Decorative Initial arwin's On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, raised a number of serious questions for English views of humanly known knowable truth. The Origin severely threatened the tradition of natural theology, not only because of the bloodthirsty nature Darwin portrayed there, but also because the kind of truth he implied was to be attained through science. Although he apparently had spent twenty years trying to fit his theory into some form of Herschel's and Whewell's framework for legitimate science, Darwin's work did not fit the model of scientific truth they had constructed. His Origin contained a highly persuasive argument, but, by traditional standards, Darwin did not seem to have proved the truth of his theory.

Many of Darwin's critics used this argument as a way to discredit his work. They dismissed it as perhaps interesting but not adequately demonstrated to be acceptable. Some of Darwin's supporters, on the other hand, turned the argument on its head and attacked the view of scientific truth on which his detractors took their stand.

In the 1860s and 1870s, a number of scientists, including, for example, Thomas Henry Huxley and John Tyndall, proposed a new perspective on science on culture. . . . Specifically, these scientific naturalists, as they have been called, claimed it was impossible to arrive at true knowledge of any reality which lay beyond or behind our sense perceptions. They firmly maintained that people could only know the information received through the senses. . . . Transcendental realities, the scientific naturalists insisted, were unknown and unknowable in any field. One could not, for example, prove that one phenomenon caused another. [104-105]


Richards, Joan. Mathematical Visions: The Pursuit of Geometry in Victorian England, Boston: Academic Press/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.

For additional information on this response to Darwin, see David L. Hull, Darwin and His Critics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Created 1995 Last Modified 14 January 2020