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Evolutionary Naturalism in Victorian Britain: The Darwinians and their Critics

Series: Variorum Collected Studies Series

By: Bernard Lightman

342 pages, 23 b/w illus


Hardback | Mar 2009 | #187944 | ISBN-13: 9780754659877
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £85.00 $111/€97 approx

About this book

Scholars have tended to portray T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, and their allies as the dominant cultural authority in the second half of the 19th century. Defenders of Darwin and his theory of evolution, these men of science are often seen as a potent force for the secularization of British intellectual and social life.

In this collection of essays Bernard Lightman argues that historians have exaggerated the power of scientific naturalism to undermine the role of religion in middle and late-Victorian Britain. The essays deal with the evolutionary naturalists, especially the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, the physicist John Tyndall, and the philosopher of evolution, Herbert Spencer. But they look also at those who criticized this influential group of elite intellectuals, including aristocratic spokesman A. J Balfour, the novelist Samuel Butler, and the popularizer of science Frank Buckland.

Focusing on the theme of the limitations of the cultural power of evolutionary naturalism, the volume points to the enduring strength of religion in Britain in the latter half of the 19th century.


Introduction; Science, scientists and the public: the contested meanings of science in Victorian Britain; Victorian sciences and religions: discordant harmonies; 'Robert Elsmere' and the agnostic crises of faith; Interpreting agnosticism as a nonconformist sect: T.H. Huxley's 'new reformation; Scientists as materialists in the periodical press: Tyndall's Belfast address; Huxley and scientific agnosticism: the strange history of a failed rhetorical strategy; Ideology, evolution, and late-Victorian agnostic popularizers;' Fighting even with death': Balfour, scientific naturalism, and Thomas Henry Huxley's final battle; Butler, natural theology and Victorian popularization; 'Voices of nature': popularizers of Victorian science; Frank Buckland and the resilience of natural theology: curiosity of natural history?; Science and the postmodern crisis; Index.

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Bernard Lightman is Professor of Humanities, York University, Canada

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