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Kingsley’s Natural Selection: The Significance of Darwin in His Works

Kingsley’s Natural Selection: The Significance of Darwin in His Works

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Investigates the impact of Darwinian theory on the works of Charles Kingsley, who straddles the worlds of religion and literature, and continually reveals his fascination with the science of the day. Kingsley purportedly accepts Darwin’s theory of natural selection, with no antagonism between scientific fact and religious faith. Under scrutiny Kingsley’s professed agreement starts to appear somewhat selective.
Investigates the impact of Darwinian theory on the works of Charles Kingsley, who straddles the worlds of religion and literature, and continually reveals his fascination with the science of the day. Kingsley purportedly accepts Darwin’s theory of natural selection, with no antagonism between scientific fact and religious faith. Under scrutiny Kingsley’s professed agreement starts to appear somewhat selective.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Kingsley’s Natural Selection: The
Significance of Darwin in His Works
 Abigail Rowe106754686Hi 3002Dr Jason Harris
 
Abigail Rowe 106754686
2
The second edition of 
On the Origin of Species
(John Murray, 1860) contains anunattributed sentence regarding religious reaction to the publication. Darwin writes
I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. A celebrated author and divine has written to me that "he has gradually learnt to see that it is justas noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation tosupply the voids caused by the action of His laws."
1
 
The ‗celebrated author and divine‘ in question is Charles Kingsley, cleric, author and amateur 
natural scientist. The fact that Darwin felt it expedient to include this quote immediatelyalerts the reader to the controversy that the first edition had provoked within the religiousestablishment. The impact of 
The Origin,
in the years following its publication, wasmultilayered and complex, provoking strong reaction from the scientific and religiouscommunities, becoming visible in the arts and in philosophy, in essence fundamentally andirrevocably changed
humanity‘s view of itself. This essay seeks to investigat
e the impact of Darwinian theory on the works of one man, Charles Kingsley, who not only straddles theworlds of religion and literature throughout his career, but also continually reveals hisfascination with the science of the day. Kingsley
‘s
prolific and unstintingly didactic worksreveal a purported acceptance
and assimilation of Darwin‘s theory of 
natural selection, withno antagonism posited between scientific fact and religious faith. Nevertheless, on closer
examination, Kingsley‘s professed
agreement becomes more tenuous and starts to appearsomewhat selective. Given that Kingsley was lauded as
 being ‗on board‘
by Darwin himself,this essay will seek to explore the veracity of this reputation. To assess this it is necessary
first to evaluate why Kingsley‘s support was important to Darwin
, and also to contextualisethe publication of 
The Origin
a
longside Kingsley‘s
existing canon.Darwin
 
understood that his theory of natural selection to all intents and purposesremoved divine providence from the understanding of the development of life. Facing a two
1
Darwin, Charles,
On the The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured  Races in the Struggle for Life
(John Murray, 1860, 2
nd
Ed., 2
nd
Issue) p. 481, retrieved 22
nd
January 2009 fromhttp://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=F376&pageseq=508
 
 
Abigail Rowe 106754686
3
millennia account of natural history which was based on a providential plan, including themost contemporary thought regarding evolution and geology, the evidence laid out soaccessibly in
The Origin
suggested to many that this foundational tenet of WesternChristendom was erroneous. Whilst in
The Origin
Darwin studiously avoided theimplications of his theory on the origin of mankind, he knew that this question was implicit inhis text
2
. As a man who avoided confrontation throughout his life, and expecting a polarisedresponse to
The Origin
, he prepared himself for altercation. His nervous anticipation shows inthe covering letters he sent to recipients of the complimentary copies, which reveal a self-deprecation to the point of seeming unconfident of his book. For example, to his formermentor, Henslow
, Darwin writes ‗my dear old master in Natural History; I fear... that you willnot approve of your pupil in this case‘, but further reading seems to suggest that Darwin‘s
nervousness was not about the content of the book but more about the fact that he felt it waspublished before he had time to complete it
: ‗The book in its present state does not show theamount of labour which I have bestowed on the subject‘
3
. To Jenyns, Henslow‘s brother 
-in-
law, entomologist and cleric, he writes ‗Please remembe
r that my book is only an abstract,
and very much condensed‘ and goes on to say that he ‗may, of course, be egregiously wrong;
but I cannot persuade myself that a theory which explains (as I think it certainly does) severallarge classes of facts, can be w
holly wrong‘
4
. Two years before publication, Darwin hadwritten to his cousin Fox that he was
 
‗working very hard at my Book, perhaps too hard. It
will be very big & I am become most deeply interested in the way facts fall into groups. I am
like Crœsus
overwhelmed with my riches in facts. & I mean to make my Book as perfect as
ever I can‘
5
. With such assurance in the solidity of his evidence it may rather be this drive for
2
His preface refers to the work on human variation published by Dr D.C.Wells in 1813 and 1818.
3
Francis Darwin ed.,
The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter 
(JohnMurray, London, 1887) Vol 2, p. 218
4
ibid., Vol. 2, p.220
5
Charles Darwin, Letter 2049
 — 
Darwin, C. R.toFox, W. D.,8 Feb [1857] retrieved 22
nd
January 2009 fromhttp://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-2049.html

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