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The Role of Metaphor in the Darwin Debates: Natural Theology, Natural Selection, and Christian Production of Counter-Metaphor

By Juliet Neumann


The presence of metaphorical language in Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species has been the source of much debate, particularly in the interaction between Darwin's theory and the Christian faith. The metaphorical language used to describe "nature," "evolution," "natural theology," and "natural selection" is examined?within Christianity prior to Darwin, in Darwin's writing of the Origin, and in the responses of three Victorian Christian critics of science. "Natural selection" and "evolution" had metaphorical meanings prior to Darwin's use of these terms. "Nature" was a highly metaphysical concept, described by the metaphor of natural theology. "Evolution" was associated with epic understandings of human progress. The metaphor of natural theology was particularly important to the faith of Western Christians by the time of Darwin. In order to better understand the role of natural theology, the theories of metaphor developed by Kenneth Burke in "Four Master Tropes" and by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By are compared. This comparison results in the development of an expansion of Lakoff and Johnson's metaphor theory, a model termed experienced metaphor. This model is used to explain Victorian Christians' emotional adherence to natural theology. Many of the interpreters of Darwin's work, both secular and Christian, saw natural selection as a rival to natural theology. The works of three prominent Victorians who attempted to defend natural theology against the apparent onslaughts of science are evaluated for additional metaphorical language regarding nature and evolution. Philip Gosse, G. K. Chesterton, and Charles Spurgeon each produced counter-metaphors to defend natural theology?metaphors of awe/wonder and of sin/destruction. The rhetorical effects of these counter-metaphors promote the rejection of Darwin's theory of evolution. The counter-metaphors identified are still in circulation within the debate over Darwin and Christianity today. The presence of metaphor in this debate deserves greater attention, in order to understand how metaphor affects the thinking of both Christian and secular audiences regarding Darwinian evolution

Topics: Darwin, metaphor, counter-metaphor, natural theology, natural selection, metaphor of wonder, metaphor of destruction, evolution
Year: 2012
OAI identifier: oai:oaktrust.library.tamu.edu:1969.1/ETD-TAMU-2012-05-10729

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