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Reading the Fossils of Faith: Thomas Henry Huxley and the Evolutionary Subtext of the Synoptic Problem

  • Matthew Day (a1)

Extract

In a book loaded with metaphors of assault and retaliation, Andrew Dickson White's A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom saved one of the best for Darwin. “Darwin's Origin of Species,” we are told, came “into the theological world like a plough into an ant-hill. Everywhere those thus rudely awakened from their old comfort and repose had swarmed forth angry and confused.” For White, the sometimes frenzied post-Darwinian controversies over providential design and divine creation were simply the latest episodes in an all-out struggle between theology and science that stretched back beyond Galileo's cheerless encounters with the Catholic Church. Though the voices may have been different, the song remained the same. Despite its continuing presence in the popular media, contemporary historians of religion and science now regard White's warfare thesis as an artifact of the constantly shifting relationships between these two cultural fields rather than a viable analysis of their engagement. The fundamental problem with the conflict model is that it is a bit like performing heart surgery with a Phillips head screwdriver: it is simply too blunt of an instrument for getting at the all-too-crucial particulars. As a result, it is likely to do more harm than good. To see why, consider what James Moore has called the “religious filiation” of Charles Darwin's evolutionary thought.

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References

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1. Dickson White, Andrew, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (New York: Appleton, 1986), 1:70. It is now clear that the theological reception of Darwin's work was far more multivalent than White's metanarrative allows. See Moore, James, The Post-Darwinian Controversies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Livingstone, David, Darwin's Forgotten Defenders (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic, 1987); and Roberts, Jon, Darwin and the Divine in America (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988).

2. Moore, James, “Darwin of Down: The Evolutionist as Squarson-Naturalist,” The Darwinian Heritage, ed. David, Kohn (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), 438.

3. See Kohn, David, “Darwin's Ambiguity: The Secularization of Biological Meaning,” British Journal of the History of Science 22 (1989): 215–39.

4. Beer, Gillian, Darwin's Plots Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth-century Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 45.

5. Darwin, Charles, The Correspondence of Charles Darwin in Thirteen Volumes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1860] 1993), 8:224.

6. Sloan, Philip, “‘The Sense of Sublimity’: Darwin on Nature and Divinity,” Science in Theistic Contexts: Cognitive Dimensions, ed. Brooke, John Hedley, Osler, Margaret, and van der Meer, Jitse M. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 251–69.

7. Richards, Robert J., The Romantic Conception of Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 516; See also Richards, , “Darwin's Romantic Biology: The Foundation of His Evolutionary Ethics,” Biology and the Foundation of Ethics, ed. Jane, Maienschein and Michael, Ruse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 113–53.

8. For an illuminating exchange on the relative merits of what I am calling, for the sake of economy, the standard “British” and alternative “German” interpretations of Darwin's thought, see Ruse, Michael, “The Romantic Conception of Robert J. Richards,” Journal of the History of Biology 37 (2004): 323; and Richards, Robert J., “Michael Ruse's Design for Living,” Journal of the History of Biology 37 (2004): 2538.

9. The British historian John Hedley Brooke is perhaps the most articulate and well-known “complexity theorist” when it comes to religion and science. For his most systematic treatment of these issues, see his Religion and Science: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

10. White, Paul, Thomas Huxley: Making the “Man of Science” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

11. Kümmel, Werner, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems, trans. Gilmour, S. MacLean and Howard Clark, Kee (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1972), 75.

12. As quoted in Werner, Kümmel, The New Testament, 75.

13. Farmer, William R., The Synoptic Problem: A Critical Review of the Literary Relationships between Matthew, Mark, and Luke (New York: MacMillan, 1964), 5.

14. As quoted in Henry, Chadwick, “Introduction,” Lessing's Theological Writings, ed. Henry, Chadwick (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1957), 18.

