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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at Its Best, 3 Jan. 2009
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900 (Paperback)
The conflict between science and religion has traditionally been seen in terms of conflict and war. This was largely because polemicists on each side of the debate were unable to envisage how both could coexist in harmony. James Moore traces the reasons why this was so and offers an alternative interpretation of how Protestant theology responded to the challenge of Darwinism.

To do so Moore examines the historiography of the subject but re-examines original works and the historical context within which they were written. History is rarely without bias but the early proponents of Darwinism as a historical phenomenon had other agendas.

John William Draper, for example, had an avowed anti-Catholic programme in writing his "History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science" which was more "a tract for its times, not a history of them." He was concerned about the perceived power of the Pope at a time when the power of the Papacy was declining not increasing. Draper's bad history set the tone for the debate which followed.

Andrew Dickson White wanted to encourage liberal education - including the liberty of science - to be free from religious influences. He was opposed to what he regarded sectarian dogmatic theology which he likened to the experience of Copernicus and Galileo (conveniently ignoring the historical misrepresentation involved in each case) in seeking to challenge progressive thought based on the scientific method.

Thomas Henry Huxley's avowed aim was to preach the case for science against religion although later in life he dismissed liberal ideas that mankind was born good and is only corrupted by society. In tune with the times he styled himself "gladiator-general" of evolutionary science. Huxley, the man of science, wasted his energies on polemics rather than in reasoned debate, a policy also adopted recently by Richard Dawkins and others.

There were those, particularly liberal theologists such as Frederick Temple and Baden Powell, who found no conflict between theology and science, indeed they were at pains to express the view that science was discovering God in nature. Others, of course, most notably Charles Hodge, were Christian anti-Darwinists, considering it to be atheism in another form. They were not necessarily prototype creationists but objected to the anti-clerical undertones of Darwin's work.

Moore is particularly strong in relating the post-Darwinian debate to contemporary nineteenth society. The warfare theme was common (it was a time when the Salvation Army was founded by William Booth), so too was the Spencerian development of the "survival of the fittest" which suited the Imperial war aims of late Victorian Britain. The British were, after all, a favoured race.

What Moore does supremely well is to identify the main strains of response to Darwin's ideas as they affected theology. Contrary to what Draper and White would have had people believe there was no general anti- science consensus amongst all Christian denominations. Responses were varied and mixed. Darwin himself, in effect, postulated a theology of nature which he expressed as "natural selection" which was, in turn, based on fixed laws of nature suggesting that his theory was his own way of finding a substitute for the Deism of his youth.

This is not a book for those who prefer to see history in black and white terms. Human beings are complex creatures who often appear unwilling to use their minds in dispassionate debate. The correspondence between Darwin and Asa Grey is a fine example of how people can disagree but recognise the strength of the opposing argument. This book is history at its best and should be read by all interested in the impact of Darwin's theory on religion in the late nineteenth century.
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