Are religion and science in conflict, harmony, or is the relationship best described as “complex”?

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278
Steven Shapin’s revisionist account of the scientifi c revolution of the seventeenth
century opens with a provocation: “There was no such thing as
the Scientifi c Revolution, and this is a book about it.” 1
This collection of
essays could appropriately end on a similar note. There is no such thing as
the relationship between science and religion, and this is a book about it. It
is for this reason that I have taken as my cue, in seeking an appropriate
rubric under which to compose these concluding remarks, the title of Alasdair
MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality? In part, MacIntyre’s
argument is that there is no rationality that is not the rationality of some
particular tradition, and that in every instance when an effort is made to
provide rational justifi cation for a course of moral action we need to fi gure
out which is the rationality and whose is the justice in question. It is much
the same with thinking about science and religion. In every case we need
to ascertain which scientifi c enterprise and whose religious tradition is
under consideration. Indeed, I argue in what follows that the story of
encounters between particular scientifi c ventures and specifi c religious
movements needs to be complicated in yet further ways if we are to do
justice to the complexities of the historical record rather than succumb to
the allure of comfortable typecasting. As Thomas Dixon recently put it in a
popular introduction to the whole subject, “There has certainly not been a
single and unchanging relationship between two entities called ‘science’
and ‘religion.’” 2
Further complicating the story of the relations between scientifi c enterprises
and religious traditions is thus my goal in the pages that follow. And
it builds on the widespread recognition among historians of science that the
old confl ict model, presuming inherent antagonism between science and
religion, is now moribund. This view, however, is far from universally
shared. The recent resignation of Professor Michael Reiss, an evolutionary
biologist, from the post of director of education for the Royal Society over
12
Which Science? Whose Religion?
David N. Livingstone
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 279
some comments he made on creationism is illustrative. On September 13,
2008, the Nobel Prize–winner Sir Richard Roberts of the New England Biolabs
in Ipswich, Massachusetts, supported by several other laureates, wrote
to Sir Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, demanding “that Professor
Reiss step down, or be asked to step down, as soon as possible.” “We gather
Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome,” the letter
went on. “Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of
Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences
between science and religion in a scientifi c, reasoned way?” 3
Enshrined in
this communiqué is the presumption that science and religion are inescapably
at odds, such that inceptive suspicion is necessarily thrown on the
scientifi c integrity of individuals with religious convictions. Commenting on
the whole episode in the New Scientist , Sir Harold Kroto, recipient of the
1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, observed: “There is no way that an ordained
minister—for whom unverifi ed dogma must represent a major, if not the
major, pillar in their lives can present free-thinking, doubt-based scientifi c
philosophy honestly or disinterestedly.” 4
For all the sterling efforts of historians
to dispel the myth of inevitable and persistent internecine warfare
between science and religion, it seems, the idea of inexorable confl ict—like
a resilient virus—is proving exceptionally hard to eradicate. Nevertheless,
this volume constitutes a collective contribution toward that project.
“What is the relationship between science and religion?” is a question in
need of questioning. In different ways, the essays in this collection conspire
to trouble the seeming simplicity of the assumption that the task is to map
encounters between two realms respectively labeled “science” and “religion.”
The global reach of the preceding chapters, for example, forces on us the
thought that this whole way of proceeding may be a local Western perspective
that is imperiously imposed on the rest of the world. This suspicion manifests
itself, perhaps with greatest clarity, in the analysis of science, religion, and
medicine in sub-Saharan Africa provided by Steven Feierman and John M.
Janzen (see chap. 10 ). Several things are particularly notable about their intervention.
First, their account proceeds with the understanding that the vocabulary
of “science” and “religion” as entities whose relationship is at the heart
of this inquiry constitutes, in the African case, the imposition of categories of
interpretation that do not track well indigenous understandings. As their
analysis shows in different ways, whether dealing with iron-smelting practices,
eco-sensitive land-use regulation, or the complex relationships between medical
“objects” and socio-spiritual structures, the idea of a relationship,
or boundary line, or dialogue, between “science and religion” misconstrues
the issue. Portraying these performances in the language of “science and
religion,” as though they can be tidily segregated, is to import Western categories
and infl ict them on non-Western cultures. Imperialism, we should
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280 Science and Religion around the World
note in passing, can also be of a temporal variety—namely, imposing contemporary
categories on historical episodes or engaging in the Whiggish form of
inquiry that reconstructs the past only in presentist terms. The danger here is
that a manufactured past is constructed by historians who zealously dig out
scattered “scientifi c” hints from sacred texts and thereby create, rather than
uncover, some presumed “tradition” or “stance” on “science and religion.”
Second, this is the chapter where anthropological apparatus is most
clearly brought to bear on the whole subject. This raises the intriguing
question why science and religion as belief systems in the Westernized
world are not brought so conspicuously within the arc of anthropological
scrutiny. Breaking down presumed boundaries between practice and belief,
object and meaning, Feierman and Janzen’s analysis challenges students of
science and religion in other settings to elucidate how various activities,
whether dubbed scientifi c or religious, function in the society in which they
are domesticated.
Other insights throughout this collection also disturb the presumption of
a singular relationship between science and religion. In different settings,
different traditions approach the “problematic” differently, and hence
solve—or resolve—it in different ways. In some cases there is a fusion of
what in other situations would be disaggregated; in others it is a matter of
harmonizing dissonant claims to achieve coherence; in yet others the
strategy is to allocate science and religion to different spheres and thereby to
prevent the development of any relationship, whether hostile or cordial. In
Mark Csikszentmihalyi’s chapter on early China ( chap. 7 ), for example, it
becomes clear that the ideas of natural cycles and homologies are both
religious and scientifi c conceptions at the same time. In this case the idea of
“harmonizing” science and religion is misconceived, as these convictions
inherently fuse what elsewhere might be disaggregated into the scientifi c
and the religious. In a comparable way, as Geoffrey Cantor notes in his treatment
of modern Judaism ( chap. 2 ), some positive assessments of evolutionary
transformation by nineteenth-century rabbis were at least as much to
do with their use of Kabbalistic understandings of change as with anything
specifi cally derived from Darwinian biology. Indeed, one rabbi, Abraham
Isaac HaKohen Kook, far from setting out to “reconcile” Judaism and modern
science, claimed that in adopting Darwin’s theory of evolutionary change,
naturalists were only coming to recognize a negligible part of a much larger
cosmic picture that traditional Judaism had long cherished.
Early Islamic science, it seems, stands in marked contrast to these forms
of synaptic blending. According to Ahmad Dallal ( chap. 5 ), the way in which
knowledge was classifi ed in early Islam meant that religion and natural
science occupied separate spheres of knowledge. For Abu Rayhan al-Biruni
(973–1048 CE), Qur’anic teaching and scientifi c endeavors did not impinge
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 281
on each other—a perspective reinforced by the Qur’anic exegete Fakhr
al-Din al-Razi in the twelfth century. For Dallal, these represent a segregationist
perspective that allocates cognitive authority to different domains by
assigning religious and scientifi c knowledges to their own compartments.
This partitionist strategy, of course, is not solely the prerogative of religious
believers. The Englishman Thomas Henry Huxley was an advocate of the
two-spheres model, and he used it to challenge the elision of science and
natural theology in the Newtonian world picture. At the same time, as
Bernard Lightman ( chap. 11 ) points out, he considered that true science and
true religion were “twin-sisters”—a sentiment remarkably similar to that of
John William Draper, author of the polemical History of the Confl ict between
Religion and Science (1874), who considered that “modern Science is the
l egitimate sister—indeed, it is the twin-sister—of the Reformation.” 5
In our own time, the two-spheres tactic has had committed defenders,
such as Stephen Jay Gould, whose Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the
Fullness of Life (1999) further popularized the idea of science and religion as
two Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). A couple of years earlier he had
put forward this concordat as “the principled resolution of supposed ‘confl
ict’ or ‘warfare’ between science and religion. No such confl ict should exist
because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching
authority—and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would
like to designate as NOMA, or ‘nonoverlapping magisteria’).” 6
In his review
of this proposal, though, Michael Ruse detected that such a stratagem might
not be as irenic or benign as it at fi rst appears; Ruse suspected that Gould’s
territorial cartography drew its boundary line too far on the side of science
and not suffi ciently toward the middle ground. 7
As noted above, partition is
not even an option in some settings. Feierman and Janzen’s investigation of
sub-Saharan Africa reveals that in this context the very idea of there being
two spheres that interact—science and religion—misconceives the issue.
Even today, they can itemize a range of scientifi c-medical practitioners of
one sort or another bridging what they refer to as “the science/religion continuum”
by integrating pharmaceutical and traditional traditions of health
care management.
The essays in this collection, then, advertise complexity in sciencereligion
discourses at different points in time and in different locations. The
presumption that the issue is simply how to manage the relationship
between two realms is as problematic as the grand narrative that assumes
that science is an inescapably secularizing force. As B. V. Subbarayappa
notes ( chap. 8 ), to take just one example, the expansion of India’s scientifi ctechnological
infrastructure has gone hand in hand with the construction of
new temples and novel forms of religious observance. Such eventualities
alert us to the multifarious ways in which science-religion dialogues have
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been conducted. In places where science and religion are fused into an
indivisible entity, or indeed where speaking of “science and religion” at all is
a misconception, the conversation will differ markedly from contexts where
epistemic apartheid operates to keep science and religion in isolation from
each other. Where the aim is to harmonize the claims of faith with the
fi ndings of science, a different dynamic will be in operation, one that sharply
contrasts with situations where religious dogma imperiously stifl es scientifi
c inquiry or where scientifi c enterprises ride roughshod over spiritual
sensibilities.
COMPLICATIONS
Woven into the fabric of this volume are numerous threads that further
complicate our thinking about science and religion. Here I want to offer
four recommendations that might appropriately be mobilized to interrogate
particular episodes in the history of science and religion. For convenience,
we might consider these as a set of hypothetical imperatives: pluralize,
localize, hybridize, politicize. This does not mean that all are appropriate
tactics for making sense of every encounter; what I mean, rather, is that it is
never mistaken to ask if, say, local circumstances are critically important to
understanding the dynamic of some particular dispute, or if there are
political currents running through the claims of interlocutors.
First, the need to pluralize . The singularity that ordinarily attends public
discussion of the subject needs to be replaced by a recognition that it is
more helpful to think in terms of the encounter between science s and
religious tradition s . This realization surfaces in many of the essays in this
volume. Dallal’s account of science and early Islam, for example, identifi es
a sequence of different scientifi c enterprises—astronomy, optics, medicine,
and so on—to which Muslims contributed. Similarly, Donald Lopez’s scrutiny
of Buddhism ( chap. 9 ) carries the warning that a number of scholars
insist on the need to speak of several “Buddhisms” rather than a single
“Buddhism.” He also notes that key Buddhist fi gures engaging with European
sciences during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came from
different Buddhist cultures and held contrasting views on which form of
Buddhism they considered to be the most authentic. At the same time he
reminds us that the label “science” carries insuffi cient semantic precision to
cover everything from the Big Bang and evolutionary theory to the development
of instruments like the microscope and spectrometer. Neither
Buddhism nor science is a unifi ed tradition. B. V. Subbarayappa makes a
comparable point. Even within the three Indic religious traditions that his
chapter encompasses, he insists that none is a monolith.
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 283
This pluralizing imperative can be readily extended. Noah Efron begins
his analysis ( chap. 1 ) of science and early Judaism with the reminder that
“there has been no single, enduring Jewish attitude toward nature and its
study.” And Geoffrey Cantor confi rms this impulse when he contrasts the
differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewry, and notes the marked
divergences between Reform and ultra-Orthodox schools. John Hedley
Brooke points out ( chap. 4 ) that even within the same Christian tradition
attitudes toward particular scientifi c theories may vary: the doctrine of creation,
for example, has been mobilized for very different purposes by Christians—
sometimes to support scientifi c stances, sometimes to oppose them. The
collective import of these delineations is to make us suspicious of the familiar
“isms” to which we all too readily resort. Buddhism, evangelicalism,
Judaism, Calvinism, and so on name faith communities that are, at best,
related by family resemblance. Agnosticism and atheism might well be
appended to the list. Trading in such intellectual shorthand risks both
s tereotyping genuine diversity and substituting bloodless abstraction for the
messiness of real history. In different locations, for example, Calvinists with
seriously similar theological convictions could react very differently to
Darwin’s theory of evolution depending on a host of other contingent
factors. 8
Indeed, the fact that Darwinism itself was differently constructed
in different settings and made to mean different things further complicates
attempts to sort out religious, cultural, political, and other responses to
evolutionary theory. 9
If pluralizing both science and religion in efforts to construct a map of
the historical terrain is desirable, so too is the range of enterprises that could
usefully be incorporated within the arc of relevant sciences. Neither the
social sciences, notably anthropology and sociology, nor what might be
called the historical-cultural sciences, such as philology or textual criticism,
ordinarily feature in standard treatments of “science and religion.” Here
and there throughout the present collection, signifi cant intersections along
these lines occur. Donald Lopez, for instance, tellingly reminds us that it
was as a result of critical developments in the science of philology that key
Buddhist texts could be studied in the original by Buddhist scholars. The
development of Sanskrit studies in Europe facilitated the opening up of the
early history of Buddhism in new ways. Indeed, there is a sense in which, as
part of the intellectual circuitry of colonial networks and imperial imagining,
the European interrogation of recovered Buddhist texts conspired to
“produce a new Buddha” (see chap. 9 ). According to Subbarayappa, it also
facilitated Europe’s encounter with Indian scientifi c knowledge in medical
and alchemical treatises, notably in the work of P. C. Ray.
