There are facts and there are stories. Harvard’s Louis Agassiz’s fascinations couldn’t fit more facts on the table. A professor of unprecedented popularity, his star somehow slipped while Darwin’s stories found their footholds. How and why will stories stick in the 21st century?
The Cambridge Roundtable on Science & Religion hosts an evening of dinner and discussion at the Harvard Faculty Club, Wednesday November 6th, 6:00 PM, featuring New York Times Bestselling Author and 2013 Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction winner Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and The Technologists*, and Editor’s Choice of The New York Times Book Review in February, Christoph Irmscher, University of Indiana-Bloomington, Professor of English and author of Louis Agassiz, Inventor of American Science** contributing to our series on Science and Scientism, part II.
History-making characters of Harvard and MIT fictionally encounter perilous struggles involving science and technology against a Victorian-era period of ascendant religion while Matthew Pearl makes outstanding observations about the mixed sentiments of 19th century citizens and their equally complicated scholarly counterparts. Christoph Irmscher’s Agassiz brings Harvard’s self-styled geologist, paleontologist, biologist and religious apologist to life, highlighting a perfect case-study in science and scientism involving race, religion, and Darwin.
We are comfortable with a view of the 19th century that allows us to separate the good white guys from the bad white guys. But Agassiz’s racism troubles distinction. Measured by the standards of his time, his racial views were extreme mostly because he talked about them so frequently, so vehemently, and so publicly. As a whole, they reflect – as did everything else he undertook during his career – his fervent desire for science, his science, to be taken seriously and to be considered socially and politically relevant. (Irmscher in Agassiz, p. 268)
As was common, Agassiz rode both the horse of religion and science; he rode hard, and he was a career front-runner. With regard to the issues of race, how did Agassiz’s attempts to reconcile science and religion ultimately promote intolerance? Was it a case of religion or science or scientism? Make the roundtable your appointment dining for thoughtful discussion about where we are now in all things science and culture and religion.
*Boston, 1868. The Civil War may be over but a new war has begun, one between the past and the present, tradition and technology. On a former marshy wasteland, the daring Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rising, its mission to harness science for the benefit of all and to open the doors of opportunity to everyone of merit. But in Boston Harbor a fiery cataclysm throws commerce into chaos. Soon after, another mysterious catastrophe devastates the heart of the city. Is it sabotage by scientific means or Nature revolting against man’s attempt to control it? Studded with suspense and soaked in the rich historical atmosphere for which its author is renowned, The Technologists is a dazzling journey into a dangerous world not so very far from our own, as the America we know today begins to shimmer into being.
**Christoph Irmscher vividly illuminates a colorful and controversial titan of American natural science. With brilliant insight, Irmscher reveals how Harvard University Professor Louis Agassiz bridged the gap between specialist and amateur in 19th-century America, changing ordinary people’s relationship with science–and the role of the scientist–forever. But there’s a dark side to the story. Irmscher adds unflinching evidence of Agassiz’s racist impulses as well as the catty exchanges between Darwin and Harvard botanist Asa Gray over the great Agassiz’s stubborn resistance to evolution.
For more information, please RSVP the Roundtable Coordinator at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Roundtable is “by invitation only” though we are glad to work with invited faculty to encourage their colleagues to participate. This is our only scheduled Fall 2013 Roundtable.
The Roundtable is co-chaired by: Owen Gingerich, Astronomy and History of Science (Emeritus), Harvard University Robert Randolph, Chaplain to the Institute and Dean, MIT Roundtable Coordinator: David Thom, Associate Chaplain, MIT
To date, hundreds of Harvard, MIT, BU and Tufts professors have engaged in Roundtable faculty-seminar dinner-discussions, experiencing the potential to bring added depth to their lives as scholars and educators. Roundtable seminars are dedicated to fostering dialogue that explores the intersection of contemporary academic thought and Christian thought on issues related to science and religion. Roundtable invitations are not pre-sorted in alignment with any particular religious or non-religious perspective. Scholars from a variety of departments and specially-selected clergy are invited: the result has been that a diversity of academic and religious and non-religious views are represented.
Among the recent thirty Cambridge Roundtables:April 2013 Science & Scientism, part one: The Monopolizing of Knowledge? Ian Hutchinson MIT, Nuclear Science & Engineering Ned Hall Harvard University, Philosophy October 2012 American Politics & Religion: Untangling the Web we Weave Robert Putnam Harvard University, Public Policy February 2012 God, Stephen Hawking, and the Cosmos: Is there a Grand Design? John Lennox Oxford, Mathematics Alan Guth MIT, Physics November 2011 Saints, Sex, and Society Sarah Ruden Wesleyan University, Classics April 2011 What do Scientists Really Think about Religion? Elaine Ecklund Rice University, Sociology October 2010 Political Power and Persuasive Presence James Davison Hunter University of Virginia, Sociology Robert M. Randolph MIT, Chaplain to the Institute March 2010 Can We Be Good Without God? Rae Langton MIT, Philosophy William Lane Craig Talbot School of Theology, Philosophy November 2009 Answering the New Atheists Stanley E. Fish Florida International University, Law and Humanities J. Mark Ramseyer Harvard University, Law
For a complete list of all 30 previous roundtables, click here.