In this compilation of his 2014 lectures, David N. Livingstone investigates the reactions to Darwinism by groups sharing Scottish Calvinistic heritage in the decades around 1900 from a geographical perspective (p. ix). He highlights the forces at work in the different ‘speech spaces’ (p. 2) where knowledge claims are made. The fact that Darwinisim, like ‘The Enlightenment’, is not an undifferentiated whole, but an imagined unity collecting diverse ideas and movements under one banner, adds a further level of complexity to these interactions.
The Scottish Free Church in 19th-century Edinburgh, centred around New College, found that Calvinist theology could assimilate Darwinist theory with little difficulty, should it prove empirically verified. Of a far greater concern were the implications of applying evolutionary concepts to the biblical composition and sacerdotal history. In Belfast, protestant leaders sought to cast their approach as relatively libertarian vis-à-vis intellectual enquiry in higher education. This potentially welcoming environment turned hostile following John Tyndall’s aggressive 1874 speech through which ‘evolution came to be seen as irretrievably wedded to materialism.’ (p. 73).
In Canada, Scottish Common Sense philosophy, Baconian inductionism, and the immediate virtue of practical utility for a country in the throes of forming its own identity in a new and sometimes hostile land meant that interactions with Darwin’s thought were limited. A beleaguered John Dawson, principal of McGill University in Montreal, rejected evolutionary theory because of its weak inductionism and failure to accommodate certain aspects of natural theology. Meanwhile, in Toronto, Daniel Wilson avoided both ‘religious protectionism’ and ‘cultural isolationism’ (p. 102), to investigate Darwinism with both interest and reserve. At Knox College, the principle of ‘evolutionary progress was melded with a longer-standing tradition of developmentalism’ to serve as a theological and rhetorical resource (p. 114f.). These various factors meant Darwin was more keenly received in religious circles than scientific ones.
In Columbia, SC, James Woodrow went on trial for views that offended local theological sensibilities and cultural priorities, which themselves created a toxic atmosphere for scientific enquiry. The benign paternalism of supposedly biblically-founded slavery was tied to monogenetic natural history and undergirded by literalistic readings of the bible. In the postbellum South, with the whole cultural fabric at risk of unravelling, nothing that seemed out of step with received wisdom was acceptable.
In Princeton, NJ, the College and Seminary were home to diverging opinions but interactions were marked by a rather unique irenicism. Charles Hodge considered Darwinism inherently naturalistic and therefore incompatible with biblical principles of divine design while James McCosh saw in evolution the outworking of God’s purposes. These differing evaluations led to differing rhetorical stances vis-à-vis the whole discussion of evolution.
Territorial concern over control of higher-education, the relationship between the spheres of science and scriptural revelation, appropriate scientific methodology, convictions over race relations, and compatibility with Christian teleology were all significant factors in determining what could reasonably be said, and heard, about evolution in the five communities investigated. By illuminating these histories, Livingstone demolishes the monochrome, reductionist narrative about the dynamic between Darwinism and Christianity, with serious implications for a much wider discussion.