The need to pluralize goes hand in hand with a second desideratum : the
value of localizing science-religion encounters and placing them in their
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284 Science and Religion around the World
geographical setting. Indeed, the salience of geography to the entire enterprise
of rethinking global science and religion tellingly manifests itself in the
titles of various preceding chapters. 10 Mark Csikszentmihalyi, for example,
organizes his contribution by region—China—and discusses a range of
religious traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism—within that geographical
space ( chap. 7 ). The different relationships these different religions
sustained with natural science, and indeed with the imperial state, highlights
something of the geopolitics of the whole subject. Again, Feierman and Janzen
bound their study of sub-Saharan Africa by linguistic geography—
namely, by dwelling on those areas of eastern, central, and southern Africa
speaking variants of Bantu. More generally, the number of geographical
modifi ers that are attached to religious nouns are considerable: French
rabbis, American Jews, Egyptian Muslims, Ottoman medreses, Indian spirituality,
Irish monasteries, Scottish Calvinists, British evangelicals, English
Anglicans, Japanese Buddhists, and so on. These characterizations alert us to
the role of geographical location in the constitution of local traditions. Thus
Geoffrey Cantor reminds us that the lineaments of any particular Jewish
engagement with scientifi c knowledge depend “greatly on local factors, such
as the level of discrimination against Jews” (see chap. 2 ). As for early Islamic
science, Dallal emphasizes that Arabic astronomy developed differently in
different settings, with conspicuous divergences between an eastern Maragha
school and developments in North Africa. The same is also true of the evolution
of modern atheism. If there are geographies of belief, so too are there
spaces of unbelief. As Lightman observes, the fate of atheism has differed
from national context to national context. In part, of course, this is because
there is a social, as well as intellectual, history of unbelief. Over the years
atheists, and proponents of heterodoxy more generally, have had to negotiate
their way around legal sanction of one sort or another, and their fortunes
have been contingent on the degree to which they could become socially
acceptable. Considered seditious and subversive in Newton’s time, atheists
were later paraded by Enlightenment radicals in France as clear-thinking
rational fi gures battling against the dark forces of superstition and prejudice.
In recent times, the pattern of atheist commitment has differed between, say,
Russia and the United States in response to contrasting ideologies and the
differential role accorded to the idea of a state church. The geography of religion,
obviously, goes hand in hand with the geography of secularization.
What is also clear from the foregoing analyses are the different spatial
scales at which the location of science and religion may be analyzed. At one
scale of operations, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu ( chap. 6 ) considers recent
Islamic encounters with science within the context of the Ottoman Empire.
At another he makes it clear that science, oriental languages, and religion
were collectively taught in Islamic medreses and imperial naval and medical
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 285
schools. In the early Middle Ages, as Peter Harrison and David Lindberg’s
chapter registers ( chap. 3 ), very specifi c sites (like the monastery) served as
venues for the cultivation of mathematical arts, medicine, and calendrical
practices. In the same period, the University of Paris was a vital center of
learning and the site of controversy with the banning of Aristotle’s writings
on natural philosophy at various points in time during the thirteenth
century. Addressing the question of location, moreover, directly connects to
matters of locution. In different venues different things may be said, and
heard, by speakers and auditors alike. Elsewhere I have explored the significance
of place in controversial cases where interlocutors paid the price for
saying the wrong thing in the wrong place. 11 The geologist Alexander
Winchell, who was dismissed from his position at Vanderbilt University in
1878, did not succeed in his self-imposed effort to refrain from “the utterance
of opinions which I supposed were disapproved of by the offi cers of
the University.” 12 His views on human origins rubbed the local Methodist
fraternity the wrong way. In this volume, Lightman reminds us that in certain
places eighteenth-century atheists and materialists feared persecution
if they spoke openly. Such circumstances redraw attention to the importance
of locating encounters between science and religion in specifi c places
at particular times.
If localizing the relationships between religious traditions and scientifi c
enterprises allows the disorderliness of history to triumph over theoretical
prescription, it also brings into focus the signifi cance of what might appropriately
be called hybridization . Many of the stories told in this collection
draw attention to cross-cultural syntheses of one sort or another. Chinese
science, Csikszentmihalyi tells us, developed what he calls hybrid astronomies;
during the fi fteenth century, the Qing dynasty’s astronomical instruments
in Bejing included an ecliptic armilla that had been designed by the
Flemish Jewish missionary Père Ferdinand Verbiest. Buddhism brought
Indian and Tibetan traditions into China, and the arrival of the Abrahamic
religions heralded the integration of indigenous and Western systems of
science. Again, early Jewish science changed in response to the different
host environments within which it was cultivated and to shifting Islamic or
Christian infl uences. Later, as Cantor notes, Jewish science was shaped by
the relations local Jewish communities sustained with the host culture.
İhsanoğlu’s chapter shows how Islamic astronomy and medicine were
infl uenced by the presence of Jewish scholars taking refuge in the Ottoman
Empire. It also includes the intriguing suggestion that the idea of a confl ict
between science and religion was introduced into Islam from the Christian
West through such events as the publication of a Turkish translation of
Draper’s History of the Confl ict between Religion and Science , which called
forth critical commentary from Ahmed Midhat, and the controversy
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surrounding the pro-Darwin statements advanced by Edwin Lewis at the
Syrian Protestant College in Beirut. 13
In India, the Hellenistic astronomy of fi gures like Ptolemy was synthesized
with Vedic astrology to facilitate zodiac readings necessary for the
proper performance of rituals and festivals. Similarly, the eleventh-century
Islamic scholar, al-Biruni, incorporated Hindu astronomy into his writings,
while in the thirteen and fourteenth centuries, according to Subbarayappa,
Greek Hippocratic medicine was synthesized with Hindu medical knowledge.
During the European Renaissance, as Harrison and Lindberg remind
us, Christian thinkers debated the value of Aristotelianism for their approach
to the natural world. Christian missionaries in sub-Saharan Africa played the
intriguing role of disenchanting African “folk” medical customs by castigating
them as pagan, fi rst, and then re-enchanting medical practices
through the integration of prayer and other spiritual exercises into hospital
treatment. As Feierman and Janzen tellingly note, this was a project in the
secularization of health care as a prelude to resacralizing it in a Christian key.
In missionary contexts, Brooke makes clear, the advancement of scientifi c
knowledge often depended on creative relationships with indigenous knowledge
systems. As he points out, several Baptist missionaries in India sought
to foster dialogue between European and local ways of knowing by teaching
Sanskrit science side by side with European science. Similar patterns are
discernible elsewhere too, not least in Africa, where Swiss missionaries
working in entomology and botany engaged in a process of mutual knowledge
exchange with indigenous Africans. Focusing on the work of HenriAlexandre
Junod, who arrived in Mozambique in 1889, Patrick Harries has
shown something of how he “recognized both the different ways indigenous
people comprehended and gave meaning to nature and the ways in which
they contributed to his knowledge,” even though he remained convinced of
the superiority of Western knowledge regimes. 14
As with the natural world, of course, intellectual hybridism has not
always been considered fertile. Missionary endeavors are a case in point: in
such contexts synthesis has frequently been branded syncretism. But this
only serves to underscore the productive role of religious heterodoxy in
scientifi c history. 15 The Unitarianism of Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestley
is illustrative. As Brooke points out, it was their concern to cultivate a
rationalized Christianity that fostered both social radicalism and a strongly
proscientifi c outlook. Not only do such maneuvers defy the easy bipolarity of
doctrinal orthodoxy or unbelieving skepticism, but they underscore the
contingency of theological labeling: convictions dubbed heterodox in one
place and time may acquire the benediction of conservative orthodoxy—or
vice versa—in others. Harrison and Lindberg, for example, compellingly
show how atomism, at one point deemed to display atheistic tendencies,
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 287
could later be staged as a friend, not a foe, of Christianity and certainly more
hospitable than Aristotelian matter theory.
Hybridism, of course, steals into intellectual circulation in other ways
too, for example, through acts of translation. For translation is never simply
transmission; it is transformation. As Marwa Elshakry has pointed out,
modern science translations into Arabic have been freighted with cultural
politics. The fact that there was no specifi c Arabic term for the word “species”
made translation of Darwin’s Origin anything but straightforward;
the lack of a precise Arabic equivalent for the term “evolution” only compounded
the problem. Choosing whether to refashion older terms or to
make up new ones had hybridizing implications for intellectual exchange. 16
In the present collection, Ahmad Dallal points out that by translating Greek
works into Arabic, Islamic scholars “did more than simply preserve the
Greek scientifi c legacy”—they brought about a signifi cant Islamization of
science (see chap. 5 ). During the colonial period in India, European scientifi
c ideas and practices were not introduced into India through a smooth
process of diffusion. Rather, they were domesticated to local needs, not least
in the work of Raja Rammohun Roy, who remained Hindu to the core of his
being even while championing the introduction of various European-style
natural sciences into the curriculum. 17 All of this challenges the assumption
that modern European science simply diffused across the globe. Instead, as
Kapil Raj has shown, intercultural encounters were of crucial signifi cance
for the growth of knowledge about botany, cartography, terrestrial surveying,
and linguistics. 18
Other instances of the hybrid intertwining of different scientifi c and religious
traditions could readily be elaborated. The point is that the collective
import of cultivating a sensitivity toward the hybrid, the amalgamated, and
the synthetic is that it subverts the idea of science or religion as “pure” enterprises.
Their “impurity,” moreover, alerts us to the wider context of “science”
and “religion,” and thus to the ways in which they may be mobilized in the
interests of cultural politics . Lopez notes how certain versions of Buddhism
were adopted by some people in search of a scientifi c religion as an alternative
to traditional theism. In early-modern Europe, as Harrison and Lindberg
show, Newtonian science and religion were deployed as resources in the
service of monarchy and moderatism against republicanism and radicalism.
“Newton’s divinely controlled mechanical universe,” Lightman writes,
“became the model for the triumph of the new Whig constitution and
for the liberal Christians who supported it” (see chap. 11 ). And Brooke
points out that Joseph Priestley thought certain Christian doctrines were
indispensable for social control. All this serves to remind us that “science
and religion” are always embedded in wider socio-political networks and
their relationship is conditioned by the prevailing cultural arrangements.
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Precisely the same is no less true of “agnosticism.” Coined by Thomas
Henry Huxley, this term enabled him to place himself somewhere between
traditional faith and extremist forms of unbelief that circulated among
d isreputable working-class radicals.
Science and religion have served as cultural resources in other ways too.
Their role in the maintenance of cultural identity, for example, is not insignifi
cant. A critical distinction can be drawn between confessional believers
and those resorting to religion simply as a marker of ethnic belonging.
Geoffrey Cantor’s chapter is illustrative for its treatment of atheistic Jews
who align themselves culturally with the Jewish community but possess no
specifi cally religious convictions. Complications of this stripe crucially
infl ect our understanding of the role of Judaism in scientifi c enterprises.
Such circumstances point to the role of the iconic in elucidating encounters
between science and religion. Some episodes achieve symbolic signifi cance
and are staged as emblematic of wider intellectual currents. The WilberforceHuxley
confrontation in Oxford in 1860, the Tyndall furor at the 1874 British
Association meeting in Belfast, the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in
1925, even the name of Charles Darwin have come to symbolize conservatism,
skepticism, intransigence, far-sightedness, or atheism—depending on
how they are represented. Here historical fact concedes to cultural politics.
Attending to the place of symbolism modulates the interpretation of science
and religion in critical ways. In China, for example, Csikszentmihalyi
reminds us that the project of adapting indigenous belief to scientifi c
demands ran the risk of being seen as capitulating to the W esternization of
values. In a comparable way, as Noah Efron makes clear, natural knowledge
was sometimes seen by Jews as embodying foreign wisdom, a view that
could breed an attitude of suspicion about science and make it “unseemly.”
Greater sensitivity to the symbolic signifi cance of pronouncements and performances
would enrich our understanding of the long history of science
and religion in far-reaching ways.
FLASH POINTS AND TRADING ZONES
If this collection of essays complicates received wisdom about “science and
religion” by challenging monochrome portrayals of the relationship as
i nherently pugilistic or irenic, it also identifi es what I want to call fl ash
points and trading zones. By the former I mean those matters—different
from tradition to tradition, from place and place, from time to time—that
have been seen to matter in religion’s encounter with science. Identifying
some of these shows how variegated the intellectual landscape has been. By
trading zones I refer to those arenas of engagement where the interface
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between science and religion has facilitated fruitful intellectual exchange.
