Wednesday, May 14, 2014

David N. Livingstone's "Dealing with Darwin"

David N. Livingstone is a professor of geography and intellectual history at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is author of Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins.

Livingstone applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dealing with Darwin parachutes the reader into nineteenth-century Toronto, and in particular into the mind of the Scotsman Daniel Wilson, Professor of History and English Literature and later President of the University there. He’s grappling with the hottest question of the day – Darwin’s theory of evolution, and he casts it into the context of the debate over whether the human race is of single or multiple origin. Because he came from a strongly anti-slavery evangelical family and had long held to the monogenetic account of human origins, he was suspicious of any theory that might compromise the fixity of the human species. But Wilson’s response to Darwin’s challenge was cool and calm, as it was elsewhere in Canada. In fact it turns out that most Canadian scientists more or less ignored the theory, while the theologians at Knox College in Toronto engaged with it in creative and stimulating ways.

This circumstance might provoke in a reader the question: how was Darwin’s theory received elsewhere? How did other religious communities ‘deal with Darwin’? And that’s what the book is about. It seeks to tell the story of how religious communities sharing a strongly Scots Presbyterian heritage engaged with Darwinian evolution in a range of different settings – Toronto, Edinburgh, Princeton, Belfast, Columbia. All were major intellectual centers of Scottish Calvinism. All shared the same theological heritage. All were committed to the same confessional standards. Now, given the serious architectural similarity of their respective theological mind-sets, it might seem that they all responded in the same way to Darwin’s challenge. Right? Actually …. no. In Edinburgh, Darwinian evolution was embraced; in Belfast it was repudiated; in Princeton tolerated; in Columbia excoriated. Why? Because in each and every case the debate over Darwin was rooted in local cultural politics. How Presbyterians in these different locations dealt with Darwin was shaped in profound ways by such matters as who had the right to control higher education; long-standing convictions about race relations and the politics of ethnic segregation; the challenge of radical biblical criticism and subversive anthropology; and the influence of local scientists who were national leaders in their field. By telling the stories of these encounters, Dealing with Darwin challenges the assumption that it’s possible to speak of the relationship between science and religion.
Learn more about Dealing with Darwin at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue