Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perhaps what bothers me most about Darwin’s rhetoric in On the Origin of Species not so much his questionable use of rhetoric to replace empirical data. Nor is it his often contradictory passages that may be a result of a hastily written work. Rather, it is Darwin’s use of what one might call “Whig” vocabulary. Darwin often uses terms such as “advancement” in relation to natural selection and survival of the fittest, very much in keeping with the modern, mechanistic, and forward looking Whig party who used such terms in order to justify the English Imperial agenda of commercial expansion and exploitation of “backwards,” “uncivilized” and ultimately inferior cultures. As much as the vocabulary of the On the Origin of Species closely resembles the world view of contemporary English politics, it also seems to subtlety mirror another pillar of English culture: Christianity.
In many passages of the On the Origin Darwin seems at pains to impart the random and unceasing qualities of both natural selection and survival of the fittest; However, to speak of the “advancement of all organic beings” (pg. 220) unfailingly brings to this readers mind not only the rhetoric of Whigism, but also that of Christianity. Advancement implies to me movement towards a goal, a teleology that implies an endpoint, a perfecting of a system; such perfection can not help but summon up the Christian diety who both embodies and demands at least the attempt to live according to “His” will. This puts me in mind of the what I see as the most interesting sentence of the whole book and can be found at the end of chapter III where he writes that, “we may console ourselves with the full belief, that war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply”(pg. 79). How Christian is that

1 comment:

  1. This is packed full of strong ideas and themes of British (ultimately, white European) culture. And it brings to mind the concept of social Darwinism. Also Eugenics. These social ideals all revolve around the advancement of the white race and the depreciation of anything outside of it. And like you said, the 'civilizing mission' of promoting Christianity was not undertaken in such a Christian way, nor was Christian principles at the heart of what these white Europeans were promoting. Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' is precisely indicative of 'lighting' up the 'darkness' of Africa - all spiritually, technologically (or economically), and racially.