Before Darwin


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Reconciling God and Nature

Keith Thomson

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Scientists and theologians had long been debating the religious implications of evolutionary theory when Darwin announced his theory of natural selection.

For 200 years before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species,findings in the sciences of the earth and of nature threatened religious belief based on the literal truth of the Bible. This book traces out the multiple conflicts and accommodations within religion and the new sciences through the writings of such heroes of the English Enlightenment as David Hume, Robert Hooke, John Ray, Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather), Thomas Burnet, and William Whiston. Keith Thomson brings us back to a time when many powerful clerics were also noted scientific scholars and leading scientists were often believers. He celebrates the force and elegance of their prose along with the inventiveness of their arguments, their certitude, and their not infrequent humility and caution. Placing Charles Darwin’s work in the context of earlier writers on evolutionary theory, Thomson finds surprising and direct connections between the anti-evolutionary writings of natural theologians like William Paley and the arguments that Darwin employed to turn anti-evolutionist ideas upside-down. This is an illuminating chronicle of an important period in the history of ideas and one that casts interesting light on the anti-evolution/creationist controversies of our own time.

Keith Thomson is professor emeritus of natural history, University of Oxford; senior research fellow, American Philosophical Society; and research associate, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

A selection of Readers' Subscription. 

"Keith Thomson gives a lively and detailed account of the two centuries of vigorous arguments about science and religion that preceded the publication of Darwin’s ideas in 1859. This account is one that anyone interested in the controversy of natural theology will wish to read."—John Polkinghorne, author of Belief in God in an Age of Science

"Lively, enthusiastic and beautifully written, Before Darwin fired my imagination and robustly challenged and broadened my understanding of the history of natural philosophy. A fine read and an important contribution to the history of science."—Professor Rebecca Stott, Anglia Polytechnic University, and author of Darwin and the Barnacle

"Thomson's book is timely, entertaining and enlightening."—William S. Kowinski,

"A timely book."—Alan Cutler, Science

. . . describes the rapid intensification of the struggle during the 200 years culminating in the publication of The Origins of Species.

“An engrossing and rewarding book.”—David Lindley, Wilson Quarterly

"This is a superb book that illustrates the importance of the history of ideas in understanding how science works. Thomson explores the uneasy attempts at reconciliation between science and religion since the start of the Copernican Revolution. . . . Reading Thomson's history of [this] effort . . . is a delight. He brings to readers dozens of scientists who have long been forgotten and he reminds us how deep is the human urge to find compromise when controversy erupts."—Quarterly Review of Biology


"Before Darwin serves as a timely reminder that the interminable war between science and religion is of much longer standing than we are accustomed to think. . . . Approaching the subject historically, Thomson traces the evolution of evolution, as it were, uncovering the foundations of the concept established in early philosophy as well as in science."—James P. Hammersmith, The Southern Humanities Review

"Thomson is well suited to the considerable task he attempts, as he is both a natural writer and well read across the spectrum of philosophical, theological, and scientific literatures required to do justice to the issues resolved by the Darwinian revolution. He is apparently as much a polymath as the great intellectual figures that he renders in his prose. however, he wears his learning lightly, and one does not feel that he is bludgeoning the reader with his mastery of obscure points. He also never indulges in stylistic excesses, so that one proceeds with pleasure from chapter to chapter."—Michael R. Rose, The Historian
ISBN: 9780300126006
Publication Date: August 28, 2007
336 pages, 5 7/8 x 9
33 b/w illus.

Sales Restrictions: For sale in North America only
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