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Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine) Hardcover – September 30, 2007

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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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From Booklist

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

Product Details

  • Series: New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674026152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674026155
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,411,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Peter Bowler is one of the authorities on the history of evolution. Professor of the History of Science at Queens University, Belfast, he has written extensively on the history of the science of the "Darwinian Revolution" as well as on the moral and political responses it has provoked. _Monkey Trials_ is a short and easy read that is almost deceptively packed with a vast survey of scholarship, while at the same time providing real insight into the history of the present relationship between evolution and religion in America. Bowler justifies this work as his own contribution to the American phenomenon of the apparent "debate" between the science of Darwinian evolution and the Creationist "Intelligent Design" movement that has made such headway among the religious right, and which continues to threaten science standards in schools in many southern states despite recent rulings against teaching religion as science by the courts.

Bowler is open about his own religious skepticism, but much like Michael Ruse, does not think it productive to go down the path of strident atheist advocacy pursued by Daniel Dennett and the Richard Dawkins. As a European, Bowler claims to offer an outsider's perspective, but it is Bowler's perspective as an historian that really allows him to see the wood as well as the trees. Bowler's book sheds much needed light.

The opening chapters of _Monkey Trials_ give a brief but comprehensive overview of the history of the development of Darwin's thought, of earlier evolutionary ideas, and the range of Victorian moral reactions to the idea that humanity might share a common ancestor with apes.
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Format: Hardcover
Several books about the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, about the teaching of "intelligent design" have appeared in recent years. Before that there were books on earlier trials, and there will certainly be others in the future, as Dover is very unlikely to be the last. Most of these are designed to appeal to a broad audience, and concentrate much more on the personalities involved than on the science or the history. So far as the science is concerned, Sahotra Sarkar's book Doubting Darwin: Creationist Designs on Evolution (Blackwell Public Philosophy Series) is an excellent source, but as the topic is by no means new it is also useful to have a detailed and thoughtful account of how we got where we are now, and this is what Peter Bowler provides.

Everyone will recognize the reference to monkey trials in the title, but the gorilla sermons will be less obvious. These were a series of sermons preached by William Barnes, Canon of Westminster, in the 1920s. However, despite his position as a religious leader Barnes was an enthusiastic believer in evolution, and followed St Augustine's principle that Christians make themselves look foolish when they argue from complete ignorance of scientific reality. (As an interesting aside, R. A. Fisher, a practising Christian himself, but better known as one of the greatest statisticians of the 20th century and one of the creators of the "new synthesis" that reconciled Darwinian evolution with genetics, had been taught mathematics at Cambridge by Barnes.
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Impressive survey of debates between Darwinists and religious fundamentalists. I always knew about the controversy, but had no idea of the depth, breadth, and variety of positions taken along the entire spectrum.
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