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A naturalist and a gentleman

by
May 2009, no. 311

Evolution in the Antipodes: Charles Darwin and Australia by Tom Frame

UNSW Press, $39.95 pb, 307 pp

A naturalist and a gentleman

by
May 2009, no. 311

‘The tension between religion and intellectual knowledge definitely comes to the fore,’ says Max Weber, ‘wherever rational empirical knowledge has consistently worked through to the disenchantment of the world and its transformation into a causal mechanism.’ Darwinism, or so one version of the history of modern culture goes, is the culmination of the process of disenchantment, the last step in the transformation of the world into a causal mechanism.

Where the great minds of early modern science concur in thinking that scientific study of the creation acquaints human beings better with the majesty of the creator, Darwin’s theory of natural selection seems to dispose of the creator without further ado. The famous core of it is the hypothesis that undirected biological change acts as a creative force, generating new species and ensuring that those best adapted to their environments have the greatest reproductive success. As plain as it sounds, the implications are startling: species need no longer be thought of as immutable creations of divinity; man himself no longer appears minted in the image of God; the earth, as a whole, acquires a distinctively modern natural history that dispenses with all notion of divine provision for human needs and aspirations. ‘It is like confessing to murder,’ Darwin wrote in an 1844 letter to Joseph Dalton, as the new theory put him on an unavoidable collision course with the proponents of a one-off biblical creation.

Cameron Shingleton reviews 'Evolution in the Antipodes: Charles Darwin and Australia' by Tom Frame

Evolution in the Antipodes: Charles Darwin and Australia

by Tom Frame

UNSW Press, $39.95 pb, 307 pp

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