Biology in the service of natural theology: Paley, Darwin, and the <i>Bridgewater Treatises</i>

Jonathan R. Topham

in Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226608402
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226608426 | DOI:
Biology in the service of natural theology: Paley, Darwin, and the Bridgewater Treatises

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In his Natural Theology (1802), the eighteenth-century Anglican theologian William Paley compares a watch with objects in nature, arguing that “every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature…” Charles Darwin read Paley's Natural Theology as a young man and offered natural selection as an alternative, naturalistic explanation of Paley's explanandum: the appearance of design in nature. Many of Paley's successors diverged from him in their approach to the living world. This chapter examines some of these alternative approaches and the extent to which the literature of natural theology had trodden the path between Paley's watchmaker and Darwin's natural selection prior to the publication of the latter's Origin of Species. In particular, it focuses on the Bridgewater Treatises, a series of eight highly popular works published in the 1830s, which illustrate the far-reaching development that took place in natural theology in Britain during the early nineteenth century.

Keywords: William Paley; Charles Darwin; natural theology; Bridgewater Treatises; Britain; natural selection; design in nature; Origin of Species

Chapter.  9949 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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