It’s not an original idea, but Andrew Marr’s thoughts about the dangers of turning Darwinism into a secular religion are of some interest. Describing himself as a ‘lapsed Presbyterian Christian’ (“I had a blinding revelation of disbelief at the age of around 15”), Marr reminds us that science in general, and Darwinism in particular, can offer some of the nourishment that religion provides.
The natural history museums of both London and Oxford are ‘temples of nature’ and mimic cathedrals in their design. There are high priests (Darwin himself presiding over the nave of the London museum, relics (the bones of animals), echoes of a pilgrimage (Darwin’s travels), bishops, and schisms.
For Darwinism, like a religion, has both a method and a message. The method is, of course, that of scientific rationality. The message is about the interconnectedness of all living things.
Again, although Darwinism may have no Eden, it has a hell. And that hell is the prospect of self-destruction if we continue to damage nature too severely.
What Marr doesn’t mention is that Darwin’s ‘bulldog’, T.H. Huxley, explicitly sought to promote Darwinism as a quasi-religion. Perhaps his most stunning achievement in this respect was to exercise his considerable powers of persuasion to have Darwin’s mortal remains laid to rest at Westminster Abbey. This was against the wishes of Darwin himself, and against the original wishes of Darwin’s grieving widow and family.
But for all its similarities with religion, Marr warns against worshiping Darwinism. It is religions (he says) that are absolute, that divide mankind into us (the believers) and them (the damned). Darwin’s work must not be allowed to harden into dogma.
Try telling that to Richard Dawkins.