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Friday, December 16, 2005

Darwin's funeral

LI received hundreds of protests by maddened Arnold-ites because of yesterday’s post, all asking: where is the link to Arnold’s Science and Literature, you putz?

To regroup, then. Huxley’s charge that learning the inflexions of the Latin verb for "the sex act from the rear” might not be the best preparation for the sprat bourgeoisie in Oxbridge has been amplified, over the years. Our concern, however, is with the unraveling of a certain liberal compromise deftly mapped by White. The Arnold – Huxley friendship/controversy set canonical limits to the gradual replacement of the religious worldview as having truthful reference to the material makeup of the world by the scientific worldview. Consequently, the question of the value of the material makeup, and the question of value itself, shifted, so that the gentleman’s agreement became: science tells us all we need to know about the facts; but the humanities – and in an extended sense, liberal religion – should monopolize the question of the good and the beautiful. This is an odd division of labor for a culture to come up with. Perhaps all the odd and frightening Christian fundamentalist rhetoric in the U.S. – with the Republican party becoming very much like, say, SCIRI for Americans – shows that that division no longer functions.

Actually, LI doesn’t think so. The strange events that occurred in Dover, Pennsylvania show, I think, how useful that division is, and how far it has sunk into the consciousness of late capitalist societies. While the average Dover burger attends church and participates in the savage rites of evangelical Christianity with a degree of froth that would satisfy any of the impresarios of ignorance headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, the same burgers are not, apparently, willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of the All to well known God and his book of fairy tales, otherwise known as the Book of Genesis. So the board of education that was eager to subject Dover’s kids to the same invigorating education received by Kabul’s kiddies under the late lamented Taliban were all dumped from office as unceremoniously as yokels dump the poor unfortunates that sit on those seats at the country fair shys into tubs of water when a well aimed ball hits a certain electrically charged target. It is all just good, knockabout fun in Dover, I'm sure.

Usually, the religion/science divide in the States takes the Scopes trial as a defining point. But White’s article recalls us to another defining moment – one that occurred in an actual civilization, not the whatever-it-is we have in the U.S. This was Darwin’s interment in Westminister Abbey.

This is what Arnold wrote about Darwin in his reply to Huxley:

“I have heard it said that the sagacious and admirable naturalist whom we lost not very long ago, Mr. Darwin, once owned to a friend that for his part he did not experience the necessity for two things which most men find so necessary to them,— religion and poetry; science and the domestic affections, he thought, were enough. To a born naturalist, I can well understand that this should seem so. So absorbing is his occupation with nature, so strong his love for his occupation, that he goes on acquiring natural knowledge and reasoning upon it, and has little time or inclination for thinking about getting it related to the desire in man for conduct, the desire in man for beauty. He relates it to them for himself as he goes along, so far as he feels the need; and he draws from the domestic affections all the additional solace necessary. But then Darwins are extremely rare. Another great and admirable master of natural knowledge, Faraday, was a Sandemainian. That is to say he related his knowledge to his instinct for conduct and to his instinct for beauty, by the aid off that respectable Scottish sectary Robert Sandeman. And so strong, in general, is the demand of religion and poetry to have their share in a man, to associate themselves with his knowing, and to relieve and rejoice it, that, probably, for one man amongst us with the disposition to do as Darwin did in this respect there are at least fifty with the disposition to do as Faraday.”

Arnold’s use of Faraday is the ancestor of all the polls those tedious conservative commentators are always brandishing telling us how many scientists believe in God, and how many believe in Tinkerbell. Of course, these polls depend upon a very liberal interpretation of scientist, such that the coach who teaches industrial arts in high school gets in on the set on equal footing with Richard Dawkins. The more interesting thing, to me, is that Arnold’s hint that Darwin was a bit of an unbeliever did not influence the Westminister Abbey scene. The mover of that scene was a popular Anglican divine, Arthur Stanley. Stanley’s type has since become the joy of satiric novelists like Waugh. He is ecumenical to a fault. This is from White:

Stanley’s vision of a broad Anglican culture was announced in a sermon preached in 1865 on the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Abbey by King Edward the Confessor. Its pavement and walls, Stanley declared, refl ected the interests of the commonwealth throughout its stages, with “Roman, Puritan, Non-conformist ... [and] doubting sceptic hard by the enthusiastic believer ... opposing parties both in Church and State co-existing, neutralising, counteracting, completing each other, neither by the other subdued, each by the other endured.... Here, at least, all Englishmen may forget their differences, and feel for the moment as one family gathered round the same Christmas hearth”. The representation of men of science in this pantheon was substantially increased during Stanley’s offi ce, with the interment of John Herschel, Lyell, and Darwin, among others. The suggestion of a Darwin memorial had apparently been made by Farrar, who described having broached the subject with Huxley and William Spottiswoode at the Athenaeum, and who assured Huxley “that we clergy [are] not all so bigoted as he supposed”. Farrar consulted with Stanley on the
matter, preached the funeral sermon at the nave service, and served as one of the pallbearers, along with Lubbock, Huxley, Wallace, Hooker, Spottiswoode, and others.

In Historical memorials of Westminster Abbey, Stanley described individual shrines of the great and the good, with chapters on the Ladies of the Tudor Court, Modern Statesmen, Philanthropists, Poets, Theologians, Men of Letters, and Men of Science.
Of the latter, Stanley remarked that, because of the slow, gradual growth of science in England, it had no special place in the Abbey but rather “penetrated promiscuously into every part, much in the same way as it [had] imperceptibly influenced all our
social and literary relations elsewhere.”

For all the ridicule Stanley type has attracted, the religious ceremony over the man who destroyed, once and for all, the credibility of the divine creation of man seems to LI to be a pretty good compromise. The Dover burgers are right.

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