The term “trading zone” has been used in anthropological studies to
describe something of the processes by which different cultures have been
able to exchange commodities despite their differences in language, social
relations, and so on. It has been deployed in studies of science and technology
to explain how trading can take place even when the partners, as
Peter Galison puts it, “ascribe utterly different signifi cance to the objects
being exchanged.” 19
So far as fl ash points are concerned, the list of potential candidates is a
lengthy one, and a few examples must suffi ce. In Britain and the United
States, a persistent though not universal source of contention has centered
on questions of design, teleology, and natural theology. As Lightman’s chapter
shows, Richard Dawkins’s recent The God Delusion , for example, largely
rotates around the conviction that Darwin’s theory of evolution shattered
“the illusion of design” by showing that apparent purpose is nothing more
than the product of humdrum, natural causes (see chap. 11 ). This, of course,
is only the last in a long sequence of scientifi c assaults on teleology. French
advocates of a more radical enlightenment in the eighteenth century, like
Diderot and d’Holbach, attacked the Newtonian moderates and pushed for
an all-embracing naturalism. Their stance stood in marked contrast to Newton’s
Unitarian defense of a purposive cosmic order and Voltaire’s commitment
to providential deism. Later, as Brooke notes, nineteenth-century
fi gures like William Whewell were of the opinion that scientifi c analysis
could not proceed without invoking fi nal causes. Design was also an issue
for Islamic encounters with scientifi c claims. Because traditional Kalam
arguments from design remained important, as İhsanoğlu points out, what
he calls the “more ideological forms” of Darwinism and materialism, alongside
philosophical positivism and social Darwinism, brought discord. By
contrast, arguments from design are only conspicuous in Jewish works by
their relative absence. At the same time, different stances could be adopted
within traditions. The fl ourishing of natural theology in seventeenth- century
England represented one Christian response to what were perceived to be
the dangers of a mechanistic atomism; by contrast, later writers as diverse
as Thomas Chalmers and John Henry Newman did not hesitate to identify
theological reservations about the teleological argument. Newman never
cared for the design argument because he was never able to see its logical
force; Chalmers thought it could never lead to Christian theism. 20
Other fl ash points could readily be elaborated. In certain religious traditions
the question of origins has loomed large; in others this has not been
the case. In contrast to Christian and Islamic anxieties over the implications
of evolution, not least for understanding the nature of the image of God and
the dignity of the human species, Hindus generally displayed much less
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distress about Darwinism, because their immanentist philosophy avoided
the dualism between creator and creation (as noted in chap. 8 ). The links
between natural philosophy and the tradition of natural magic were more
troublesome for some traditions than others. For Jews, Efron reminds us,
Talmudic bans on magic were critically important, and later Maimonides
sought to undermine astrology. In traditions united by a canonical text, the
development of the science of textual criticism could create major diffi –
culties for orthodox believers. In other times, places, and settings, different
issues dominated the science-religion skyline. Among these we might refer
to the questioning of divine miracle by the idea of omnipresent natural law;
the subversion of free will in deterministic projects that confl ated mind and
brain; the challenges that new theories of matter posed to some understandings
of the Eucharist; the materialistic ethos of certain strands of scientifi c
reductionism; the use of scientifi c research to support various forms of
eugenics. All these—and doubtless many more—have been fl ash points for
certain groups in certain places at certain times in science’s dialogue with
religion. This realization forces us to acknowledge the complexities of
science-religion narratives and should curb any inclination to universalize
particulars. Because Copernicanism was problematic in parts of Christian
Europe, for example, is no reason to presume that it was universally troublesome
for religious communities. According to İhsanoğlu, heliocentrism
caused no comparable stir among Ottoman scholars when it was reported in
Arabic translation.
Flash points in one mode, of course, may surface as trading zones in
another. If their commitment to teleology made some religious believers
resistant to certain forms of scientifi c explanation, natural theology in
different settings could act as a stimulus to scientifi c inquiry. The idea of a
divinely designed natural world was foundational to the work on natural
history conducted by the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers John
Ray and William Derham. For them, the belief that living things were
divinely adapted to their natural environments fostered their inquiries into
plant and animal life. The treatises produced by fi gures like these were
thus both theological and scientifi c at the same time. The doctrine of
humanity’s fall from grace and the theology of original sin could likewise
serve as a trading ground for scientifi c and theological exchange. Advocates
of the new experimental philosophy of the sixteenth and seventeenth
c enturies frequently took with great seriousness the adverse implications
of these particular Judeo-Christian doctrines for human rationality—what
Harrison and Lindberg judiciously call “the wounding of reason.” Recognition
of this fallen condition kindled a sense that mechanisms needed to be
put in place to overcome the epistemic consequences of original corruption
and its legacy of human depravity. 21 New observational instruments,
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 291
measuring devices, experimental apparatus, and warranting procedures
were all espoused in hopes of introducing greater rigor into knowledgeacquiring
enterprises. In this trading zone, productive exchanges could take
place between theological thinking about the epistemic implications of fallen
humanity and technological developments in scientifi c instrumentation.
The belief of the monotheistic religions that all humankind have
descended from Adam has also fostered intellectual traffi c between theological
conviction and scientifi c inquiry. The search for Adam’s language,
efforts to elucidate human racial differentiation, whether the human race is
of monogenetic or polygenetic origin, the relationship between the world
chronologies of different regional cultures, how emerging archeological
artifacts should be interpreted—stances on all of these subjects were hammered
out on the terrain of humankind’s Adamic ancestry. 22 The character
of reading practices has also been a ground on which science and religion
have traded wares. According to Harrison and Lindberg, shifts in how the
book of scripture was read had a critical effect on ways of reading the book
of nature during the early-modern development of science. The demise of
allegorical approaches to Bible reading, they suggest, had subsidiary consequences
for the tradition of interpreting the natural order through emblems
and symbols. In this case literalism, which in a later era could disrupt science’s
relationship with theology, had a positive impact on the development
of scientifi c theory. 23
Such zones of exchange, of course, are not restricted to Judeo-Christian
traditions. The eliding of certain strands in Buddhism with various forms of
psychoanalysis (in the wake of the contributions by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
on Zen) and with aspects of modern physics (such as Fritjof Capra’s The Tao
of Physics ) are cases in point, as Lopez’s chapter illustrates. Indeed it has
been claimed that Buddhist philosophy exemplifi es the operation of scientifi
c method in the realm of psychological self-scrutiny. The Dalai Lama, for
example, has warmly embraced scientifi c achievements, thereby legitimizing
a transfer space between religion and modern science. Zonal traffi cking
is also part of the story of science and religion in the Vedic traditions.
Metaphysics and mathematics, for example, engaged in cross-border trading
with the concept of zero serving as tender while, as Subbarayappa shows,
the study of eclipses facilitated the development of astronomical techniques
for Vedic astrological purposes. More recently, in his pioneering work in
physics and physiology, J. C. Bose believed he could see manifestations of
the Hindu idea of unity. Commerce in such zones, of course, may not always
have dealt in the currency of explanation, but they certainly have made space
available for empirical advancements.
Despite widespread reports of secularization in the West, a number
of new contact zones have been opened up in the wake of a series of
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scientifi c-metaphysical developments during the twentieth century. Brooke
advertises several of these in the closing pages of his chapter. The principle
of indeterminacy (arising from quantum mechanics), the Big Bang
cosmology, and the exceptionally constricted range of conditions necessary
for carbon-based life have all been used as resources to underwrite an antideterministic
defense of free will, the reassertion of the doctrine of creation,
and the revisiting of teleology through the idea of cosmic fi ne-tuning. And
the list could be further extended. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit
paleontologist, controversially extended the principle of evolutionary transformation
into the spiritual realm with his conception of the noosphere as a
kind of phenomenological layer of human collective consciousness that
evolved after the geosphere and biosphere, and his claim that the Omega
Point is the ultimate goal toward which all creation is moving. 24 Wolfhart
Pannenberg and others, such as T. F. Torrance, have—no less contentiously—
fastened upon the idea of fi elds of force in modern physics as a resource for
thinking about the nature of God. 25 In these proposals and the ensuing
debates, modern fi eld theory serves as the territory on which modern theology
seeks to engage contemporary natural science.
TENSIONS AND POLARITIES
Science and Religion around the World delightfully complicates popular
narratives of “the relationship between science and religion.” It pluralizes
the entire enterprise, identifi es cross-cutting themes, highlights the role of
cultural politics, and attends to difference and divergence from time to time
and place to place. It also discloses the wide range of issues that have been
the focal point of contention between religious believers and scientifi c practitioners,
as well as zones of contact that have opened up new channels of
communication and intellectual commerce. But this does not mean that
there is no further work to be done. A sequence of tensions and polarities
remain that should form agenda items for future investigation.
In my view, a tension between the particular and the general still persists
in accounts of the historical relations between science and religion. When
grand narratives are deconstructed by tradition, period, and place, there
remains the problem of ascertaining how very specifi c case studies of individuals
or communities relate to broader currents of thought and action.
Just how to use a biography or local study without underclaiming or
overclaiming remains a diffi culty. Figuring out the way in which Belfast
Presbyterians responded to the challenge of Darwin in the 1870s—to take
one example—tells us something both about Belfast and about Presbyterians.
It tells us something about two scales of inquiry—local and global.
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Exactly what it tells about each is no less easy to discern than ascertaining
how these different scales of operation relate to one another. How to handle
the differences between intellectual leaders and popular audiences also
remains a diffi culty. As Brooke makes clear, it is important to distinguish
between “opinions formulated by an intellectual elite and by relatively
unsophisticated members of the public.” 26 And at the same time, critical
differences may be discernible between different kinds of elites. Jewish
understandings of science are not restricted to the commentaries of rabbis;
the stances adopted by practicing Jewish scientists also constitute a critical
part of the story. These are differences that make a difference, for they disturb
any presumption that it is possible to identify the Jewish, or Christian,
or Hindu, or Muslim reaction to, say, Darwinian evolution, or Freudian
psychoanalysis, or Einsteinian relativity.
A careful reading of these essays will also serve to underscore the fact that
science and religion may converge on the ground of practice as much as
theory. There is much said in the different chapters about ideas, theories,
ideologies, and theologies. But from time to time, the critical importance of
performance and practice also shines through. Think of how metallurgical
skills in China were crucial to the construction of ancient bells used for
religious purposes. In China, too, musical technology was mobilized to
produce instruments that were integral to the practices of geomancy and
other ritual performances. In early Judaism, knowledge about animals was
a combination of observation and ritual practice. In sub-Saharan Africa
certain “practices, at once religious and medical, were seen as an intervention
involving supernatural forces and natural processes” (see chap. 10 ).
Among the Indic religions, the performance of sacrifi ce required precise
determination of timing, which, in turn, stimulated astronomical inquiry,
while the construction of sacrifi cial altars was intimately bound up with
developments in Vedic geometry. The production of astronomical devices
for determining the sacred direction in Islam, the cultivation of science as
itself a godly pursuit in early-modern England, and the use of mathematics
for the calendrical calculation of holy dates are just a few additional spheres of
practice in which science and religion have come together. Collectively they
alert us to the performative dimensions of both science and religion—an
association that is too often forgotten.
Finally, understanding the dynamic of science and religion runs the spectrum
from what I would call religious science to the science of religion. In
spaces where religion tends to dominate the conversation, adjectival science
surfaces: Torah science, Hindu medicine, Islamic astronomy, creation
science, Catholic psychology. Where science governs the discourse, religion
tends to be explained by science: the anthropology of religion, the search for
the God gene, the evolution of spirituality, the economics of communal
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faith, the neurochemistry of religious experience. 27 And yet it would be easy
to make unwarranted assumptions at either end of the spectrum, as two
concluding cases will illustrate.
The development of a self-conscious Calvinist science at the Free University
of Amsterdam during the 1930s, in the wake of Abraham Kuper’s
vision, constituted a concerted attempt to conduct scientifi c research on
Calvinist principles. But this did not mean confrontation with the conventional
science of the time. Ironically, the Calvinist worldview of key
members of the faculty permitted a certain freedom of scientifi c inquiry
that facilitated the “acceptance of mainstream science in Dutch Calvinist
circles.” 28 Through their work on such subjects as radioactivity and the
age of the earth, the philosophy of physics and causality, quantum mechanics
and the nature of reality, they sought to keep science and religion
in tandem.
At the opposite end of the continuum, it was when anthropologically
inclined scholars brought religion within the sphere of scientifi c explanation
and treated it as a dependent variable that confl icts arose—as in
Ernest Renan’s portrayal of Islam as inherently unsuited to the cultivation
of science. Among British anthropologists during the latter part of the
nineteenth century, the anthropology of religion could be recruited to bolster
what Lightman calls “a new tradition of secular theorizing about religion
without reference to the truth-content of its claims” (see chap. 12 ).
And yet this was not universally the case. William Robertson Smith’s historical
anthropology of sacrifi ce, totemism, and exogamy, despite the assault
to which he was subjected by his fellow churchmen, only served to
reinforce his belief that through his excavations into the archeology of
primitive religion he was unearthing the “fi rst germs” of “eternal” theological
“truths.” 29
Counterintuitive stances like these usefully stand as emblematic of the
argument that I have sought to marshal in this epilogue. They subvert
expectations, they localize encounters, they resist stereotype, and they
inspire the conviction that the misplaced certainties of presumption are not
to be preferred to the messy contingencies of history.
Notes
1. Steven Shapin, The Scientifi c Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1996), 1 .
2. Thomas Dixon, Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2008), 3 .
3. Priya Shetty and Andy Coghlan, “Royal Society Fellows Turn on Director over
Creationism” New Scientist , September 16, 2008. Available online at: www.newscientist.
com/article/dn14744-royal-society-fellows-turn-on-director-over-creationism.
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html . The full text of the letter appears on Richard Dawkins’s website: http://
richarddawkins.net/articles/3119 .
4. Quoted in Shetty and Coghlan, “Royal Society Fellows Turn on Director.”
5. John William Draper, History of the Confl ict between Religion and Science (London:
Henry King, 1875), 353 .
6. Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (March
1997): 16–22 .
7. Michael Ruse, “Review of Stephen Jay Gould’s ‘Rocks of Ages,’” Global Spiral
(July 1999), available online at: www.metanexus.net/magazine/ArticleDetail/
tabid/68/id/3044/Default.aspx .
