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Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design

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From the beginning, Darwin's dangerous idea of evolution has been a snake in the garden for the church, denounced from pulpits then and now as imcompatible with the central tenets of Christian faith. Recovered here is the less well-known history of thoughtful engagement and compromise on the part of liberal theologians. From the beginning, Darwin's dangerous idea of evolution has been a snake in the garden for the church, denounced from pulpits then and now as imcompatible with the central tenets of Christian faith. Recovered here is the less well-known history of thoughtful engagement and compromise on the part of liberal theologians.


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From the beginning, Darwin's dangerous idea of evolution has been a snake in the garden for the church, denounced from pulpits then and now as imcompatible with the central tenets of Christian faith. Recovered here is the less well-known history of thoughtful engagement and compromise on the part of liberal theologians. From the beginning, Darwin's dangerous idea of evolution has been a snake in the garden for the church, denounced from pulpits then and now as imcompatible with the central tenets of Christian faith. Recovered here is the less well-known history of thoughtful engagement and compromise on the part of liberal theologians.

30 review for Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity from Darwin to Intelligent Design

  1. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This book reads like two books overlaid on each other. The first, the foundation, is a competent history of the interaction between religion, with its received origin mythologies, and the gradually unfolding scientific knowledge of how the world and its biodiversity actually came to be. Everyone with an interest in the current debates between creationists and real scientists can benefit from understanding how the battleground developed. Layered over that is a history of the mostly failed attempts This book reads like two books overlaid on each other. The first, the foundation, is a competent history of the interaction between religion, with its received origin mythologies, and the gradually unfolding scientific knowledge of how the world and its biodiversity actually came to be. Everyone with an interest in the current debates between creationists and real scientists can benefit from understanding how the battleground developed. Layered over that is a history of the mostly failed attempts by liberal theologians to fit their belief in the supernatural into the steadily-shrinking gaps left by steadily-growing scientific understanding. The golden era for this sort of thing was during what the author describes as the "eclipse of Darwinism" - an interesting time following Darwin's publication of his Origin and the later rise of the modern synthesis (which slammed the door on most attempts to fit God into the process). The book closes with a chapter on the recent debates, which we might call the eclipse of liberal theology, with the creationists on one side going full anti-intellectual and at least some of the more vocal scientists on the other side increasingly abandoning what Richard Dawkins calls the Neville Chamberlain approach to accommodating religion. Sprinkled throughout are some vaguely ad homimen and false-equivalence drive-by complaints against Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who Bowler describes as "extremists" and "fundamentalists," along with accusing them of having a vested interest in the continued existence of the creationists they oppose, and of ignoring the liberal theologians who offer a middle ground of sorts. (Bowler seems to have missed the fact that Dawkins and his fellow "New Atheists" refuse even to appear on the same stage with creationists and fundamentalists, and in their formal debates with religionists they only debate with those of a more liberal bent.) Elsewhere Bowler seems to walk back some of these claims, for example by acknowledging that the small number of liberal theologians doesn't constitute much in the way of a religious movement compared to the surging religious fundamentalists. Bowler also expresses his doubts that concocting new liberal theologies will do much to persuade religious fundamentalists. Yet he ends the book with a call for more attempts at liberal theology. He offers Polkinghorne's position as some sort of exemplar but I found it anti-climactic to say the least. At no point does Bowler get to grips with the elephant in the room: where religious people get their ideas about God in the first place. In the case of Christians, that would ultimately be from the Bible. We have no other source of information about the life of Jesus, how his death on the cross is supposed to have been a pre-planned atoning sacrifice for our sins (and not just a rationalization cooked up by his traumatized followers after the death of their leader), and so on. Yet we now know that the Bible starts off with a large pack of codswallop which cannot be taken literally by any scientifically educated person. And not just the creation myths and Flood, but also the Exodus from Egypt for which archaeologists have abandoned any hope of finding evidence, after a century of scouring the Sinai. Even the Bible's stories of the Patriarchs riding camels appear to be anachronisms, as camels weren't domesticated in the region until centuries later. Presumably the people who wrote the codswallop took it seriously (else they would have said they were just kidding), along with the people they wrote it to. Yet the liberal theologian can discard all of that error with a wave of the hand, and cherry-pick other verses from the same scriptures as if they are authoritative. The entire basis of religion is so-called "revelation," which in practice always means a bunch of people putting their entire faith and trust in nothing but the unsupported claims of some holy book or holy man. We don't have Jesus appearing physically to set the record straight, so Christianity hinges entirely on the credibility of the hearsay that we have about Jesus. Fundamentalists recognize that if you question any part of the Bible you can question all of it, and once that snowball starts rolling it sooner or later rolls to Richard Dawkins' doorstep. Liberal theology thus functions more like a halfway house for people transitioning out of religion than as a stable set of beliefs in its own right. Strangely, Bowler neither mentions nor even clearly alludes to a concept that could organize the historical narrative nicely: God of the gaps, which basically observes that as scientific knowledge and explanatory power increase, the wiggle room for supernatural explanations decreases. For example, during the aforementioned eclipse of Darwinism, before biologists rediscovered Mendelian genetics and combined it with Darwinism to get the modern synthesis, imagining a role for God in evolution was easier than it is now. I cannot guess whether the omission was deliberate, but I would expect a historian to notice the historical trend. Religion has spent the last century and a half inside a sort of trash compactor, with waves of scientific discovery pressing in on every side. Bowler seems to think there's enough room left in there for liberal theology to contribute something useful. That may be true now, but for how long?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    This book is amazing! I appreciated the objectivity and honesty the author used in reviewing the history and continuing debate between evolution and religion. The author states his personal views on the subject briefly in the first chapter allowing the reader to be wary of any bias that might be present. This, however, is hardly necessary since Bowler takes a completely objective look at both the views of the scientist and the views of the (mainly Christian)theologians. The first and last chapte This book is amazing! I appreciated the objectivity and honesty the author used in reviewing the history and continuing debate between evolution and religion. The author states his personal views on the subject briefly in the first chapter allowing the reader to be wary of any bias that might be present. This, however, is hardly necessary since Bowler takes a completely objective look at both the views of the scientist and the views of the (mainly Christian)theologians. The first and last chapters focus on present debates and the issues both sides have with each other. The middle chapters are more about the history of the debate, starting before Darwin and beyond the Scopes "Monkey Trial". The book is well referenced for those (like me) who are interested in learning more. Bowler packs this book with information and clears up many misconceptions about "myths" in the history of the debate. I learned a lot about how the different sides have viewed each other through the last couple hundred years, as well as arguments and issues they have with each other. What really makes this a five star book is the fact that it got me thinking about how my personal beliefs fit in with the science of the day. And it excited me. I would put a warning on this book. It is not for ANYONE wishing their point of view to be vindicated. Bowler attempts to list the legitimate arguments on all sides. Many are very convincing. Do not expect him to have the exact form of religion you buy into either. He had to look at Christianity as whole. If you are not willing to look at the subject open mindedly, this book will probably just frustrate you. Having said that, I think everyone would benefit from knowing about the debate between science (via evolution) and religion (via Christianity), no matter which "side" you hale from.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    Can evolution and science coexist? I enjoyed the background on how the creationist "model" began and the context surrounding the "teach the controversy". I had no idea evolution and natural selection was accepted until some schools decided to avoid the science all together. Excellent context and the content was a bit dry, but overall very informative to both sides of the debate. Can evolution and science coexist? I enjoyed the background on how the creationist "model" began and the context surrounding the "teach the controversy". I had no idea evolution and natural selection was accepted until some schools decided to avoid the science all together. Excellent context and the content was a bit dry, but overall very informative to both sides of the debate.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alan Morales

