Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology

Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology

Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology

Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology

Synopsis

Darwinism and the Divine examines the implications of evolutionary thought for natural theology, from the time of publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species to current debates on creationism and intelligent design.
  • Questions whether Darwin's theory of natural selection really shook our fundamental beliefs, or whether they served to transform and illuminate our views on the origins and meaning of life
  • Identifies the forms of natural theology that emerged in 19th-century England and how they were affected by Darwinism
  • The most detailed study yet of the intellectual background to William Paley's famous and influential approach to natural theology, set out in 1802
  • Brings together material from a variety of disciplines, including the history of ideas, historical and systematic theology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, sociology, and the cognitive science of religion
  • Considers how Christian belief has adapted to Darwinism, and asks whether there is a place for design both in the world of science and the world of theology
  • A thought-provoking exploration of 21st-century views on evolutionary thought and natural theology, written by the world-renowned theologian and bestselling author

Excerpt

Natural theology is enjoying a renaissance, catalyzed as much by the intellectual inquisitiveness of natural scientists as by the reflections of Christian theologians and biblical scholars. It offers an important conceptual framework for the exploration of Christian theology as a rational enterprise, and a clarification of how the inner logic of the Christian faith relates to scientific rationality. Natural theology, in the full sense of the term, mandates a principled engagement with reality that is rigorously informed, both theologically and scientifically. It has the potential to open up new vistas of understanding and critical yet positive dialogue between scientific and religious cultures and communities.

There remains, however, a widespread perception that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection marked and continues to mark the end of any viable natural theology, particularly as it had been given classic formulation in the writings of William Paley (1743–1805). Paley’s theory is often interpreted as marking the apex of Christian thinking, which is thus portrayed as having been comprehensively routed and discredited by Darwin’s theory of natural selection. As it happens, Paley’s approach is the late, popular flowering of a relatively recent and distinctively English approach, the origins of which can be traced back to the late seventeenth century, and which was already in some difficulty at the time when Darwin’s theory of natural selection was developed. Natural theology may have developed in new directions after Darwin; if so, it was merely deflected from some of its seventeenthcentury implementations, rather than defeated in its intellectual vision. It was not the Christian enterprise of natural theology that was discredited by Darwin, but a specific form of such a theology, which emerged in England after 1690 and was already rejected by many Christian theologians by 1850. the Darwinian debates about science and religion were, in one sense, thoroughly English, reflecting local approaches to natural theology, rather than those of the Christian tradition in general.

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