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Neil Thomas on Darwinism’s place in the Victorian culture wars

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As part of a new series, Neil Thomas, author of Taking Leave of Darwin (2021), offers a look at the culture wars inDarwin’s sday.It wasn’t all lace doilies and tea and crumpets:

In order to explain Charles Darwin’s curious rehabilitation, it is necessary to be clear about the fact that we are not dealing with a scientific adjudication here. The scientists had already pronounced on the Origin in resoundingly negative reviews — which inevitably leads to the conclusion that something else must have been going on here.

In this regard, a useful memoir has been left us by the acclaimed female author who by both birth and marriage was plugged into the 19th-century zeitgeist like few others, namely Mrs. Humphry Ward (born into intellectual aristocracy as Mary Augusta Arnold), the author of a particularly moving novel about loss of faith, Robert Elsmere (1888). In looking back at her experiences of Oxford in the 1860s and 70s, Ward noted that “the men of science entered but little into the struggle of ideas that was going on […] It was in literature, history and theology that evolutionary conceptions were most visibly and dramatically at work.”1 This judgment inevitably points us away from science proper in the direction of sundry Victorian debates and culture wars in our search of answers to the question of why Darwinism was able to triumph (and still is able to triumph) against the ascertainable scientific facts.

Neil Thomas, “Darwin and the Victorian Culture Wars” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 2, 2022)

Thomas goes on to talk about the main circumstances that made Darwinism a suitable origin story for a new era — none of which were particularly scientific:

As Alec Ryrie aptly pointed out in his recent “emotional” history of Doubt, “intellectuals and philosophers may think they make the weather, but they are more often driven by it,”3 and the more decisive forces in the eventual acceptance of Darwinism may have issued from works of imaginative literature with a more universal outreach.

Neil Thomas, “Darwin and the Victorian Culture Wars” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 2, 2022)

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 mean.

You may also wish to read: 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.

4 Replies to “Neil Thomas on Darwinism’s place in the Victorian culture wars

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Beautiful observation about caste. (Smart vs Yobs.) That’s the original purpose of universities, and it hasn’t changed in 1000 years.

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Agreed – excellent insight. It was a means of exclusion, like an expensive country club.

    It was in literature, history and theology that evolutionary conceptions were most visibly and dramatically at work.”1 This judgment inevitably points us away from science proper in the direction of sundry Victorian debates and culture wars in our search of answers to the question of why Darwinism was able to triumph (and still is able to triumph) against the ascertainable scientific facts.

    Neil Thomas was criticized because he is a literary guy. But here it is – Darwin was appealing to the Victorian literary set himself. Erasmus Darwin was a poet. That group didn’t care about the science, as long as they had a story that could prop-up atheism and be used as a weapon against the believers.
    The question Neil Thomas is asking in this series is essential also – how could such a lame scientific theory take over all of biology and become the sacred myth of our culture? It’s not the compelling science – we know that.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    As to:

    Mrs. Humphry Ward,, In looking back at her experiences of Oxford in the 1860s and 70s, Ward noted that “the men of science entered but little into the struggle of ideas that was going on […] It was in literature, history and theology that evolutionary conceptions were most visibly and dramatically at work.”

    Indeed, far from the empirical science preceding Darwin’s formulation of his theory, faulty liberal ‘theology’ preceded Darwin’s formulation of his theory.

    In fact, Darwin learned the faulty liberal ‘theology’ (i.e. metaphysical underpinnings), of Darwinism from a ‘liberal’ Anglican seminary (Cambridge), which sought to reconcile Christianity with (the supposedly) ‘scientific’ Enlightenment deism of the time.

    As Pastor Joe Boot observed, “The biggest tragedy of the story of Charles Darwin,, is that he learned it, (i.e. the metaphysics behind Darwinism), from the church. And he learned it in a sensibly Christian university (Cambridge) training for the ministry.”

