John Fiske's philosophy of science : the union of science and religion through the principle of evolution Public Deposited


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  • Modern science was produced by a Christian society, and although science has had an effect on Christianity, it could not itself remain unaffected. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the subject of evolution was as much a religious as a scientific issue. The battle line was drawn and science seemed to be putting an end to the religious faith of times past. Science was explaining the meaning of the universe through the doctrine of evolution, and it was defining the symbols religion was using in its own defense. Some concerned thinkers sought to modify the course and the methods of both science and religion. John Fiske grew up in the traditional New England theology of that period and he felt that there was a need for revision in theology in order to meet the needs of the times. Unlike the nonbelievers and positivists, Fiske saw in science an ally of religion. He proposed a system of science based on reciprocation and sympathy between science and religion. It was patterned after the philosophy of Herbert Spencer, the philosopher he idolized. Like Spencer, Fiske was overwhelmed by one scientific concept, the unifying principle of evolution. His system is cosmic, dealing with the whole spectrum of phenomena from the development of planetary systems to the evolution of psychical power. The focus of this history is on Fiske's conviction that religion and science are pointing to the same thing, and that the common ground can be found in the doctrine of evolution. He qualified his enthusiasm for Positivism and was not worried about skepticism. He easily passed by the older arguments because he was confident that science would eventually give more certain proofs. In Spencer's philosophy he saw the makings of theism, while his contemporaries saw materialism. In evolution he saw theistic implications while others saw more naturalistic implications. We will see that Fiske refused to go the way of his colleagues into agnosticism because he was willing to have a system that was essentially a priori. Moreover, he was convinced that the study of evolution, especially as it bears upon man's ethical nature and his awareness of God would set at rest the apparent contrariety separating science and the institution of religion. Our concern will be with Fiske's philosophy of science as it is set forth in the Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy: Based on the Doctrine of Evolution with Criticisms on the Positive Philosophy, which was a popularization of Herbert Spencer's "Synthetic Philosophy." And this dissertation will concentrate on that part which Fiske and others considered to be his own original contribution to evolutionary theory, his concept of the "prolongation of infancy" in man. Our interest in his subsequent philosophical works will be confined to areas which give evidence of the viability of his theory as a means of attaining the unified theoretical perspective he envisioned. This evaluation of Fiske's scientific originality is of interest in that it supplies what is felt to be an essential chapter in the history of American scientific thought, and is justified by the position that Fiske held as a popular lecturer and respected intellectual. Although Fiske's contributions were not lasting, his ideas were widely accepted and influential in his own time. He wrote extensively in philosophy and contributed to the understanding and acceptance of evolutionary theory in America.
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