8. I have discussed this in “Darwinism and Calvinism: The Belfast-Princeton
Connection,” Isis 83 (1992): 408–28 , and “Science, Region, and Religion: The Reception
of Darwinism in Princeton, Belfast, and Edinburgh,” in Disseminating Darwinism:
The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender , ed. Ronald L. Numbers and John
Stenhouse, 7–38 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) .
9. See David N. Livingstone, “Science, Text and Space: Thoughts on the Geography
of Reading,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (2005): 391–401 .
10. My thoughts on the subject of the historical geographies of science are developed
in David N. Livingstone, Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientifi c
Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) .
11. David N. Livingstone, “Science, Site, and Speech: Scientifi c Knowledge and
the Spaces of Rhetoric,” History of the Human Sciences 20 (2007): 71–98 . See also
Diarmid A. Finnegan, “Exeter-Hall Science and Evangelical Rhetoric in mid-Victorian
London,” Journal of Victorian Culture 16 (2011): in press.
12. Quoted in Leonard Alberstadt, “Alexander Winchell’s Preadamites—A Case
for Dismissal from the Vanderbilt University,” Earth Sciences History 13 (1994):
97–112 .
13. See also Marwa Elshakry, “The Gospel of Science and American Evangelicalism
in Late Ottoman Beirut,” Past and Present 197 (August 2007): 173–214 .
14. Patrick Harries, Butterfl ies and Barbarians: Swiss Missionaries and Systems of
Knowledge in South-East Africa (Oxford: James Currey, 2007), 5 .
15. See John Hedley Brooke and Ian Maclean, eds., Heterodoxy in Early Modern
Science and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) .
16. Marwa S. Elshakry, “Knowledge in Motion: The Cultural Politics of Modern
Science Translations in Arabic,” Isis 99 (2008): 701–30 .
17. See also Deepak Kumar, Science and the Raj, 1857–1905 (Delhi: Oxford University
Press, 1995) .
18. Kapil Raj, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of
Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650–1900 (London: Palgrave, 2007) .
19. Peter Galison, Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1997), 783 .
20. See the discussions in Michael Ruse, Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have
a Purpose? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004) .
21. Peter Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2008) .
22. I have discussed this in Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion and the Politics of
Human Origins (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) .
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23. See also Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural
Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) .
24. For a discussion of this and comparable evolutionary eschatologies, see Ernst
Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope: Man’s Concept of the Future from the Early Fathers
to Teilhard de Chardin (New York: Doubleday, 1966) .
25. See Max Jammer, Einstein and Physics: Physics and Theology (Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1999) .
26. For a history of popular responses to science and religion, see Ronald L.
Numbers, “Science and Christianity among the People: A Vulgar History,” in Science
and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 11–38 .
27. A useful brief overview of such contemporary projects is “Where Angels No
Longer Fear to Tread: Scientists Try to Explain Religion,” Economist , March 22, 2008.
28. Abraham C. Flipse, “Against the Science-Religion Confl ict: The Genesis of a
Calvinist Science Faculty in the Netherlands in the Early Twentieth Century,” Annals
of Science 65 (2008): 363–91, on 363 .
29. William Robertson Smith, “Sacrifi ce,” Encyclopaedia Britannica , 9th ed., 24
vols. (Edinburgh, 1875–1889), 9:138.
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3
1
A Passion for Discovery
“History is the essence of innumerable biographies.”
Thomas Carlyle, History
WHY SO FEW? Why have only ten women won Nobel
Prizes in science when more than five hundred men have done so?
Ten out of several hundred—only two percent of all Nobel Prize scientists
are women.
The fifteen women portrayed here are Nobel-class scientists.
None is a typical, everyday researcher. They all either won a Nobel
Prize in science or played a critical role in discoveries that won a
Nobel for someone else.
Many of these women faced enormous obstacles. They were confined to
basement laboratories and attic offices. They crawled behind furniture
to attend science lectures. They worked in universities for
decades without pay as volunteers—in the United States as late as
the 1970s. Science was supposed to be tough, rigorous, and rational;
women were supposed to be soft, weak, and irrational. As a consequence,
women scientists were—by definition—unnatural beings.
Sandra Harding, writing about women in science from a feminist
perspective, concluded that “women have been more systematically
excluded from doing serious science than from performing any other
social activity except, perhaps, frontline warfare.”
No sooner did these women overcome one barrier than another
cropped up. Pioneers like the mathematician Emmy Noether were
not only legally barred from universities, they were also excluded
from the academic high schools that prepared men for university
educations. Until the 1920s, most European high schools for girls
were finishing schools. Women who wanted university training had
to hire tutors to learn mathematics, science, Latin, and Greek—all
required subjects for entrance to a university. The father of physicist
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4 NOBEL PRIZE WOMEN IN SCIENCE
Lise Meitner refused to hire a tutor until she had completed teachers’
training school. The dictatorial father of Rita Levi-Montalcini
prevented her from obtaining an academic education until she was
twenty years old; later she discovered the nerve growth factor, which
may play a vital role in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Both
Meitner and Levi-Montalcini started their scientific careers a decade
behind their male counterparts. Once in universities, women like
Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, and Meitner worked for years without
salaries or positions.
In the United States, the situation was different but no less
difficult. American universities admitted women as students but
refused to hire them as researchers. Women scientists were supposed
to teach in women’s colleges or in coeducational universities; they
were not to do research. Expected to remain single, they needed
husbands to give them access to research laboratories. Yet until the
Federal Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, state laws and university
rules banned hiring wives of university employees. These rules were
devastating for women scientists. Even today, 70 percent of American
women physicists are married to scientists. As a result, the
academic landscape was littered with husband-and-wife teams in
which the man had the salary, job security, and prestige, and the
woman assisted him at his pleasure. Universities have dealt with the
issue of married women researchers for a relatively short time.
Gerty Cori, who studied carbohydrate metabolism, enzymes,
and children’s diseases caused by enzyme deficiencies, did not become
a professor until the year she won a Nobel Prize. Maria
Goeppert Mayer, who developed the shell model of the atomic
nucleus, worked for decades as a volunteer at some of North America’s
most prestigious universities. When Barbara McClintock was
president-elect of the Genetics Society of America, she quit science
for a time because she could not get a university job. Gertrude Elion
spent almost a decade studying to be a secretary and working in temporary,
marginal jobs before she landed a position as a research
chemist. Then she helped develop a new approach to drug-making.
Even the most successful women scientists faced ridicule and
hostility. Rosalind Franklin—caricatured as “Rosy” in James
Watson’s best-seller The Double Helix—was a commanding leader.
But Watson and Francis Crick used her experimental evidence—
without her knowledge, permission, or credit—to explain the molecular
structure of DNA. After her death, they won the Nobel Prize.
Irène Joliot-Curie, the daughter of Marie Curie, was a teenage heroine
of World War I. Yet after she won a Nobel Prize for discovering
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A Passion for Discovery 5
artificial radioactivity, the American press vilified her for her support
of the Soviet Union following World War II.
If a woman formed a long-term scientific partnership with a
man, the scientific community assumed that he was the brains of the
team and she was the brawn. Medical scientists concluded that
Rosalind Yalow’s male collaborator was the creative force behind
their discovery of the radioimmunoassay, a phenomenally sensitive
test that revolutionized endocrinology and the treatment of hormonal
disorders like diabetes. When her partner died, Yalow had to
establish her reputation all over again.
In addition to professional discrimination, these women suffered
their share of racial and religious discrimination, as well as poverty,
war, substance abuse, physical handicaps, and illness. Marie Curie,
Irène Joliot-Curie, Dorothy Hodgkin, and Gerty Cori worked for
decades despite life-threatening and crippling diseases. World War II
destroyed Lise Meitner’s career. Rita Levi-Montalcini began her research
in her bedroom, hidden from the Nazis. Gertrude Elion
worked her way through school during the Depression and quit
graduate school without a Ph.D. Chien-Shiung Wu, the experimental
physicist who overturned the fundamental law of parity, could
not get a research job during World War II because of discrimination
against Asians—even though her country was allied with the
United States. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a graduate student when she discovered
pulsars, later worked part-time while raising a family.
In the face of such obstacles, what sustained these women?
What prevented them from giving up, as many other women
scientists did?
First, they adored science. They triumphed because they were
having a wonderful time. Their hobbies ranged from music to mountain
climbing, books, gourmet cooking, church, and childrearing. But
it was science that illuminated their lives. Words like “pleasure,”
“joy,” and “satisfaction” permeate their speech. They survived in science
because they were passionately determined and in love with
their work.
Science thrilled them because they were making some of the
most important scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century.
Two of the greatest intellectual achievements of the century occurred
in evolution and in atomic and subatomic physics. These women
helped explain how individual characteristics are passed down
through generations of organisms and how atoms and their constituent
particles behave. They opened up new fields of science in
mathematics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, and medicine.
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6 NOBEL PRIZE WOMEN IN SCIENCE
Before Emmy Noether escaped from Nazi Germany to the
United States, she created abstract algebra, a major new field of
mathematics known in its elementary school version as “The New
Math.” Barbara McClintock revolutionized genetics several times
over as a young woman, yet molecular biologists ignored her discovery
of transposable genetic elements for decades. Dorothy Hodgkin,
an English physical chemist, pioneered the use of molecular structure
to explain biological functions by deciphering the atomic structures
of penicillin, vitamin B12, and insulin.
Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes in science, focused
scientific attention on radioactivity, the key to the atomic nucleus,
and discovered radium, the first real hope in cancer therapy. Lise
Meitner, officially retired after her escape from the Nazis, deciphered
the experiment of the century by explaining that the atomic nucleus
can split and release enormous amounts of energy. For the fission
project that she initiated and explained, her German partner received
the Nobel Prize.
Sympathetic parents and relatives were particularly influential. All of
these women, with the exception of Rosalyn Yalow, came from
professional or academic families: their fathers were architects,
engineers, physicians, dentists, lawyers, and university professors.
Yalow’s father owned a small paper and twine shop in one of New
York’s immigrant neighborhoods. Emmy Noether’s father, on the
other hand, was a prominent mathematician who nurtured his
daughter’s talent. Maria Goeppert Mayer’s father urged her to have
a career; she wanted to become the seventh-generation professor in
his family. Chien-Shiung Wu’s father was one of China’s leading
feminists. Dorothy Hodgkin and Rosalind Franklin received financial
assistance from mothers and aunts. Marie Curie and her sister
forged a pact to support each other through the university; Marie in
turn then helped her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie. In contrast, the
fathers of Levi-Montalcini and Rosalind Franklin vehemently opposed
their daughters’ aspirations. In Barbara McClintock’s family,
it was her mother who disapproved of women professors.
Religious values stressing education were critical. Jocelyn Bell Burnell
is a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, a small denomination
that has produced a disproportionate number of the world’s
great scientists. Half of the women have Jewish backgrounds. The
Jews’ commitment to learning and abstract thinking has helped men
as well as women in science; Jews number only three percent of the
United States population, but they account for approximately
twenty-seven percent of the Nobelists brought up in the United
States. Being Jewish was particularly helpful to women. Of the three
Nobel winners who were born and educated in the United States,
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A Passion for Discovery 7
two were Jews. Conversely, Catholic and Protestant America has
produced only one woman Nobel Prize winner in science: Barbara
McClintock.
Behind many of these successful women stood a man. More than half of
the women married and raised children. All but one of the husbands
supported their wives’ science, sometimes at considerable sacrifice.
Pierre Curie and Carl Cori refused prestigious job offers in leading
laboratories to further their wives’ careers. Wu and her husband had
a commuter marriage. Three prominent male physicists encouraged
a generation of English women in crystallography, including
Dorothy Hodgkin. Mathematician David Hilbert and physicist
Albert Einstein were Emmy Noether’s mentors. Joseph Mayer may
have been more of a feminist than his wife, Maria Goeppert Mayer.
Gertrude Elion’s research partnership with George Hitchings endured
for decades, as did Yalow’s with Solomon Berson. Unfortunately
for Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s career, her thesis adviser failed to
become her mentor, and she received little or no career counseling.
The importance of institutional support for women scientists is highlighted
by one remarkable fact: Two schools account for the majority of Nobel
Prizes received by American women scientists. Of the six American
women who won science Nobels, four were associated with either
Hunter College in New York City or Washington University in
St. Louis. Gertrude Elion and Rosalyn Yalow were undergraduates
at Hunter College during its heyday as a free municipal college for
New York’s brightest women. Gerty Cori and Rita Levi-Montalcini
won Nobels for research conducted at Washington University in
St. Louis, Missouri. At the time, Washington University was notably
liberal in its treatment of working women. How many more women
might have succeeded had they enjoyed such support! Girls’ schools
played a role too. Barbara McClintock is the only one in the group
who never attended a girls-only school.
Finally, good luck and good timing were vitally important. Pioneers like
Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, and Emmy Noether came of age just as
European universities opened their doors to women. Most of the
women—eight out of fifteen—were born within fifteen years of each
other. Eleven of the fifteen were born within a single generation:
from 1896 to 1921. Their formative years spanned the first women’s
movement, when suffrage campaigns swept North America and
Europe; World War I, when women took over men’s jobs; and the
1920s, when the social constraints on women’s behavior moderated.
Four of the women slipped into jobs vacated by men during World
War II. Will the second women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s
have a similar effect on the Nobel Prize?
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8 NOBEL PRIZE WOMEN IN SCIENCE
Given the enormous problems they faced and the important
discoveries they made, the real question to be asked about these
women is not “Why so few?” A better question is “Why so many?”
As Chien-Shiung Wu noted about women physicists, “Never before
have so few contributed so much under such trying circumstances.”
***
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FIRST
GENERATION
PIONEERS
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Are religion and science in conflict, harmony, or is the relationship best described as “complex”?

