Saturday, 16 July 2011

Science: Literary Scholars Explain Literature by Darwinian Evolution

Charles Kingsley promoted evolution with his fable The Water-Babies. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Joel Kontinen

The popularity of Darwinian evolution is not based on evidence but it stems from a surprising fact, i.e., it has become part and parcel of western culture.

Evolution seemed to meet the intellectual needs of the Victorian elite in Britain in the mid-19th century. Characteristic of the time was the squalor of the working class that Charles Dickens depicted in his novels and the development optimism of the upper class.

Darwinism found a warm reception in a class society that also welcomed imperialism.

Recently, writing in the journal Science, Sam Kean discussed the relationship of Darwinism and the study of literature. By appealing to evolution, some scholars have attempted to explain man’s innate skill to make up stories.

The explanation is not very convincing.

Several British authors welcomed Darwinism at an early stage when many prominent scientists, such as Lord Kelvin and Louis Pasteur, rejected evolution. For instance, Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) promoted evolution with his fable The Water-Babies (1863), Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) with his novels and H. G. Wells (1866-1946) with his science fiction novel The Time Machine (1895).

Recent research has shown that Darwinian evolution cannot explain the intricate design of the cell, but this time authors are behind the times.


Kean, Sam. 2011. Red in Tooth and Claw Among the Literati. Science 332 (6030): 654-656.