Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cornell: First Openly Godless U.S. University

It was news back in its day.  Cornell University was not affiliated going to be affiliated with any denomination -- or Christianity itself for that matter! 
I stumbled across the following bit of history, describing Cornell's newborn days, and the philosophy of Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White:

It would offer scientific and technical education as well as humanities degrees. And it would be nonsectarian – the first major nonsectarian college in the United States. After political controversy, Cornell University was chartered in 1865. White would be its first president.

Sectarian newspapers savaged the fledgling institution, accusing it of infidelity and worse – raising such a stink that New York Governor Reuben E. Fenton refused to attend Cornell's 1868 opening ceremonies. Frustrated, White delivered a pugnacious 1869 literature indicting religion as the greatest enemy of scientific discovery. The lecture became a series of articles in a popular magazine, and became central to a growing national dialogue over whether science and religion stood inevitably in conflict.

More than two decades later, White shaped his thinking into his magnum opus, a two-volume work published in 1896 as A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. In correspondence he wrote that he intended the work to stake out a position between "such gush as [Catholic apologist John Henry] Newman's on one side and such scoffing as Ingersoll's on the other." Though White meant to depict religion as science's victim as much as the other way around, most readers thought A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom did as much as any published work, in historian Paul Carter's words, "toward routing orthodoxy in the name of science."

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