This book by George Campbell, eighth Duke of Argyll and supporter of the Church of Scotland, was his best-known attack on the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and the powers ever more commonly attributed to natural laws. These powers seemed to leave no active role for a god and indeed were often articulated as evidence for the nonexistence of God. Campbell argues that if natural laws contrive the living world as Darwin argues then it is actually God acting through those laws. So the orthodox understanding of the world need change hardly at all. Natural laws are merely howGod controls the world. This appropriation strategy was exactly what George Combe in The Constitution of Man (1828) and Robert Chambers in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) had done before. Whereas Combe and the author of Vestiges were condemned for suggesting God could only act through natural laws. When the question had been between God controlling the world directly and his controlling it through laws, people like Campbell argued that God did it directly. (See [Campbell,] 'Phrenology: its place and relations', North British Review, 17, 1852, pp. 41-70.) Decades later, when Darwin stepped forward to give the elite scientific approval for the absolute control of natural laws, many were afraid that God would be pushed out of the picture altogether. Campbell endeavoured to show that this formidable alternative to God controlling the world was in fact only God's tool for doing so. The work remains an important example of Victorian attempts to reconcile belief in Christianity with belief in natural laws.

Compare this treatise with the radically naturalistic and atheistical proclamation in John Tyndall's 1874 Belfast Address.


Victorian Overview Science and Technology Charles Darwin

Last modified 9 December 2008