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278
Steven Shapin’s revisionist account of the scientifi c revolution of the seventeenth
century opens with a provocation: “There was no such thing as
the Scientifi c Revolution, and this is a book about it.” 1
This collection of
essays could appropriately end on a similar note. There is no such thing as
the relationship between science and religion, and this is a book about it. It
is for this reason that I have taken as my cue, in seeking an appropriate
rubric under which to compose these concluding remarks, the title of Alasdair
MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality? In part, MacIntyre’s
argument is that there is no rationality that is not the rationality of some
particular tradition, and that in every instance when an effort is made to
provide rational justifi cation for a course of moral action we need to fi gure
out which is the rationality and whose is the justice in question. It is much
the same with thinking about science and religion. In every case we need
to ascertain which scientifi c enterprise and whose religious tradition is
under consideration. Indeed, I argue in what follows that the story of
encounters between particular scientifi c ventures and specifi c religious
movements needs to be complicated in yet further ways if we are to do
justice to the complexities of the historical record rather than succumb to
the allure of comfortable typecasting. As Thomas Dixon recently put it in a
popular introduction to the whole subject, “There has certainly not been a
single and unchanging relationship between two entities called ‘science’
and ‘religion.’” 2
Further complicating the story of the relations between scientifi c enterprises
and religious traditions is thus my goal in the pages that follow. And
it builds on the widespread recognition among historians of science that the
old confl ict model, presuming inherent antagonism between science and
religion, is now moribund. This view, however, is far from universally
shared. The recent resignation of Professor Michael Reiss, an evolutionary
biologist, from the post of director of education for the Royal Society over
12
Which Science? Whose Religion?
David N. Livingstone
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 279
some comments he made on creationism is illustrative. On September 13,
2008, the Nobel Prize–winner Sir Richard Roberts of the New England Biolabs
in Ipswich, Massachusetts, supported by several other laureates, wrote
to Sir Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, demanding “that Professor
Reiss step down, or be asked to step down, as soon as possible.” “We gather
Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome,” the letter
went on. “Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of
Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences
between science and religion in a scientifi c, reasoned way?” 3
Enshrined in
this communiqué is the presumption that science and religion are inescapably
at odds, such that inceptive suspicion is necessarily thrown on the
scientifi c integrity of individuals with religious convictions. Commenting on
the whole episode in the New Scientist , Sir Harold Kroto, recipient of the
1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, observed: “There is no way that an ordained
minister—for whom unverifi ed dogma must represent a major, if not the
major, pillar in their lives can present free-thinking, doubt-based scientifi c
philosophy honestly or disinterestedly.” 4
For all the sterling efforts of historians
to dispel the myth of inevitable and persistent internecine warfare
between science and religion, it seems, the idea of inexorable confl ict—like
a resilient virus—is proving exceptionally hard to eradicate. Nevertheless,
this volume constitutes a collective contribution toward that project.
“What is the relationship between science and religion?” is a question in
need of questioning. In different ways, the essays in this collection conspire
to trouble the seeming simplicity of the assumption that the task is to map
encounters between two realms respectively labeled “science” and “religion.”
The global reach of the preceding chapters, for example, forces on us the
thought that this whole way of proceeding may be a local Western perspective
that is imperiously imposed on the rest of the world. This suspicion manifests
itself, perhaps with greatest clarity, in the analysis of science, religion, and
medicine in sub-Saharan Africa provided by Steven Feierman and John M.
Janzen (see chap. 10 ). Several things are particularly notable about their intervention.
First, their account proceeds with the understanding that the vocabulary
of “science” and “religion” as entities whose relationship is at the heart
of this inquiry constitutes, in the African case, the imposition of categories of
interpretation that do not track well indigenous understandings. As their
analysis shows in different ways, whether dealing with iron-smelting practices,
eco-sensitive land-use regulation, or the complex relationships between medical
“objects” and socio-spiritual structures, the idea of a relationship,
or boundary line, or dialogue, between “science and religion” misconstrues
the issue. Portraying these performances in the language of “science and
religion,” as though they can be tidily segregated, is to import Western categories
and infl ict them on non-Western cultures. Imperialism, we should
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280 Science and Religion around the World
note in passing, can also be of a temporal variety—namely, imposing contemporary
categories on historical episodes or engaging in the Whiggish form of
inquiry that reconstructs the past only in presentist terms. The danger here is
that a manufactured past is constructed by historians who zealously dig out
scattered “scientifi c” hints from sacred texts and thereby create, rather than
uncover, some presumed “tradition” or “stance” on “science and religion.”
Second, this is the chapter where anthropological apparatus is most
clearly brought to bear on the whole subject. This raises the intriguing
question why science and religion as belief systems in the Westernized
world are not brought so conspicuously within the arc of anthropological
scrutiny. Breaking down presumed boundaries between practice and belief,
object and meaning, Feierman and Janzen’s analysis challenges students of
science and religion in other settings to elucidate how various activities,
whether dubbed scientifi c or religious, function in the society in which they
are domesticated.
Other insights throughout this collection also disturb the presumption of
a singular relationship between science and religion. In different settings,
different traditions approach the “problematic” differently, and hence
solve—or resolve—it in different ways. In some cases there is a fusion of
what in other situations would be disaggregated; in others it is a matter of
harmonizing dissonant claims to achieve coherence; in yet others the
strategy is to allocate science and religion to different spheres and thereby to
prevent the development of any relationship, whether hostile or cordial. In
Mark Csikszentmihalyi’s chapter on early China ( chap. 7 ), for example, it
becomes clear that the ideas of natural cycles and homologies are both
religious and scientifi c conceptions at the same time. In this case the idea of
“harmonizing” science and religion is misconceived, as these convictions
inherently fuse what elsewhere might be disaggregated into the scientifi c
and the religious. In a comparable way, as Geoffrey Cantor notes in his treatment
of modern Judaism ( chap. 2 ), some positive assessments of evolutionary
transformation by nineteenth-century rabbis were at least as much to
do with their use of Kabbalistic understandings of change as with anything
specifi cally derived from Darwinian biology. Indeed, one rabbi, Abraham
Isaac HaKohen Kook, far from setting out to “reconcile” Judaism and modern
science, claimed that in adopting Darwin’s theory of evolutionary change,
naturalists were only coming to recognize a negligible part of a much larger
cosmic picture that traditional Judaism had long cherished.
Early Islamic science, it seems, stands in marked contrast to these forms
of synaptic blending. According to Ahmad Dallal ( chap. 5 ), the way in which
knowledge was classifi ed in early Islam meant that religion and natural
science occupied separate spheres of knowledge. For Abu Rayhan al-Biruni
(973–1048 CE), Qur’anic teaching and scientifi c endeavors did not impinge
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 281
on each other—a perspective reinforced by the Qur’anic exegete Fakhr
al-Din al-Razi in the twelfth century. For Dallal, these represent a segregationist
perspective that allocates cognitive authority to different domains by
assigning religious and scientifi c knowledges to their own compartments.
This partitionist strategy, of course, is not solely the prerogative of religious
believers. The Englishman Thomas Henry Huxley was an advocate of the
two-spheres model, and he used it to challenge the elision of science and
natural theology in the Newtonian world picture. At the same time, as
Bernard Lightman ( chap. 11 ) points out, he considered that true science and
true religion were “twin-sisters”—a sentiment remarkably similar to that of
John William Draper, author of the polemical History of the Confl ict between
Religion and Science (1874), who considered that “modern Science is the
l egitimate sister—indeed, it is the twin-sister—of the Reformation.” 5
In our own time, the two-spheres tactic has had committed defenders,
such as Stephen Jay Gould, whose Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the
Fullness of Life (1999) further popularized the idea of science and religion as
two Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA). A couple of years earlier he had
put forward this concordat as “the principled resolution of supposed ‘confl
ict’ or ‘warfare’ between science and religion. No such confl ict should exist
because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching
authority—and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would
like to designate as NOMA, or ‘nonoverlapping magisteria’).” 6
In his review
of this proposal, though, Michael Ruse detected that such a stratagem might
not be as irenic or benign as it at fi rst appears; Ruse suspected that Gould’s
territorial cartography drew its boundary line too far on the side of science
and not suffi ciently toward the middle ground. 7
As noted above, partition is
not even an option in some settings. Feierman and Janzen’s investigation of
sub-Saharan Africa reveals that in this context the very idea of there being
two spheres that interact—science and religion—misconceives the issue.
Even today, they can itemize a range of scientifi c-medical practitioners of
one sort or another bridging what they refer to as “the science/religion continuum”
by integrating pharmaceutical and traditional traditions of health
care management.
The essays in this collection, then, advertise complexity in sciencereligion
discourses at different points in time and in different locations. The
presumption that the issue is simply how to manage the relationship
between two realms is as problematic as the grand narrative that assumes
that science is an inescapably secularizing force. As B. V. Subbarayappa
notes ( chap. 8 ), to take just one example, the expansion of India’s scientifi ctechnological
infrastructure has gone hand in hand with the construction of
new temples and novel forms of religious observance. Such eventualities
alert us to the multifarious ways in which science-religion dialogues have
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282 Science and Religion around the World
been conducted. In places where science and religion are fused into an
indivisible entity, or indeed where speaking of “science and religion” at all is
a misconception, the conversation will differ markedly from contexts where
epistemic apartheid operates to keep science and religion in isolation from
each other. Where the aim is to harmonize the claims of faith with the
fi ndings of science, a different dynamic will be in operation, one that sharply
contrasts with situations where religious dogma imperiously stifl es scientifi
c inquiry or where scientifi c enterprises ride roughshod over spiritual
sensibilities.
COMPLICATIONS
Woven into the fabric of this volume are numerous threads that further
complicate our thinking about science and religion. Here I want to offer
four recommendations that might appropriately be mobilized to interrogate
particular episodes in the history of science and religion. For convenience,
we might consider these as a set of hypothetical imperatives: pluralize,
localize, hybridize, politicize. This does not mean that all are appropriate
tactics for making sense of every encounter; what I mean, rather, is that it is
never mistaken to ask if, say, local circumstances are critically important to
understanding the dynamic of some particular dispute, or if there are
political currents running through the claims of interlocutors.
First, the need to pluralize . The singularity that ordinarily attends public
discussion of the subject needs to be replaced by a recognition that it is
more helpful to think in terms of the encounter between science s and
religious tradition s . This realization surfaces in many of the essays in this
volume. Dallal’s account of science and early Islam, for example, identifi es
a sequence of different scientifi c enterprises—astronomy, optics, medicine,
and so on—to which Muslims contributed. Similarly, Donald Lopez’s scrutiny
of Buddhism ( chap. 9 ) carries the warning that a number of scholars
insist on the need to speak of several “Buddhisms” rather than a single
“Buddhism.” He also notes that key Buddhist fi gures engaging with European
sciences during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries came from
different Buddhist cultures and held contrasting views on which form of
Buddhism they considered to be the most authentic. At the same time he
reminds us that the label “science” carries insuffi cient semantic precision to
cover everything from the Big Bang and evolutionary theory to the development
of instruments like the microscope and spectrometer. Neither
Buddhism nor science is a unifi ed tradition. B. V. Subbarayappa makes a
comparable point. Even within the three Indic religious traditions that his
chapter encompasses, he insists that none is a monolith.
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 283
This pluralizing imperative can be readily extended. Noah Efron begins
his analysis ( chap. 1 ) of science and early Judaism with the reminder that
“there has been no single, enduring Jewish attitude toward nature and its
study.” And Geoffrey Cantor confi rms this impulse when he contrasts the
differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewry, and notes the marked
divergences between Reform and ultra-Orthodox schools. John Hedley
Brooke points out ( chap. 4 ) that even within the same Christian tradition
attitudes toward particular scientifi c theories may vary: the doctrine of creation,
for example, has been mobilized for very different purposes by Christians—
sometimes to support scientifi c stances, sometimes to oppose them. The
collective import of these delineations is to make us suspicious of the familiar
“isms” to which we all too readily resort. Buddhism, evangelicalism,
Judaism, Calvinism, and so on name faith communities that are, at best,
related by family resemblance. Agnosticism and atheism might well be
appended to the list. Trading in such intellectual shorthand risks both
s tereotyping genuine diversity and substituting bloodless abstraction for the
messiness of real history. In different locations, for example, Calvinists with
seriously similar theological convictions could react very differently to
Darwin’s theory of evolution depending on a host of other contingent
factors. 8
Indeed, the fact that Darwinism itself was differently constructed
in different settings and made to mean different things further complicates
attempts to sort out religious, cultural, political, and other responses to
evolutionary theory. 9
If pluralizing both science and religion in efforts to construct a map of
the historical terrain is desirable, so too is the range of enterprises that could
usefully be incorporated within the arc of relevant sciences. Neither the
social sciences, notably anthropology and sociology, nor what might be
called the historical-cultural sciences, such as philology or textual criticism,
ordinarily feature in standard treatments of “science and religion.” Here
and there throughout the present collection, signifi cant intersections along
these lines occur. Donald Lopez, for instance, tellingly reminds us that it
was as a result of critical developments in the science of philology that key
Buddhist texts could be studied in the original by Buddhist scholars. The
development of Sanskrit studies in Europe facilitated the opening up of the
early history of Buddhism in new ways. Indeed, there is a sense in which, as
part of the intellectual circuitry of colonial networks and imperial imagining,
the European interrogation of recovered Buddhist texts conspired to
“produce a new Buddha” (see chap. 9 ). According to Subbarayappa, it also
facilitated Europe’s encounter with Indian scientifi c knowledge in medical
and alchemical treatises, notably in the work of P. C. Ray.
