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Science, Religion, and the Human Experience$
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James D. Proctor

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195175325

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0195175328.001.0001

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Darwin, Design, and the Unification of Nature

Darwin, Design, and the Unification of Nature

(p.165) 9 Darwin, Design, and the Unification of Nature
Science, Religion, and the Human Experience

John Hedley Brooke (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This essay focuses on the idea of the unity of nature which has been important in both scientific and religious discourse. Brooke notes that the unity of nature thesis — so central to Christian theology — was not simply an epistemological assertion, but one which was intended to demonstrate the beauty of God and creation. In the case of Darwin, the unity of nature thesis would seem to pose a threat to his religious belief, as naturalistic explanation of the origin of life would leave no need for God. Yet Brooke notes that Darwin’s own personal beliefs on God were complex, arguing that it was ultimately a series of incidents, both personally experienced and impersonally witnessed, which led Darwin to thoroughly question the idea of God as a caring, guiding Creator. Darwin’s own theory of evolution did not seem to uphold any tidy unity of nature — since nature competed against itself in a struggle for existence —. Among some Christian leaders, it had similarly challenging implications as well. But what greater unification could be imagined than Darwin’s theory? In particular, his inclination toward the view that all of life had been derived from a single proto-life form suggests his striving toward unification. Brooke concludes by noting the important political ends to which the unity of nature thesis was taken after Darwin, suggesting that it could remain as a meeting-ground between science and religion.

Keywords:   belief, Darwin, design, life, nature, religion, science, unity

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