Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Life before Darwin : body, mind and soul in Britain, 1815-1859
Author: Poon, Heidi Y. H.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2711 2811
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2005
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Full text unavailable from EThOS. Please try the link below.
Access from Institution:
How does bodily matter become alive? Is the mind reducible to the brain? These questions became crucial in the emergent discipline of life science at the turn of the nineteenth century, when the term 'biology' was coined. The new scientific theories that arose at this time directly impinged on contemporary religious beliefs concerning the soul as the principle of immortality, and the mind as the divinely endowed basis for human morality. Through an interdisciplinary study of three episodes, all of which originated in 1816, this thesis examines the interface between science and religion with regard to souls, minds, and the living body, in the half-century before Darwin's Origin of Species. The first episode focuses on a series of controversies (1816-1822) surrounding William Lawrence, a professor at the Royal College of Surgeons. He postulated that life could emerge from matter, and that matter could generate thought and sensation. The express materialism in these views engendered strong scientific and religious opposition. This study argues that the scientific opposition to Lawrence's views was motivated largely by a desire to defend the institutional and professional standing of the surgeons rather than by a commitment to oppose Lawrence's materialism. In examining the religious opposition to Lawrence, this thesis concludes that ultimately it was a concern for a secure institutional basis for morality rather than a wish to defend the doctrine of the soul per se that was at stake. The second episode revolves around George Combe, the influential author of The Constitution of Man (1828). He was decried as an atheist because his phrenological science allegedly reduced the mind to the physical brain. This thesis offers a new interpretation of Combe's science as the means through which he framed a natural religion with a code of morality based on natural law. It was a religion that sought to recast the role of a more materialistic conception of the mind as the vehicle for morality, and to displace the reliance on an immortal soul and a future state for the enforcement of morals. The third episode centres on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). Through studying the novel as the fable of its sub-title, The Modern Prometheus, I conclude that the power of Mary Shelley's moral vision lies in its inescapable warning that an absolute denial of the spiritual aspects of life is inimical to our humanity. Without being explicitly religious, Frankenstein encapsulates a new kind of secular humanist spirituality that denies outright materialism. In summary, this thesis argues that the interface between religion and biology, concerning the nature of the living body and the mind, despite initial appearances, were not primarily over the issues of materialism. The three episodes studied illustrate a spectrum of attitudes towards scientific materialism, and it is found that ultimately, it was the necessity for a secure basis of morality that shaped the responses.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available