The British Journal for the History of Science

Research Article

Charles Darwin's use of theology in the Origin of Species

STEPHEN DILLEYa1

a1 Department of Philosophy, St Edward's University, Austin, TX 78704, USA. Email: stephend@stedwards.edu.

Abstract

This essay examines Darwin's positiva (or positive) use of theology in the first edition of the Origin of Species in three steps. First, the essay analyses the Origin's theological language about God's accessibility, honesty, methods of creating, relationship to natural laws and lack of responsibility for natural suffering; the essay contends that Darwin utilized positiva theology in order to help justify (and inform) descent with modification and to attack special creation. Second, the essay offers critical analysis of this theology, drawing in part on Darwin's mature ruminations to suggest that, from an epistemic point of view, the Origin's positiva theology manifests several internal tensions. Finally, the essay reflects on the relative epistemic importance of positiva theology in the Origin's overall case for evolution. The essay concludes that this theology served as a handmaiden and accomplice to Darwin's science.

(Online publication May 04 2011)

Footnotes

For comments, criticisms and other forms of help I am grateful to Andrea Palpant Dilley, Judy Palpant, John Angus Campbell, Richard McClelland, Brian Clayton, Clinton Ohlers, Elliott Sober, St Edward's University Philosophy Interest Group and anonymous reviewers.