Fragments of Faith: John Tyndall's Transcendental Materialism and the Victorian Conflict Between Religion and Science

Dissertation, Drew University (1988)
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Abstract

John Tyndall, an Irish-British natural philosopher and educator, was a typical Victorian agnostic and cultural critic. However, he showed much stronger religious and idealistic tendencies than have been recognized. One can notice fragments of faith scattered throughout his owrk, particularly Fragments of Science. His deference to Protestant piety on the one hand, and his tutelage in German idealism and materialism and the transcendentalism of Carlyle and Emerson on the other, were responsible for his philosophy--described as "transcendental materialism." ;Tyndall's active involvement in many public controversies owed much to his Irish-Protestant heritage and betrayed his exaggerated hatred of Catholicism. He feared that the dogmatists of the Anglican and the Catholic Churches were robbing scientists of their sacred right, namely, freedom of the mind. Against those whom he believed to be dogmatists, Tyndall fought many battles, and science was his weapon. ;Like many of his contemporary "honest doubters," Tyndall challenged the authority of Christian orthodoxy as he felt that the Established Church and the Catholic Church abused religion to legitimize their social, political, and cultural status. His challenge resulted in the elaboration of several principles of so-called scientific naturalism: the unity of nature, the omnipotence of natural law, and scientific materialism. Having given birth to scientific naturalism, and having given the process of secularization a push, Tyndall and his agnosticism saw a tragic end, but not his lofty vision of loyalty to truth. ;This work challenges the traditional view of Tyndall as an atheistic materialist and the new meliorated historiography of religion and science, and suggests a revised view: Tyndall had a more profound concern for religion as a matter of spirituality than has been accorded to him; Tyndall's scientific naturalism was so soft as to frustrate historians' attempt to depict him as a hard, atheistic materialist; and the conflict between religion and science in late Victorian England was viewed by Tyndall and some of his colleagues as real and serious enough to give credence to a "warfare" metaphor

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