have made some inroads among traditionalists in each religion, often propelled by sentiments of distrust about science in association with modernist trends in general.

Renewed Harmony by Other Means

Advocates of materialist, reductionist science and believers in various forms of creationism disagree on most everything except their portrait of science and religion in conflict. Their expectations of conflict have absorbed much public attention, with its advocates claiming that their stringent and uncompromising positions represent the most authentic expressions of each field. However, less dramatic trends for updated forms of harmony, with widespread cultural, intellectual, and institutional support have gained many inroads in the public mind. These trends have brought together unusual coalitions—by standards of earlier times—of Protestants liberals with members of traditional religions and people with secular leanings. While identification with those affiliations had been sharp points of differentiation up until the late 19th century, the ideologies of science and religion have brought similar-minded members of each cultural group close together in beliefs, even as they have remained apart in structural affiliation. In recent history, cultural ideologies have become more important than membership in churches. However, the ideology of renewed harmony could not rest on the same premises as the harmony of earlier times when the methods and practices of science and religion could rely upon widely agreed-upon common sense assumptions, backed by cutting-edge philosophy about the comfortable relation of these fields. Tremendous progress in science, great diversity in religious beliefs, and massive social changes have meant that any harmony of science and religion in recent times would require new intellectual and social strategies.

Science and Religion in Separate Spheres

The most straightforward way to avoid conflict between science and religion is to portray and promote them as distinct domains of human life, independent intellectually and autonomous in social settings: no conflict resulting from no contact. The evolution of professional developments in Western society during recent history has promoted this perspective, especially with trends toward specialization. Subfields of science and of theology studied and practiced in separate spheres provide ample precedents and encouragements for this model of relations between science and religion. This perspective has gained support from the idea that each field is well suited to dealing with distinct domains of human life, with little need for the other. This model has also had ample antecedents in the history of philosophical dualism between body and mind, prevalent in Western intellectual circles since the 17th century; separation of humanity’s naturalistic and spiritual life has been a short conceptual step from this outlook. The great growth of scientific practice and knowledge by the 19th century was built from a methodological focus on empirical facts, the “body” of nature. In doing this work, some scientists and supporters of science added a philosophical belief that these facts could explain all, while still more scientists held their own personal religious belief. The methodological materialism of investigations in natural science became standard practice, with the dualism of the new science of psychology offering a potential exception that would actually reinforce this pattern.

When a science of mind emerged in the 1870s, built on physiological research since the 1840s on topics previously considered psychological or even spiritual, some such as Comte himself, doubted that the study of mind could be scientific. The first new physiological psychologists, most prominently Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) in Germany and William James (1842–1910) in the United States, were eager to show the scientific credentials of the new field. They investigated psychological phenomena with the dualism of psychophysical parallelism, conducting research on the physical side of sensations and perceptions, while bracketing or setting aside the mental correlates to the physiological action. This guideline for scientific investigations in psychology suggests the assumptions of scientific research in general since that era: scientific investigations in recent history have not been antireligious, but their methodological materialism has had no use for religious or any other nonphysical issues. Religious—or intellectual, esthetic, or emotional—factors may parallel the inquiries of science, but they were not elements of its practice.

This pattern of methodological materialism could provide a rather capacious intellectual setting for a range of affiliations from the religiously indifferent to religious believers eager to maintain noninterference with scientific practices. In the 1860s, Chauncey Wright (1930–1875) was one of the first American supporters of Darwin’s theory of species development and an advocate for “pure science” with focus on empirical facts expressed dispassionately. He supported the 19th-century transition in scientific method from expectations for deterministic results to trust in the demonstrative adequacy of sound hypotheses and probable truths—the very basis of Darwinism and a host of succeeding scientific theories. While science could not produce absolute certainty, Wright maintained, it far surpassed the merely emotional and intuitive propositions of religion, which could only produce superstitious beliefs. Wright supported religion and was even enthused over its ability to spur morality and idealism, as long as it remained in its own domain. He equated religion with children’s stories, not as a criticism but as a point of praise. In fact, he was fond of telling fairy tales, and he even planned a “Philosophy of Mother Goose” centered around the doughty anthropomorphized character with common sense and questions leading her young pupils to good behavior and further inquiry.9 He maintained that childhood fantasies should be cultivated not in contrast with adult scientific thinking, but as a prelude in that developmental direction.