    Excellent book! I picked this book as part of a number of researched books I needed to read, in order to become familiar with the subject; Creationism vs. Intelligent Design. Well articulated points of view while leaving the reader room to form individual opinions about the subject. I can't recommencement it enough. Excellent book! I picked this book as part of a number of researched books I needed to read, in order to become familiar with the subject; Creationism vs. Intelligent Design. Well articulated points of view while leaving the reader room to form individual opinions about the subject. I can't recommencement it enough.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    (review originally published on Bookslut) Reading the newspapers or watching the daily news on TV, it's easy to come to the conclusion that in regards to evolution, the people of America belong to two highly polarized camps. In one corner, you have the Godless scientists, supporters of evolution, genetic engineering, and cloning, determined to stomp out all last vestiges of religion from American culture, and make life over in their own images. In the other, evangelistic fundamentalists, proponen (review originally published on Bookslut) Reading the newspapers or watching the daily news on TV, it's easy to come to the conclusion that in regards to evolution, the people of America belong to two highly polarized camps. In one corner, you have the Godless scientists, supporters of evolution, genetic engineering, and cloning, determined to stomp out all last vestiges of religion from American culture, and make life over in their own images. In the other, evangelistic fundamentalists, proponents of a 6,000 year-old Earth, a 7 24-hour day creation, and Noah's flood as the cause of the Grand Canyon, determined to institute religious law and bring about the rapture. The only people in the middle seem to be apathetic and don't care one way or another. Each new headline ratchets up the tension and increases the stakes, until it seems that it must have always been this way, science and religion locked in conflict over the future of the human race ever since Darwin stepped off of the Beagle. Thankfully, we have Peter J. Bowler, professor of the history of science from Queen's University in Belfast, to bring us some much needed perspective. His remarkable little book, Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons, goes back to the first pre-Darwinian inklings that life on earth may not always have been as it appears today, and traces the conversation about the origins of man and their implications through the ages to the present day. Even the most familiar events along this journey are illuminated afresh by Bowler's use of current historical research. For example, the famous crushing of Samuel Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford, by scientist Thomas Huxley at the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, when Huxley declared that he would rather have an ape for an ancestor than a man who misused his intelligence to attack a theory he didn't understand. According to modern understanding, this event was invented by later followers of Darwin. In reality, there was no decisive victory on that day. Darwin's theory of evolution was accepted very gradually by the scientific community. In time, parts of his theory were even accepted by most religious thinkers, until the return to tradionalism in many Christian movements led to fresh attacks, particularly on the teaching of evolution, in the early twentieth century. Though it wasn't until well the 1950s and '60s that even the more unpopular materialist aspects of Darwinism were accepted by the majority of the scientific community, setting a far different stage for the current conflict. The final section of the book is devoted to the modern debates. Bowler links the rise of intelligent design and young-Earth creationism with the rise of fundamentalism worldwide. A brief discussion on the social forces that are making fundamentalism so appealing to so many these days, and why any fundamentalist movement would necessarily be opposed to the scientific theory of evolution, is enough to make any liberal fall into despair. On the other side, a few modern evolutionary scientists have grown so hostile to any form of religion that one has even gone so far as to declare all of the world's religions a danger to humanity. But thankfully, that is not where the book ends. For much of the history of this debate, there were many movements in Christianity that tried to accept some version of evolution, but the final breaking point was always natural selection as the primary mechanism. There were those who could accept common ancestors, who could accept random variation, but when it came to natural selection, most of these Christians simply replaced this with God. It's not too surprising, for decades natural selection made even the most avowed Darwinists nervous. This partial acceptance made these theologies easy to criticize for both scientists and more conservative Christians. However, today there are a number of religious thinkers who are able to reconcile their visions of God and Christ with all of evolutionary theory. Indeed, a few have even suggested that a universe ruled by natural selection is the only possible universe in which intelligent creatures with free will could emerge. They have thus made the modern theory of evolution essential to their theology. What is made most clear from this book is that our ideas about the nature of the human race and the universe in which we live are always changing. We will probably never come to some static interpretation of how the world is and why, but this book gives me faith that we have some good directions to move in.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    This wasn't a real page-turner but I learned a lot from this book. I had no idea how many alternative theories there were before and after Darwin attempting to explain the evolution of the natural world. As the years of scientific enlightenment have unfolded it's really remarkable to see how much Darwin had right. From the most ardent atheist scientist to the most conservative Christian preacher, Bowler touches on the major voices through the past three centuries that have contributed to the deb This wasn't a real page-turner but I learned a lot from this book. I had no idea how many alternative theories there were before and after Darwin attempting to explain the evolution of the natural world. As the years of scientific enlightenment have unfolded it's really remarkable to see how much Darwin had right. From the most ardent atheist scientist to the most conservative Christian preacher, Bowler touches on the major voices through the past three centuries that have contributed to the debate. The polar extremes of both sides are quite ridiculous. Rejecting the existence of a god because the creationist view of Genesis doesn't add up is just as silly as unapologetically stating that the earth in a few thousand years old and man in no way evolved from apes. At the end of the day, the most widely accepted theories are continually forced to evolve and adjust to new findings of science. What I got from this book is that we may never have a clear picture of how it all went down but the important thing is to assimilate new knowledge into our current world view. My two cents: There is a God. He delegates much of His physical creation to the laws of nature, aka, evolution. As believers, we should push for further scientific revelation to find out more about Gods' dealings with us and our world.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alan Morales