    “Let me tell you what the biggest tragedy of this whole story is. The biggest tragedy of the story of Charles Darwin,, is that he learned it, (i.e. the metaphysics behind Darwinism), from the church. And he learned it in a sensibly Christian university (Cambridge) training for the ministry.”
    – The Descent of Darwin – Pastor Joe Boot – 57:44 minute mark
    https://youtu.be/iKzUSWU7c2s?t=3464

    The Descent of Darwin – Pastor Joe Boot – article
    Excerpt: Examination of the origins of The Origin of Species demonstrates that evolutionary theory is neither original to Darwin, nor primarily the product of scientific observations. Darwin sought reasons to reject the scriptural doctrines of God and creation, and found them in Enlightenment deism. Ultimately, evolution is a thoroughly religious worldview.,,,
    Ideological Origins of Evolution
    ,, These men embodied the spirit of the Enlightenment, turning to a Greek conception of a “first cause” – not the God of the Bible, but a principle of rationality and natural law that operated independently of the Creator, who had long since withdrawn from creation.
    https://www.ezrainstitute.com/resource-library/articles/the-descent-of-darwin-evolution-in-religious-worldviews/

    In short, Darwin’s book “Origin of Species” is to be considered, mainly, a (faulty) liberal theological treatise rather than ever being considered, (in any way, shape, or form), a truly scientific book.

    “Religious views were mixed, with the Church of England scientific establishment reacting against the book, while liberal Anglicans strongly supported Darwin’s natural selection as an instrument of God’s design.”
    per wikipedia

    Was Darwin a Scholar or a Pitchman? – Michael Flannery – October 20, 2015
    Excerpt: By and large, the scientists of his day were not much impressed with Darwin’s theory. John Herschel called natural selection “the law of higgledy-piggledy,” and William Whewell thought the theory consisted of “speculations” that were “quite unproved by facts,” so much so that he refused to put the book on the shelves of the Trinity College Library.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....00191.html

    And the fact that Darwin’s theory is primarily built upon faulty ‘liberal’ Theological presuppositions, (instead of any compelling scientific evidence) has now been recently, and clearly, elucidated by both Stephen Dilley and Cornelius Hunter.

    Charles Darwin, Theologian: Major New Article on Darwin’s Use of Theology in the Origin of Species – May 2011
    Excerpt: The Origin supplies abundant evidence of theology in action; as Dilley observes:
    I have argued that, in the first edition of the Origin, Darwin drew upon at least the following positiva theological claims in his case for descent with modification (and against special creation):
    1. Human beings are not justified in believing that God creates in ways analogous to the intellectual powers of the human mind.
    2. A God who is free to create as He wishes would create new biological limbs de novo rather than from a common pattern.
    3. A respectable deity would create biological structures in accord with a human conception of the ‘simplest mode’ to accomplish the functions of these structures.
    4. God would only create the minimum structure required for a given part’s function.
    5. God does not provide false empirical information about the origins of organisms.
    6. God impressed the laws of nature on matter.
    7. God directly created the first ‘primordial’ life.
    8. God did not perform miracles within organic history subsequent to the creation of the first life.
    9. A ‘distant’ God is not morally culpable for natural pain and suffering.
    10. The God of special creation, who allegedly performed miracles in organic history, is not plausible given the presence of natural pain and suffering.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....46391.html

    Devil’s Chaplain: Evolution as a “Theological Research Program”
    Michael Flannery – September 10, 2021
    Excerpt: this research program’s principal investigator was Charles Darwin, and the epithet he chose for himself, “a Devil’s chaplain” — which he shared in a letter on July 13, 1856, to his close friend and confidant Joseph Dalton Hooker — is revealing:
    “What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!”
    Hunter answers claims of Darwinian orthodoxy. They are as follows: Darwin’s religious views preceded (not followed) his transmutation ideas; Darwin’s theological premises are essential (not peripheral) to his argument; Darwin’s references to theology attach direct significance to the theory itself — he is not practicing reductio theology, employing it merely for its contrastive heuristic effect — the theology and the theory are inextricably intertwined; the epistemic assistance received from theology is central to the theory itself (the “scientific” evidence marshalled on its behalf is pretty thin); and finally, Darwin’s theological claims persisted well into the period of the neo-Darwinian synthesis (1930s and ’40s) and after. Readers should examine the article itself to see how Hunter establishes each point, all supported with extensive references.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2021/09/devils-chaplain-evolution-as-a-theological-research-program/

    In fact, to this day Darwinists, (since they still have no compelling scientific evidence that the theory is true, or even feasible), are still vitally dependent of faulty ‘liberal’ theological presuppositions.

