Precursors to Darwin

Scribbled notes from some readings on the history of thought leading up to Darwin.


Descartes – Said we can only know reality in reference to ourselves, systematic doubt of all received traditions and authority.
Kant – Can’t know God because he is beyond space and time. We can only know phenomenal world, not noumenal.
Crusius – taught that all revelation is unknowable, all we can know is the world. No metaphysical answers.
Spinoza – the universe as an organic unity and denied a plurality of substances. God is unified substance. Pantheism. 
Goethe – God is nature, not merely an outside force, but inside pushing out and up – progress, development of organisms, even man!
Krause – the world is part of God. God is a whole unity. Therefore, the world should strive for unity in social organization. Fullness of God is achieved when we all unite.
Hegel – systematized ideas of becoming, progress, or developmentalism. the world is synthesizing new, better forms is a rational dialectic of the Absolute Spirit as it moves to self-realization. Historical evolution. The evolution of reality, the unfolding and self-discovery of God.


Feuerbach – ideas about God are really ideas about ourselves projected. “I, on the contrary, while reducing theology to anthropology, exalt anthropology into theology.”
Marx – viewed history as a dialectical process of development, and he took criticism of religion as foundational to all true thinking. Dedicated his Das Kapital to Darwin.
Diderot – universe in flux, movement from chaos to order, matter at the atomistic level is sensitive to adaptation.
Buchner – supernatural creation must be rejected, natural law is inviolable, motion is the eternal, inseparable property of matter. His hard determinism forced him to reduce mind to brain and to advocate the release of criminals from punishment.


Buffon – concept of a struggle for existence
Lamarck – life possesses an immanent evolutionary drive throughout the historical process, acquired characteristics.
Saint-Hilaire – inherited influence of the environment upon the sudden production of new species
Spencer – survival of the fittest
Erasmus Darwin – the whole of nature was a family having one parent, a “primal filament” which existed long ago; he said that “evolution” was carried on by means of hereditary, acquired characteristics. metamorphosis of organisms whose sensitivity is stimulated by environmental factors.


Schleiermacher – Mosaic account of creation of being a primitive, mythological notion and saying that the old record must not be treated ashistorical. philosophy as well as of the natural sciences, do not necessitate other definitions. capitulation of the authority of the revealed Scriptures to autonomous thought.

Bahnsen concludes:

“Therefore, on all sides-philosophy, science, and theology – the way had been paved for the arrival of Darwinism in 1859. It is more than evident that Darwin’s ideas were not novel; he simply painted a common philosophical and antitheistic position with a superficial cosmetic of scientific respectability. Charles Hodge was already aware, just a little over a decade after the appearance of Darwin’s Origin of Species, that evolutionary speculation was surviving the critical attacks upon it because of its “essential harmony with the spirit of the age….” The acceptance of the theory of evolution stemmed from the milieu created by philosophic opinion-speculation fostered by men like Spinoza, Kant, Fichte, Goethe, Krause, Hegel, Feuerbach, Engels, Diderot, LaMettrie, d’Holbach, Buchner, and Schleiermacher; Darwin’s scientific surmises had been anticipated by men like Buffon, Lamarck, Saint-Hilaire, Chambers, Spencer, and his own grandfather. Men were living in the age of Darwinism prior to the publication of Darwin’s book. And the philosophic developments which appeared subsequent to the acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution had already been manifested by 1859.”


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