Wright was also a close friend with a practicing scientist, Asa Gray (1810–1888), who also advocated the neutrality of science and religion, but he arrived at this same position not from dismissal of (adult) religion as fantasy, but from his committed Christian faith. He was the most respected American botanist of the 19th century, and his support for Darwinism even preceded the publication of The Origin, when Darwin let Gray and a small circle of other colleagues in on his bold theory. The two scientists collaborated in 1856, with Gray’s fieldwork on plants combined with Darwin’s nascent theory for an account of species dispersal explained with probabilistic plausibility for a naturalistic explanation not requiring the special creation of species, in particular locales, a common pre-Darwinian view. For all his scientific rigor and naturalistic methods, Gray retained commitment to natural theology, which he declared to be fully compatible with natural selection. He exhibited an updating of traditional views of harmony between science and religion by insisting that these fields remain separate, with science explaining natural facts and religion identifying the motive source of their origins and operations. With his neutrality over science and religion, Gray maintained affinity with Wright, despite their opposite views of religion, even as they also shared opposition to science ready to reduce all of nature to material facts.

By the late 20th century, the scientist Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) and philosopher Michael Ruse (b. 1940) continued in the tradition of Gray and Wright, with separation of scientific investigations from religious belief. Gould achieved professional fame with his theory of punctuated equilibrium in Darwinian evolution, and popular fame with his long-standing columns in Natural History and his essay collections drawn largely from his contributions to that magazine. His enthusiasm for scientific research led to overt hostility directed against the most aggressive traditionalist resistance to sound science, even as he continued to show respect for the power and significance of religious beliefs in general. Toward the end of his career, he captured his capacious position with a theory of “nonoverlapping magisteria,” which would grant science and religion each an august but separate place in human life.10

With robust defense of just the kind of science that Gould advocated and practiced, Ruse has been influential both in scholarship and in the 1981 legal case of McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Ruse’s definition of science was crucial for overturning a state law mandating equal time in classrooms for creation science alongside mainstream natural science. He presented science as systematic inquiry for gathering of natural facts to be tested on the path toward discerning natural laws, which scientists hold tentatively in light of future inquiry. The judge ruled that by this standard, creation science did not qualify, but should be understood as religion, quite separate from science.

Much religious and philosophical thought in the 20th century also reinforced this separation by focusing on domains away from systematic investigation of natural faces while allowing science to do its work unimpeded with continued enthusiastic public support. The Neo-Orthodox movement in theology, with its emphasis on the need for redemptive faith in the divine transcending the natural world, and Existentialism with its emphasis on free personal choices shaping the impersonal natural world, shared little but a trust in the power of the nonmaterial dimensions of life starkly separate from the scientific world of empirical facts. Science and religion have rarely achieved equal billing when held in separation, with the distinct realms reinforcing hierarchical views of one field over the other. Supporters of this approach, with their range of variations, generally with advocates of each finding robust life in their own domain without need for the other, share a commitment to renewed harmony by keeping the fields far apart.

Mainstream Integrations of Science and Religion

The sharply distinct domains of separate spheres, with each side emphasizing its own riches, has reinforced attention to the complexities of each, which has pushed at the boundaries of the elegant simplicity of separation. At the frontiers of research, scientists have asked questions of a religious character that science itself cannot answer; and reflections in religion often spill into scientific information or methods to enrich the grounds of belief. The mainstreams of science and religion in recent American history, despite their apparent contrasts and despite the appeal of keeping them separate, have continued to intersect, not always in conflict but sometimes in integration, with science adapting to religious assumptions and questions, and with religion adopting scientific methods and answers. Integration from the heart of each field’s central commitments has offered another recent form of harmony, and as with separation, the respective priorities of science and religion have remained paramount even as proponents of each also found ways to make use of the other.

Many supporters of science have made use of religion often even tacitly as prodded by the direction of their inquiries. In the late 19th century, the American popular writer John Fiske (1842–1901) was influenced by British philosopher Herbert Spencer’s enthusiasm for evolutionism to offer a popularization of science with similarly broad application Darwin’s theory, using religious hopes to extend the evolutionary framework to a vision of progress for human and cosmic history. In the late 20th century, Fritjof Capra (b. 1939) engaged in a similar enterprise of popularizing science by showing its tacit endorsement of religious ideas. For Capra in his Tao of Physics, the science was particle physics, whose contingencies of particle location he connected to mystical insights, especially in Eastern spirituality.11 While many scientists have been impatient with his general coverage of the science, which was part of a whole genre of popularizations of science linked to religious ideas, Capra’s work has served as an introduction to scientific complexities for many nonscientists. Even Werner Heisenberg, who developed quantum mechanics, praised Capra for using religious ideas to explain the counter-intuitive work of recent physics, finding in the popularizer a reminder that outside of science, there was a “whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas.”12 This use of religious thinking sometimes went still further among scientists who perceived that their work would actually overlap with religious insights. Physicist Robert Jastrow (1925–2008) was himself agnostic, but suggested that the work of astrophysics, for all its scientific achievements in “scal[ing] the mountain of ignorance,” would be greeted at “the highest peak . . . by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”13 This backhanded endorsement of religion was not supported by all scientists, but it illustrates the way much scientific work, despite all its distinct specialized sophistication, could be integrated with religion—even when relations were not sought—with enough use of metaphors and conceptual translations.

