Evolutionary Naturalism in Victorian Britain: The 'Darwinians' and their Critics, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Evolutionary Naturalism in Victorian Britain

The 'Darwinians' and their Critics, 1st Edition

By Bernard Lightman


348 pages

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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.


’This volume is the record of a major achievement and will be very useful in making that achievement more easily available to a new generation of scholars.’ British Journal for the History of Science '… [this] collection is undoubtedly an excellent one…' Victorian Studies

Table of Contents

Contents: 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; 'A conspiracy of one': Butler, natural theology and Victorian popularization; 'The voices of nature': popularizing of Victorian science; Frank Buckland and the resilience of natural theology: curiosity of natural history?; Science and the postmodern crisis; Index.

About the Author

Bernard Lightman is Professor of Humanities, York University, Canada

About the Series

Variorum Collected Studies

The first title in the Variorum Collected Studies series was published in 1970. Since then well over 1000 titles have appeared in the series, and it has established a well-earned international reputation for the publication of key research across a whole range of subjects within the fields of history.

The history of the medieval world remains central to the series, with Byzantine studies a particular speciality, but the range of titles extends from Hellenistic philosophy and the history of the Roman empire and early Christianity, through the Renaissance and Reformation, up to the 20th century. Islamic Studies forms another major strand as do the histories of science, technology and medicine.

Each title in the Variorum Collected Studies series brings together for the first time a selection of articles by a leading authority on a particular subject. These studies are reprinted from a vast range of learned journals, Festschrifts and conference proceedings. They make available research that is scattered, even inaccessible in all but the largest and most specialized libraries. With a new introduction and index, and often with new notes and previously unpublished material, they constitute an essential resource. 

For further information about contributing to the series please contact Michael Greenwood at [email protected]

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General