You are here

Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements

University of Aberdeen

In this series, Professor David Livingstone examines the role of place, politics and rhetoric in the way religious communities sharing a Scots Presbyterian heritage engaged with Darwinism in different venues - Edinburgh, Belfast, Columbia and Princeton.

What emerges is the degree to which debates over Darwin were deeply embedded in local circumstances whether to do with anxieties over the control of higher education, views about the politics of race relations, challenges to traditional cultural identity, or attitudes to higher criticism.

Attending to such particularities is intended to subvert the perennial inclination of many to speak of the relationship between science and religion - not least in our own day.

1. Dealing with Darwin: Locating Encounters with Evolution

The series begins by arguing for the importance of locating debates over Darwinism in their local circumstances. Rather than trading in generalities about 'the' relationship between science and religion, this lecture urges that in 'Dealing with Darwin' place, politics and rhetoric have always been of crucial significance.

2. Edinburgh, Evolution and Cannibalistic Nostalgia

In Edinburgh, Darwin's theories were absorbed, in the main, with little difficulty. Indeed evolutionary theories were used by Scottish Calvinists to shore up their convictions about the unity of the human race, the idea of design in nature, and the progressive history of revelation. What was far more troubling was the application of scientific methods to the historical study of scripture, society, and sacrifice.

3. Belfast, the Winter of Discontent and Science in a Sectarian Society

Across the Irish Sea Darwinian natural science caused great consternation. Sectarian rivalry, who should control higher education, and an infamous speech by the President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science all fed into the Belfast backlash against evolution.

4. Princeton, Darwinism and the Shorthorn Cattle

At Princeton, where Calvinists spearheaded biblical inerrancy, a relative openness to evolution is discernible. This lecture explores how the Princeton stance on Darwinism was shaped by the personal influence of the Scottish moral philosopher James McCosh, the development of distinctively non-Darwinian evolutionary theories at the university, and an awareness in the Seminary of the value of Darwin's writings for - of all things - cattle breeding!

5. Columbia, Woodrow and the Legacy of the Lost Cause

This lecture looks at the circumstances surrounding the firing of James Woodrow from his post as a professor in the Columbia Seminary over the teaching of evolution. A closer examination reveals that what really animated the controversy were long-standing anxieties about abolitionism and fears over scientific claims that the human race was composed of different human species.

6. Darwinian Engagements: Place, Politics, Rhetoric

This series concludes with some thoughts on the science wars of our own day and argues that place, politics and rhetoric continue to have major relevance for understanding the ongoing project of 'Dealing with Darwin'.

See the lectures videos here.


Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution

Johns Hopkins University Press
  • University of Aberdeen