By the late 20th century, cultural changes, reinforced by philosophical developments, brought a blurring of boundaries in the relation of objectivity and subjectivity, whose sharp distinction had served as a pillar for conflict and separation views of science and religion. The erosion of public trust that emerged with the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandals, and the Clarence Thomas–Anita Hill hearings seemed to confirm the ideas developed by scientists about the participant’s frame of reference shaping interpretive perspectives, such as with the physics of quantum theory. Albert Einstein emphasized the constancy of the laws of physics and of the speed of light, while space and time (seemingly fixed elements of our common-sense world) are relative to those constants beyond our particular frame of reference. He even initially referred to his thinking about relativity as a “theory of invariants.” However, his theory of relativity has been associated publicly with philosophical relativism and the elusiveness of objective truth.

From the late 20th century onward, science has experienced both challenges to its authority and increases in its interpretive domains. In 1962, Thomas Kuhn assessed scientific icons of objectivity, proposing that they actually operate by presuppositions and judgments that form into paradigms shaped by the structures of intellectual and political power in each era. In the next few decades, forms of thinking previously associated with religion, including subjective feelings, choices, and interpretive judgments, have increasingly become objects of scientific evaluation, especially in the neurosciences. However, increasing awareness of the theory-laden qualities of thought in general have encouraged understanding of human nature and the natural world based on thinking on a spectrum ranging from the facts and testable inquiries of science to the elusive free choices and relational dynamics highlighted by religion. These trends have chastened religion by comparison with the authority of science, but they also brought increased humility about the methods and results of science.

For those who sympathize with the scientific ethos, harmony with religion emerges with both scientific adoption of religious ways of thinking and scientific explanation of phenomena previously associated with religion. In addition, many religious believers have found harmony by making use of scientific ideas, even as they retain central commitments to religion. During the late 19th century, liberal theologians sought not to resist but to integrate literary and historical evaluations in the Higher Criticism of the Bible along with Darwinism among a range of scientific theories that added great refinements to understanding of the natural world in its ancient and profound complexities. Liberal ideas had antecedents in romantic impulses from the late 18th century onward, which put emphasis on the historical contexts of religion, and they lent support to the emphasis on the natural world in natural theology. By the end of the following century, these modern liberal religious ideas also gained institutional strength within church organizations and seminaries. Indeed, as a movement, the liberal trends often took on the name “modernist” both as a point of liberal pride and as an object of traditionalist criticism.

While American Christianity in general experienced splits between liberal and traditional leanings, African Americans supporting liberal commitments to social justice tended to retain more traditional theological views than their European American counterparts. Consider the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” The song shows confidence in God’s power to “carry me home,” with hope for both redemption from the worldly curse of slavery and racism, and salvation to another and better world in heaven. These beliefs also mingled in the Christianity that thoroughly motivated the Civil Rights Movement for racial justice in the 1950s and 1960s, most prominently in the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout American history, the prevalence of racist practices and scientific racism dampened African American support for both traditionalist and liberal theologies of the nonblack majority. African Americans did also experience divides between liberal and traditionalist readings of the Bible and science, especially Darwinism, but to a lesser degree than their fellow Americans.

Shailer Mathews (1863–1941) of the University of Chicago Divinity School welcomed the Contributions of Science to Religion, as did other liberal Protestants who advocated the importance of adapting Christianity to modern thought and modern social conditions.14 Liberal Protestants also found common ground across denominational lines that had endured since the Reformation and across other cultural divisions, including with the Catholic Monsignor John Ryan and the Jewish Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. The liberal impulses included advocacy of social justice for workers overwhelmed by the power of corporate businesses. Theological liberals joined with secular progressives to encourage regulation of working hours and improvement of labor conditions. The liberal commitment to intellectual inclusion of scientific developments for evolving religious doctrines and to social justice would continue to grow over the next century. Religious and secular liberals welcomed social scientific evaluation of social conditions as tools for helping the downtrodden. Advocates of scriptural criticism such as Marcus Borg and of scientific reformulation of traditional beliefs such as Thomas Berry, have large followings in the public at large, not just within their churches. Liberal religious ideas have dispersed throughout the culture even as liberal church membership has declined. Many who share these impulses for scientific and social readings of religious faith have focused their commitment on more worldly readings of the religious beliefs that animate them. While many liberals press for reform of their institutions from within, such as Joan Chittister, others such as Matthew Fox have left their churches to advocate for a more ecumenical spirituality.

