'Our Mr. Sun': Religion and Science in 50s America

By Gilbert, James | History Today, February 1995 | Go to article overview

'Our Mr. Sun': Religion and Science in 50s America


Gilbert, James, History Today


Despite the romp of preposterous, computer-generated dinosaurs, the most contrived part of the recent film Jurassic Park by Stephen Spielberg, may well be the jarring juxtaposition of science and sentimentality. With prehistoric beasts roaring about and immensely complex scientific concepts required to explain their presence, the plot devolves into a cardboard romance. Two scientists appear about to fall in love when the cold and distracted male paleontologist discovers that he wants nothing so much as children. Granted, the target of this denouement is an anticipated audience of pre-teens. Certainly the scientific theories relating to cloning and chaos are difficult to understand. But Spielberg is only doing what many film producers and authors of popular fiction have done before him by casting scientific curiosity into a melodrama designed to reinforce traditional concepts of family, gender and -- most important -- an anthropocentric universe.

Throughout the twentieth century, popular culture has provided Americans with countless fictional heroes and heroines who command modern science and technology for such mundane purposes. To cite two wellknown examples: the remarkable science fiction-evolutionary tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs written after the First World War and the endless monster-movie explorations of atomic energy in the 1950s. This peculiar discourse is certainly not uniquely American, but its persistence suggests something significant in the United States. That, it seems to me, is the continually problematic relationship of science and theology, technology and practical religion. From the debates of philosophers, scientists, and theologians, to popular squabbles over creation science, Americans have dealt uneasily with the competition between the explanatory systems of religion and science. More than once during the twentieth century there have been moments when the apparent quarrel between science and religion has deeply preoccupied intellectuals and heavily tinted the productions of popular culture.

Post-war America has been such an instance of extraordinary concern about the implications of modern science in a world still very much committed to traditional religious explanations of nature and society. While measures of public opinion and private adherence in religious matters is notoriously inexact and incomplete, all indications suggest a heightened concern for religious matters in the US during the 1940s and 1950s.

In the last fifty years, only the United States has resisted the scientific secularisation sweeping through other industrialised nations. Gallup polls reveal belief in God, life after death, and religious affiliation to be remarkably high and stable. Higher income and education levels correspond to a slightly greater weekly attendance at church services, but all classes and groups have a very high level of participation and belief. No other nation confesses such a degree of doubt about scientific theories such as evolution.

Yet within this sea of faith, there have been obvious eddies of heightened religiosity. The 1950s is one of these and even the crudest tests of public adherence reveal increased religious conversation and concern. From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, regular church attendance increased. So too did the significant opinion that religion was an increasingly powerful force in American society. As to why, the Gallup poll found that the largest response cited fear, unrest, and uncertainty about the future. This suggested a 'culture of anxiety' as one historian described it: a hesitation in the face of social and cultural change, as well as the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Much of this anxiety centred around science and technology.

The production and use of the atomic bomb was an unmatched challenge to the older order: a mysterious, counter-intuitive science and a secret technology that threatened human existence itself. But there were other disquieting mysteries in science such as the Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg and Einstein's relativity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'Our Mr. Sun': Religion and Science in 50s America
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.