    Methodological Naturalism: A Rule That No One Needs or Obeys – Paul Nelson – September 22, 2014
    Excerpt: It is a little-remarked but nonetheless deeply significant irony that evolutionary biology is the most theologically entangled science going. Open a book like Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True (2009) or John Avise’s Inside the Human Genome (2010), and the theology leaps off the page. A wise creator, say Coyne, Avise, and many other evolutionary biologists, would not have made this or that structure; therefore, the structure evolved by undirected processes. Coyne and Avise, like many other evolutionary theorists going back to Darwin himself, make numerous “God-wouldn’t-have-done-it-that-way” arguments, thus predicating their arguments for the creative power of natural selection and random mutation on implicit theological assumptions about the character of God and what such an agent (if He existed) would or would not be likely to do.,,,
    ,,,with respect to one of the most famous texts in 20th-century biology, Theodosius Dobzhansky’s essay “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (1973).
    Although its title is widely cited as an aphorism, the text of Dobzhansky’s essay is rarely read. It is, in fact, a theological treatise. As Dilley (2013, p. 774) observes:
    “Strikingly, all seven of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. In fact, without God-talk, the geneticist’s arguments for evolution are logically invalid. In short, theology is essential to Dobzhansky’s arguments.”,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....89971.html

    What is interesting in all of this is the fact that all of science, (every nook and cranny of it), is vitally dependent of essential Judeo-Christian presuppositions, (see Stephen Meyer, “Return of the God Hypothesis” chapter 1). And yet Darwinian Atheists turn out to be vitally dependent on faulty ‘liberal’ theological presuppositions in order to try to make their case for Darwinian atheism.

    This is a blatantly self-refuting position for Darwinian Atheists to be in. As Paul Nelson pointed out, “Yet many of the same scientists who argue theologically for evolution are committed to the philosophical doctrine of methodological naturalism, which maintains that theology has no place in science.”

    The role of theology in current evolutionary reasoning – Paul A. Nelson – Biology and Philosophy, 1996, Volume 11, Number 4, Pages 493-517?
    Excerpt: Evolutionists have long contended that the organic world falls short of what one might expect from an omnipotent and benevolent creator. Yet many of the same scientists who argue theologically for evolution are committed to the philosophical doctrine of methodological naturalism, which maintains that theology has no place in science. Furthermore, the arguments themselves are problematical, employing concepts that cannot perform the work required of them, or resting on unsupported conjectures about suboptimality. Evolutionary theorists should reconsider both the arguments and the influence of Darwinian theological metaphysics on their understanding of evolution.
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00138329

    Thus ironically, Darwinian Atheists, with their vital dependence on faulty ‘liberal’ theological presuppositions, instead of on any compelling scientific evidence, (in order to try to make his case for Darwinian Atheism, and in order to try to undermine Christianity), are, as Cornelius Van Til put it, like a child who must climb up onto his father’s lap into order to slap his face. i.e. “Without this God, the place on which he, (the Darwinian atheist), stands does not exist. He cannot stand in a vacuum.”

    “In other words, the non-Christian needs the truth of the Christian religion in order to attack it. As a child needs to sit on the lap of its father in order to slap the father’s face, so the unbeliever, as a creature, needs God the Creator and providential controller of the universe in order to oppose this God. Without this God, the place on which he stands does not exist. He cannot stand in a vacuum.”
    – Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979).

    In short and in conclusion, the ‘faulty’ liberal theological presuppositions that Darwinian Atheists are vitally dependent on are, in the end, self-refuting.

    Verse:

    Romans 1:22-25
    Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

  4. 4
    asauber says:

    A Blast From The Past:

    4
    AsauberDecember 27, 2017 at 8:43 am
    News @ 3

    All true. I was just thinking of people I know who don’t consider science-related (or what is purported to be science) issues at all. Anything they associate with a discussion of scientific ideas is passed over for anything else.

    I think science has been misrepresented in a way that intentionally excludes a lot of people for a long time. There’s a long-standing elitism that breeds disinterest, which goes along with what you are saying.

    Andrew

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