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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: May 2020

Chapter 2 - Divine Displays


Chapter 2 examines how adaptive appearance could problematise Victorian natural theology through the example of the parson-naturalist Charles Kingsley. Kingsley’s faith was bound up with ideals of truth and sincerity, which he imagined as divine values that God’s creation exemplified and symbolised. Adaptive appearance challenged this textual view of nature, suggesting that nature’s aspects served purely to promote organisms’ survival, often through deceit. It is argued that Kingsley sometimes tried to resolve this contradiction by locating truthfulness in the rise of science instead of in raw, animal nature. In texts such as Glaucus: Wonders of the Shore and his evolutionary fairy tale The Water-Babies, he depicts science as a providential realisation of God’s values. However, Kingsley also sought to preserve vestiges of moral symbolism in nature since this notion underlay both his religious faith and the Church’s authority in knowledge of the natural world. Kingsley’s insistence on nature’s symbolism cohered with his insistence on the spirituality of the body, preserving a link between matter and divinity. This rhetorical strategy would be echoed by other religiously committed commentators who sought to reconcile adaptive appearance with the notion of nature as a divine text.