Conflict between religion and science in Dover Beach


Dover Beach:  by Matthew Arnold 

Conflict between Religion and Science

Question : Bring out the conflict between religion and          science in the context of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”.

 Answer : During the Victorian Era, the Industrial Revolution, and development of Science and Technology had changed the entire religious beliefs of people.

   In the mid nineteenth century, Arnold noted that the pillar of faith supporting society was perceived as crumbling under the weight of scientific theories, such as those of English naturalist Charles Darwin, English physician Erasmus, French naturalist Lamarck consequently the existence of God and the whole Christian scheme of things was cast in doubt, Arnold who was deeply religious, lamented the dying of the light of faith, as symbolised by the light  he sees on Dover Beach on the Coast of France, which gleams for a moment and fades away the next moment.

    According to the traditional existing religious beliefs, God  created man, directly from the clay image, by breathing life into him. 

    But several scientific theories especially the publication of Charles Darwin’s revolutionary book  “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”  introduced a new theory stated – that the biological specimens, including humans evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. 

     But this theory contradicted the religious beliefs from olden times. The theories challenged the traditional story of how life began. 

     It made the Victorians feel that they had been suddenly abandoned by God and this led them into an era of doubt about the existing religious beliefs. This is called the “Crisis of Faith”. It is due to this reason  Matthew Arnold is “often described as the embodiment of Victorian religious crisis”.

    “Dover Beach” is  often read as a poem that was written as a way of expressing  the void left by the theory of evolution. The crisis is shown in “Dover Beach” as the poet says – 

” the light / gleams and is gone,”

Here the flickering light of faith in God shows the melancholy felt by the Victorians, when they were faced with Darwin’s observations.

 The speaker says – 

“The Sea of faith /

 Was Once,too,at the full, and round the earth’s shore.”

The sea of faith was once strong and formed a protective covering around the continents, is now remained only a “long  withdrawing roar”.

  The Victorians have been suffering an internal crisis of faith, and thus to survive, the speaker makes a plea to his beloved that they should remain true to each other. Love is the only solace that can help one survive the crisis of faith.

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