Spirituality beyond the Mainstreams of Science and Religion

These liberal trends have spurred religious interests that spill beyond mainstream institutional affiliations. From the late 20th century onward, the population of those with religious inclinations but without church membership has grown steadily with acceleration in the first part of the 21st century, even as their numbers are still eclipsed by the churchgoing majority. Those who depart from religious traditions because of conservative impulses generally turn to still more traditional denominations, with emphasis on the unstructured life of the spirit, as with Pentecostals, often with endorsement of creationist views of science. The unchurched with liberal leaning general turn away from religious institutions, with adoption of what has come to be called spirituality.

Supporters of liberal theology have generally drawn upon recent scientific insights to encourage updated expressions of their religious traditions. By contrast, advocates of spirituality generally defy traditions—not only religious institutions but also mainstream science—even as they have avidly supported its methods and worldviews. The religiously unaffiliated spiritual perspective has become particularly popular in the culture of unstructured choices that has pervaded American culture since the 1970s, and it offers an increasingly popular vision of harmony between science and religion. However, its historic roots go back to 19th-century American religious seekers inspired by 18th-century philosophical explorers who sought an alternative Enlightenment. The predominant Enlightenment, characterized as the Age of Reason, supported scientific inquiry based on empirical facts in dualist separation of reason from religion, subjectivity, emotion, and the spark of life. Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer were imbued with the Enlightenment impulse highlighting reason and scientific inquiry, but they did not separate the material from immaterial dimensions.

Swedenborg argued for the correspondence of all natural phenomena with spiritual truths, and Mesmer proposed that animal magnetism circulates in the natural world supporting life and shaping its healthful or distorted conditions. These theories of immaterial forces empirically grounded would influence a host of 19th-century Americans including the New England Transcendentalists, artists such as George Inness, practitioners of alternative medicine such as Mary Gove Nichols, and others with broad intellectual influence but limited appeal in mainstream U.S. culture. In addition to these intellectual influences, these spiritual trends also had institutional and cultural impacts in the Christian Science Church, Swedenborgian denominations, many New Religious Movements, Eastern spiritualties including Buddhism and Vedanta, and Native American spiritualities. This diverse range of figures established a tradition of harmonial relations between science and religion that extended the liberal hopes for integration of the fields into downright spiritual kinship. Traditional Western religions on the American scene have emphasized the transcendence of God with either full support for materialist science or eagerness to establish an alternative creation science with its own empirical facts. The innovations of liberal theology brought adjustment of the transcendental core of these monotheistic faiths with attention to the immanence of spiritual life in relation to the worldly facts of science and the worldly acts of social justice. The spiritual religious orientation has more fully embraced immanentism with religious messages that urge not looking up to another and better world, but looking around and looking inward to the depths of significance in nature, in life, and in the self. While liberal theology bends the commitments of traditional Western religions, spiritual impulses often break with those traditions. These unchurched Americans, with their support of free inquiry unhitched to convention and tradition, display a diversity of convictions that revolve round this immanentist core.

This worldly spirituality, akin to New Age thinking, has been gaining followers, especially since the 1960s. Writers and speakers with wide followings, including Caroline Myss, Eckhart Tolle, and Neale Donald Walsch, offer messages of spiritual empowerment, for the shedding of regrets about the past and anxieties about the future, and for direct personal relations with divine forces. They also offer avid support for science as a guide to natural facts, spiritually interpreted, such as with the popular belief in the impacts of subjective intentions on empirical developments. Most scientists remain skeptical, but some, such as Candace Pert, investigate the “unconscious mind of the body” in the interrelation of subjective and objective experiences. Native American Vine Deloria diagnoses the mainstream debates over science and religion in ways that represent the impatience in spirituality with both “mindless religious propaganda and . . . unrelenting scientific orthodoxy,” both claiming more certainty than natural experiences can justify.15 In their wide dispersal, these messages, unorthodox in both religion and science, even enrich the faith of churchgoers. The proponents of spirituality have appealed as secular preachers of personal motivation, well attuned to the surge of enthusiasm for personal choice in recent culture, while providing modern expression, with scientific accents, of traditional American confidence in human potential when unhooked from the constraints of tradition and authority structures.

