Bernie Lightman: Evolutionary Naturalists and Christian Metaphysicians: The Metaphysical Society in the 1870's

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Wed., Sep. 19, 2012, 4:00pm

Professor Bernard Lightman of York University is a leading authority on science, evolution and religion in nineteenth century Britain. He will be visiting the University of Alberta on Wednesday September 19th to deliver two talks on these subjects. Everyone welcome!

“Evolutionary Naturalists and Christian Metaphysicians: The Metaphysical Society in the 1870's”
Humanities Building Lecture Theatre 2
4pm, September 19th

The talk will focus on the Metaphysical Society as a forum wherein Victorian intellectuals grappled with the problem of defining knowledge in the specific context of the 1870’s.  That is, though the papers dealt with a series of seemingly disparate political, ethical, philosophical, and religious issues, the debates revolved around determining the true nature of “science,” and not merely the establishment of a definitive system of metaphysics.  In the past, historians have tended to assume that by the 1870’s Christian theologians had virtually ceded scientific authority to the scientific naturalists.  If that was true, then the contest appeared to be between scientific and religious authorities.  By contrast, I will maintain that the historical actors saw the debate as taking place between two sets of scientific authorities.  In other words, Christian intellectuals were not willing to give up on “science”—they refused to recognize T. H. Huxley and his allies as the only legitimate scientific authorities who could speak on behalf of “science,” and who alone defined its boundaries, determined its content, and decided its larger cultural implications.
This visit has been supported by the SSHRC Cluster Grant on `Situating Science' and the Program in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta.

Dr.Lightman is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and his books include The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge. (1987), Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth Century Religious Belief, co-edited with Richard Helmstadter (1990), “Science and Religion in Modern Western Thought,” co-edited with Bernard Zelechow, special theme issue of The European Legacy 1, No. 5 (August 1996),  Science in Context. Ed. Bernard Lightman.(1997), Figuring it Out: Science, Gender and Visual Culture, co-edited with Ann Shteir, (2006), Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences, co-edited with Aileen Fyfe, (2007), Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences, and  Naturalism in Victorian Britain: The ‘Darwinians’ and Their Critics (2009).

For further information on these talks, please contact Robert Smith, Department of History and Classics at