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Open Access Dissertation

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First Advisor

H. John Weiss


From the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, religion was in open warfare against science. By the end of the century the war was not going well for religion. Biology, anthropology, archeology, the "higher criticism" united in an attack on Christian premises, while "applied science" — technology-provided, the materialistic comforts which made Christian promises utopian and unnecessary. The reaction of some Protestant and Catholic leaders to this threat from science was a retreat into funda­mentalism. Others hastened to show that the recent discoveries were not really in conflict with religious truths at all. A third group, however, demanded that religion accept the new theories." These "modernists" saw in the struggle with science a wider confrontation between all of modern culture and religion, and in their reconciliation the survival of man and society. In France, Modernism was the name generally associated with the Catholic movement. The Protestant reaction was known as modern evangelical theology, symbolo-fideism or, more simply, the Paris School. The leading apologists for this School were Auguste Sabatier and Eugene Menegoz, who developed their theories during a long and close association on the Paris Faculty of Protestant Theology.

Sabatier's scientific theology developed a neo-Kantian distinction, between religious, knowledge and scientific knowledge, which Sabatier thought clearly showed the objectives, limits and dependencies of both. The subjective, teleological and symbolic nature of religious knowledge demanded a new approach to religion. Critical symbolism, as Sabatier called this approach, recognized that psychologically, ideas were abstractions of feelings, and that historically, changing institutions were projections of immutable principles.. Applied to religious ideas and institutions, critical symbolism could then separate the true religious spirit from its metaphysical envelopes and historical expressions. It was hoped that the confusion between the content and the form of religion which had led in the past to anti-scientific attitudes on the part of theologians and to anti-religious attitudes on the part of scientists would ther. disappear. The essence of religion would be revealed, consequently, as an inner feeling of dependence on an immanent God which necessarily objectified itself into historical forms. Although the latter were subject to evolution and criticism, the heart of religion would emerge as being above science, beyond reason. Further­ more, critical symbolism would reveal that science represented one expression of a psychological and historical evolution toward autonomy which found both its origins and its culmination in religion.

The Paris School, therefore, saw in science—in scientific know­ ledge and scientific methods—not an irreconcilable foe, but an ally that could be used to prove the truths of their Religion of the Spirit. What they did not see was that this association with science, or rather with the new science, exposed their religion to the same problems of subjectivity, pluralism, pragmatism, anti-intellectualism that the new science had to face. These were some of the ideas that set the scene for the great twentieth-century conflict between reason and unreason, of which the nineteenth-century battle between science and religion was but the opening salvo.