A Clash with Gray, Porter, and McCosh
In August of 1878, Newcomb gave a major address in Saint Louis as retiring president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He called for the separation of scientific reasoning and theological arguments. This was an untenable position in the eyes of those educated Christians who still accepted the central claims of natural theology as advanced especially by Englishman William Paley. The most sustained reaction to Newcomb's speech appeared in the Independent—a respected Christian weekly that had been founded by antislavery Congregationalists but which now reported on a wide range of topics for a general readership of about fifteen thousand. The Independent not only reprinted the text of the speech but also during late 1878 and early 1879 published numerous articles, letters, and editorials critical of the speech. Two series of particularly incisive attacks were submitted by two anonymous “country readers.” Knowledgeable subscribers to the Independent probably realized that the first “country reader” was Harvard's Asa Gray (1810–1888), America's most respected botanist and foremost defender of Darwin's theory of evolution. “Another Country Reader” eventually revealed himself to be Noah Porter (1811–1892), one of the nation's leading clergyman, a Congregationalist, and the president of Yale College.
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