Huxley's Church and Maxwell's Demon
From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science
University of Chicago Press 2014
New Books in Biblical StudiesNew Books in Christian StudiesNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network February 10, 2015 Carla Nappi
“Show me how it doos.”
Such were the words of a young James Clerk “Dafty” Maxwell (1831-79), an inquisitive child prone to punning who grew into a renowned physicist known for his work on electromagnetism. After learning to juggle and conducting experiments on falling cats, Maxwell went on to have an intense conversion experience that brought him to evangelicalism. The young T.H. Huxley (1825-95), on the other hand, busied himself at “delivering sermons from tree stumps” as a young boy, before joining the navy, studying jellyfish, eventually launching an assault against the Anglican Church and gaining world renown as the biologist who was “Darwin’s Bulldog.”
Matthew Stanley’s wonderful new book introduces us to Maxwell and Huxley as they embodied theistic and naturalistic science, respectively, in Victorian Britain. Moving well beyond the widespread assumption that modern science and religion are and always have been fundamentally antithetical to one another, Huxley’s Church & Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (University of Chicago Press, 2014) offers a history of scientific naturalism that illustrates the deep and fundamental commonalities between positions on the proper practice of science that began to diverge relatively late and in very particular historical circumstances. Beginning at a point when Maxwell’s theistic science was the “standard” and Huxley was the “challenger,” and ending at the point when Huxley “won,” Stanley goes on to guide readers through some of the major topics of debate that characterized Victorian science (including the nature of miracles and of consciousness, the limits of science, the origin of the universe, the question of intellectual freedom, the morality of education, the possibility of free will) to show the gradual divergence of perspectives that were always rooted in concerns about scientific practice, and to consider the ramifications of this history for how we understand and conduct debates over Intelligent Design and related issues today.