Darwin Had the Enlightenment Adequately Essay

Pages: 6 (2291 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Biology

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[. . .] It is now the process that is "endless" rather than, say, the power of God. And moreover, Darwin makes it clear in his final sentence that the process is ongoing -- the human perception of time is such that one cannot observe, necessarily, the emergence of a new species instantaneously. But the evidence of the finches of the Galapagos which Darwin observed firsthand surely shows that the process is occurring in minute and observable ways. But Cosans notes that, in some sense, Darwin's religious hints in the book's conclusion are a necessary aspect of its structure:

Although usually ignored by neo-Darwinists, Darwin's hint about the supernatural origins of life is actually a critical aspect of his framework of analysis. Throughout the Origin, he usually contrasts his account not with that of other evolutionists such as Lamarck or Chambers, but with that of someone we would now call a "special creationist." The position of Darwin's hypothetical creationist is the dialectical opposite of that endorsed in the Origin. The Origin's creationist would seem in fact to be a younger less sophisticated version of Darwin himself. (Cosans 364-5)

The implication here is that Darwin places himself in two separate roles, one a more naive creationist and one a "special creationist" who understands the role of the Creator as being one who creates a process whereby species evolve, rather than creates the species themselves. But it is also worth noting that Darwin attempts to preserve the phenomena which seem to still require theology: his theory puts "struggle" at the heart of existence, in a place where something like original sin or the fall from Eden would sit in a traditional strict theological world view.

But it is not theology that Darwin dispenses with, it is small-minded orthodoxy. Since the beginning of the scientific revolution with Copernicus and Kepler, new evidence arrived constantly that challenged orthodoxy but did not challenge the idea of a natural order. This tended to push theological thinking in the direction of Paley, or of Deism, in which order is exalted for its own sake. But at the same time, a Deist is as seriously capable of scientific miscalculation based on assumptions as Martin Luther (who rejected Copernicus because he contradicted the Biblical account of Joshua) -- after all, Thomas Jefferson asked Lewis and Clark to search for a woolly mammoth on their expedition, because the rationalistic creator he assumed would not have created a being only to permit its extinction: "It may be asked, why I insert the mammoth, as if it still existed?....Such is the economy of nature ... that no instance can be produced, of her having permitted any one race of her animals to become extinct; of her having formed any link in her great work so weak as to be broken." (Jefferson, 77). Darwin's thought was the next stage: in some sense, it contextualized the more horrific sorts of irrationalism (such as extinction, whether of an individual life or of entire species) and also placed existence itself into a large-scale statistical category. The most shocking thing about Darwin's theory is the notion that so many individual lives, with individual variations, are necessary to bring about the large-scale changes that are observable between different species in nature. But the taboo that Darwin violates is ultimately not one that suggests there is no Creator -- it is a taboo about admitting that individuals might not be particularly special in the eyes of such a Creator. What was harmed by Darwinism was not God, but human pride. In some sense, the arrival of Darwinian theory could be taken as a sign from God that humans are not sufficiently humble -- that would certainly fit in with even the most orthodox Christian warnings about pride, while also fitting with Darwin's sense of the mathematical immensity of individuals required to bring about large scale changes in species variation. The scientific thinking of the Enlightenment had prepared humans intellectually for a Darwinian Creator, but it had not prepared them for a blow to their pride that might be entailed along with such a concept.

Works Cited

Campbell, John Angus. Why Was Darwin Believed? Darwin's Origin and the Problem of Intellectual Revolution. Configurations 11.2 (2003) 203-237.

Cosans, Chris. Was Darwin a creationist? Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 48.3 (2005) 362-371.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Sixth Edition. Project Gutenberg. Accessed 25 March 2012 at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2009/2009-h/2009-h.htm

Diderot, Denis. "Detailed Explanation of the System of Human Knowledge." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Richard N. Accessed 25 March 2012 at: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.084

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. Boston: Thomas and Andrews, 1801. [END OF PREVIEW]

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