The Age of Doubt


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Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty

Christopher Lane

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Read Christopher Lane's essay on Christian Darwinism on the Yale Press Log

By analyzing the parallel battles over faith and reason in the nineteenth century and ours, scholar Christopher Lane makes a case for the benefits of religious uncertainty.

The Victorian era was the first great “Age of Doubt” and a critical moment in the history of Western ideas. Leading nineteenth-century intellectuals battled the Church and struggled to absorb radical scientific discoveries that upended everything the Bible had taught them about the world. In The Age of Doubt, distinguished scholar Christopher Lane tells the fascinating story of a society under strain as virtually all aspects of life changed abruptly.

In deft portraits of scientific, literary, and intellectual icons who challenged the prevailing religious orthodoxy, from Robert Chambers and Anne Brontë to Charles Darwin and Thomas H. Huxley, Lane demonstrates how they and other Victorians succeeded in turning doubt from a religious sin into an ethical necessity.

The dramatic adjustment of Victorian society has echoes today as technology, science, and religion grapple with moral issues that seemed unimaginable even a decade ago. Yet the Victorians’ crisis of faith generated a far more searching engagement with religious belief than the “new atheism” that has evolved today. More profoundly than any generation before them, the Victorians came to view doubt as inseparable from belief, thought, and debate, as well as a much-needed antidote to fanaticism and unbridled certainty. By contrast, a look at today’s extremes—from the biblical literalists behind the Creation Museum to the dogmatic rigidity of Richard Dawkins’s atheism—highlights our modern-day inability to embrace doubt.

Christopher Lane is professor of English at Northwestern University and a recent Guggenheim fellow. He lives in Chicago.

"Lane asks the right questions of the doubting pundits, past and present. Easy to read and render[ing] complicated ideas accessible, [his book] is an altogether admirable study—and ends with an amusing tour of the intellectual trivialities at American Creationist 'museums.'''—Edward Norman, Literary Review

“Lane has hit upon something interesting. While many people believe that human history is the story of 2,000 years of blanket Christianity followed by a recent emergence of atheism, the book stresses the very important fact that theological and philosophical squabbles over these subjects are nothing new (and indeed, far more fierce than some of our debates today)... The Age of Doubt is a call for others to examine this material.”—Christopher Holden, PopMatters

"The charm of The Age of Doubt is that it returns us to Victorian England, when the absence of God was a new idea—a new idea, at any rate, to a number of intelligent people raised in the Anglican Church who would happily have continued subscribing to their realm's official faith if science hadn't lately posed so many inconvenient contradictions."—Michael Miner, The Chicago Reader

"The story of Victorian doubt is both fascinating and important for understanding why we continue to be mired in fierce cultural battles over the status of evolution and the value of religious faith. This provocative book is well worth the read."—Bernard Lightman, York University

"A fresh and nuanced examination of how the major scientific assumptions of the nineteenth century informed and were shaped by doubt."—Jude V. Nixon, Professor of English & Dean of Arts & Sciences, Salem State University, and Editor of Victorian Religious Discourse

“[This] is a well-written work, stylistically speaking: very clear and honest. The argument is well structured and, more to the point, he never loses his theme for a moment. The hardcover is beautifully published, tied into a neat cover, . . . providing a feast for the eye and the mind. Highly recommended, without hesitation.”—Karel D’huyvetters, Kroniek

"A welcome and timely entry into the discussion . . . The Age of Doubt is important reading for all who want to better understand the way our culture has unfolded while uncovering the roots of our religious skepticism. Lane creates a very readable volume in which these struggles of faith and doubt come to life . . . compelling reading."—Bryan Berghoef, Englewood Review of Books

“The story of Victorian doubt is both fascinating and important for understanding why we continue to be mired in fierce cultural battles over the status of evolution and the value of religious faith. This provocative book is well worth the read.”—Bernard Lightman, York University

“Lane’s stimulating analysis asks whether acknowledging how science, religion, and society have produced a growing chasm between faith and doubt, and even destroyed belief, can offer a way forward.”—Keith Thomson, author of Before Darwin and The Young Charles Darwin
ISBN: 9780300188073
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
248 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
19 b/w illus.

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