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The Limits of Science

The Limits of Science

(p.80) Chapter Three The Limits of Science
Huxley's Church and Maxwell's Demon
Matthew Stanley
University of Chicago Press

One of the most contentious issues with which the emerging naturalism had to grapple was the question of what, if anything, was beyond science’s grasp. Both naturalists and theists accused each other of making unsupportable claims of absolute knowledge about the world, and of intellectual arrogance. However, in practice, both sides agreed quite closely about the limits of scientific investigation and knowledge, and tied the establishment of those limits to their naturalistic or theistic worldview. One important example was the question of the origin of the universe. Surprisingly, human ignorance of this question was justified in very similar terms by both groups. Maxwell and Huxley undertook sophisticated analyses of the limits of science - Huxley through his articulation of agnosticism, Maxwell through his work on scientific models. The limits of science question was not solely a rhetorical debate, and appeared in important ways in scientific practice.

Keywords:   James Clerk Maxwell, Thomas Henry Huxley, limits of science, scientific models, ether theory, hypothesis, agnosticism, John Tyndall, Creation, origin of the universe

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