The scientific naturalists, especially Huxley and Tyndall, were able to dominate the politics of science when they were at the height of their power in the 1870’s and 1880’s. They were able to challenge the scientific, and even the cultural, authority of the Anglican clergy. Through their lectures and writings they encouraged the Victorian public to question widely held beliefs about the nature of society, the place of humanity in nature, and the role of religion in a modern, industrialized world. As a result, the Belfast Address was seen as a momentous cultural event well beyond the 1870’s. Almost thirty years later it seemed to symbolize how scientific naturalism had turned the Victorian world upside down. The playwright George Bernard Shaw summed up its enduring significance in his Man and Superman (1903). “It’s a very queer world,” remarks Mrs. Whitefield, who is bewildered by the complicated behavior of the younger generation. “It used to be so straightforward and simple; and now nobody seems to think and feel as they ought. Nothing has been right since that speech that Professor Tyndall made at Belfast” (4.237).
Lightman, Bernard. “On Tyndall’s Belfast Address, 1874.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History, Dino Franco Felluga (ed). [online here]