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Darwin-L Message Log 2:158 (October 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<2:158>From Michael_Kenny@sfu.ca  Sat Oct 30 13:20:09 1993

Date: Sat, 30 Oct 93 11:23:36 -0700
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: Michael_Kenny@sfu.ca (Michael Kenny)
Subject: Re: Cavemen in Rudwick's _Scenes From Deep Time_ (1992)

I seem to recall in previous exchanges a reference to "Palaetiological
Sciences." Since noting this, the term has come to my attention again via
an 1847 work by ("and through") one Andrew Jackson Davis entitled "The
Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and A Voice to Mankind."
Davis was an American progressivist mystic who delivered his so-called
revelations while in magnetic trance; later he became one of the major
philosophical figures in the Spiritualist movement. The "Revelations" is a
cogmogony based on a telelogical reading of contemporary physical and
biological science which attempts to establish that the ultimate goal of
the Universe is indefinite progress toward total harmony in the human and
natural worlds. It reads like an odd melange of Lyell, Herbert Spencer
("matter and motion" get great play), and popular knowledge of
electromagnetism. Reference to "palaetiological sciences" appears in the
following context, which I quote:

"It is the office of palaetiological sciences to set forth general truths
in the departments of astronomy, geology, anatomy, physiology, &c., all as
in perfect harmony with each other, and as forming a general and undeniable
proof of the united chain of existences, and binding the whole together as
one grand BOOK... From this Book properly interpreted, should be derived
the text of every sermon. In this, true theology has its foundation; and
the teachings of this should constitute the only study of the theologian
[Davis dismisses ordinary theology as sectarian fanaticism]. By collecting
palaetiological facts, then these things are gradually developed; and thus
in unfolded the actual demonstration of original design, uniformity of
motion and progression, and the consequent adaptation of means, to produce
ultimates. -- And thus is displayed the principle of Cause, Effect, and
End, commencing at the foundation of, and operating through, Nature."

And so on. What I would like to ask is (1) what is the source of this
notion of "Palaetiological Sciences", (2) is anyone out there working on
the relation between popularized science and this sort of mystical
self-styled 'scientific'  progressivism during the period in question?
Davis is a pre-Darwinian evolutionist who constantly cites the evidence of
geological stratigraphy and the fossil record, linking same to an upwards
universal telos to which he has gained insight through his clairvoyant
powers (thus discovering among other things that the inhabitants of Saturn
are as far above us as we are above the denizens of Mercury).

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