Thursday, September 30, 2010

Natural Theology and Evolutionary Theory in the Nineteenth Century – Summary Paper 3

After reading Module 10, I read the book review cited by Dr. Clarke:  D.R. Baines.  "Before Scopes:  Evangelicalism, Education, and Evolution in Tennessee, 1870-1925", Journal of the American Academy of Religion 75 (2007):  150-153.  Baines’ digest of Charles Israel’s Before Scopes helped me understand the historical response of evangelicalism in America to the perceived threat upon the morality and integrity of society which Darwin’s ideas presented.  The author highlights Israel’s thesis that a “home rule” reflecting the character and values of society allowed evangelicals in the South to mold school curricula to the precepts of their faith during the 1870s (p. 151).  Moving on from the creation of evangelical institutions of higher learning (Vanderbilt and South Union Baptist) to prohibition, Baines shows how Israel successfully traces the modification of church leaders’ antebellum position of non-involvement in the political sphere to one where participation therein became a safeguard against the erosion of values.  A connection to materialist Germany established in the minds of policymakers a just reason to promote religious education in the school system.  Baines’ review of Israel’s work is succinct and yet generates sufficient interest to stimulate further research on the topic.
As I was stirred by the focus of the module on the Catholic response to Darwin, I elected to read another paper cited by Dr. Clarke:  Barry Brundell.  "Catholic Church Politics and Evolution Theory, 1894-1902," British Journal for the History of Science 34 (2001):  81-95.  Brundell’s use of recently-opened archives from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sheds much light on the complex relation of the Vatican with Darwin’s ideas.  The examples he cites of Père Leroy and Fr. Zahm bring to the fore a number of factors at play between the church and society during the late nineteenth century.  Brundell suggests that Jesuit influence established by Pius IX  (of the Syllabus of Errors fame) within the offices of the Vatican  ran somewhat counter to Leo XIII’s own more modern approach, which allowed for freedom of conscience and for “engage(ment) with the secular world, especially the world of the sciences” (p. 83).  A Jesuit Cardinal, Mazella, is shown to have represented the resistance of the church to modernism, whose theories challenged the primacy of man in the order of things (p. 84).  The tension between the official position of the Vatican and those expressed by La Civilta Cattolica (CC) is wonderfully explored by Brundell.  The eventual (internal) censorship against Leroy and Zahm reflects a backward step for the church, though restraint in public denunciation suggests that the Vatican had perhaps become more restrained in its condemnations (after Galileo?).  The author explores the progress of the Catholic Church in its relation with science and its move towards freedom and eventually acceptance:  “...views that were officially censured at the end of the nineteenth century were officially adopted at the end of the twentieth by the highest teaching authority in the Catholic Church” (p. 95).
The final paper which I read for this module was:  Ignas K. Skrupskelis.  “Evolution and Pragmatism: An
Unpublished Letter of William James,” Transactions of the Charles S. Pierce Society 43 (2007): 746-752. 
Skrupskelis presents an unpublished letter (1883) from William James to William Erasmus Darwin, in which James’ own theories are shown to be reflective of the concrete organism-centred framework in C. Darwin’s ideas.  Also under consideration in the paper is the interplay between James’ own relativistic views on morality and those of a PhD student, Francis Abbot, a Unitarian minister who suggested that there existed between all creatures a “mutual moral obligation” – a thesis which C. Darwin had difficulty in accepting (p. 748).  James’ letter to E. Darwin harps on this “error” in Abbot and sublimates value-judgments to a more relativistic, Darwinian level, naming as a rational basis for ethics an organism’s “passion for survival” (p. 751).  Skrupskelis provides an appealing glimpse at source material which establishes James’ relativistic thought as being linked with Charles Darwin’s organism-centered approach to some degree.
