Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design

Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design

Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design

Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design

Synopsis

From the beginning, Darwin's dangerous idea has been a snake in the garden, denounced from pulpits then and now as incompatible with the central tenets of Christian faith. Recovered here is the less well-known but equally long history of thoughtful engagement and compromise on the part of liberal theologians. Peter J. Bowler doesn't minimize the hostility of many of the faithful toward evolution, but he reveals the existence of a long tradition within the churches that sought to reconcile Christian beliefs with evolution by finding reflections of the divine in scientific explanations for the origin of life. By tracing the historical forerunners of these rival Christian responses, Bowler provides a valuable alternative to accounts that stress only the escalating confrontation.

Our polarized society, Bowler says, has all too often projected its rivalries onto the past, concealing the efforts by both scientists and theologians to find common ground. Our perception of past confrontations has been shaped by an oversimplified model of a “war” between science and religion. By uncovering the complexity of the debates sparked by Darwin's theory, we might discover ways to depolarize our own debates about where we came from and why we are here.

Excerpt

My purpose in writing a book on such a controversial topic is explained in the first chapter and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that I have been working on the history of Darwinism and its implications for most of my career, and I hope that a balanced historical account of the debate over the theory’s religious implications will be of some interest to those engaged in the current controversies. Perhaps by writing from a perspective shaped by residence outside North America, I can shed some light on the less confrontational aspects of the interaction.

Most of what follows is a distillation of my own and other scholars’ work over the past years. If there is anything original here, it is my brief foray into the work of the early twentieth-century Modernists within the American churches, whose writings are often neglected in accounts of the period defined in the popular imagination by the Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

For their help and inspiration I am particularly indebted to John Brooke, Jim Moore, Ron Numbers, Ted Davis, and Michael Ruse. I am also grateful to Spencer Weart and two anonymous referees for their comments on the original manuscript.

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