The need to pluralize goes hand in hand with a second desideratum : the
value of localizing science-religion encounters and placing them in their
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geographical setting. Indeed, the salience of geography to the entire enterprise
of rethinking global science and religion tellingly manifests itself in the
titles of various preceding chapters. 10 Mark Csikszentmihalyi, for example,
organizes his contribution by region—China—and discusses a range of
religious traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism—within that geographical
space ( chap. 7 ). The different relationships these different religions
sustained with natural science, and indeed with the imperial state, highlights
something of the geopolitics of the whole subject. Again, Feierman and Janzen
bound their study of sub-Saharan Africa by linguistic geography—
namely, by dwelling on those areas of eastern, central, and southern Africa
speaking variants of Bantu. More generally, the number of geographical
modifi ers that are attached to religious nouns are considerable: French
rabbis, American Jews, Egyptian Muslims, Ottoman medreses, Indian spirituality,
Irish monasteries, Scottish Calvinists, British evangelicals, English
Anglicans, Japanese Buddhists, and so on. These characterizations alert us to
the role of geographical location in the constitution of local traditions. Thus
Geoffrey Cantor reminds us that the lineaments of any particular Jewish
engagement with scientifi c knowledge depend “greatly on local factors, such
as the level of discrimination against Jews” (see chap. 2 ). As for early Islamic
science, Dallal emphasizes that Arabic astronomy developed differently in
different settings, with conspicuous divergences between an eastern Maragha
school and developments in North Africa. The same is also true of the evolution
of modern atheism. If there are geographies of belief, so too are there
spaces of unbelief. As Lightman observes, the fate of atheism has differed
from national context to national context. In part, of course, this is because
there is a social, as well as intellectual, history of unbelief. Over the years
atheists, and proponents of heterodoxy more generally, have had to negotiate
their way around legal sanction of one sort or another, and their fortunes
have been contingent on the degree to which they could become socially
acceptable. Considered seditious and subversive in Newton’s time, atheists
were later paraded by Enlightenment radicals in France as clear-thinking
rational fi gures battling against the dark forces of superstition and prejudice.
In recent times, the pattern of atheist commitment has differed between, say,
Russia and the United States in response to contrasting ideologies and the
differential role accorded to the idea of a state church. The geography of religion,
obviously, goes hand in hand with the geography of secularization.
What is also clear from the foregoing analyses are the different spatial
scales at which the location of science and religion may be analyzed. At one
scale of operations, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu ( chap. 6 ) considers recent
Islamic encounters with science within the context of the Ottoman Empire.
At another he makes it clear that science, oriental languages, and religion
were collectively taught in Islamic medreses and imperial naval and medical
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 285
schools. In the early Middle Ages, as Peter Harrison and David Lindberg’s
chapter registers ( chap. 3 ), very specifi c sites (like the monastery) served as
venues for the cultivation of mathematical arts, medicine, and calendrical
practices. In the same period, the University of Paris was a vital center of
learning and the site of controversy with the banning of Aristotle’s writings
on natural philosophy at various points in time during the thirteenth
century. Addressing the question of location, moreover, directly connects to
matters of locution. In different venues different things may be said, and
heard, by speakers and auditors alike. Elsewhere I have explored the significance
of place in controversial cases where interlocutors paid the price for
saying the wrong thing in the wrong place. 11 The geologist Alexander
Winchell, who was dismissed from his position at Vanderbilt University in
1878, did not succeed in his self-imposed effort to refrain from “the utterance
of opinions which I supposed were disapproved of by the offi cers of
the University.” 12 His views on human origins rubbed the local Methodist
fraternity the wrong way. In this volume, Lightman reminds us that in certain
places eighteenth-century atheists and materialists feared persecution
if they spoke openly. Such circumstances redraw attention to the importance
of locating encounters between science and religion in specifi c places
at particular times.
If localizing the relationships between religious traditions and scientifi c
enterprises allows the disorderliness of history to triumph over theoretical
prescription, it also brings into focus the signifi cance of what might appropriately
be called hybridization . Many of the stories told in this collection
draw attention to cross-cultural syntheses of one sort or another. Chinese
science, Csikszentmihalyi tells us, developed what he calls hybrid astronomies;
during the fi fteenth century, the Qing dynasty’s astronomical instruments
in Bejing included an ecliptic armilla that had been designed by the
Flemish Jewish missionary Père Ferdinand Verbiest. Buddhism brought
Indian and Tibetan traditions into China, and the arrival of the Abrahamic
religions heralded the integration of indigenous and Western systems of
science. Again, early Jewish science changed in response to the different
host environments within which it was cultivated and to shifting Islamic or
Christian infl uences. Later, as Cantor notes, Jewish science was shaped by
the relations local Jewish communities sustained with the host culture.
İhsanoğlu’s chapter shows how Islamic astronomy and medicine were
infl uenced by the presence of Jewish scholars taking refuge in the Ottoman
Empire. It also includes the intriguing suggestion that the idea of a confl ict
between science and religion was introduced into Islam from the Christian
West through such events as the publication of a Turkish translation of
Draper’s History of the Confl ict between Religion and Science , which called
forth critical commentary from Ahmed Midhat, and the controversy
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surrounding the pro-Darwin statements advanced by Edwin Lewis at the
Syrian Protestant College in Beirut. 13
In India, the Hellenistic astronomy of fi gures like Ptolemy was synthesized
with Vedic astrology to facilitate zodiac readings necessary for the
proper performance of rituals and festivals. Similarly, the eleventh-century
Islamic scholar, al-Biruni, incorporated Hindu astronomy into his writings,
while in the thirteen and fourteenth centuries, according to Subbarayappa,
Greek Hippocratic medicine was synthesized with Hindu medical knowledge.
During the European Renaissance, as Harrison and Lindberg remind
us, Christian thinkers debated the value of Aristotelianism for their approach
to the natural world. Christian missionaries in sub-Saharan Africa played the
intriguing role of disenchanting African “folk” medical customs by castigating
them as pagan, fi rst, and then re-enchanting medical practices
through the integration of prayer and other spiritual exercises into hospital
treatment. As Feierman and Janzen tellingly note, this was a project in the
secularization of health care as a prelude to resacralizing it in a Christian key.
In missionary contexts, Brooke makes clear, the advancement of scientifi c
knowledge often depended on creative relationships with indigenous knowledge
systems. As he points out, several Baptist missionaries in India sought
to foster dialogue between European and local ways of knowing by teaching
Sanskrit science side by side with European science. Similar patterns are
discernible elsewhere too, not least in Africa, where Swiss missionaries
working in entomology and botany engaged in a process of mutual knowledge
exchange with indigenous Africans. Focusing on the work of HenriAlexandre
Junod, who arrived in Mozambique in 1889, Patrick Harries has
shown something of how he “recognized both the different ways indigenous
people comprehended and gave meaning to nature and the ways in which
they contributed to his knowledge,” even though he remained convinced of
the superiority of Western knowledge regimes. 14
As with the natural world, of course, intellectual hybridism has not
always been considered fertile. Missionary endeavors are a case in point: in
such contexts synthesis has frequently been branded syncretism. But this
only serves to underscore the productive role of religious heterodoxy in
scientifi c history. 15 The Unitarianism of Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestley
is illustrative. As Brooke points out, it was their concern to cultivate a
rationalized Christianity that fostered both social radicalism and a strongly
proscientifi c outlook. Not only do such maneuvers defy the easy bipolarity of
doctrinal orthodoxy or unbelieving skepticism, but they underscore the
contingency of theological labeling: convictions dubbed heterodox in one
place and time may acquire the benediction of conservative orthodoxy—or
vice versa—in others. Harrison and Lindberg, for example, compellingly
show how atomism, at one point deemed to display atheistic tendencies,
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 287
could later be staged as a friend, not a foe, of Christianity and certainly more
hospitable than Aristotelian matter theory.
Hybridism, of course, steals into intellectual circulation in other ways
too, for example, through acts of translation. For translation is never simply
transmission; it is transformation. As Marwa Elshakry has pointed out,
modern science translations into Arabic have been freighted with cultural
politics. The fact that there was no specifi c Arabic term for the word “species”
made translation of Darwin’s Origin anything but straightforward;
the lack of a precise Arabic equivalent for the term “evolution” only compounded
the problem. Choosing whether to refashion older terms or to
make up new ones had hybridizing implications for intellectual exchange. 16
In the present collection, Ahmad Dallal points out that by translating Greek
works into Arabic, Islamic scholars “did more than simply preserve the
Greek scientifi c legacy”—they brought about a signifi cant Islamization of
science (see chap. 5 ). During the colonial period in India, European scientifi
c ideas and practices were not introduced into India through a smooth
process of diffusion. Rather, they were domesticated to local needs, not least
in the work of Raja Rammohun Roy, who remained Hindu to the core of his
being even while championing the introduction of various European-style
natural sciences into the curriculum. 17 All of this challenges the assumption
that modern European science simply diffused across the globe. Instead, as
Kapil Raj has shown, intercultural encounters were of crucial signifi cance
for the growth of knowledge about botany, cartography, terrestrial surveying,
and linguistics. 18
Other instances of the hybrid intertwining of different scientifi c and religious
traditions could readily be elaborated. The point is that the collective
import of cultivating a sensitivity toward the hybrid, the amalgamated, and
the synthetic is that it subverts the idea of science or religion as “pure” enterprises.
Their “impurity,” moreover, alerts us to the wider context of “science”
and “religion,” and thus to the ways in which they may be mobilized in the
interests of cultural politics . Lopez notes how certain versions of Buddhism
were adopted by some people in search of a scientifi c religion as an alternative
to traditional theism. In early-modern Europe, as Harrison and Lindberg
show, Newtonian science and religion were deployed as resources in the
service of monarchy and moderatism against republicanism and radicalism.
“Newton’s divinely controlled mechanical universe,” Lightman writes,
“became the model for the triumph of the new Whig constitution and
for the liberal Christians who supported it” (see chap. 11 ). And Brooke
points out that Joseph Priestley thought certain Christian doctrines were
indispensable for social control. All this serves to remind us that “science
and religion” are always embedded in wider socio-political networks and
their relationship is conditioned by the prevailing cultural arrangements.
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Precisely the same is no less true of “agnosticism.” Coined by Thomas
Henry Huxley, this term enabled him to place himself somewhere between
traditional faith and extremist forms of unbelief that circulated among
d isreputable working-class radicals.
Science and religion have served as cultural resources in other ways too.
Their role in the maintenance of cultural identity, for example, is not insignifi
cant. A critical distinction can be drawn between confessional believers
and those resorting to religion simply as a marker of ethnic belonging.
Geoffrey Cantor’s chapter is illustrative for its treatment of atheistic Jews
who align themselves culturally with the Jewish community but possess no
specifi cally religious convictions. Complications of this stripe crucially
infl ect our understanding of the role of Judaism in scientifi c enterprises.
Such circumstances point to the role of the iconic in elucidating encounters
between science and religion. Some episodes achieve symbolic signifi cance
and are staged as emblematic of wider intellectual currents. The WilberforceHuxley
confrontation in Oxford in 1860, the Tyndall furor at the 1874 British
Association meeting in Belfast, the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in
1925, even the name of Charles Darwin have come to symbolize conservatism,
skepticism, intransigence, far-sightedness, or atheism—depending on
how they are represented. Here historical fact concedes to cultural politics.
Attending to the place of symbolism modulates the interpretation of science
and religion in critical ways. In China, for example, Csikszentmihalyi
reminds us that the project of adapting indigenous belief to scientifi c
demands ran the risk of being seen as capitulating to the W esternization of
values. In a comparable way, as Noah Efron makes clear, natural knowledge
was sometimes seen by Jews as embodying foreign wisdom, a view that
could breed an attitude of suspicion about science and make it “unseemly.”
Greater sensitivity to the symbolic signifi cance of pronouncements and performances
would enrich our understanding of the long history of science
and religion in far-reaching ways.
FLASH POINTS AND TRADING ZONES
If this collection of essays complicates received wisdom about “science and
religion” by challenging monochrome portrayals of the relationship as
i nherently pugilistic or irenic, it also identifi es what I want to call fl ash
points and trading zones. By the former I mean those matters—different
from tradition to tradition, from place and place, from time to time—that
have been seen to matter in religion’s encounter with science. Identifying
some of these shows how variegated the intellectual landscape has been. By
trading zones I refer to those arenas of engagement where the interface
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between science and religion has facilitated fruitful intellectual exchange.
