Monday, November 23, 2015

What is Darwinism? by Charles Hodge, 1874 Review

What is Darwinism? By Charles Hodge, 1874 Review

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The title of this book is a little misleading, although it cannot mislead very far when it is remembered that it emanates from a distinguished Professor of Divinity at Princeton College. A book that should plainly and clearly answer the question "What is Darwinism?" as a matter of pure exposition, and which should also state what it is not, would be extremely useful at the present time. But such a book could only be made by a man of science, free from prejudice, and familiar with the history and bearings of the whole question. The term "Darwinism" is now vaguely used to represent a whole body of doctrines with which it is associated, and of which it is itself but a part; and a book, professing to answer the question implied in this title, should make the discrimination and dispel the vagueness. If the question were given with its ominous implications, as, "What is this horrible Darwinism?" the reader would be set on the right track by the title; for the book is actually an essay on the relations of Darwinism and orthodoxy, and its aim seems to be to establish the position that Mr. Darwin's theory excludes design in Nature, and is therefore atheistic. Dr. Hodge cites various authorities who hold to this view, and he cites others against it. He admits that Mr. Darwin recognizes the agency of the Creator in originating the first germs of life, and he says, "it is conceded that a man may be an evolutionist and yet not be an atheist, and may admit of design in Nature." And yet he is unwilling to let the matter rest here, and the drift of his book seems to be to show that the whole tendency of the inquiry is irreligious and pernicious. He could make out exactly the same case with the doctrine of gravitation as with the doctrine of evolution. The theory of Newton was objected to in its time as dispensing with God, and explaining the movements of matter by a self-sufficing law of inherent attraction. That question is passed by, and men are left at liberty to interpret it in the way they choose. Why not deal with evolution in the same way? The real question is, "What is the truth of the case?" and, until that is worked out and established, it is premature to complicate it with theological difficulties. Nothing is more certain than that it must be investigated by scientific men, on its own merits.

So acute and cultivated a mind as that of Dr. Hodge could not deal with the question without giving interest to it, and his book will well repay perusal. The author evidently aims to be just, and his volume is measurably free from the denunciatory spirit which is too characteristic of controversy. But it must still be said that he is evidently too little familiar with the subject, and some of his statements will surprise the well-informed reader. For example: "When the theory of evolution was propounded, in 1844, in the 'Vestiges of Creation,' it was universally rejected; when proposed by Mr. Darwin, less than twenty years afterward, it was received with acclamation. Why is this? The facts are now what they were then; they were as well known then as they are now. The theory, so far as evolution is concerned, was then just what it is now. How, then, is it that what was scientifically false in 1844 is scientifically true in 1864?" This statement of Dr. Hodge that the doctrine of evolution, as now understood, was propounded by the author of the "Vestiges of Creation" in 1844, is about as correct as the statement of Drs. Burr and Dawson, that it is a plagiarism from the old Greek atheists, Anaxamander, Anaxagoras, Democritus, and Epicurus. The theory of the "Vestiges" was nothing more than a restatement, in popular form, of that of Lamark, and there was no pretension that its author had contributed any thing to it of scientific importance. The real reason, undoubtedly, why the new statement was caught at with such avidity, was the growing conviction that the prevailing explanation of the origin of living forms, by special creation, was indefensible. The "Vestiges" was widely read, but the theory was not accepted, because it did not offer any rational or probable scientific solution of the difficulty. There was, however, a kind of indefinite feeling that the inquiry was in the true direction, and that its fundamental conception might be strengthened and verified by further investigation. This apprehension is well shown by the following extract from a letter of Principal James D. Forbes to Dr. Whewell, in 1846: "You have read, of course, the sequel to the 'Vestiges'.... the author of the 'Vestiges,' who is generally believed to be a denizen of modern Athens, has shown himself a very apt scholar, and has improved his knowledge and his arguments so much since his first edition, that his deformities no longer appear so disgusting. It was well that he began to write in the fullness of his ignorance and presumption, for, had he begun now, he would have been more dangerous." In 1859, Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace, working independently of each other, developed the principle of Natural Selection, which was the most important single step that had yet been taken to account for the origin and diversities of living forms. That conception, which Professor Helmholtz pronounced "an essentially new creative idea," was soon generally recognized by philosophical naturalists as a valid principle, or natural law, and this gave a new aspect to the whole question. Dr. Hodge's statement, therefore, is one which an instructed scientific man would hardly venture to make.

Review from New Englander and Yale Review 1874:

What Is Darwinism? — Dr. Hodge's brief but comprehensive treatise, in answer to the question What is Darwinism? is remarkable for two things: first, the clearness and force with which it sets forth the fact that Darwin himself rejects the doctrine of design as an essential feature of his theory; and second, the abundant extracts from various writers by which he illustrates the atheistic spirit of the great majority of the naturalists of the Darwinian School. Dr. Hodge does not contend, as he might, that the Darwinian theory, as a theory of the actual development of the successive powers of organic existence, might be held by a scientific theist who should use it as requiring more imperatively than any other theory of the universe the prevalence of design, the more comprehensive thought, and the more varied skill of an intelligent originator. In this omission Dr. Hodge has failed to add a most important argument against the atheistic conclusions on which naturalists rest with such confidence, a confidence which, in our view, on their own showing is entirely misplaced. The abundant evidence against the theory of Darwin from the facts and analogies of natural history Dr. Hodge does not undertake to present, very wisely; and yet there are a few conclusions and facts which even a layman is competent to reach and to employ. The work does not, however, profess to be exhaustive. It is fitted to be very useful, and to leave a strong impression upon many classes of readers.

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