A consideration of the influence of contemporary religion, science, and philosophy on Hardy's writings requires some prefatory cautions. First, such influences often overlap, and identification of how they affected Hardy's work must sometimes be no more than a tentative pointing to diverse and complex sets of possible sources whose precise influence cannot be determined. Thus in Far from the Madding Crowd Gabriel Oak intervenes to protect Bathsheba's ricks from fire and storm, uses his knowledge to save her sheep, and in other ways acts consistently with the biblical teaching that man was given the responsibility of exercising dominion over nature. At the same time, Oak's conduct is congruent with Thomas Henry Huxley's argument in Man's Place in Nature that it is mankind's ethical responsibility to control a morally indifferent environment. However, Oak's actions are even more remarkably consistent with details of the philosophical analysis of man's moral relationship to the natural world in John Stuart Mill's essay “Nature” - though its date of publication makes that influence only barely possible. In this and many other such cases, questions of which, and to what degree, one or more possible sources - “religious,” “scientific,” or “philosophical” - might have affected what Hardy wrote cannot be resolved with any certainty.
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