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.