Thursday, November 29, 2007
On the Ways of Change
Under the rubric of there being nothing new under the Sun, one of the more interesting facts brought out by Neal C. Gillespie in his book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, is how a "biblicist mode of thought" hung on among nineteenth century scientists despite the positivist practice taking hold even among the faithful.
The real issue was not the validity of scriptural geology but the continuing use of biblical themes and images in scientific thought quite apart from a biblical literalism. Few scientists, by mid century, any longer believed in the literal historicity of Noah's flood -- at least the majority had given up looking for geological proofs of it -- but many would not give up some sort of historical flood. Few believed in the biblical Adam and Eve, but almost everyone talked of "a single pair" in discussing the origin of species and saw man as a unique creation. Few believed in miracles, but many still spoke of creation in ambiguous terms. Few any longer thought that Genesis told the actual story of the world's creation, but some still tried to find "periods" of geological activity roughly parallel to Moses' six days and their respective events.
Lyell and the others, of course, were not enemies of theology as such. Lyell's aim, like that of Bacon and Galileo before him, was to protect science from the inhibitions and misdirections of theology. This he did, not in order to harm religion, but in order to serve science.
Antagonism against biblicism had reached such a point by the late 1850s that Agassiz suggested that fear of the wrath of the positivists was actually leading some naturalists with strong theological convictions to conform to the new science against their true judgment.
Labels: Gillespie: Darwin and Creation