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21 September 2017

Review: The Creed of Science by William Graham

I'm trying to catch up on my audio drama reviews at Unreality SF. I finally plug in Q4 2016's last Big Finish trilogy, a set of adventures for the sixth Doctor and Constance Clarke: Order of the Daleks, Absolute Power, and Quicksilver.

PDF eBook, 412 pages
Published 1881
Read December 2012
The Creed of Science: Religious, Moral, and Social
by William Graham

Graham, a Victorian philosopher, lecturer in mathematics, and professor of political economy, thought that the adherents of science-- among them, heroes of this blog Thomas Henry Huxley and John Tyndall-- viewed science as a creed, a creed about which he was skeptical. The Creed of Science is thus his philosophical and epistemological investigation of the accuracy and the ethics of science.

His introduction lays out his general thesis pretty ably: while you can trust scientists on things like the nebular hypothesis and evolution by natural selection, "when we come to mental, moral, and social questions, neither physicists nor naturalists are any longer authorities, however little some of them seem disposed to concede the point" (xiv). Graham published this book in 1881, a year after Huxley gave his famous address "Science and Culture" where he argued that seeing like a scientist was essential for participants in democracy and the creation of social progress. But Graham was skeptical that scientific training illuminated human behavior quite so easily: "[The physicist's] special studies of the invariable behaviour of matter or of the settled consequences of physical phenomena prepare him very imperfectly for the investigation of the widely different phenomena presented by human conduct; [...] [the naturalist's] infinitely wider subject of plant and animal life forbids the due concentration of regard upon the special human subject" (xiv). In his singling out of naturalist and physicist, it's hard for me to not see Huxley and Tyndall as implied targets, coming as this book did one year after "Science and Culture" and seven years after Tyndall's infamous Belfast Address.

Graham was also skeptical of the explicitly human-focused sciences, however, feeling that the anthropologist could not be trusted "at least until he has a little more systematized the miscellaneous mass of facts referring to man in all times and climes which at present forms the subject-matter of his study" (xiv).

In over 400 pages, Graham investigates various topics such as "On the Creation and God," "On Human Nature and Its Capacities for Virtue," "On Immortality," and "On the Materialism of Atoms and Forces." It's not light reading, but it is a great window into Victorian thinking on a topic very near to my heart, the ways that science was making claims for ethical and moral guidance, and it really ought to infuse my book on the Victorian scientist more than it does.

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