Layered over that is a history of the mostly failed attempts by liberal theologians to fit their belief in the supernatural into the steadily-shrinking gaps left by steadily-growing scientific understanding. The golden era for this sort of thing was during what the author describes as the "eclipse of Darwinism" - an interesting time following Darwin's publication of his Origin and the later rise of the modern synthesis (which slammed the door on most attempts to fit God into the process). The book closes with a chapter on the recent debates, which we might call the eclipse of liberal theology, with the creationists on one side going full anti-intellectual and at least some of the more vocal scientists on the other side increasingly abandoning what Richard Dawkins calls the Neville Chamberlain approach to accommodating religion. Sprinkled throughout are some vaguely ad homimen and false-equivalence drive-by complaints against Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who Bowler describes as "extremists" and "fundamentalists," along with accusing them of having a vested interest in the continued existence of the creationists they oppose, and of ignoring the liberal theologians who offer a middle ground of sorts. Liberal theology thus functions more like a halfway house for people transitioning out of religion than as a stable set of beliefs in its own right.
I appreciated the objectivity and honesty the author used in reviewing the history and continuing debate between evolution and religion. The first and last chapters focus on present debates and the issues both sides have with each other. Having said that, I think everyone would benefit from knowing about the debate between science (via evolution) and religion (via Christianity), no matter which "side" you hale from.
Darwin's theory of evolution was accepted very gradually by the scientific community. In time, parts of his theory were even accepted by most religious thinkers, until the return to tradionalism in many Christian movements led to fresh attacks, particularly on the teaching of evolution, in the early twentieth century. A brief discussion on the social forces that are making fundamentalism so appealing to so many these days, and why any fundamentalist movement would necessarily be opposed to the scientific theory of evolution, is enough to make any liberal fall into despair. For much of the history of this debate, there were many movements in Christianity that tried to accept some version of evolution, but the final breaking point was always natural selection as the primary mechanism. They have thus made the modern theory of evolution essential to their theology.
I had no idea how many alternative theories there were before and after Darwin attempting to explain the evolution of the natural world. What I got from this book is that we may never have a clear picture of how it all went down but the important thing is to assimilate new knowledge into our current world view.
I love this book, Bowler, a professor of the history of science at Queen's University in Belfast, aims to show that "the renewed state of war between fundamentalists and atheistic Darwinists is not the only game in town," because "there have always been religious thinkers looking for a middle way" to integrate Christian and evolutionary ideas.encounter and the variety of possible responses.