The Cambridge Roundtable on Science and Religion

Event Details

Science and the Modern World: how should one describe the place and authority of science?

May 14, 2015

Steven Shapin is Franklin L. Ford Research Professor of the History of Science. Steve is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and with Simon Schaffer, he was the 2005 winner of the Erasmus Prize, conferred by HRH the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands, for contributions to European culture, society, or social science. In 2014, he received the Sarton Medal, the highest honor of the History of Science Society, in recognition of a lifetime of scholarly achievement. His latest book: Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).


Since 2010, Walter Kim is Associate Minister at historic Park Street Church in Boston, and has also served as a chaplain at Yale University. Walter received his Ph.D. with distinction from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and maintains research interests in areas of linguistics and in the intersection of biblical theology and culture. Park Street Church is an international congregation, with members from more than 60 countries. Its faith community includes many students and faculty from Boston-area universities. Boston Mayor Menino announced February 27, 2009 as Park Street Day in honor of its bicentennial and contributions to the city.


The identification of modernity with a scientific view of the world and with scientific procedures has been a commonplace from the late 19th century. The rule of science over the whole of culture was repeatedly announced from about the 1860s through the 1920s. It was said again and again that science had shown that there were no supernatural powers in the world, that technical expertise was all the expertise that was needed, and that on all matters of social significance scientists were the ultimate authority. There were a number of influential books describing the "warfare between science and religion" and announcing that science had definitively won. Yet there is much evidence that such claims did not accurately describe the culture at the time they were made and that they remain descriptively inaccurate. So how does one account for such claims? How should one now describe the place and authority of science in the contemporary world?