Monday, July 23, 2007


Accidental Revolutionaries

Here are additional good thoughts from David L. Hull's book, Darwin and His Critics: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community (1973), p. 63-64:

At one time God had played an important role in physics, but gradually his function had been eroded, until reference to him was little more than pious honorifics. It is often said that evolutionary theory brought an end to the practice of including God as a causal factor in scientific explanations. A more accurate characterization is that it demonstrated forcefully that this day had already passed. The architects of the demise of teleology were not atheistic materialists but pious men like Herschel, Whewell, and Mill, who thought they were doing religion good service by limiting the domain of the accidental and of the miraculous. To them the more the empirical world was shown to be governed by secondary causes acting according to God-given laws, the more powerful and ominiscient (sic) God was shown to be. ...

Accidental occurrences could be shown not to be accidental, either because of the direct intervention of God or by subsuming them under law. Physics since Newton had made constant inroads on the domain of the accidental, thereby limiting the need for God's direct intervention. As Mill put it, there were two conceptions of theism, one consistent with science, one inconsistent. "The one which is inconsistent is the conception of a God governing the world by acts of variable will. The one which is consistent, is the conception of a God governing the world by invariable laws."

Darwin used this position on the relation between science and religion in an attempt to gain a fair hearing for his theory. ... All Darwin wanted to do was to extend the domain of secondary causes to include the creation of species. Although in the past the creation of species had been considered miraculous and outside the realm of law, so had many other phenomena which had been shown to be law-governed. Darwin was acting within the currently accepted tradition of expanding the realm of law.

Best laid plans and all that ...


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