Erewhon and Darwin
Now as I read articles and books by Rupert Sheldrake, the iconoclastic biologist, whose ideas about memory have infuriated the scientific establishment over the last twenty years, but who has become more and more mainstream, I can trace similarities with Samuel Butler' s thoughts, albeit in a refined and irenical spirit as opposed to Butler's antagonism to Christianity..
But what does all this mean for people in churches today. Is it relevant? I've learnt how to read Butler's books in such a way as to extract some abiding lessons about God from them.
For example, people born in Africa or Australia grow up orientated to a huge landscape. Their sense of geography, their sense of place, is quite different from those who grow up on islands like New Zealand or Britain. We end up with somewhat different ideas of physical boundaries. Young people in the middle of continents are used to looking to far horizons that always involve land. Island children look to a far horizon of sea. Samuel Butler was thrust into an extraordinary landscape. Although an island dweller, he found, naturally, that Te Wai Pouname and Te Iki a Maui, and Rakiura, were not like the British Isles. Islands which give rise to a sense of splendid isolation, especially in the headwaters Te Rangitata. Much of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit was shot in the places I am describing. Out of these places a knowledge of God arises because in the landscape is the capacity to evoke a sense of awe.
Interior of Butler's cottage
Memory- Butler's grand theory
The problems associated with Darwin's theory and its rival, Lamarkian evolution, all revolved around memory. Specifically the passing of information from one generation to the next. Much of Butler's later work would be dominated by this complex subject. Butler's interest, like Wesley's missionaries, sprang from deep historical precedents.