Article ID: CBB339183866

Theistic evolution and evolutionary ethics: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Huxley’s legacy (2021)


Scholars have often considered evolutionary social theories a product of Positivist scientism and the naturalization of ethics. Yet the theistic foundations of many evolutionary theories proposed between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries bolstered the belief that following natural laws was morally desirable, if not vital, to guaranteeing social and moral progress. In the early twentieth century, American paleontologist and leading evolutionist Henry Fairfield Osborn represented one of the most authoritative advocates of this interpretation of natural normativity. Particularly during the last years of his career, Osborn used theological arguments to reinforce his advocacy of evolutionary ethics and social control policies, which led him to challenge his “old master” Thomas Huxley regarding the separation between evolution and moral conduct. This article examines the development of Osborn’s evolutionary ethics, with particular regard to its bearing on the American debate on euthenics. I argue that theistic topics played a major rhetorical role in the attempt to justify normative conclusions drawn from ostensible laws of evolution.

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Authors & Contributors
Swetlitz, Marc
Cantor, Geoffrey N.
Katherine McLeod
Yang, Elisabeth M.
Stuart Mathieson
Wall, John
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Science and Education
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology
University of Chicago Press
University of Toronto Press
University of Notre Dame
Bucknell University Press
Science and religion
Controversies and disputes
Osborn, Henry Fairfield
Huxley, Thomas Henry
Darwin, Charles Robert
Wilberforce, Samuel
Ward, Lester Frank
Wallace, Alfred Russel
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
United States
Great Britain
London (England)
New York City (New York, U.S.)
South America
Victoria Institute
The Bronx Zoo (New York, NY)
British Association for the Advancement of Science
American Museum of Natural History, New York

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