Conclusion: Science and Religion in Uneasy Community

In their motivational messages, the spiritual advocates bear some resemblance to Protestant traditionalists who, with very different religious ideas, advocate a similar message about every individual’s power to be “born again.” That sense of individual power and personal initiative that appears across the religious spectrum has also been a motivation for scientific inquiry. The United States is an outlier among economically developed nations for its high percentage of churchgoers and religious believers in stunning diversity, but it is also a nation with strong commitment to scientific inquiry for its reliably tangible accounts of the natural world and for the technological fruits of that inquiry. In 1975, Sidney Mead amplified G. K. Chesterton’s 1922 observation that the United States is a “nation with the soul of a church.”16 To this, another label could be added: a nation with reverence for scientific power. Both traits on the American strand reflect the ancient relations of these fields, with science and religion each serving as guideposts for identifying the most real, even as their sharp social differences lead to constant tensions and bids to find their harmony. In the United States, that ancient impulse has an American accent, with skepticism about traditional authorities and eagerness for personal empowerment, in communities ready to champion the promises of either science or religion as a guide to a perplexing world. From Puritans empowered by an awesome God, to early 19th-century advocates for science and religion confirming each other, to contemporary denizens of professional scientific laboratories or creationists eager to build a better science, Americans have shown a persistent eagerness to satisfy their curiosities for unlocking the world’s mysteries using the tools of science and religion.

Review of the Literature

Science in the United States took on its modern forms during the late 19th century. Before that time, it was practiced under different names, with expectations of harmony with religious beliefs and with few institutional structures. From that time onward, its work has had little relation with religion, becoming institutionally robust in its own right as well as culturally influential. Because of these different histories, evaluations of the earlier period embed science in broad intellectual and cultural contexts, while free-standing science with its specializations of disciplines shape understanding in the modern period.

Science in the cultural contexts that led to the European colonization of the Americas and the formation of the United States reflected intellectual inquisitiveness shaped by religious assumptions. Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science, highlights the renewed attention to the natural world swelling in late medieval Europe, which was part of Catholic support of rational inquiry and would encourage the Protestant quest for authentic spiritual experiences.17 The Scientific Revolution of the 17th century drew on these impulses with a kind of parallel intellectual reformation challenging the authority of traditional book knowledge in favor of rational investigation of the facts of nature. In chronicling the loss of traditional allegorical readings of the natural world, Harrison points, in effect, to the discovery of facts, that is, the treatment of natural objects as material for natural scientific inquiry. His study also serves as a prelude to the simultaneous American enthusiasm for scientific discovery and anxiety for the “acute sense of loss” from ruptures in personal relations with the natural world.18 And David Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, sets these developments in an even broader historical arc.19

In the colonial outposts of Europe that would become the United States, as Raymond Stearns, Science in the British Colonies of America, shows, many early American investigations of the natural world were motivated by both religious and practical interests.20 They even earned recognition by the British Royal Society. In Benjamin Franklin’s Science, I. Bernard Cohen presents the American founder’s practical inventiveness in the context of his profound contribution to science especially in the study of electricity and the establishment of experimental methods.21

With the development of the United States, the scientific investigations in natural history and natural philosophy were often connected with geographic exploration and dissemination of knowledge in the new democratic contexts. In American Science in Age of Jefferson, John Green points to the importance of research and discovery for pride in the American landscape and its distinct species, especially because of dominant scientific views that life on the periphery from Europe would become degenerate.22 Charlotte Porter, in The Eagle’s Nest: Natural History and American Ideas, 1812–1842, shows American contributions to the Linnaean classification of animals and plants, and chronicles the innovations in the museums of Charles Wilson Peale and Rubens Peale, who mastered the arts of public display with massive collections of natural artifacts culled from American expansion across the continent and with the wonders of microscopic life.23 The collections suited both the public appetite for natural wonders and the prevalent method of Baconianism.

