From the beginning, Darwin’s dangerous idea has been a snake in the garden, denounced from pulpits then and now as incompatible with the central tenets of Christian faith. Recovered here is the less well-known but equally long history of thoughtful engagement and compromise on the part of liberal theologians. Peter J. Bowler doesn’t minimize the hostility of many of the faithful toward evolution, but he reveals the existence of a long tradition within the churches that sought to reconcile Christian beliefs with evolution by finding reflections of the divine in scientific explanations for the origin of life. By tracing the historical forerunners of these rival Christian responses, Bowler provides a valuable alternative to accounts that stress only the escalating confrontation.
Our polarized society, Bowler says, has all too often projected its rivalries onto the past, concealing the efforts by both scientists and theologians to find common ground. Our perception of past confrontations has been shaped by an oversimplified model of a “war” between science and religion. By uncovering the complexity of the debates sparked by Darwin’s theory, we might discover ways to depolarize our own debates about where we came from and why we are here.