In a famous lecture given over half a century ago, C.P. Snow raised concerns about the increasing alienation of humanist intellectuals from science. Professor Ray Tallis will argue that this problem is more complex than Snow thought, and addressing it may be even more challenging than he imagined.
The Snow/Leavis Controversy
In 1959, C.P. Snow delivered the annual Rede Lecture in Cambridge under the title of ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’. Snow warned of a gap that had opened up between scientists and the ‘literary intellectuals’ that made it almost impossible for the two groups to communicate. Snow complained that literary intellectuals were not only ignorant of science but contemptuous of it, as if scientific knowledge were unnecessary for a good education. Snow believed that improvements in the teaching of science were required in order to address the world’s greatest problems, and to compete with the USA and USSR. Snow spoke with the authority of a man with a foot in both camps, as a trained research scientist and a successful novelist, and his lecture provoked worldwide coverage. However, in 1962 it received an extraordinary response from the influential literary critic F.R. Leavis, who delivered an attack on Snow of unprecedented ferocity. The Snow/Leavis controversy has provoked debate ever since between supporters of both men’s positions as to the real purpose of education.