The investigators into the natural world themselves, however, began to notice the limits of the Baconian method with its emphasis on collecting information without theorizing. With the social and intellectual origins of professionalism, the American Academy of Natural Sciences, founded in 1812, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in 1848, and members of the growing natural history societies, began consideration of methods for organizing the burgeoning information, and applications of natural facts to business enterprise, as presented in Alexandra Oleson, ed., The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Early American Republic: American Scientific and Learned Societies from Colonial Times to the Civil War, Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, The Formation of the American Scientific Community: The American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1848–1860, and Robert Bruce, The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846–1876.24 While intellectuals focused on describing new phenomena and organizing them, the public began to associate science with material improvements especially in the work of chemistry, physiology, and engineering. Until the last third of the 19th century, while scientific investigations strained the wide assumptions of their inevitable harmony with religion, Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, founded in 1846, still declared that “the restless intellect of man” would enlarge “conceptions of . . . the Great Ruler,” even as John Draper, History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science brashly proposed the independence of science from obscurantist religion.25

By the end of the 19th century, science became increasingly authoritative, with academic appointments that did not depend on religious affiliations but were based on training in the new graduate schools. Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School, founded in 1848, with specialized training by discipline, served as the prototype for the Harvard Graduate School, founded in 1872, and Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 with an explicit focus on scientific research. Julie Reuben, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality, shows how scientific training became normative in higher education.26 Iwan Rhys Morus, When Physics Became King, highlights the science at the pinnacle of prestige, physics, which dealt with the constituents of matter, the basis for materialist readings of science.27 Bert Hansen, Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America, shows the impact of the germ theory of disease on public enthusiasm for scientific medicine.28 These social and intellectual trends crystalized into an “ethos of science,” based on disinterested, value-free inquiry, which not only characterized scientific research but also as David Hollinger, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History explains, influenced American politics and culture in general.29 Andrew Jewett, Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War, shows that the authoritative position of the natural and social sciences displaced religion in directing cultural choices.30 Sally Gregory Kohlstedt and David Kaiser, eds., Science and the American Century: Readings from Isis, provides sample stories of scientific achievement, power, and influence.31

The 1920s to 1960s were years of great professional and public authority for American science. The fictional doctor and biomedical researcher Martin Arrowsmith, in the novel by Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith, exemplifies the dedicated researcher who worked and lived by the ethos of science.32 Lewis drew ideas of scientific practices and attitudes from microbiologist Paul De Kruif, who popularized his field, conveying the drama and earnest significance of research discoveries in The Microbe Hunters.33 However, confidence in the objective authority of science received a major challenge in Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which emphasized the need for scientific innovations to overcome “the priority of paradigms,” entrenched in psychological and cultural commitments, which generally dominate the practice of science.34 This attention to such factors external to the laboratory and field work of scientific research itself, received still more encouragement during the rights revolutions of the 1960s, and became amplified by the increasing challenges to cultural authorities in general, including science, that Daniel Rodgers explained in The Age of Fracture.35

Since the 1960s, the authority of science has received challenges from traditionalist and liberal sectors of American culture, reflecting the polarizations pervading the culture as a whole. Ronald Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, provides an overview of the shift from creationist objections to science to proposals for an alternative creation science, and William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, offers a philosophical complement to creation science.36 Despite considerable popular support, these arguments supporting equal time for an alternative science have gained little institutional traction.

Meanwhile, the call for equal rights that animated the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements also appeared in reactions to scientific objectivity for its tacit endorsement of male and white privilege. Helen Longino, Science as Social Knowledge, and Carl Degler, In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought, were in the forefront of studies highlighting gender and racial bias in science.37 These liberal critiques of science encouraged reactions from defenders of scientific objectivity, most forcefully Paul Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science.38 Andrew Ross, ed., Science Wars, and Anthony Walsh, Science Wars: Politics, Gender, and Race, present overviews of these debates.39

The clusters of dramatically contrasting voices have encouraged the development of the field of science and religion. Ian Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion, conducted pioneering research on the interrelations of these fields.40 His Religion in an Age of Science refined those studies with a very influential typology of four ways that science and religion relate in modern times: with conflict, independence, dialogue, or integration.41 Walter Wilkins, Science and Religious Thought: A Darwinian Case Study, applies Barbour’s typology to the relation of religion to the most culturally controversial science, the theory of species development by means of natural selection.42 John Haught, Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation, offers a few twists on Barbour’s framework by keeping the first two categories, merging the third and fourth, and adding a new one, all presented with attractive alliteration: conflict, contrast, contact, and confirmation.43 Haught argues for inclusion of confirmation because the scientific “disinterested desire to know . . . finds its deepest confirmation” in religion.44

Mikael Stenmark, How to Relate Science and Religion: A Multidimensional Model, contends that these typologies need more specificity to account for the complex modern dynamics of science and religion.45 He borrowed the idea of “scientific expansionism” from Loren Graham, Between Science and Values, for those who hope to apply scientific methods and knowledge to nonscientific domains.46 Stenmark applies this insight also to religious and ideological expansionists who favor the broad application of ideas they favor, and by contrast, he identifies restrictionists in all fields who are content to limit their insights to their own area of inquiry. His resulting multidimensional approach includes expansionist and restrictionist approaches to science and religion, and those who then apply each of these in social, teleological, epistemological, and/or theoretical dimensions of each field, and who do so in strong or weak ways.47 While the earlier typologies have the advantage of direct clarity, Stenmark adds many degrees of nuance in keeping with the complex cacophony of voices and commitments about science and religion that circulate around the free choices of citizens in the modern democratic United States.

