Slightly more than two decades ago in an article entitled “Scientists and society: the saints preserved” we began an historiographical intervention into the debate about the social origins of modern science. In that 1971 review essay we argued that recent work on the Restoration latitudinarians, particularly the important contribution of Barbara Shapiro, did not adequately account for the role played in latitudinarian thought by political and ecclesiastical interests. The time has come to return to the discussion. This occasion has been presented by the publication of a book of essays written for a conference held in 1987 at the Clark Library, entitled Philosophy, Science, and Religion in England 1640–1700, and edited by Richard Kroll, Richard Ashcraft, and Perez Zagorin. The volume constitutes one of the few recent contributions to an important debate about science and religion that was noisy in the 1970s and largely ignored during the Tory backlash of the 1980s. But the times are finally changing, and revitalization may now be occurring in British cultural and intellectual history. The newly edited volume stands at the cusp of the revitalization. It struggles to move forward to fresher approaches toward culture, i.e. toward the view that texts require historical and linguistic location. Yet the volume is trapped by those few contributors who are still wedded to conventions and attitudes now largely confined to the high churchmen of the 1980s.
The volume revolves around two themes: the nature of liberal English Protestantism after 1660 and the contested role of science in that mental and social construct. These are themes basic to English historiography in this century, if not before, and they are very much associated with the writings of Robert Merton and Christopher Hill. Their work largely focused on the mid-century Puritans; in the 1970s attention turned to the latitudinarians and their scientific associates, from Boyle to Newton.