Darwin's Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution

By John Holmes | Go to book overview

3
God

DARWINISM, CHRISTIANITY AND THEOLOGY

If you know only one thing about Darwin, the chances are it concerns the fact that his theory has provoked intense religious debate. People who have only a vague idea of evolution and have never heard of natural selection know that. The most mythologised moments in the history of Darwinism–the triumph of T. H. Huxley over Bishop Wilberforce at Oxford, Darwin’s own loss of faith and the false counter-myth of his deathbed conversion, the Scopes trial–all centre on this clash between science and religion. It has been loudly proclaimed by atheists and fundamentalists alike, and as assiduously denied by moderates on both sides of the fence and on it.

Amid this cacophony, it can be hard to look steadily at the question of how and how far Darwinism and religion really conflict. One problem is that the question itself will not hold still. It depends whose Darwinism and which religion you have in mind. Discussions of the conflict between science and religion generally restrict themselves to Christianity, and for now at least I shall do the same. As the dominant Western religion, the history of Christianity repeatedly intersects with that of Western science, and it remains the most popular and influential religion in the United States and Europe where these questions are most often debated. Furthermore, once we move beyond Christianity and its Mediterranean sister religions Judaism and Islam to consider Buddhism, for example, or Tao, or animism, none of which are straightforwardly theistic, it becomes increasingly hard to define what the term ‘religion’ means.

Even limiting ourselves to Christianity (with an eye on monotheism more widely), the view that Darwinism and faith are incompatible is at the very least ahistorical. Many leading Darwinian biologists have been devout Christians, including R. A. Fisher, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Simon Conway Morris and Kenneth Miller. For these scientists, faith and science are complementary, not irreconcilable. On the other hand, the argument

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Darwin's Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Preface x
  • 1- Poetry in the Age of Darwin 1
  • 2- Poetry and the ‘Non-Darwinian Revolution’ 37
  • 3- God 75
  • 4- Death 102
  • 5- Humanity’s Place in Nature 130
  • 6- Humans and Other Animals 154
  • 7- Love and Sex 185
  • 8- On Balance 226
  • Conclusion 260
  • Bibliography 263
  • Index 283
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