Reconciling Science and Religion, by Peter J. Bowler

In an 1893 essay on Darwin's The Origin of Species T. H. Huxley wrote, "Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules." Yet with the dawn of the 20th century attempts were made to breath life back into those "extinguished theologians," and to reconcile science and religion. Because there are major parallels between that time and what is occurring now, even to the use of such terms as "intelligent design" and "emergence," Peter Bowler's book is groundbreaking.

Bowler is a respected scholar known for his books on evolution, including Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence and The Eclipse of Darwinism. Professor of the history of science at Queen's University, Belfast, Bowler can be dry, but that weakness is more than balanced by his dauntless thoroughness and evenhandedness. He is capable of cutting through arcane theological and scientific ideas with finesse and sensitivity. Because he can explain convoluted arguments while avoiding the danger of oversimplification, he is a trustworthy guide.

Spurred by their uneasiness with the materialism and determinism found in biology and Freudian psychology, many early 20th-century clerics and scholars set out to reconcile science and religion. Their efforts were predicated on the misconception that Darwinism, if not dead, was at least seriously flawed because there appeared to be no mechanism by which natural selection could occur--genetics was still only a nascent branch of biology. This allowed room for some thinkers to posit that evolution followed a divine plan culminating in the ascent of morally aware beings. Yet the work of reconciliation was done in a climate of increasing indifference to institutionalized religion, a phenomenon that continued throughout the century in Britain.