The Caricature - Darwin v. Christianity
As with the Galileo Affair the tensions
that intensified between scientists and theologians at this time have been much
misunderstood. In the case of Darwins
evolutionary scheme the caricature runs as follows:
that the Christian theologians of the
time were all committed to a model in which God had designed every single
creature exactly as that creature was known to the naturalists of the 1850s.
that Darwins book showed any belief
in creation to be untenable, and
that the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel
Wilberforce, rendered himself ridiculous by opposing Darwinism at the British
Association Meeting in 1860.
The story goes that Wilberforce,
recognising that Darwins scheme implied that humans too had evolved, from
other apes, questioned Darwins friend and champion T.H.Huxley as to whether he
was descended from an ape on his fathers side or his mothers. Huxley,
supposedly, quipped back that:
question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or
a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence, and
yet who employs those faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of
introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion - I unhesitatingly
affirm my preference for the ape.
The evidence now suggests that the legend
of these exchanges grew to its final form long after the event itself. Both
John Brooke and Willem B Drees record a much more balanced view.
What the caricature ignores is that:
Vice-President of the Association that year, and made his critique of Darwinism
as a scientist rather than a theologian.He had reviewed The Origin of Species -
adversely, but in a way which Darwin acknowledged as perceptive.
real scientific problems with Darwins evolutionary scheme, which were not lost
on Bishop Wilberforce, a follower of Richard Owens theory of archetypal
patterns in vertebrates (see important evolutionists before Darwin).
responses to Darwin varied greatly - some like Charles Kingsley were
immediately affirmative (see early conflicts over Darwinism).
There were, then, just as in Galileos
case, scientists and theologians on both sides of the question. Personalities,
such as that of Huxley (Darwins bulldog), exacerbated conflict. And just as
Galileo pressed the issue by asserting himself as a natural philosopher,
claiming truth rather than mere effectiveness of calculation (see the career of
Galileo Galilei) so the new breed of 19th-Century scientists used the Darwinian
controversy to press their authority over their discipline in a way which took
the clerical establishment by surprise. What needs to be stressed is the
complexity of the interaction between science and religion, and the shallowness
of the caricature. The disputes over Darwinism did much to fuel the conflict
or warfare hypothesis. But see Darwins challenge to theological positions to
understand the actual core of the argument.
link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr.
Source: God, Humanity and the
Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)