15. As quoted in Werner, Kümmel, The New Testament, 76. Farmer is extremely skeptical about the intellectual origins of the Urevangelium concept. He writes, it is “an idea which never influenced German criticism until it entered the head of Lessing, and about which he himself wrote to his brother in a letter, ‘I myself am often astonished to see how naturally everything proceeds from an observation which I found I had made, without rightly knowing how I came by it.’” In his estimation, the dubious pedigree of the idea should have been enough to warn serious scholars away. See William, Farmer, The Synoptic Problem, 39.

16. Lessing, Gotthold, “New Hypothesis Concerning the Evangelists as Merely Human Historians,” Lessing's Theological Writings, ed. Henry, Chadwick (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1957), 76.

17. Ibid., 75.

18. As quoted in Kümmel, Werner, The New Testament, 82.

19. A useful history regarding the thesis of Marcan priority can be found in Stoldt, Hans-Herbert, History and Criticism of the Marcan Hypothesis, trans. Niewyk, Donald L. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1980).

20. For a recent attempt to write a comprehensive intellectual history of the Synoptic Problem, see Dungan, David Laird, A History of the Synoptic Problem (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

21. As quoted in Werner, Kümmel, The New Testament, 153.

22. For more on the relationship between evolutionary biological thought and linguistic theory, see Taub, Liba, “Evolutionary Ideas and ‘Empirical’ Methods: The Analogy between Language and Species in Works by Lyell and Schleicher,” British Journal of the History of Science 26 (1993): 171–93; Alter, Stephen, Darwinism and the Linguistic Image (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); and Richards, Robert J., “The Linguistic Creation of Man,” Experimenting in Tongues: Studies in Science and Language, ed. Matthias, Dörries (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002), 2148.

23. Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species, 310–11. For a good discussion of Darwin's selective appropriation of Lyell's original image, see Alter, Stephen, Darwinism and the Linguistic Image, 2328. A helpful analysis of the place of linguistic metaphor in Darwin's thought can be found in Beer, Gillian, “Darwin and the Growth of Language Theory,” Nature Transfigured, ed. John, Christie and Sally, Shuttleworth (New York: Manchester University Press, 1989), 152–70.

24. The locus classicus for this distinction can be found in Galileo, , “Letter to the Duchess Christina,” The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, ed. Maurice, Finocchiaro (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 87118. For an intriguing history of this theme in early modern thought, see Peter, HarrisonProtestantism, the Bible, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

25. As quoted in Rudwick, Martin, “Transposed Concepts from the Human Sciences in the Early Work of Charles Lyell,” Images of the Earth, ed. Ludmilla, Jordanova and Roy, Porter (Chalfont St. Giles, U.K.: British Society for the History of Science, 1979), 72.

26. Lyell, Charles, The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (Philadelphia, Penn.: George W. Childs, 1863), 458, 461–62.

27. For a contemporary philosophical attempt to link evolutionary biological explanations and textual hermeneutical techniques, see Dennett, Daniel, “The Interpretation, of Texts, People, and Other Artifacts,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (1990): 177–94.

28. Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, [1859] 1964), 422–23.

29. Schleicher, August, “Darwinism Tested by the Science of Language,” 4142.

30. Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species, 484.

31. Schleicher, August, “Darwinism Tested by the Science of Language,” 3637.

32. Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species, 490.

33. Letter to Thomas Huxley, 10 May 1870, in The Letters of Matthew Arnold, ed. Lang, Charles, 5 vols. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 19962001), 3:412.

34. Dickson White, Andrew, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2:393.

35. Streeter, B. H., “The Literary Evolution of the Gospels,” Studies in the Synoptic Problem, ed. William, Sanday (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1911), 210–27.

36. As quoted in Farmer, William, The Synoptic Problem, 181.

37. For a history of the “progressive” interpretation of Darwinian evolutionary thought, see Ruse, Michael, Monad to Man (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).

38. It is a portrait whose details have become, quite literally, the stuff of scientific legend—as the fable of his 1860 run-in with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce demonstrates. See Lucas, J. R., “Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter,” Historical Journal 22 (1979): 313–30.

39. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “Origin of Species,” Darwiniana (New York: Appleton, 1896), 52.

40. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “The School Boards: What They Can Do, and What They May Do,” Critiques and Addresses (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1972), 48.

41. See Turner, Frank, “The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: A Professional Dimension,” Isis 69 (1978): 356–76; and Desmond, Adrian, Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London, 1850–1875 (London: Blond and Briggs, 1982). A similar point might be made about Andrew Dickson White's History, which was partially inspired by his struggle to build the first nondenominational, secular university in the United States (Cornell). In both of these cases, what John Dewey says about the category of human nature in modern political thought might be applied to the concept of a war between science and religion in the modern historiography of science: “ideas put forth about the makeup of human nature, ideas supposed to be the results of psychological inquiry, have been in fact only reflections of practical measures that different groups, classes, factions wished to see continued in existence or newly adopted.” See Dewey, John, Freedom and Culture (New York: Prometheus, 1989), 30.

42. See Wace, Henry, “Agnosticism: A Reply to Professor Huxley,” Nineteenth Century 145 (03 1889): 354.

43. Of course, the sociological link between scientific truth and personal honor or virtue is far from unique to late-nineteenth-century England. Mario Biagioli argues that a similar connection existed in the seventeenth-century Italian discourse of natural philosophy, and is crucial to understanding the rise and fall of Galileo. See Biagioli, , Galileo Courtier (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

44. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “Preface,” Science and Christian Tradition (London: MacMillan, 1909), xvii.

45. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “Agnosticism,” Science and Christian Tradition, 221.

46. Wace, Henry, “Agnosticism: A Reply to Professor Huxley,” Nineteenth Century, 367.

47. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “Agnosticism: A Rejoinder,” Science and Christian Tradition, 273.

48. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “The School Boards: What They Can Do, and What They May Do,” Critiques and Addresses, 51.

49. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “The Struggle for Existence in Human Society,” Evolution and Ethics (New York: Appleton, 1920), 219.

50. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “A Liberal Education; and Where to Get It,” Lectures and Lay Sermons (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1900), 5859.

51. As quoted in White, Paul, Thomas Huxley: Making the Man of Science, 79.

52. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “The Evolution of Theology,” Science and Hebrew Tradition (New York: Appleton, 1914), 288.

53. Ibid.

54. For more on this cross-fertilizing history of interaction, see Henry, Hoeningswold and Linda, Wiener, ed., Biological Metaphor and Cladistic Classification (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987).

55. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “The Evolution of Theology,” Science and Hebrew Tradition, 290.

56. As a case in point, Huxley concludes Evolution of Theology by suggesting that the “spread of true scientific culture” brings to an end “the evolution of theology.” Henry Huxley, Thomas, “The Evolution of Theology,” Science and Hebrew Tradition, 372. For Huxley's apercu regarding Positivism, see his “On the Physical Basis of Life,” Method and Results (New York: Appleton, 1911), 156.

57. See Stocking, George, Victorian Anthropology (New York: The Free Press, 1987). I would like to thank an anonymous referee for urging me to situate Huxley's reflections on religion in the larger context of nineteenth-century anthropological thought.

58. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “Preface,” Science and Christian Tradition, xviii.

59. See Henry Huxley, Thomas, “On the Method of Zadig,” Science and Hebrew Tradition, 12.

60. Huxley used these terms to praise both Lyell and Schleicher's work on the parallels between biological evolution and language. See Henry Huxley, Thomas, “Criticisms on ‘Origin of Species,’” Darwiniana, 8081.

61. Henry Huxley, Thomas, “The Origin of Species,” Darwiniana, 54.

62. Ibid., 25.

63. Ibid., 72.

64. See Henry Huxley, Thomas, “On the Method of Zadig,” Science and Hebrew Tradition, 23.

65. See Henry Huxley, Thomas, “Agnosticism,” Science and Christian Tradition, 221.

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