Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929

Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929

Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929

Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929


Charles Hodge, James McCosh, B. B. Warfield -- these leading professors at Princeton College and Seminary in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are famous for their orthodox Protestant positions on the doctrine of evolution. In this book Bradley Gundlach explores the surprisingly positive embrace of developmental views by the whole community of thinkers at old Princeton, showing how they embraced the development not only of the cosmos and life-forms but also of Scripture and the history of doctrine, even as they defended their historic Christian creed.

Decrying an intellectual world gone "evolution-mad," the old Princetonians nevertheless welcomed evolution "properly limited and explained." Rejecting historicism and Darwinism, they affirmed developmentalism and certain non-Darwinian evolutionary theories, finding process over time through the agency of second causes -- God's providential rule in the world -- both enlightening and polemically useful. They also took care to identify the pernicious causes and effects of antisupernatural evolutionisms. By the 1920s their nuanced distinctions, together with their advocacy of both biblical inerrancy and modern science, were overwhelmed by the brewing fundamentalist controversy.

From the first American review of the pre-Darwinian Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation to the Scopes Trial and the forced reorganization of Princeton Seminary in 1929, Process and Providence reliably portrays the preeminent conservative Protestants in America as they defined, contested, and answered -- precisely and incisively -- the many facets of the evolution question.


I began work on Princeton and evolution in 1979–80, as a senior in the history department at Princeton University. in need of a thesis topic, I was filing subject cards in the Catalog Maintenance division of Firestone Library, where I worked part-time. in the S’s I came across what was then a brand-new book, Herbert Hovenkamp’s Science and Religion in America, 1800–1860, which, I soon learned, opened and closed with vignettes of Princeton. This was my first inkling that Princeton was at all important in the development of ideas on science and religion. After a few inquiries with my adviser David Hammack and professor emeritus Arthur S. Link, I had a topic for my thesis, driven in by a long-standing personal interest in fossils and evolution, but also by a more recent, personal commitment to evangelical Christianity — two things that had coexisted for me in my college years largely on the terms of an explicit nonaggression pact. Now I began to open the borders.

And the rest, as they say, is history — except in my case it is history in a very literal sense, for I have pursued questions of science and religion through the discipline of history, off and on, ever since. Historical study of these questions, I might as well admit, offered a way of delving into them while retaining a certain sense of safe detachment. I asked not how to fit science and religion together, but how others did it some time ago. Thanks to a pointed comment from John Servos, the second reader of my senior thesis, I strove increasingly to separate the normative from the descriptive in my consideration of these questions. It was good advice; whatever air of safe distance historical study lent me, beneath it lay a close, compelling interest in the questions themselves. Such interest, I

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