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Darwin, H. G. Wells, and the War of Nature

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background on Charles Darwin's Origin of Species as context for H. G. Wells' _The War of the Worlds_

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Darwin, H. G. Wells, and the War of Nature

  1. 1. Charles DarwinCharles Darwin the great shocker of the Victorian Age…the great shocker of the Victorian Age… On the Origin of Species by Means ofOn the Origin of Species by Means of Natural SelectionNatural Selection (1859)(1859)  theory of evolution based ontheory of evolution based on “struggle“struggle for existence”:for existence”: – competition between and within species incompetition between and within species in a “state of Nature”a “state of Nature” – Most species produce far more offspringMost species produce far more offspring than can survivethan can survive – Nature via climate, food availabilityNature via climate, food availability  ””checks” survivalchecks” survival  shapes species (“species variation”)shapes species (“species variation”)
  2. 2. 1919thth -c. Contexts for “natural selection”-c. Contexts for “natural selection” and “struggle for existence”and “struggle for existence”  Thomas Malthus,Thomas Malthus, Essay on the Principle of PopulationEssay on the Principle of Population (1798 / 1803): Human populations limited by available(1798 / 1803): Human populations limited by available energy/food resourcesenergy/food resources  Geology (“imperfect record”): Charles Lyell’sGeology (“imperfect record”): Charles Lyell’s PrinciplesPrinciples of Geologyof Geology (1830-33)--present contains secrets of past(1830-33)--present contains secrets of past  Charles Darwin’s 1830s Voyage on TheCharles Darwin’s 1830s Voyage on The BeagleBeagleGalapagos islands (near S. America)Galapagos islands (near S. America)  1850s: Other naturalists (Alfred Russel Wallace) also1850s: Other naturalists (Alfred Russel Wallace) also arriving at Darwin’s conclusions independentlyarriving at Darwin’s conclusions independently – Darwin had delayed publication—to avoid controversyDarwin had delayed publication—to avoid controversy – Finally publishes his findings asFinally publishes his findings as “The Origin of Species” in 1859“The Origin of Species” in 1859
  3. 3. ““War of Nature” / Consolation?War of Nature” / Consolation?  Origin of SpeciesOrigin of Species: See p. 1362:: See p. 1362: ““All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind thatAll that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at aeach organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life,geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during eachduring some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life,generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect onand to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle,this struggle, we may console ourselveswe may console ourselves with the fullwith the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that nobelief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and thatfear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive andthe vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.”multiply.”
  4. 4. Darwin’sDarwin’s Descent of ManDescent of Man (1871)(1871)  the big shocker: HUMAN evolution!the big shocker: HUMAN evolution!  Humanity “descends” from “less organized forms”Humanity “descends” from “less organized forms” – Evidence in human embryos (1362)Evidence in human embryos (1362)  shaped byshaped by – ““sexual selection”sexual selection” – ““state of nature”state of nature”  Human morality—not so distinctiveHuman morality—not so distinctive (related to social instinct)(related to social instinct)  high respect for animalshigh respect for animals – Morals and intellect reflected in “state of nature”: socialMorals and intellect reflected in “state of nature”: social instinctsinstinctssurvivalsurvival – Female Argus pheasantsFemale Argus pheasantstaste/aestheticstaste/aesthetics  Descent or Ascent? (Darwin’s last paragraph cheers onDescent or Ascent? (Darwin’s last paragraph cheers on humanity—we can take pride in how far we’ve come, right?)humanity—we can take pride in how far we’ve come, right?)
  5. 5. Thomas HuxleyThomas Huxley  ““Darwin’s bulldog”Darwin’s bulldog” (and H. G. Wells’(and H. G. Wells’ contemporary)contemporary)  Uses Darwin’s theories as direct assault onUses Darwin’s theories as direct assault on religious views of creation:religious views of creation: – ““As a natural process. . . evolution excludesAs a natural process. . . evolution excludes creation and all other kinds of supernaturalcreation and all other kinds of supernatural intervention.”)intervention.”)  But ourBut our civilization has intervened against thecivilization has intervened against the natural struggle for existence.natural struggle for existence. – Darwin doesn’t apply to civilized order, control.Darwin doesn’t apply to civilized order, control.  We need to beWe need to be gardenersgardeners to promote civilizationto promote civilization – A view easily adapted to support British Empire andA view easily adapted to support British Empire and its expansion around the world (without anxiety overits expansion around the world (without anxiety over consequent loss of lives)consequent loss of lives)  ““What would become of the garden if the gardenerWhat would become of the garden if the gardener treated all weeds and slugs and birds and trespasserstreated all weeds and slugs and birds and trespassers as he would like to be treated, if he were in theiras he would like to be treated, if he were in their place?”place?”  Instead, we need to tend our gardens of civilizationInstead, we need to tend our gardens of civilization around the world, andaround the world, and selectively promote what we valueselectively promote what we value..
  6. 6. Herbert SpencerHerbert Spencer  British philosopher promotingBritish philosopher promoting laissez-fairelaissez-faire (let be)(let be) capitalismcapitalism without government regulation.without government regulation.  He actually coined the phraseHe actually coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”“survival of the fittest” seven years before Darwin’sseven years before Darwin’s Origin of SpeciesOrigin of Species..  Philosopher ofPhilosopher of Social DarwinismSocial Darwinism .. Darwin’s theory inspires Spencer to apply ideas ofDarwin’s theory inspires Spencer to apply ideas of evolution to society based on individual competition.evolution to society based on individual competition. Spencer applies this in particular to IndustrialSpencer applies this in particular to Industrial societiessocieties..  ““Society advances where its fittest members areSociety advances where its fittest members are allowed to assert their fitness with the leastallowed to assert their fitness with the least hindrance.”hindrance.” Government should NOT regulate thisGovernment should NOT regulate this process or protect the poor and weak members of society,process or protect the poor and weak members of society, because that interferes with the natural process ofbecause that interferes with the natural process of society’s evolution.society’s evolution.  Eventually, the poor and weak and “unfit” will decline inEventually, the poor and weak and “unfit” will decline in population, because they can’t compete. We see thispopulation, because they can’t compete. We see this happening most markedly in industry towns, where thehappening most markedly in industry towns, where the struggle for existence is keenest!struggle for existence is keenest!
  7. 7. Darwin, Huxley, SpencerDarwin, Huxley, Spencer andand War of the WorldsWar of the Worlds  Passage on pp. 42-43Passage on pp. 42-43  Ch. VII: transition point!Ch. VII: transition point! – Sound of a train. . . What’s real? (pp. 62-63)Sound of a train. . . What’s real? (pp. 62-63) – Conversation with the wife…and comparisonConversation with the wife…and comparison with dodo (p. 65)with dodo (p. 65)  Ch. IX: visceral excitement…arming!Ch. IX: visceral excitement…arming!  Ch. XII: “Death!. . .Death is coming! Death!”Ch. XII: “Death!. . .Death is coming! Death!” (p. 87)(p. 87)  Ch. XIII: The CurateCh. XIII: The Curate

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