BOOK: Huxley’s Church & Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science

Matthew Stanley, Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 336 pp.

Publisher’s description During the Victorian period, the practice of science shifted from a religious context to a naturalistic one. It is generally assumed that this shift occurred because naturalistic science was distinct from and superior to theistic science. Yet as Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon reveals, most of the methodological values underlying scientific practice were virtually identical for the theists and the naturalists: each agreed on the importance of the uniformity of natural laws, the use of hypothesis and theory, the moral value of science, and intellectual freedom. But if scientific naturalism did not rise to dominance because of its methodological superiority, then how did it triumph? Matthew Stanley explores the overlap and shift between theistic and naturalistic science through a parallel study of two major scientific figures: James Clerk Maxwell, a devout Christian physicist, and Thomas Henry Huxley, the iconoclast biologist who coined the word agnostic. Both were deeply engaged in the methodological, institutional, and political issues that were crucial to the theistic-naturalistic transformation. What Stanley’s analysis of these figures reveals is that the scientific naturalists executed a number of strategies over a generation to gain control of the institutions of scientific education and to reimagine the history of their discipline. Rather than a sudden revolution, the similarity between theistic and naturalistic science allowed for a relatively smooth transition in practice from the old guard to the new.

3 thoughts on “BOOK: Huxley’s Church & Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science

  1. I must get hold of this. Hutton and Thomson were clearly theistic, arguing from or about divine providence. Darwin when writing Origin thought a world so interesting must be the product of a personal intelligence, so presumably this is his naturalistic argument for such a God; funny that the ID crowd never cite Hutton or Darwin, and Thomson but rarely.

  2. Pingback: Whewell's Ghost

  3. Thank you for reviewing that I shall now seriously back-burn this for my next big book (read). The Enlightenment Christian founders of Science, were scientists with no distressing inner conflicts. They had none, because they had already a cherished Church centred domain. This was a new domain they were defining. It wouldn’t have occurred to any of them make a warmed over copy of what they already had.
    Not necessarily Darwin, but the Darwinist revolutionary cadre to come after, failed to be magnanimous in the wake of their huge irreversible triumph over religion. It was irreversible because Science was now spread out across the Western world which was global, and West Russia. Why did they behave so badly that Christians were pushed into a corner, that radicalized a lot of them, and also where they found the line Science could not take. ORIGINS.
    The Darwinist cadre, instead of acknowledging the legitimate questions, as a the fundamental scientific mystery that it was. Instead they lied, or rationalize, but either way established for the next 100 years that Origins was somehow outside Science. We are feeling the consequences of that to this day, and what they did could yet be the death of science itself. Why? Because hardly any work was done laying the frameworks and first scientific foundations out for ORIGINS commiserate with the vast and impossibly hard scientific hurdle that it was always going to be. So now we’ve run into a vertical wall that has stalled progress for 50 years. And at the heart, and through every dimension of what that wall is sits ORIGINS

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