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Neil Thomas on why so many 19th century thinkers turned a blind eye to Darwinism’s problems

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In a further reflection by Neil Thomas, author of Taking Leave of Darwin (2021), we look at the ferment in which many 19th-century Europeans found in Darwin a means to break free of (depending on how you understand it) oppressive religious traditions or a rational approach to evidence from science:

A growing number in the mid 19th century simply wished to close their account with the divine since they could not conceive of a God who allowed suffering in the world. It was because it appealed to the growing mindset of disaffection and uncertainty that people were tempted to try to understand the world by the use of exclusively secular criteria. This setting aside of a First Cause may help to explain why a theory such as Darwin’s, at first adjudged scientifically unviable, was nevertheless able to achieve that status of unquestionable shibboleth it later acquired. People began to look for some rallying cry in a closed world of science to explain the world to themselves in the way they wanted in their secularizing age. If this left out of account any final-cause thinking and so offended the strict logic of cause and effect, so be it. Many were in effect prepared to “cut off their nose to spite their face.”

Neil Thomas, “Darwin and the Swinging 1860s” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 5, 2022)

Yes. It’s a religion without the transcendent hitch. That’s the main reason that so many people today are impervious to the fact that illustrations of Darwinism are often just nonsense barked in Darwin’s name.

For example, How the Darwin mare causes her own miscarriage even though she is likely unable to understand that she is pregnant.


Birds are found to plan like humans for their offsprings’ future

You may also wish to read:

Neil Thomas on Darwinism’s place in the Victorian culture wars. Anyone familiar with popular science writing on evolution will see what Thomas means here. Darwinism is introduced as a hypothesis/theory but then treated as a dogma/article of faith — and (this is emotionally very important) a way of segregating the Smart People from the Yobs and Yayhoos. Appeals to science-based analysis fall on deaf ears because the dogma has become what “science” now means.


At Evolution News: Darwin and the ghost of Epicurus. 3 March 2022One way of looking at it: Darwinism enabled thinkers to retain the thought of Epicurus and Lucretius when, in general, the thinkers themselves were forgotten.

One Reply to “Neil Thomas on why so many 19th century thinkers turned a blind eye to Darwinism’s problems

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    This latest series by Thomas is excellent. Short pieces are good because his prose is ‘condensed’. Each sentence carries lots of weight, so it needs to be packaged in smaller cans.

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