Interpreting Evolution: Darwin, Nietzsche, & Teilhard de Chardin

Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group
Prof James Birx
The Richard King Room, Darwin College
Tuesday, November 22, 2016 - 13:00 to 14:00

No interpretation of evolution is free from ideas, beliefs, and values. Orientations range from Charles Darwin's materialism, through Friedrich Nietzsche's vitalism, to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's spiritualism. In each case, a crucial event contributed to his interpreting organic history, e.g., reading a specific book or having a unique experience that significantly altered the thinker's previous worldview. This inquiry will analyze such pivotal moments and their far-reaching consequences for the interpreter's conception of life on earth and our own species. During his voyage on the HMS Beagle, the English scientist Darwin had been especially influenced by the vast temporal perspective offered by reading the geological writings of Sir Charles Lyell. The German philosopher Nietzsche was greatly inspired by his fortuitous encounter with an impressive pyramidal rock that suggested to him the eternal recurrence of the same. And the French Jesuit mystic Teilhard embraced an evolutionary framework only after having read Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution (1907), not the books of Darwin. This lecture will argue that any interpretation of the scientific fact of organic evolution involves a convergence of ideas, beliefs, and values beyond the empirical evidence.

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