After reading Module 11 I read an article cited by Dr. Clarke:  David H. Burton.  "Theodore Roosevelt's Social Darwinism and Views on Imperialism", Journal of the History of Ideas 26 (1965):  103-118.  In this paper, the author explores the tension within the former American president between Social Darwinism, which informed and justified to some extent his agenda of imperialism and the dynamic influence of “the Western tradition, an American sense of practicality (and) the Social Gospel of XIXth-century Protestantism”.  Burton traces the early Roosevelt’s thought as being a product of its time, a milieu where might was the right of the ‘superior’ races, and the ‘white man’s burden’ was the justification for policies of forced intervention in foreign affairs.  The author presents as a redeeming grace in the statesman’s progression of thought a notion of character which supersedes the physical and material struggles (p. 105).  This concept is presented as being “vital to social progress” (p. 107) and as being of more import than intellect.  That the then-president adopted somewhat Lamarckian views in his social theory foreshadowed, to a certain degree, the modern concepts in memetics.  Yet the exposition of imperialist rhetoric serves to remind of the ideological base from which actions such as the invasion of the Philippines arose.  Burton quotes Roosevelt as claiming “in ‘Expansion and Peace’ (1899): ‘in the long run civilized man finds he can keep the peace only by subduing his barbarian neighbors; for the barbarian will yield only to force.’”  Burton’s consideration of the variety of forces at work in Roosevelt’s person, writing and politics demonstrates the complexity of the American zeitgeist at the time. 
Following this I read:  Randy Moore.  “The Lingering Impact of the Scopes Trial on High School
Biology Textbooks”, BioScience 51 (2001): 790-796.  Moore traces the impact of Darwin’s ideas on the American school system, taking consideration of religious elements in the South, from the late nineteenth century, up to the present.  The author’s consideration of fundamentalism and its reach highlights the tension between Darwin’s revolution in the scientific community and the reluctance of the school system, the government and of textbook publishers to run contrary to public opinion and special interest groups.  Moore explores various laws which were enacted during the battle of ideologies, from the Butler Law in Tennessee, which formed the basis for the prosecution of teacher John Scopes, to the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which supported, through the NSF, the funding and development of up-to-date science textbooks (a response to the Soviet Union’s progress in space exploration, p. 793).  The decision of the Supreme Court of the U.S. in 1968 to render unconstitutional a ban on the teaching of evolution (Epperson v. Arkansas) is shown to have led creationists to adopt conciliatory tactics, which sought to provide for the equal airing of literalist biblical accounts in the classroom.  Moore’s paper provides a useful account of the effects of fundamentalist philosophy on the American educational system.
The final paper I read for the module was:  Richard Weikart.  “A Recently Discovered Darwin Letter on Social Darwinism”, Isis 86 (1995): 609-611.  Weikart examines a letter from Darwin to Heinrich Fick in which some of the biologist’s views on social and economic issues are made clearer.  In the author’s own words:  “It is the strongest piece of evidence of which I am aware that Darwin himself believed that his biological theory lent support to individualist economic competition and laissez-faire economics” (p. 609).  Fick, a professor of Law in Zurich, wrote a paper titled, “On the Influence of Natural Science on Law" in which he argued against conscription for healthy young men, which, he proposed, would allow the ‘weaker’ members of society to stay at home and breed.  He also suggested that legislation to prevent marriages for these ‘weaker’ persons would arrest the potential ‘degeneration’ of society (p. 610).  Darwin’s response, which Weikart includes in full, focuses on his concern that Trade Unions, which provided equality in both wages and hours, were actually preventing healthy competition.  Darwin says, “This seems to me a great evil for the future progress of mankind” (p. 611).  Weikart concludes with the definitive statement: 

“Darwin's response to Fick demonstrates conclusively that Darwin was not averse to making social and economic applications of his theory. He clearly linked economic success with selective fitness and thought his theory supported individualist economic competition” (Ibid).

The final two modules provided a more concentrated focus on some of the particulars presented in earlier ‘lectures’.  I feel, through the exercise of conducting research on topics related to this course, far better-equipped to understand the people and ideas addressed here, and inspired to go on reading both within the topic and in related areas. 

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