Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

Originally published anonymously in 1844, Vestiges proved to be as controversial as its author expected. Integrating research in the burgeoning sciences of anthropology, geology, astronomy, biology, economics, and chemistry, it was the first attempt to connect the natural sciences to a history of creation. The author, whose identity was not revealed until 1884, was Robert Chambers, a leading Scottish writer and publisher. Vestiges reached a huge popular audience and was widely read by the social and intellectual elite. It sparked debate about natural law, setting the stage for the controversy over Darwin's Origin. In response to the surrounding debate and criticism, Chambers published Explanations: A Sequel, in which he offered a reasoned defense of his ideas about natural law, castigating what he saw as the narrowness of specialist science.

Robert Chambers (1802-1871) was a Scottish writer who wrote this work anonymously; its views---while not yet espousing "evolution" as such---were clearly leading in that direction, and this 1844 work received (and thus deflected) much of the criticism that would have otherwise have gone to Darwin's "Origin of Species."

Chambers notes that "(T)here is not the least appearance of an intention in (the Bible) to give philosophically exact views of nature." Noting the progressive development evident in the fossil record, he asserts that the notion that the Creator "interfere personally and specially on every occasion when a new shell-fish or reptile was to be ushered into existence" was "too ridiculous to be for a moment entertained."

He suggests, "What is to hinder our supposing that the organic creation is also a result of natural laws, which are in like manner an expression of his will?" He argues that "I take existing natural means, and shew them to have been capable of producing all the existing organisms, with the simple and easily conceivable aid of a higher generative law, which we perhaps still see operating upon a limited scale."

He is not dogmatic, stating, "I do not indeed present these ideas as furnishing the true explanation of the progress of organic creation; they are merely thrown out as hints..."

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