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The Theological Foundations of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Chapter
Part of the The University of Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 58)

Abstract

Allen Debus has striven to demonstrate that religion, in the early modern period, was not a foreign agent that bent science away from its true course, nor even an extrinsic force that benignly pushed thinkers more quickly along a path they would have otherwise trod. Allen has tried to show that religion was enmeshed within the interstices of scientific thought, that only from our contemporary perspective can we pick out those strands that unrolled toward modern science and those that folded around the Bible. Under this conception it would be foolish to sift out religion from our understanding of early modern science. Among recent historians, some would concede Allen’s historiographic axiom, but they would undoubtedly confine its use to the time when Paracelsus commanded attention. I think, however, that Allen’s perspective can be useful in trying to understand even that science which was believed to replace religion during the last half of the nineteenth century, namely Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Keywords

Natural Selection Evolutionary Theory Artificial Selection Foreign Agent Paradise Lost 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Andrew Dickson White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1896), 1: 70.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This version of the confrontation between Wilberforce and Huxley is given in “Grandmother’s Tale, ” Macmillan’s Magazine 78 (1898): 425-435. See the discussion of various accounts of the interchange in Robert Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 549-551.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Edward Manning, quoted in White, History of the Warfare, 1: 71.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Anonymous, “Dr. Draper and Evolution, ” Catholic World 26 (1878): 774-789, quotation from p. 782.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Richard C. Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon Kamin, Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature (New York: Pantheon, 1984), p. 51. See also Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, pp. 404-407.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Susan Faye Cannon, Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period (New York: Science History Publications, 1978), p. 276.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    James Moore has charted the accommodation of Protestant religious thinkers to Darwinian theory in his continuously interesting The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Jon Roberts focuses a like concern on Protestant America in his Darwinism and the Divine in America (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988). And Frederick Gregory charts comparable relationships in his Nature Lost? Natural Science and the German Theological Traditions of the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    I discuss these above mentioned evolutionary “spiritualists” in Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, chaps. 8-10.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. Nora Barlow (New York: Norton, 1958), p. 87.Google Scholar
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    Darwin, Autobiography, p. 85.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Charles Darwin, Notebook B, MS 84, in Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844, ed. Paul Barrett et al. (New York: Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 192.Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin, Notebook D, MS 36-37, in Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, p. 343.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    When he lived in London, in the years just after his return from his voyage, Darwin saw Babbage frequently, as he noted in his Autobiography: “I used to call pretty often on Babbage and regularly attended his famous evening parties. He was worth listening to, but he was a disappointed and discontented man; and his expression was often or generally morose” (p. 108).Google Scholar
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    Charles Babbage, The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, A Fragment, 2nd ed. (London: Murray, 1838), p. 46.Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin, Essay of 1842, in The Foundations of the Origin of Species, ed. Francis Darwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), p. 51. See also similar remarks made in Notebook D, MS 36-37, Notebooks of Charles Darwin, p. 343.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (London: Murray, 1859), pp. 488–489. See also the comprehensive and instructive discussion of Darwin’s conception of natural law and its relation to God’s design in Neal Gillespie, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 54-55.Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin to Asa Gray (22 May 1860), in Francis Darwin, ed., Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 2 vols. (New York: D. Appleton, 1891), 2: 105.Google Scholar
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    See Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, pp. 199-200.Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1871), 1: 153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Darwin, Essay of 1842, in Foundations of the Origin of Species, p. 6. Bracketed phrase was erased in original manuscript.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Darwin, Essay of 1844, in Foundation of the Origin of Species, pp. 86-87.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Darwin, Origin of Species, p. 84.Google Scholar
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    Darwin, Essay of 1842, in Foundations of the Origin of Species, p. 52. Bracketed phrse was erased in original manuscript.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    As an historian who adopts an evolutionary-epistemological method, I would not wish to suggest that any aspect of Darwin’s theory had only one cause. Darwin’s ideas evolved within a complex conceptual environment, which had many intellectual pressures being applied simultaneously though with varying force. Another obvious source of Darwin’s gradualism was his dependence on Lyellian uniformitarian theory. Lyell maintained that great geological changes could be explained by appealing to causes that operated insensibly and continually over vast stretches of time. Darwin was a Lyellian geologist and, I believe, brought the same principles to explain great zoological changes. But geology and zoology different in a significant way. Animal morphology exhibited, while rock morphology did not, minute and exquisite features of design. To explain the former, some agents of creative intelligence had to be implicitly assumed, which believe Darwin did in the case of natural selection.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Darwin, Origin of Species, p. 41.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ibid., p. 102. See also similar claims on pp. 105, 107, and 125.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    See Dov Ospovat, The Development of Darwin’s Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin’s Natural Selection, ed. R. C. Stauffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 225.Google Scholar
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    Darwin, Origin of Species, p. 201.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Ibid., p. 84.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ibid., p. 83.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ibid., p. 79.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    The discussion in this section is based on my Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, pp. 71-242.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Michael Ghiselin, “Darwin and Evolutionary Psychology, ” Science 179 (1973): 964–968; quotation on p. 967. See also Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, p. 218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    William Paley, Moral and Political Philosophy, in The Works of William Paley (Philadelphia: Woodward, n.d.), p. 40.Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin, Notebook M, MS 1 32e, in Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, p. 552.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1871), 1: 166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    John Milton, Paradise Lost, book 4, 11. 172-201.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Darwin, Origin of Species, pp. 489-490.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1997

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