    I love this book, 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.encounter and the variety of possible responses. Charles Darwin, with his compelling evidence for evolution in his 1859 book on The Origin of Species, cha I love this book, 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.encounter and the variety of possible responses. Charles Darwin, with his compelling evidence for evolution in his 1859 book on The Origin of Species, challenged all religious teachings about the creation of humanity in the Garden of Eden. Although not dealing directly with the origins of life, it proposes that the idea of evolution was a progressive force that consequently gave life to the human race and other species on the planet. The suggestion that religion and science are at war, is not a surprising notion to many. These institutions have been crucial to the progress of human kind, yet they cannot agree on elemental questions such as, how life originated on earth or the formation of the universe. Which side deserves to win? This depends on each individuals personal point of view. This debate is one of the most controversial and significant issues in our modern society.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ci

    This book is very disappointing. The arguments proposed by the author is tantalizing but without substance. The writing style is ponderous, repetitive, and meandering.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kosar

    My review of this interesting book appeared in The Weekly Standard... My review of this interesting book appeared in The Weekly Standard...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    This was a slow read, but interesting. A very even-handed description of the development of the theory of evolution, and the rise of young-earth creationism and intelligent design.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Mitchell

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Jackson

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bamber Cliff

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alex Stinson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Phil

  16. 5 out of 5

    Todd

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Elaine

  18. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pipa HidrĂ¡ulica

  20. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christina Lopez

  22. 5 out of 5

    John

  23. 4 out of 5

    Molly

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christine Nguyen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Conor

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christine Nelson-mccomb

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nikki Haug

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Guinn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Saurabh

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