New College of the Humanities

Science and Religion in the 19th Century

Francis Murphy challenges the idea that science was religion’s foremost enemy, in this winning essay in the 2001 Julia Wood Award.

The great religious questions of the nineteenth century were in many cases rooted in the events of the eighteenth. The Enlightenment, characterised by an intellectual zeal and a rebellious atheism, set down the foundations upon which the next century’s crisis of faith was to be built. As the years passed, science brought to the public’s attention discoveries which appeared to undermine the dogmas expounded by the churches, whilst thinkers unveiled new concepts of government and morality which did not require the Church, or even a deity. The nineteenth century was the offspring of the Industrial Revolution; it was the home of Darwin and Marx; and, according to Nietzsche’s ‘Madman’ in the marketplace, it was the scene of a cultural assassination: ‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.’

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