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Evolution as a Religion: Mary Midgley's Hopes and Fears

  • Anthony O'Hear (a1)

Abstract

This paper considers Mary Midgley's views on evolution, especially as developed in her book Evolution as a Religion. In this she continues the critical campaign she waged against Dawkins’ notion of the selfish gene, but broadens her attack out to encompass many other thinkers (whom she calls the ‘Omega’ men), who are predicting dramatic and revolutionary futures for humanity, based supposedly on what evolutionary science tells us. Midgley argues that no such conclusions are scientifically warranted – hence evolution as a religion. Her own attempts to absolve Darwin himself from this sort of scientism, and to remove from him any taint of social Darwinism are criticised, particularly by reference to The Descent of Man. Something is then said about Midgley's own alternative view of nature and humanity, a more holistic view, which itself has religious overtones.

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1 Midgley, Mary, Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears, London: Methuen, 1985. Hereafter ER.

2 Midgley, Mary, ‘Gene-Juggling’, Philosophy, 54, 1979, 439–58; Dawkins, Richard, ‘In defence of selfish genes’, Philosophy, 56, 1981, 556–73; Midgley, Mary, ‘Selfish genes and Social Darwinism’, Philosophy, 58, 1983, 365–77.

3 Dawkins, Richard, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, 1976; paperback edition, London: Granada, 1978, and many subsequent editions.

4 Midgley, Mary, What is Philosophy For?, London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

5 MRees, artin, On the Future, Princeton University Press, 2018; Hawking, Stephen, Brief Answers to The Big Questions, London: John Murray, 2018.

6 See Popper, Karl, The Poverty of Historicism, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961 edition, vi-vii.

7 ER op. cit. note 1, 34.

8 ER op. cit. note 1, 6.

9 Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species, cited here in the Penguin, 1982 edition, edited by Burrow, J.W. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).

10 Op. cit. note 9, 458–60.

11 Darwin, Charles, The Descent of Man, 2nd edition, London: John Murray, 1898.

12 Darwin, Charles (ed, Darwin, Francis and Seward, A.C.), More Letters of Charles Darwin, London: John Murray, 1903, Vol II, 30.

13 ER op. cit. note 1, 6.

14 Op. cit. note 9, 119.

15 Op. cit. note 11, Vol II, 440.

16 Op. cit. note 11, Vol I, 197.

17 All the quotations in this paragraph are from Darwin's ‘General Summary’ at the end of Descent, op. cit. note 11, Vol II, 438–40.

18 ER op. cit. note 1, 68.

19 Op. cit. note 11, Vol I, 206.

20 Op. cit. note 11, 206.

21 Op. cit. note 11, Vol I, 203.

22 ER op. cit. note 1, 143.

23 ER op. cit. note 1, 144.

24 ER op. cit. note 1, 160.

25 Op. cit. note 9, 445.

26 Darwin, More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol I, 260–1.

27 Monod, Jacques, Chance and Necessity, London: Collins, 1972, 137.

28 Op. cit. note 27, 160.

29 ER op. cit. note 1, 78.

30 ER op. cit. note 1, 134.

31 ER op. cit. note 1, 136.

32 ER  op. cit. note 1, 112.

Evolution as a Religion: Mary Midgley's Hopes and Fears

  • Anthony O'Hear (a1)

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