Ernst Haeckel and the Struggles over Evolution and Religion

Abstract

If religion means a commitment to a set of theological propositions regarding the nature of God, the soul, and an afterlife, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was never a religious enthusiast. The influence of the great religious thinker Friedrich Daniel Schleiermacher (1768-1834) on his family kept religious observance decorous and commitment vague.2 The theologian had maintained that true religion lay deep in the heart, where the inner person experienced a feeling of absolute dependence. Dogmatic tenets, he argued, served merely as inadequate symbols of this fundamental experience. Religious feeling, according to Schleiermacher’s Über die Religion (On religion, 1799), might best be cultivated by seeking after truth, experiencing beauty, and contemplating nature.3 Haeckel practiced this kind of Schleiermachian religion all of his life. Haeckel’s association with the Evangelical Church, even as a youth, had been conventional. The death of his first wife severed the loose threads still holding him to formal observance. The power of that death, his obsession with a life that might have been, and the dark feeling of love forever lost drove him to find a more enduring and rational sub-.

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