THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY HONG KONG
"Darwin, Science and Religion"
Professor Frank James
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Lecture 6.15 pm
The Li Hall, St John's Cathedral, Garden Road
Please note that this event is being held jointly with the British Council
Please also note that because of generous sponsorship, this event is free.
We are delighted to welcome to Hong Kong Professor Frank James, Professor of History of Science at The Royal Institution, London, as part of the celebrations of the Darwin bicentenary. The Royal Institution is the oldest independent research organisation in the world, having nurtured scientific research for over 200 years, with its alumni holding some 15 Nobel prizes. Professor James has been studying Darwin and his opus for some 30 years and is the leading authority on his work and its acceptance by science and religion since the publication of On the Origin of Species 150 years ago, the theme of this lecture.
Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago, is one of the greatest and most influential scientists in history. He shook the world when his landmark work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, was published 150 years ago. This lecture celebrates the father of evolution's theories, exploring his work and legacy, whilst the addressing the key issue of their implications for religion.
There is a view that the historical relationship of science and religion is the story of a rational view of the scientific world triumphing over religious obscurantism. The Galileo affair in the early 17th century, the encounter between Huxley and Wilberforce in 1860 over Darwin's Origin of Species and Tyndall's Belfast address in 1874 are all seen, in some quarters, as milestones by which science overcame, if not vanquished, religion.
However, as much recent historical research has shown, the basis for the assertion that there existed a sustained conflict between science and religion in the 19th century is very weak. There is also the question of what was it, if not science, that led to the decline of religious belief in significant parts of the world during the 20th century and how did various scientific milestones, including those mentioned above, come to have the iconic status that they enjoyed and still do.
Not all scientific figures lost their faith in the nineteenth century and not all theologians were opposed to Darwin's theories. Thus by looking at the scientific and religious contexts in which the Origin of Species was published, Professor James examines in this lecture how the myth of the conflict between science and religion came about. In turn, this casts light on the current, increasingly polarised, debates on the issue today and shows that they are rooted in myth rather than history.
Professor Frank James has been Professor of the History of Science at the Royal Institution since 2004 and Head of Collections and Heritage since 1998. Before that he was Reader of the History of Science.
He wrote his doctorial thesis at Imperial College, London, on the history of spectroscopy in the 19th century. He has published many papers on the history of science in the 19th century as well as editing a number of collections of essays on topics ranging from science in early modern Europe to the role of the laboratory in industrial society. His main research from the mid1980s onwards has, however, been on Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin. His particular speiclity is on the relations of science with other areas of culture, particularly religion and art, and is the author of Science in Art and Science and the Visual.
He is President of the British Society for the History of Science and has been President of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and Technology.
Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is free.