An introductory book providing an overview of the nature and applications of scientific inquiry, Gregory Derry, What Science Is and How it Works, offers a kind of core sampling of the place and promise of science in the contemporary United States.48 Physicist Derry shows how scientists develop models for inquiry into natural puzzles on a countless array of topics from body functions and subatomic structures to ancient geological developments and the content of distant stars, whose complexity or scale is beyond immediate reach. A well-constructed model, and the hypothesis guiding its formation and operation, serves as an inroad to discovery of the unknown. Scientists therefore limit the scope of their inquiry to increase the force of their impact. The method of controlled investigation, is the central point of pride for working scientists because of its assurance of disinterestedness and precision, but it has also become the target of traditionalist and liberal critics who question the choices made to maintain that control. Derry’s book speaks from the heart of scientific work, and is at once a primer for how to do science and a promotion of the scientific viewpoint on the world. The presence of this book, its enthusiasm for scientific thinking, and the prestige of its publisher show how science has stepped well beyond its early modern narrow provinces in small sectors of society, with knowledge that seemed quite magical but always subordinated to and in harmony with religious beliefs. In the 21st century, science has become enormous in social role and influence, and while it does not command universal respect across the polarized landscape of modern American culture, its fruits form a basis for social organization, political power, business practices, and cultural expectations about a good and decent life. Moreover, scientific thinking, with its emphasis on tangible facts, orderliness, and repeatability has become the gold standard for rigorous thinking, often leaving religion on the defensive.

Further Reading

Barbour, Ian. Issues in Science and Religion. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.Find this resource:

    Barbour, Ian. Religion in an Age of Science. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990.Find this resource:

      Bruce, Robert. The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846–76. New York: Knopf, 1987.Find this resource:

        Cohen, I. Bernard. Benjamin Franklin’s Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

          Degler, Carl. In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

            Dembski, William. Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology. Westmont, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999.Find this resource:

              Derry, Gregory. What Science Is and How It Works. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

                Draper, John. History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. New York: Appleton, 1874.Find this resource:

                  Graham, Loren. Between Science and Values. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.Find this resource:

                    Green, John. American Science in Age of Jefferson. Claremont, CA: Regina, 2004.Find this resource:

                      Gross, Paul, and Norman Levitt. Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                        Hansen, Bert. Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

                          Harrison, Peter. The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

                            Haught, John. Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation. New York: Paulist, 1995.Find this resource:

                              Hollinger, David. Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

                                Jewett, Andrew. Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

                                  Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory. The Formation of the American Scientific Community: The American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1848–60. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1976.Find this resource:

                                    Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory, and David Kaiser, eds. Science and the American Century: Readings from Isis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.Find this resource:

                                      Kuhn, Thomas. Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962; 2nd ed., 1970.Find this resource:

                                        Lindberg, David. The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                                          Longino, Helen. Science as Social Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

                                            Morus, Iwan Rhys. When Physics Became King. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.Find this resource:

                                              Numbers, Ronald. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

                                                Oleson, Alexandra, ed., The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Early American Republic: American Scientific and Learned Societies from Colonial Times to the Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.Find this resource:

                                                  Porter, Charlotte. The Eagle’s Nest: Natural History and American Ideas, 1812–42. University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1986.Find this resource:

                                                    Reuben, Julie. The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.Find this resource:

                                                      Rodgers, Daniel. The Age of Fracture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

                                                        Ross, Andrew, ed., Science Wars. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

                                                          Stearns, Raymond. Science in the British Colonies of America. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1970.Find this resource:

                                                            Stenmark, Mikael. How to Relate Science and Religion: A Multidimensional Model. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.Find this resource:

                                                              Walsh, Anthony. Science Wars: Politics, Gender, and Race. New York: Routledge, 2013.Find this resource:

                                                                Wilkins, Walter. Science and Religious Thought: A Darwinian Case Study. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1987.Find this resource:


                                                                  (1.) John William Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (New York: D. Appleton, 1896 [1874]); and Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (New York: D. Appleton, 1896).

