Bernard Lightman is professor of humanities at York University and a past president of the History of Science Society. Among his most recent publications are the edited collections Global Spencerism: The Communication and Appropriation of a British Evolutionist, A Companion to the History of Science, and Science Museums in Transition: Cultures of Display in Nineteenth-Century Britain and America (coedited with Carin Berkowitz). Lightman is also a general coeditor of The Correspondence of John Tyndall.
Physicist John Tyndall and his contemporaries were at the forefront of developing the cosmology of scientific naturalism during the Victorian period. They rejected all but physical laws as having any impact on the operations of human life and the universe. Contributors focus on the way Tyndall and his correspondents developed their ideas through letters, periodicals and scientific journals and challenge previously held assumptions about who gained authority, and how they attained and defended their position within the scientific community.
Although historians have suggested for some time that we move away from the assumption of a necessary clash between science and religion, the conflict narrative persists in contemporary discourse. But why? And how do we really know what people actually think about evolutionary science, let alone the many and varied ways in which it might relate to individual belief? In this multidisciplinary volume, experts in history and philosophy of science, oral history, sociology of religion, social psychology, and science communication and public engagement look beyond two warring systems of thought. They consider a far more complex, multifaceted, and distinctly more interesting picture of how differing groups along a spectrum of worldviews—including atheistic, agnostic, and faith groups—relate to and form the ongoing narrative of a necessary clash between evolution and faith. By ascribing agency to the public, from the nineteenth century to the present and across Canada and the United Kingdom, this volume offers a much more nuanced analysis of people’s perceptions about the relationship between evolutionary science, religion, and personal belief, one that better elucidates the complexities not only of that relationship but of actual lived experience.
The historical interface between science and religion was depicted as an unbridgeable conflict in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Starting in the 1970s, such a conception was too simplistic and not at all accurate when considering the totality of that relationship. This volume evaluates the utility of the “complexity principle” in past, present, and future scholarship. First put forward by historian John Brooke over twenty-five years ago, the complexity principle rejects the idea of a single thesis of conflict or harmony, or integration or separation, between science and religion. Rethinking History, Science, and Religion brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars at the forefront of their fields to consider whether new approaches to the study of science and culture—such as recent developments in research on science and the history of publishing, the global history of science, the geographical examination of space and place, and science and media—have cast doubt on the complexity thesis, or if it remains a serviceable historiographical model.
The nineteenth century witnessed a dramatic shift in the display and dissemination of natural knowledge across Britain and America, from private collections of miscellaneous artifacts and objects to public exhibitions and state-sponsored museums. The science museum as we know it—an institution of expert knowledge built to inform a lay public—was still very much in formation during this dynamic period. Science Museums in Transition provides a nuanced, comparative study of the diverse places and spaces in which science was displayed at a time when science and spectacle were still deeply intertwined; when leading naturalists, curators, and popular showmen were debating both how to display their knowledge and how and whether they should profit from scientific work; and when ideals of nationalism, class politics, and democracy were permeating the museum’s walls.
Contributors examine a constellation of people, spaces, display practices, experiences, and politics that worked not only to define the museum, but to shape public science and scientific knowledge. Taken together, the chapters in this volume span the Atlantic, exploring private and public museums, short and long-term exhibitions, and museums built for entertainment, education, and research, and in turn raise a host of important questions, about expertise, and about who speaks for nature and for history.