From Publishers Weekly
Bowler, a professor of the history of science at Queen's University in Belfast, aims to show that the renewed state of war between fundamentalists and atheistic Darwinists is not the only game in town, because there have always been religious thinkers looking for a middle way to integrate Christian and evolutionary ideas. While not himself an advocate of any middle way—Bowler is a religious skeptic—he believes this stream of thought deserves more attention. Alongside outbreaks of controversy such as the Huxley-Wilberforce debates, the Scopes trial or contemporary battles over science education, Bowler portrays a broad movement, spearheaded by liberal Christians and religiously inclined evolutionists, to interpret evolution as God's plan. Integrating cultural and political factors into the historical description, Bowler sees a great deal at stake. Political and social beliefs about competition, cooperation, and human improvability also come into play, as well as classic theological questions of suffering, freedom, and moral responsibility—or more recently, the value of animals and the environment. Although breadth sometimes comes at the expense of depth—Bowler treats some topics superficially and admits to finding some academic theology totally incomprehensible—overall this is a well-balanced survey that does justice to the complexity of the encounter and the variety of possible responses. (Sept.)
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Bowler's exemplary review of debate over Charles Darwin's ideas about evolution indicates that they have been beleaguered since before they were published, more by other scientists than by churchmen. A great many other scientists were and are religious and, like most other religious people, feel uneasy about the challenges to divine omniscience and omnipotence that Darwin's concepts raised. Lamarck's pre-Darwinian notions about change through quasi-intentional mutation rather than random natural selection ministered powerfully to such unease, leading even Darwin's great, ostensibly atheist champion, Thomas Henry Huxley, to differ with the master (Lamarckism wasn't laid to rest until well into the twentieth century). A real eye-opener for many arrives with Bowler's demonstration that the anti-Darwinian creationism and intelligent design movements are newcomers to the conflict that represent a much more intransigent strain of dogmatic Christianity than pre-1950s Darwinians faced. A nonbeliever himself, Bowler yet concludes that physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne's heady theological arguments are preferable to the rampant atheism of Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006) for defending Darwin's indispensable theories. An invaluable resource. Olson, Ray