Adrian Desmond

Published On


Page Range

pp. 77–116


  • English

Print Length

40 pages

3. From Eternity to Here

Blasphemy, Eternalism, and the Emerging Question of Origins

  • Adrian Desmond (author)
Being so little known, Saull and his trajectory towards Owenite evolution and mankind’s monkey-ancestry has to be tackled by following the money. We look at his bailing and funding of dissidents, leasing of venues, and the company he kept. First among the latter was the notorious Richard Carlile. By exploiting police spy reports, and by identifying an anonymous letter on fossils in Carlile’s Republican as Saull’s, we can see him already embedded in this circle by the mid-1820s. The anti-clerical Carlile re-cycled radical Enlightenment works for British dissidents, but what interests us is his response to evangelical taunts that only the Bible could explain human origins. Initially, following George Toulmin, whose books he reprinted, Carlile was to argue that the universe and humanity were eternal. This was eroded, however, by the knowledge, percolating down to street level, of Baron Cuvier’s unearthing of a progression of fossil animals, which implied origins. We examine what sources the dissidents trusted, what books they were reviving (including the much-maligned Telliamed), and why ‘blasphemous’ texts were favoured. Among the latter were the pirated books of the castigated surgeon William Lawrence and Lord Byron, which were churned out cheaply on back-street hand presses. With self-organizing matter (an idea spreading from republican France), and power lying inside nature, rather than in God’s hands to be dispensed through his priesthood, Saull’s anti-clericals had the justification for their attacks on financially-crippling tithes and intellectually-crippling priestly power.


Adrian Desmond


Adrian Desmond was educated at University College London and Harvard University, where he was Stephen Jay Gould's first history of science PhD student. He has two MSc's, one in history of science, another in vertebrate palaeontology, and a PhD for his work on radical Victorian evolutionists. For twenty years he was an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London. He is the multi-award-winning author of nine books, which include: The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs, Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London, Darwin, Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple, Huxley: Evolution’s High Priest, Darwin’s Sacred Cause (with James Moore)