The gentle gentleman Charles Darwin, who was buried in Westminster Abbey, lives in public consciousness within an adjective describing a brutally competitive and mechanistic world, and as the author of a controversial theory that has made him to many the Antichrist. He has survived not only as the icon of a revolutionary shift in the way we think about origins and humanity but as an unpleasant idea. And for those who think about such things, in extending naturalistic explanation even to human behavior, he is seen as perhaps the most striking embodiment of that scientific rationalism that, in Max Weber's terminology, “disenchanted” the modern world. Evolution by natural selection seems to have removed both meaning and consolation from the world; those who discovered it and who now argue for it often engage in a kind of triumphal rationalism that treads all affective and extramaterial explanation underfoot. It is one thing to believe that science can explain the movement of the stars or even the composition of matter; it is quite another to believe that science can explain human nature itself, and all the disorderly intricacies of human life.
Certainly, Weber's reading of the disenchantment of the world was consistent with the responses of many Victorians to the progress of science. As against the scientific naturalists, T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, and W. K. Clifford, who exuberantly advertised the power of science to transform the world, W. H. Mallock, among their most brilliant and witty antagonists, noted of the world in a book significantly called Is Life Worth Living? that “in a number of ways, whilst we have not been perceiving it, its objective grandeur has been dwindling.”1 Instead of finding that the new knowledge enspirits and enlivens, Mallock claims that “in the last few generations man has been curiously changing.”