Creation, Evolution, and “The New Cosmic Philosophy”: William Todd Martin’s Critique of Herbert Spencer

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This article explores the religious response of one neglected writer to the evolutionary philosophy of Herbert Spencer. William Todd Martin was a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and in 1887 published, The Evolution Hypothesis: A Criticism of the New Cosmic Philosophy. The work demonstrates the essentially contested nature of ‘evolution’ and ‘creation’ by showing how a self-confessed creationist could affirm an evolutionary understanding of the natural world and species transformation. Martin’s approach reflected a transatlantic Presbyterian worldview that saw the harmony of science and religion on the basis of Calvinism, Baconianism, and Scottish Common Sense philosophy. Martin’s critique is also relevant to issues that continue to animate philosophers of science and religion, including the connections between mind and matter, morality and consciousness in a Darwinian framework, and the relationship between subjective conscious experience and evolutionary physicalism. Martin was able to anticipate these debates because his critique was essentially philosophical and theological rather than biological and biblicist.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalModern Intellectual History
Early online date22 Feb 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 22 Feb 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Religious studies


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