Darwinism as religion

One reason I am not writing much here is that on top of everything else I have been sent fourteen (at last count) books on Darwin to review. Well, fifteen, counting the hardback Origin of Species which turned up this morning from Penguin, with a cover by Damian Hirst, and a blurb from him, too, explaining that Darwin had revealed “the meaning of life”. I haven’t time to scan the whole thing in, but it is a very clear example of Darwinism as a substitute for earlier religions: what he writes about Darwin is exactly what would have been written about Revelation 200 years ago.

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10 Responses to Darwinism as religion

  1. Mrs Tilton says:

    Hirst? Jesus. What has he delivered: domestic pigeons chopped in half and sealed in tanks of formaldehyde?

  2. Paul C says:

    Is the veneer of language enough to make that argument? I don’t think Hirst means that Darwin has revealed the meaning of life at all, at least not in the sense that a theist would say that the Bible reveals the meaning of life. People may have appropriated the language of revelation, but changing the context changes the intent of the words, surely?

  3. acb says:

    Paul: of course changing the content can change the intent of the words, but not, I think, in this case. To say that Natural Selection “explains the meaning of life” — Hirst’s exact quote — looks to me a retreat into exactly the same kind of meaningless dazzle as saying “We want to share Jesus”. There is no possible sense in which Natural Selection can explain the meaning of life. Yet he wants Darwinism, as he understands it, to be the guarantor — the standard — of truth and beauty and the condition towards which art aspires. That’s what people once wanted from God. I am going to post more about this at the graun site later.

  4. Rupert says:

    The places I hang out and throw stones at creationists are rather strict on ‘Darwinism’. That word tends to be a shibboleth of the creationists; the fighters for truth are much keener on ‘evolutionary biology’, as am I. Never used the D word myself as shorthand for EB, and I don’t recommend anyone else does.

  5. acb says:

    I don’t normally, either. But this is Damien Hirst, and I think we are seeing a crossover between one all-wise being with a beard who explains how the universe is to another one.

  6. acb says:

    That’s to say that I accept entirely the distinction between Darwinism and evolutionary biology but there are people who believe in both, as well as neither …

    (creationists believe in Darwinism but not EB)

  7. acb says:

    (some creationists)

  8. Rupert says:

    To be sure, and I haven’t read much about Damien Hirst’s take on the scientific method and the philosophical underpinnings behind empiricism. It could be that he maintains a high degree of clarity regarding the meaning of meaning, after all.

    There will be lots of people who get the warm fuzzies about Darwin. I certainly get a sublime shot of the numinous from lots of the better class of science. But then I do from the better class of Prayerbook Evensong: in neither case, would I classify myself or my beliefs as religious.

  9. acb says:

    Well, I draw religion more broadly than you do; at least I think that lasting religions can only be sustained by a great deal of unreligious observance. I mean, full churches are full of people thinking about the shopping, the cute person across the aisle, the decvline of language since Cranmer …

  10. Rupert says:

    I think a belief in supernatural beings (in the common usage of all those words) is part of anything I’d define as religious.

    That’s it, really.

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