Monday, December 29, 2008


John van Whye debunks Darwin vs. Religion myth

John van Wyhe is a historian of science, specializing on Charles Darwin, at the University of Cambridge. He is founder and Director of The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online, Bye-Fellow of Christ's College, affiliate of the Department of History & Philosophy of Science, Member of Council for the British Society for the History of Science and Director of its (in progress) online Wheeler Library. In his cover article for the latest edition of BBC History Magazine he considers whether the popular image of 'Darwin vs God' is true:

'We often hear that when the Origin of Species was published there was a great outcry and an historic clash of science and religion. This is probably more fantasy than fact... The Victorian public that first read or read about the Origin of Species were, for the most part, not biblical literalists. For decades the most enlightened writers in the fields of science and religion had accepted that much of the Old Testament, and Genesis in particular, had to be read in a metaphorical sense... Darwin's theories inspired the whole gamut of reactions. Among the scientific community they ranged from contemptuous rejection to enthusiastic support... Other writers felt that Darwin's views were an attack on the role of a Creator in nature... Others, like the Reverend Charles Kingsley, felt differently. He wrote enthusiastically to Darwin about his theory... to religious thinkers of Kingsley's ilk, Darwin had uncovered a new law by which God governed the natural world. For such thinkers it was quite reasonable to reconcile Darwin's views with their religion... As the years passed and reviews and counter-reviews appeared, the fact of Darwinian evolution, the common descent of species became increasingly accepted... Yet... the other key Darwinian idea, natural selection, was much less welcome. As scientific, and non-scientific readers came increasingly to accept the Darwinian concept of common ancestry for spicies, the view that natural selection was the primary mechanism was often sidelined or rejected. Huxley welcomed the big picture of the evolution of life with open arms. yet natural selection - that aspect of the theory that made divine intervention unnecessary - he could not accept. Many suggested instead that the variations that natural selection picked out were themselves divinely guided or caused. The bottom line seemed to be - was there a meaning or intention behind how life changed?' ('Darwin vs God?', BBC History Magazine, volume 10, No 1, January 2009, p. 27-31.)

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