In the Dwight H. Terry lectures to be delivered at Yale Oct. 9–18, distinguished historian of science and former dean of Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences will explore how two of the most acclaimed thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) and Charles Darwin (1809–1882), personally and intellectually confronted the inherent conflict between science and religion.
Free and open to the public, the four talks of the Terry Lectureship, titled “Jefferson and Darwin: Science and Religion in Troubled Times,” will take place in the auditorium of the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St., and begin at 4 p.m. The dates and topics are: Tuesday, Oct. 9 — “Thomas Jefferson: Ancient and Modern”; Thursday, Oct.11 — “The Devil and Mr. Darwin: Creation and ‘The Origin’”; Monday, Oct. 15 — “Apes and Academics, Debates and Sermons”; and Thursday, Oct. 18 — “Science, Religion, and the Contest for Authority.”
Thomson will examine the interplay between science and religion in the 18th and 19th centuries, principally as it developed in the minds of the two familiar, but very different, intellectual giants. A major figure of the Enlightenment whose interests included science, architecture, and philosophy, Jefferson was a deist, believing that God is revealed to all humankind through the natural world rather than through religion. Paradoxically, notes Thomson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence also believed in the literal truth of the biblical story of Genesis. Darwin, having studied to become an Anglican cleric at Cambridge, came to discredit religion as his close inspection of the natural world led him to conclude that the diverse species of life had evolved, not been created in one event. Toward the end of his life, the author of “The Origin of Species” described himself as an agnostic.
After examining the conflicts between reason and faith represented by these two renowned thinkers, Thomson will look to our own times for a fuller perspective on contradictions between science and religion.
Thomson, recently named executive officer of the American Philosophical Society, is the author of more than 200 scientific papers and 12 books. In addition to his former position as dean of the Graduate School at Yale, Thomson also served as director of Yale’s Peabody Museum. He is professor emeritus of natural history at Oxford, former president of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and was University Distinguished Scientist-in-Residence at the New School for Social Research.
Among his more notable titles are “HMS Beagle: the Story of Darwin’s Ship,” “Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature,” “The Legacy of the Mastodon: the Golden Age of Fossils in America,” “Fossils: A Very Short Introduction,” “A Passion for Nature: Thomas Jefferson and Natural History,” and “The Young Charles Darwin.” Thomson’s most recent work, “Jefferson's Shadow: the Story of his Science,” will be published by Yale University Press in November.
Visit the Terry Lectures website for additional information.