Publisher: Harvard University Press Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 0 674 01687 4
Pages: 327 Format: Hardcover

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1 - Christianity and its discontents; 2 - From progress to evolution; 3 - Growth of a pseudoscience; 4 - Charles Darwin; 5 - Failure of a professional scientist; 6 - Social Darwinism; 7 - Christian responses; 8 - Fundamentalism; 9 - Population genetics; 10 - Evolution today; 11 - Nature as promise; 12 - Earth's last days?



There must be many who think the debate ended with the Scopes trial. Despite work in the intervening years there's still a debate and, if recent stories are to be believed, the matter is escalating not declining. This creates problems for us in science education (or perhaps in education generally) because it shifts the debate from the nature of learning to the nature of the ideas used in learning. It follows that a text which tries to illuminate this area is going to be useful.

The aim of this text is to outline something of the history of the argument. At the outset the reader is told explicitly that the author supports the evolutionary side of the debate. From that point, rather than try to dismiss the creationist side per se, he tries to locate it in a continuum of philosophical thought where creationists are a 'premillennial' group (en)countering the 'postmillennial' evolutionists. To start, the reader is invited to consider an old Christian hymn with its version of salvation. It continues to look at religion with an overview of ideas from the Reformation through to post-colonial America. Already we see something of the development of Ruse's case: science and religion rather than just two views on biological change. This makes it both more interesting and also means that the points made are far more complex than we might at first suppose. Chapter two continues the story covering some of the key ideas which started with the French Revolution and continued to the mid 19thC. As we approach the seminal contribution of Darwin so the timeframe slows down and the detail increases. Chapter three outlines the work carried out be the Chambers publishing house - publishers of a great deal of key Victorian literature - and their work on popularising science (or perhaps, more properly, pseudoscience, as Ruse refers to it). Chapter four outlines the life and work of Darwin and places it in its social context. We might expect the debate to finish there but, as chapter five notes, it's only just started. From the outset there were opponents (even in the universities) and evolution, far from being universally accepted, was discussed in a range of situations. This continues through chapter six where the debate widens up and becomes part of the explosion of thought in late 19thC Britain and elsewhere. It's interesting to note that some of evolution's supporters were, in their time, just as intolerant as their opponents! To this point, the debate has largely focussed on the evolutionary side. Now, in chapter 7 and 8 we see the Christian response starting up firstly in the Christian debates in the early 20thC and then in the growth of American thought from the Civil War to the Scopes trial noted above. The pendulum swings again in the next two chapters to trace the development of evolutionary thought from the 1920s onwards. Our final two chapters bring the story up to date with the recent developments of the creationist side and some of the areas of evolutionary thought. Despite all the debate in the preceding pages what we are given is not so much a right/wrong situation but a difference of perspective. A short 'conclusion' completes the book. It argues that rather than a continuum of thought, its more like a circle and that evolutionists need to work more closely with lees fundamental Christians if the debate is to be swung their way finally.

This is a fascinating, wide-ranging read. The author takes us from hymns to philosophy to novels to science. Rather than dismiss the creationist side, the author argues for a far more complex picture where both sides are interwoven in the social, political and scientific milieu of their times. A complex book but one which should be of great interest to those concerning the history and philosophy of science.


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