Darwin and the crisis of Victorian faith

Photo: Queen Victoria, by Alexander Bassano, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: We are delighted to present a new series from Neil Thomas, Distinguished Reader at Durham University, “Darwin and the Victorian Crisis of Faith.“This is the first article in the series. Watch here for the full series so far. Professor Thomas’ recent book is Saying goodbye to Darwin: A lifelong agnostic uncovers the case for design (Discovery Institute Press).

“Follow the science” we’ve all been urged to do during the recent COVID pandemic, and the vast majority of us have reasonably tried to do just that. Exactly the opposite happened with the reception of Darwin’s theory. The origin of species. The vast majority of the volume’s expert reviewers came out against it for the eminently simple reasons that Darwin’s special “natural selection” theory simply wouldn’t work: it possessed no empirically observable or even deducible biological pathways. I have already documented these first dissenting voices and I will not detail them further here.1

Suffice it to note in this respect that Professor Fleeming Jenkin (the eminent Scottish scientist who, together with Lord Kelvin, spearheaded the laying of the transatlantic cable) was particularly scathing about everything except the possibility of insignificant micro-mutations (rather than that large form of metamorphic macro-mutation speculated by Darwin). He protested that even geological eras of time would be insufficient to overcome physiological impossibilities (and, as a recent commentator reminded us, time would anyway be more likely to lead to the dissipation of any fortuitous gains than to step-by-step elimination (step-by-step formation of new body parts).2

What is curious, however, is that within a few decades, and in defiance of all scientific imprecations, Darwin’s theory Origin obtained the acceptance initially refused by the scientific community. Such a puzzling reversal of fortune clearly calls for an explanation because, on the face of it, it seems as counterintuitive as if, say, a critically acclaimed Broadway production were to later receive the award for “World’s Greatest Show.”

following“Darwin and the Victorian Culture Wars”


  1. Neil Thomas, Saying goodbye to Darwin: A lifelong agnostic uncovers the case for design (Seattle: Discovery, 2021), p. 61-7.
  2. Eric Metaxas, Is atheism dead? (Washington DC: Salem Books, 2021), p. 104.

neil thomas

Neil Thomas is Senior Reader at Durham University, England, and a long-time member of the British Rationalist Association. He studied classical studies and European languages ​​at the universities of Oxford, Munich and Cardiff before joining the German section of the School of European Languages ​​and Literatures at Durham University in 1976. His teaching involved a wide range of specialties, including Germanic. Philology, Medieval Literature, Enlightenment Literature and Philosophy, and Modern German History and Literature. He also taught modules on the propagandistic use of the German language used by both the Nazis and officials of the former German Democratic Republic. He has published over 40 articles in a number of peer-reviewed journals and half a dozen single-author books, the latest of which were Reading the Nibelungenlied (1995), Diu Crone and the Medieval Arthurian Cycle (2002) and “Wigalois” by Wirnt von Gravenberg. Intertextuality and Interpretation (2005). He has also edited a number of volumes, including Myth and its Legacy in European Literature (1996) and German Studies at the Millennium (1999). He was the Brach UK President of the International Arthurian Society (2002-5) and remains a member of several learned societies.

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body partsBroadwayCOVID-19Darwin and the Victorian Crisis of Faith (series)EnglandevolutionfaithFleeming JenkingGeological AgesThe Greatest Show on EarthLord Kelvinmacromutationmicromutationsnatural selectionOrigin of Speciespandemicreviewerstransatlantic cableVictorians

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