                                                                  (2.) James Moore, Post-Darwin Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979); and David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, eds. God and Nature: On the Encounter between Christianity and Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

                                                                  (3.) John Shields, The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 9.

                                                                  (4.) William James, review of Charles Darwin, The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, in Essays, Comments, and Reviews, in The Works of William James, ed. Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K. Skrupskelis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), 229–239, see 235.

                                                                  (5.) Mikael Stenmark, How to Relate Science and Religion: A Multidimensional Model (Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans, 2004), 5.

                                                                  (6.) A. C. Dixon, ed. and Reuben Archer Torrey, ed. The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (generally referred to simply as The Fundamentals) is a set of ninety essays published from 1910 to 1915 by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. The Fundamentals was first published as a twelve-volume set, and later as a four-volume set retaining all ninety essays. Baker Books reprinted all four volumes under two covers in 2003. The ninety essays were written by sixty-four different authors, representing most of the major Protestant Christian denominations.

                                                                  (8.) Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961).

                                                                  (9.) Chauncey Wright, The Letters of Chauncey Wright (Cambridge, MA: J. Wilson, 1878), 39 and 295.

                                                                  (10.) Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (March 1997): 16–22.

                                                                  (11.) Fritjof Capra, Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (New York: Bantam, 1975).

                                                                  (12.) Ken Wilber, ed., The Holographic Paradigm (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1982), 217–218.

                                                                  (13.) Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: Norton, 1978), 116.

                                                                  (14.) Shailer Mathews, Contributions of Science to Religion (New York: D. Appleton, 1924).

                                                                  (15.) Candace Pert, Molecules of Emotion: The Science behind Mind-Body Medicine (New York: Scribner’s, 1997), 147; and Vine Deloria Jr., Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths: A Critical Inquiry (Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2002), 3 and 10.

                                                                  (16.) Sidney Mead, The Nation with the Soul of a Church (New York: Harper and Row, 1975).

                                                                  (17.) Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

                                                                  (18.) Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science, 270.

                                                                  (19.) David Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

                                                                  (20.) Raymond Stearns, Science in the British Colonies of America (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970).

                                                                  (21.) Bernard Cohen, Benjamin Franklin’s Science (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

                                                                  (22.) John Green, American Science in Age of Jefferson (Claremont, CA: Regina, 2004).

                                                                  (23.) Charlotte Porter, The Eagle’s Nest: Natural History and American Ideas, 1812–42 (University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1986).

                                                                  (24.) Alexandra Oleson, ed., The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Early American Republic: American Scientific and Learned Societies from Colonial Times to the Civil War (1976) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976); Gregory Kohlstedt, The Formation of the American Scientific Community: The American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1848–60 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1976); and Robert Bruce, The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846–76 (New York: Knopf, 1987).

                                                                  (25.) Joseph Henry, quoted in Bruce, The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846–76, 192–193; and John Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (New York: Appleton, 1874).

                                                                  (26.) Julie Reuben, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

                                                                  (27.) Iwan Rhys Morus, When Physics Became King (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

                                                                  (28.) Bert Hansen, Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009).

                                                                  (29.) David Hollinger, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 80.

                                                                  (30.) Andrew Jewett, Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

                                                                  (31.) Gregory Kohlstedt and David Kaiser, eds., Science and the American Century: Readings from Isis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

                                                                  (32.) Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1925).

                                                                  (33.) Paul De Kruif, The Microbe Hunters (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1926).

                                                                  (34.) Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962; 2nd ed., 1970), 43.

                                                                  (35.) Daniel Rodgers, The Age of Fracture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

                                                                  (36.) Ronald Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); and William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (Westmont, IL: Intervarsity, 1999).

                                                                  (37.) Helen Longino, Science as Social Knowledge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); and Carl Degler, In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

                                                                  (38.) Paul Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

                                                                  (39.) Andrew Ross, ed., Science Wars (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996); and Anthony Walsh, Science Wars: Politics, Gender, and Race (New York: Routledge, 2013).

                                                                  (40.) Ian Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).

                                                                  (41.) Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1990).

                                                                  (42.) Walter Wilkins, Science and Religious Thought: A Darwinian Case Study (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1987).

                                                                  (43.) John Haught, Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation (New York: Paulist, 1995).

                                                                  (44.) Haught, Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation, 22.

                                                                  (45.) Mikael Stenmark, How to Relate Science and Religion: A Multidimensional Model (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).

                                                                  (46.) Loren Graham, Between Science and Values (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).

                                                                  (47.) Stenmark, How to Relate Science and Religion, 268, 260.

                                                                  (48.) Gregory Derry, What Science Is and How It Works (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999).