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Science vs. Religion: Darwin and the Victorians

slides for 19th-c. British Lit classes

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Science vs. Religion: Darwin and the Victorians

  1. 1. Science vs. ReligionScience vs. Religion Darwin and the VictoriansDarwin and the Victorians
  2. 2. 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)  based on research in Galapagos Islands, 1830sbased on research in Galapagos Islands, 1830s  theory of evolution based ontheory of evolution based on “struggle“struggle for existence”: (p. 1563)for existence”: (p. 1563) – 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”)
  3. 3. Evolution—not so newEvolution—not so new Grandpa:Grandpa: Erasmus Darwin:Erasmus Darwin: The Loves of PlantsThe Loves of Plants (1789)(1789) / The Botanic Garden/ The Botanic Garden , and, and The Temple ofThe Temple of NatureNature (1803)(1803) Hence without parent by spontaneous birthHence without parent by spontaneous birth Rise the first specks of animated earth;Rise the first specks of animated earth; From Nature's womb the plant or insect swims,From Nature's womb the plant or insect swims, And buds or breathes, with microscopic limbs.And buds or breathes, with microscopic limbs. ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless wavesORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves Was born and nurs'd in Ocean's pearly cavesWas born and nurs'd in Ocean's pearly caves First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass, Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass; These, as successive generations bloom,These, as successive generations bloom, New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume;New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,Whence countless groups of vegetation spring, And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.
  4. 4.  Erasmus Darwin’s motto (made forErasmus Darwin’s motto (made for his carriage and bookplate inhis carriage and bookplate in 1770):1770): E conchis omniaE conchis omnia Everything from shellsEverything from shells
  5. 5. 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 onCharles Darwin’s 1830s Voyage on TheThe 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 – Now (1859) finally publishes his findingsNow (1859) finally publishes his findings
  6. 6.  New methods:New methods: “scientist”“scientist” (new word in(new word in the 1840s)the 1840s)  New views on Religion:New views on Religion: (John Ruskin(John Ruskin on hearing clink of geology hammerson hearing clink of geology hammers every time he hears Bible verses)every time he hears Bible verses)  All these scientific activitiesAll these scientific activities anticipate the big Victorian-eraanticipate the big Victorian-era shocker: Darwin’sshocker: Darwin’s Descent of ManDescent of Man,, published 1872published 1872
  7. 7. Threats to Religious Faith:Threats to Religious Faith: Victorian sense of lost foundationsVictorian sense of lost foundations  Before Darwin: (Before Darwin: (Charles LyellCharles Lyell) geological evidence) geological evidence of earth’s age (“old earth” vs. “young earth”)of earth’s age (“old earth” vs. “young earth”) – Fossil records pose problem for literal interpretation ofFossil records pose problem for literal interpretation of the Book of Genesisthe Book of Genesis – Philip Gosse (naturalist)Philip Gosse (naturalist) tries to reconcile science withtries to reconcile science with faith: The geological record is deceptive!faith: The geological record is deceptive! – (Did God hide the fossils in the rocks?) ((Did God hide the fossils in the rocks?) (p. 1579p. 1579))  Bible as myth or history?Bible as myth or history? – ““higher criticism”:higher criticism”: Bible as historically inaccurateBible as historically inaccurate (David Strauss,(David Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically ExaminedThe Life of Jesus Critically Examined,, translated from German by George Eliot--1830s-40stranslated from German by George Eliot--1830s-40s
  8. 8. ““All round us, the intellectual lightships hadAll round us, the intellectual lightships had broken from their moorings….The presentbroken from their moorings….The present generation…will never know what it was togeneration…will never know what it was to find the lights all drifting, the compassesfind the lights all drifting, the compasses all awry, and nothing left to steer byall awry, and nothing left to steer by except the stars”except the stars” --J. A. Froude (Victorian-era historian on the 1840s). (see p. 1291:--J. A. Froude (Victorian-era historian on the 1840s). (see p. 1291: Perspectives: Religion and SciencePerspectives: Religion and Science))
  9. 9. ““War of Nature” / Consolation?War of Nature” / Consolation?  Origin of SpeciesOrigin of Species:: See p. 1568See p. 1568  Descent of ManDescent of Man.. See p. 1572See p. 1572
  10. 10. 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 embryosEvidence in human embryos (1569)(1569)  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) (1572)(1572)  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/aesthetics (taste/aesthetics (p. 1571p. 1571))  Descent or Ascent? (last paragraph,Descent or Ascent? (last paragraph, p. 1572-73p. 1572-73))
  11. 11. Cardinal NewmanCardinal Newman  Converts from Church of England to CatholicismConverts from Church of England to Catholicism  Part of larger spiritual movement reacting against sciencePart of larger spiritual movement reacting against science and reason:and reason: Oxford MovementOxford Movement  Catholicism superior to Protestantism: no questioning ofCatholicism superior to Protestantism: no questioning of mysteries and phenomena: no urges to doubtmysteries and phenomena: no urges to doubt  Down with conflict and questioning—we need to be moreDown with conflict and questioning—we need to be more humblehumble  ””The Church mustThe Church must denounce rebelliondenounce rebellion as of all possible evilsas of all possible evils the greatest. She must have no terms with it.” (p. 1397)the greatest. She must have no terms with it.” (p. 1397)  ““When…a flood of facts…comes pouring in upon us…allWhen…a flood of facts…comes pouring in upon us…all believers in Revelation, be they Catholic or not, are roused tobelievers in Revelation, be they Catholic or not, are roused to consider their bearing upon themselves…[and] are in dangerconsider their bearing upon themselves…[and] are in danger of being led away into a bottomless liberalism of thought....”of being led away into a bottomless liberalism of thought....” (1397)(1397)
  12. 12. Thomas HuxleyThomas Huxley  ““Darwin’s bulldog”Darwin’s bulldog”  Takes opposite perspective from Cardinal Newman:Takes opposite perspective from Cardinal Newman: Darwin’s theories have disproved accounts ofDarwin’s theories have disproved accounts of creation:creation: – p. 1399: “As a natural process. . . evolutionp. 1399: “As a natural process. . . evolution excludes creation and all other kinds ofexcludes creation and all other kinds of supernatural intervention.”)supernatural 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 in civilized contexts!Darwin doesn’t apply in civilized contexts!  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, and selectively promote what we value.around the world, and selectively promote what we value.
  13. 13. Herbert SpencerHerbert Spencer (not in your textbook)(not in your textbook)  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!
  14. 14. Literature and the Crisis of Faith:Literature and the Crisis of Faith: Tennyson,Tennyson, In Memoriam:In Memoriam: see pp. 1187-see pp. 1187-11891189, and pp. 1206-07:, and pp. 1206-07: ““Nature, red in tooth and claw”Nature, red in tooth and claw” Some themes to watch for:Some themes to watch for: • Higher divine purpose conflicts with physical natureHigher divine purpose conflicts with physical nature • Savage elements within humanity:Savage elements within humanity: • the poor and the uncivilized/uncolonized—struggles forthe poor and the uncivilized/uncolonized—struggles for existence, expression of “primal” impulsesexistence, expression of “primal” impulses • Women and sexual selection?Women and sexual selection? • Perversions of animal nature: (Rossetti’sPerversions of animal nature: (Rossetti’s Goblin MarketGoblin Market))

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