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Religion and the Struggle for Existence. A Note on the Simon N. Patten-Thomas N. Carver Debate

Fiorito Luca, University of Palermo
Erasmo Valentina, Università di Torino

The aim of this note is to provide further evidence to Leonard’s claim as to the protean alliance between religious and evolutionary ideas in progressive social thought, and this will be done by offering a reconstruction of the debate between Simon Patten and Thomas Nixon Carver over the religious foundations of social reform. The polemical exchange between two of the foremost economists of the time originated in 1911 with the publication of Patten’s The Social Basis of Religion—a book which intended to transfer Christian doctrines “from the traditional basis to the realm of social science.” The volume’s general reception was far from enthusiastic, and Carver joined the chorus of the critics with a rather unfavorable review which appeared in the American Economic Review. Patten rejoined with a note, where he expanded on his views on religion and evolution, both social and biological. Carver replied to Patten (but without ever mentioning his name) the following year with the publication of The Religion Worth Having. In this small, yet significant volume, Carver presented a reading of religion which differed from Patten’s in virtually all respects and that, contrary to some classic interpretations, owed far more to eugenics than to Darwinism.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Evolution; Eugenics; Progress; Progressive Era; Religion

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