The term “trading zone” has been used in anthropological studies to
describe something of the processes by which different cultures have been
able to exchange commodities despite their differences in language, social
relations, and so on. It has been deployed in studies of science and technology
to explain how trading can take place even when the partners, as
Peter Galison puts it, “ascribe utterly different signifi cance to the objects
being exchanged.” 19
So far as fl ash points are concerned, the list of potential candidates is a
lengthy one, and a few examples must suffi ce. In Britain and the United
States, a persistent though not universal source of contention has centered
on questions of design, teleology, and natural theology. As Lightman’s chapter
shows, Richard Dawkins’s recent The God Delusion , for example, largely
rotates around the conviction that Darwin’s theory of evolution shattered
“the illusion of design” by showing that apparent purpose is nothing more
than the product of humdrum, natural causes (see chap. 11 ). This, of course,
is only the last in a long sequence of scientifi c assaults on teleology. French
advocates of a more radical enlightenment in the eighteenth century, like
Diderot and d’Holbach, attacked the Newtonian moderates and pushed for
an all-embracing naturalism. Their stance stood in marked contrast to Newton’s
Unitarian defense of a purposive cosmic order and Voltaire’s commitment
to providential deism. Later, as Brooke notes, nineteenth-century
fi gures like William Whewell were of the opinion that scientifi c analysis
could not proceed without invoking fi nal causes. Design was also an issue
for Islamic encounters with scientifi c claims. Because traditional Kalam
arguments from design remained important, as İhsanoğlu points out, what
he calls the “more ideological forms” of Darwinism and materialism, alongside
philosophical positivism and social Darwinism, brought discord. By
contrast, arguments from design are only conspicuous in Jewish works by
their relative absence. At the same time, different stances could be adopted
within traditions. The fl ourishing of natural theology in seventeenth- century
England represented one Christian response to what were perceived to be
the dangers of a mechanistic atomism; by contrast, later writers as diverse
as Thomas Chalmers and John Henry Newman did not hesitate to identify
theological reservations about the teleological argument. Newman never
cared for the design argument because he was never able to see its logical
force; Chalmers thought it could never lead to Christian theism. 20
Other fl ash points could readily be elaborated. In certain religious traditions
the question of origins has loomed large; in others this has not been
the case. In contrast to Christian and Islamic anxieties over the implications
of evolution, not least for understanding the nature of the image of God and
the dignity of the human species, Hindus generally displayed much less
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distress about Darwinism, because their immanentist philosophy avoided
the dualism between creator and creation (as noted in chap. 8 ). The links
between natural philosophy and the tradition of natural magic were more
troublesome for some traditions than others. For Jews, Efron reminds us,
Talmudic bans on magic were critically important, and later Maimonides
sought to undermine astrology. In traditions united by a canonical text, the
development of the science of textual criticism could create major diffi –
culties for orthodox believers. In other times, places, and settings, different
issues dominated the science-religion skyline. Among these we might refer
to the questioning of divine miracle by the idea of omnipresent natural law;
the subversion of free will in deterministic projects that confl ated mind and
brain; the challenges that new theories of matter posed to some understandings
of the Eucharist; the materialistic ethos of certain strands of scientifi c
reductionism; the use of scientifi c research to support various forms of
eugenics. All these—and doubtless many more—have been fl ash points for
certain groups in certain places at certain times in science’s dialogue with
religion. This realization forces us to acknowledge the complexities of
science-religion narratives and should curb any inclination to universalize
particulars. Because Copernicanism was problematic in parts of Christian
Europe, for example, is no reason to presume that it was universally troublesome
for religious communities. According to İhsanoğlu, heliocentrism
caused no comparable stir among Ottoman scholars when it was reported in
Arabic translation.
Flash points in one mode, of course, may surface as trading zones in
another. If their commitment to teleology made some religious believers
resistant to certain forms of scientifi c explanation, natural theology in
different settings could act as a stimulus to scientifi c inquiry. The idea of a
divinely designed natural world was foundational to the work on natural
history conducted by the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers John
Ray and William Derham. For them, the belief that living things were
divinely adapted to their natural environments fostered their inquiries into
plant and animal life. The treatises produced by fi gures like these were
thus both theological and scientifi c at the same time. The doctrine of
humanity’s fall from grace and the theology of original sin could likewise
serve as a trading ground for scientifi c and theological exchange. Advocates
of the new experimental philosophy of the sixteenth and seventeenth
c enturies frequently took with great seriousness the adverse implications
of these particular Judeo-Christian doctrines for human rationality—what
Harrison and Lindberg judiciously call “the wounding of reason.” Recognition
of this fallen condition kindled a sense that mechanisms needed to be
put in place to overcome the epistemic consequences of original corruption
and its legacy of human depravity. 21 New observational instruments,
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 291
measuring devices, experimental apparatus, and warranting procedures
were all espoused in hopes of introducing greater rigor into knowledgeacquiring
enterprises. In this trading zone, productive exchanges could take
place between theological thinking about the epistemic implications of fallen
humanity and technological developments in scientifi c instrumentation.
The belief of the monotheistic religions that all humankind have
descended from Adam has also fostered intellectual traffi c between theological
conviction and scientifi c inquiry. The search for Adam’s language,
efforts to elucidate human racial differentiation, whether the human race is
of monogenetic or polygenetic origin, the relationship between the world
chronologies of different regional cultures, how emerging archeological
artifacts should be interpreted—stances on all of these subjects were hammered
out on the terrain of humankind’s Adamic ancestry. 22 The character
of reading practices has also been a ground on which science and religion
have traded wares. According to Harrison and Lindberg, shifts in how the
book of scripture was read had a critical effect on ways of reading the book
of nature during the early-modern development of science. The demise of
allegorical approaches to Bible reading, they suggest, had subsidiary consequences
for the tradition of interpreting the natural order through emblems
and symbols. In this case literalism, which in a later era could disrupt science’s
relationship with theology, had a positive impact on the development
of scientifi c theory. 23
Such zones of exchange, of course, are not restricted to Judeo-Christian
traditions. The eliding of certain strands in Buddhism with various forms of
psychoanalysis (in the wake of the contributions by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
on Zen) and with aspects of modern physics (such as Fritjof Capra’s The Tao
of Physics ) are cases in point, as Lopez’s chapter illustrates. Indeed it has
been claimed that Buddhist philosophy exemplifi es the operation of scientifi
c method in the realm of psychological self-scrutiny. The Dalai Lama, for
example, has warmly embraced scientifi c achievements, thereby legitimizing
a transfer space between religion and modern science. Zonal traffi cking
is also part of the story of science and religion in the Vedic traditions.
Metaphysics and mathematics, for example, engaged in cross-border trading
with the concept of zero serving as tender while, as Subbarayappa shows,
the study of eclipses facilitated the development of astronomical techniques
for Vedic astrological purposes. More recently, in his pioneering work in
physics and physiology, J. C. Bose believed he could see manifestations of
the Hindu idea of unity. Commerce in such zones, of course, may not always
have dealt in the currency of explanation, but they certainly have made space
available for empirical advancements.
Despite widespread reports of secularization in the West, a number
of new contact zones have been opened up in the wake of a series of
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scientifi c-metaphysical developments during the twentieth century. Brooke
advertises several of these in the closing pages of his chapter. The principle
of indeterminacy (arising from quantum mechanics), the Big Bang
cosmology, and the exceptionally constricted range of conditions necessary
for carbon-based life have all been used as resources to underwrite an antideterministic
defense of free will, the reassertion of the doctrine of creation,
and the revisiting of teleology through the idea of cosmic fi ne-tuning. And
the list could be further extended. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit
paleontologist, controversially extended the principle of evolutionary transformation
into the spiritual realm with his conception of the noosphere as a
kind of phenomenological layer of human collective consciousness that
evolved after the geosphere and biosphere, and his claim that the Omega
Point is the ultimate goal toward which all creation is moving. 24 Wolfhart
Pannenberg and others, such as T. F. Torrance, have—no less contentiously—
fastened upon the idea of fi elds of force in modern physics as a resource for
thinking about the nature of God. 25 In these proposals and the ensuing
debates, modern fi eld theory serves as the territory on which modern theology
seeks to engage contemporary natural science.
TENSIONS AND POLARITIES
Science and Religion around the World delightfully complicates popular
narratives of “the relationship between science and religion.” It pluralizes
the entire enterprise, identifi es cross-cutting themes, highlights the role of
cultural politics, and attends to difference and divergence from time to time
and place to place. It also discloses the wide range of issues that have been
the focal point of contention between religious believers and scientifi c practitioners,
as well as zones of contact that have opened up new channels of
communication and intellectual commerce. But this does not mean that
there is no further work to be done. A sequence of tensions and polarities
remain that should form agenda items for future investigation.
In my view, a tension between the particular and the general still persists
in accounts of the historical relations between science and religion. When
grand narratives are deconstructed by tradition, period, and place, there
remains the problem of ascertaining how very specifi c case studies of individuals
or communities relate to broader currents of thought and action.
Just how to use a biography or local study without underclaiming or
overclaiming remains a diffi culty. Figuring out the way in which Belfast
Presbyterians responded to the challenge of Darwin in the 1870s—to take
one example—tells us something both about Belfast and about Presbyterians.
It tells us something about two scales of inquiry—local and global.
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Exactly what it tells about each is no less easy to discern than ascertaining
how these different scales of operation relate to one another. How to handle
the differences between intellectual leaders and popular audiences also
remains a diffi culty. As Brooke makes clear, it is important to distinguish
between “opinions formulated by an intellectual elite and by relatively
unsophisticated members of the public.” 26 And at the same time, critical
differences may be discernible between different kinds of elites. Jewish
understandings of science are not restricted to the commentaries of rabbis;
the stances adopted by practicing Jewish scientists also constitute a critical
part of the story. These are differences that make a difference, for they disturb
any presumption that it is possible to identify the Jewish, or Christian,
or Hindu, or Muslim reaction to, say, Darwinian evolution, or Freudian
psychoanalysis, or Einsteinian relativity.
A careful reading of these essays will also serve to underscore the fact that
science and religion may converge on the ground of practice as much as
theory. There is much said in the different chapters about ideas, theories,
ideologies, and theologies. But from time to time, the critical importance of
performance and practice also shines through. Think of how metallurgical
skills in China were crucial to the construction of ancient bells used for
religious purposes. In China, too, musical technology was mobilized to
produce instruments that were integral to the practices of geomancy and
other ritual performances. In early Judaism, knowledge about animals was
a combination of observation and ritual practice. In sub-Saharan Africa
certain “practices, at once religious and medical, were seen as an intervention
involving supernatural forces and natural processes” (see chap. 10 ).
Among the Indic religions, the performance of sacrifi ce required precise
determination of timing, which, in turn, stimulated astronomical inquiry,
while the construction of sacrifi cial altars was intimately bound up with
developments in Vedic geometry. The production of astronomical devices
for determining the sacred direction in Islam, the cultivation of science as
itself a godly pursuit in early-modern England, and the use of mathematics
for the calendrical calculation of holy dates are just a few additional spheres of
practice in which science and religion have come together. Collectively they
alert us to the performative dimensions of both science and religion—an
association that is too often forgotten.
Finally, understanding the dynamic of science and religion runs the spectrum
from what I would call religious science to the science of religion. In
spaces where religion tends to dominate the conversation, adjectival science
surfaces: Torah science, Hindu medicine, Islamic astronomy, creation
science, Catholic psychology. Where science governs the discourse, religion
tends to be explained by science: the anthropology of religion, the search for
the God gene, the evolution of spirituality, the economics of communal
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294 Science and Religion around the World
faith, the neurochemistry of religious experience. 27 And yet it would be easy
to make unwarranted assumptions at either end of the spectrum, as two
concluding cases will illustrate.
The development of a self-conscious Calvinist science at the Free University
of Amsterdam during the 1930s, in the wake of Abraham Kuper’s
vision, constituted a concerted attempt to conduct scientifi c research on
Calvinist principles. But this did not mean confrontation with the conventional
science of the time. Ironically, the Calvinist worldview of key
members of the faculty permitted a certain freedom of scientifi c inquiry
that facilitated the “acceptance of mainstream science in Dutch Calvinist
circles.” 28 Through their work on such subjects as radioactivity and the
age of the earth, the philosophy of physics and causality, quantum mechanics
and the nature of reality, they sought to keep science and religion
in tandem.
At the opposite end of the continuum, it was when anthropologically
inclined scholars brought religion within the sphere of scientifi c explanation
and treated it as a dependent variable that confl icts arose—as in
Ernest Renan’s portrayal of Islam as inherently unsuited to the cultivation
of science. Among British anthropologists during the latter part of the
nineteenth century, the anthropology of religion could be recruited to bolster
what Lightman calls “a new tradition of secular theorizing about religion
without reference to the truth-content of its claims” (see chap. 12 ).
And yet this was not universally the case. William Robertson Smith’s historical
anthropology of sacrifi ce, totemism, and exogamy, despite the assault
to which he was subjected by his fellow churchmen, only served to
reinforce his belief that through his excavations into the archeology of
primitive religion he was unearthing the “fi rst germs” of “eternal” theological
“truths.” 29
Counterintuitive stances like these usefully stand as emblematic of the
argument that I have sought to marshal in this epilogue. They subvert
expectations, they localize encounters, they resist stereotype, and they
inspire the conviction that the misplaced certainties of presumption are not
to be preferred to the messy contingencies of history.
Notes
1. Steven Shapin, The Scientifi c Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1996), 1 .
2. Thomas Dixon, Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2008), 3 .
3. Priya Shetty and Andy Coghlan, “Royal Society Fellows Turn on Director over
Creationism” New Scientist , September 16, 2008. Available online at: www.newscientist.
com/article/dn14744-royal-society-fellows-turn-on-director-over-creationism.
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Which Science? Whose Religion? 295
html . The full text of the letter appears on Richard Dawkins’s website: http://
richarddawkins.net/articles/3119 .
4. Quoted in Shetty and Coghlan, “Royal Society Fellows Turn on Director.”
5. John William Draper, History of the Confl ict between Religion and Science (London:
Henry King, 1875), 353 .
6. Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (March
1997): 16–22 .
7. Michael Ruse, “Review of Stephen Jay Gould’s ‘Rocks of Ages,’” Global Spiral
(July 1999), available online at: www.metanexus.net/magazine/ArticleDetail/
tabid/68/id/3044/Default.aspx .
