Theological presuppositions of the evolutionary epic: From Robert Chambers to E. O. Wilson

We can trace the “evolutionary epic” (named by E. O. Wilson, 1978) back to earlier writers, beginning with Robert Chambers (1844). Its basic elements are: fixation on seeing human history as rooted in biology; an aspiration toward telling the whole history of humankind (in its essential features); and insistence on the overall coherence of the projected narrative. The claim to coherence depends on assuming either that the universe possesses an “embedded rationality,” or that it is guided by divine purpose. This article proposes the term “idealism” to refer to these two assumptions taken together, for in practice they were closely linked. Nietzsche (1881) was perhaps the first thinker to point out the evolutionary epic's dependence on such an idealism, and he also pointed out that the assumptions of embedded rationality and of divine purpose are closely connected. Darwin's theory of descent with modification (1859) was sharply inconsistent with these assumptions: he was not an “idealist” in the sense indicated here, and not a proponent of the evolutionary epic. Proclaiming his “materialism,” Wilson (1978) failed to acknowledge that the epic depends on idealist assumptions; other adherents of the genre (M. Dowd, L. Rue) resurrect (knowingly or not) its theological roots.
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.12.005
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Darwin's Ambiguity: The Secularization of Biological Meaning.David Kohn - 1989 - British Journal for the History of Science 22 (2):215-239.

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