Darwin as a secular symbol – and naturalism lacking life’s higher messages.

“ Not many men would read The Origin,  or understand it if they read it. The secularizing force was not Darwin the author of the book, or of several books. It was Darwin the symbol, Darwin the name which stood for a process, the name which was hurled from one side to the other in the polemics of secularist platforms or journals, an imaginary Darwin, a vague Darwin, without the comfortable homely substantial outlines of the real naturalist of a Kentish village, but however imaginary and however vague still bearing a direct relationship to a scientific achievement, which few quite understood, the truth of which many doubted but everyone, without knowing quite what it was, knew to be a scientific achievement of the first magnitude.” (Chadwick page 174)

“Darwin was not so much cause as occasion. He coincided with the years when the full implications of new knowledge, in crude form and apprehended simply, reached the middle classes of western Europe and America.” (Chadwick 170)

Owen Chadwick "The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century" CUP 1975

This  process is still very much alive at the start of the 21st century, as can be seen on the various television programs which have been part of the Darwin 200 celebrations (Andrew Marr’s Darwin’s “Dangerous Idea” –  presently showing –  is a good example.)

The new episteme represented by Darwin contrasted itself with a world-view, fundamental to the processes of subjection necessary for the former ruling class, which made great use of organised religion.  Even today some still use the word “religion” to mean those organised social formations of European origin (Roman Catholic, Protestantism and other varieties of Christianity –extending at a stretch to other forms of monotheism).

There can be little doubt that the process of secularisation of the the European mind in the 19th century (building on the new understanding of the heliocentric character of our solar system, and the notion of linear time) can be compared to the process of in which a new life form breaks free of the constricting ‘shell’ and ‘membrane’ of its period of incubation – and of discovery of new and less cramped dimensions to life.

But this process has been arrested – and arrested for far too long.

The new elites in European life – new money, not relying on superior birth for their social position – only needed enough ‘new episteme’ to suit their own claims to key positions in life. Their greatest risk was the new episteme would proceed too far and undermine their positions.

The process of carrying through with this new episteme now pushes on into new areas – new cosmologies are to be fashioned which overcome the shortcomings of ‘naturalism’ and which insist that we fully factor in the sum total of existential factors when we fashion representations of life’s image.

The ‘secular’ of naturalism is incomplete – and what it lacks is of vital importance.

And what it lacks can be glossed as “life’s higher messages”.

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