8. I have discussed this in “Darwinism and Calvinism: The Belfast-Princeton
Connection,” Isis 83 (1992): 408–28 , and “Science, Region, and Religion: The Reception
of Darwinism in Princeton, Belfast, and Edinburgh,” in Disseminating Darwinism:
The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender , ed. Ronald L. Numbers and John
Stenhouse, 7–38 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) .
9. See David N. Livingstone, “Science, Text and Space: Thoughts on the Geography
of Reading,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (2005): 391–401 .
10. My thoughts on the subject of the historical geographies of science are developed
in David N. Livingstone, Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientifi c
Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) .
11. David N. Livingstone, “Science, Site, and Speech: Scientifi c Knowledge and
the Spaces of Rhetoric,” History of the Human Sciences 20 (2007): 71–98 . See also
Diarmid A. Finnegan, “Exeter-Hall Science and Evangelical Rhetoric in mid-Victorian
London,” Journal of Victorian Culture 16 (2011): in press.
12. Quoted in Leonard Alberstadt, “Alexander Winchell’s Preadamites—A Case
for Dismissal from the Vanderbilt University,” Earth Sciences History 13 (1994):
97–112 .
13. See also Marwa Elshakry, “The Gospel of Science and American Evangelicalism
in Late Ottoman Beirut,” Past and Present 197 (August 2007): 173–214 .
14. Patrick Harries, Butterfl ies and Barbarians: Swiss Missionaries and Systems of
Knowledge in South-East Africa (Oxford: James Currey, 2007), 5 .
15. See John Hedley Brooke and Ian Maclean, eds., Heterodoxy in Early Modern
Science and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) .
16. Marwa S. Elshakry, “Knowledge in Motion: The Cultural Politics of Modern
Science Translations in Arabic,” Isis 99 (2008): 701–30 .
17. See also Deepak Kumar, Science and the Raj, 1857–1905 (Delhi: Oxford University
Press, 1995) .
18. Kapil Raj, Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of
Knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650–1900 (London: Palgrave, 2007) .
19. Peter Galison, Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1997), 783 .
20. See the discussions in Michael Ruse, Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have
a Purpose? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004) .
21. Peter Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2008) .
22. I have discussed this in Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion and the Politics of
Human Origins (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) .
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296 Science and Religion around the World
23. See also Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural
Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) .
24. For a discussion of this and comparable evolutionary eschatologies, see Ernst
Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope: Man’s Concept of the Future from the Early Fathers
to Teilhard de Chardin (New York: Doubleday, 1966) .
25. See Max Jammer, Einstein and Physics: Physics and Theology (Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1999) .
26. For a history of popular responses to science and religion, see Ronald L.
Numbers, “Science and Christianity among the People: A Vulgar History,” in Science
and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 11–38 .
27. A useful brief overview of such contemporary projects is “Where Angels No
Longer Fear to Tread: Scientists Try to Explain Religion,” Economist , March 22, 2008.
28. Abraham C. Flipse, “Against the Science-Religion Confl ict: The Genesis of a
Calvinist Science Faculty in the Netherlands in the Early Twentieth Century,” Annals
of Science 65 (2008): 363–91, on 363 .
29. William Robertson Smith, “Sacrifi ce,” Encyclopaedia Britannica , 9th ed., 24
vols. (Edinburgh, 1875–1889), 9:138.
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3
1
A Passion for Discovery
“History is the essence of innumerable biographies.”
Thomas Carlyle, History
WHY SO FEW? Why have only ten women won Nobel
Prizes in science when more than five hundred men have done so?
Ten out of several hundred—only two percent of all Nobel Prize scientists
are women.
The fifteen women portrayed here are Nobel-class scientists.
None is a typical, everyday researcher. They all either won a Nobel
Prize in science or played a critical role in discoveries that won a
Nobel for someone else.
Many of these women faced enormous obstacles. They were confined to
basement laboratories and attic offices. They crawled behind furniture
to attend science lectures. They worked in universities for
decades without pay as volunteers—in the United States as late as
the 1970s. Science was supposed to be tough, rigorous, and rational;
women were supposed to be soft, weak, and irrational. As a consequence,
women scientists were—by definition—unnatural beings.
Sandra Harding, writing about women in science from a feminist
perspective, concluded that “women have been more systematically
excluded from doing serious science than from performing any other
social activity except, perhaps, frontline warfare.”
No sooner did these women overcome one barrier than another
cropped up. Pioneers like the mathematician Emmy Noether were
not only legally barred from universities, they were also excluded
from the academic high schools that prepared men for university
educations. Until the 1920s, most European high schools for girls
were finishing schools. Women who wanted university training had
to hire tutors to learn mathematics, science, Latin, and Greek—all
required subjects for entrance to a university. The father of physicist
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4 NOBEL PRIZE WOMEN IN SCIENCE
Lise Meitner refused to hire a tutor until she had completed teachers’
training school. The dictatorial father of Rita Levi-Montalcini
prevented her from obtaining an academic education until she was
twenty years old; later she discovered the nerve growth factor, which
may play a vital role in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Both
Meitner and Levi-Montalcini started their scientific careers a decade
behind their male counterparts. Once in universities, women like
Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, and Meitner worked for years without
salaries or positions.
In the United States, the situation was different but no less
difficult. American universities admitted women as students but
refused to hire them as researchers. Women scientists were supposed
to teach in women’s colleges or in coeducational universities; they
were not to do research. Expected to remain single, they needed
husbands to give them access to research laboratories. Yet until the
Federal Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, state laws and university
rules banned hiring wives of university employees. These rules were
devastating for women scientists. Even today, 70 percent of American
women physicists are married to scientists. As a result, the
academic landscape was littered with husband-and-wife teams in
which the man had the salary, job security, and prestige, and the
woman assisted him at his pleasure. Universities have dealt with the
issue of married women researchers for a relatively short time.
Gerty Cori, who studied carbohydrate metabolism, enzymes,
and children’s diseases caused by enzyme deficiencies, did not become
a professor until the year she won a Nobel Prize. Maria
Goeppert Mayer, who developed the shell model of the atomic
nucleus, worked for decades as a volunteer at some of North America’s
most prestigious universities. When Barbara McClintock was
president-elect of the Genetics Society of America, she quit science
for a time because she could not get a university job. Gertrude Elion
spent almost a decade studying to be a secretary and working in temporary,
marginal jobs before she landed a position as a research
chemist. Then she helped develop a new approach to drug-making.
Even the most successful women scientists faced ridicule and
hostility. Rosalind Franklin—caricatured as “Rosy” in James
Watson’s best-seller The Double Helix—was a commanding leader.
But Watson and Francis Crick used her experimental evidence—
without her knowledge, permission, or credit—to explain the molecular
structure of DNA. After her death, they won the Nobel Prize.
Irène Joliot-Curie, the daughter of Marie Curie, was a teenage heroine
of World War I. Yet after she won a Nobel Prize for discovering
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A Passion for Discovery 5
artificial radioactivity, the American press vilified her for her support
of the Soviet Union following World War II.
If a woman formed a long-term scientific partnership with a
man, the scientific community assumed that he was the brains of the
team and she was the brawn. Medical scientists concluded that
Rosalind Yalow’s male collaborator was the creative force behind
their discovery of the radioimmunoassay, a phenomenally sensitive
test that revolutionized endocrinology and the treatment of hormonal
disorders like diabetes. When her partner died, Yalow had to
establish her reputation all over again.
In addition to professional discrimination, these women suffered
their share of racial and religious discrimination, as well as poverty,
war, substance abuse, physical handicaps, and illness. Marie Curie,
Irène Joliot-Curie, Dorothy Hodgkin, and Gerty Cori worked for
decades despite life-threatening and crippling diseases. World War II
destroyed Lise Meitner’s career. Rita Levi-Montalcini began her research
in her bedroom, hidden from the Nazis. Gertrude Elion
worked her way through school during the Depression and quit
graduate school without a Ph.D. Chien-Shiung Wu, the experimental
physicist who overturned the fundamental law of parity, could
not get a research job during World War II because of discrimination
against Asians—even though her country was allied with the
United States. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a graduate student when she discovered
pulsars, later worked part-time while raising a family.
In the face of such obstacles, what sustained these women?
What prevented them from giving up, as many other women
scientists did?
First, they adored science. They triumphed because they were
having a wonderful time. Their hobbies ranged from music to mountain
climbing, books, gourmet cooking, church, and childrearing. But
it was science that illuminated their lives. Words like “pleasure,”
“joy,” and “satisfaction” permeate their speech. They survived in science
because they were passionately determined and in love with
their work.
Science thrilled them because they were making some of the
most important scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century.
Two of the greatest intellectual achievements of the century occurred
in evolution and in atomic and subatomic physics. These women
helped explain how individual characteristics are passed down
through generations of organisms and how atoms and their constituent
particles behave. They opened up new fields of science in
mathematics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, and medicine.
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6 NOBEL PRIZE WOMEN IN SCIENCE
Before Emmy Noether escaped from Nazi Germany to the
United States, she created abstract algebra, a major new field of
mathematics known in its elementary school version as “The New
Math.” Barbara McClintock revolutionized genetics several times
over as a young woman, yet molecular biologists ignored her discovery
of transposable genetic elements for decades. Dorothy Hodgkin,
an English physical chemist, pioneered the use of molecular structure
to explain biological functions by deciphering the atomic structures
of penicillin, vitamin B12, and insulin.
Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes in science, focused
scientific attention on radioactivity, the key to the atomic nucleus,
and discovered radium, the first real hope in cancer therapy. Lise
Meitner, officially retired after her escape from the Nazis, deciphered
the experiment of the century by explaining that the atomic nucleus
can split and release enormous amounts of energy. For the fission
project that she initiated and explained, her German partner received
the Nobel Prize.
Sympathetic parents and relatives were particularly influential. All of
these women, with the exception of Rosalyn Yalow, came from
professional or academic families: their fathers were architects,
engineers, physicians, dentists, lawyers, and university professors.
Yalow’s father owned a small paper and twine shop in one of New
York’s immigrant neighborhoods. Emmy Noether’s father, on the
other hand, was a prominent mathematician who nurtured his
daughter’s talent. Maria Goeppert Mayer’s father urged her to have
a career; she wanted to become the seventh-generation professor in
his family. Chien-Shiung Wu’s father was one of China’s leading
feminists. Dorothy Hodgkin and Rosalind Franklin received financial
assistance from mothers and aunts. Marie Curie and her sister
forged a pact to support each other through the university; Marie in
turn then helped her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie. In contrast, the
fathers of Levi-Montalcini and Rosalind Franklin vehemently opposed
their daughters’ aspirations. In Barbara McClintock’s family,
it was her mother who disapproved of women professors.
Religious values stressing education were critical. Jocelyn Bell Burnell
is a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, a small denomination
that has produced a disproportionate number of the world’s
great scientists. Half of the women have Jewish backgrounds. The
Jews’ commitment to learning and abstract thinking has helped men
as well as women in science; Jews number only three percent of the
United States population, but they account for approximately
twenty-seven percent of the Nobelists brought up in the United
States. Being Jewish was particularly helpful to women. Of the three
Nobel winners who were born and educated in the United States,
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A Passion for Discovery 7
two were Jews. Conversely, Catholic and Protestant America has
produced only one woman Nobel Prize winner in science: Barbara
McClintock.
Behind many of these successful women stood a man. More than half of
the women married and raised children. All but one of the husbands
supported their wives’ science, sometimes at considerable sacrifice.
Pierre Curie and Carl Cori refused prestigious job offers in leading
laboratories to further their wives’ careers. Wu and her husband had
a commuter marriage. Three prominent male physicists encouraged
a generation of English women in crystallography, including
Dorothy Hodgkin. Mathematician David Hilbert and physicist
Albert Einstein were Emmy Noether’s mentors. Joseph Mayer may
have been more of a feminist than his wife, Maria Goeppert Mayer.
Gertrude Elion’s research partnership with George Hitchings endured
for decades, as did Yalow’s with Solomon Berson. Unfortunately
for Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s career, her thesis adviser failed to
become her mentor, and she received little or no career counseling.
The importance of institutional support for women scientists is highlighted
by one remarkable fact: Two schools account for the majority of Nobel
Prizes received by American women scientists. Of the six American
women who won science Nobels, four were associated with either
Hunter College in New York City or Washington University in
St. Louis. Gertrude Elion and Rosalyn Yalow were undergraduates
at Hunter College during its heyday as a free municipal college for
New York’s brightest women. Gerty Cori and Rita Levi-Montalcini
won Nobels for research conducted at Washington University in
St. Louis, Missouri. At the time, Washington University was notably
liberal in its treatment of working women. How many more women
might have succeeded had they enjoyed such support! Girls’ schools
played a role too. Barbara McClintock is the only one in the group
who never attended a girls-only school.
Finally, good luck and good timing were vitally important. Pioneers like
Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, and Emmy Noether came of age just as
European universities opened their doors to women. Most of the
women—eight out of fifteen—were born within fifteen years of each
other. Eleven of the fifteen were born within a single generation:
from 1896 to 1921. Their formative years spanned the first women’s
movement, when suffrage campaigns swept North America and
Europe; World War I, when women took over men’s jobs; and the
1920s, when the social constraints on women’s behavior moderated.
Four of the women slipped into jobs vacated by men during World
War II. Will the second women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s
have a similar effect on the Nobel Prize?
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8 NOBEL PRIZE WOMEN IN SCIENCE
Given the enormous problems they faced and the important
discoveries they made, the real question to be asked about these
women is not “Why so few?” A better question is “Why so many?”
As Chien-Shiung Wu noted about women physicists, “Never before
have so few contributed so much under such trying circumstances.”
***
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FIRST
GENERATION
PIONEERS
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