Experiencing Evolution: Varieties of Psychological Responses to the Claims of Science and Religion

Ronald L. Numbers

in Science, Religion, and the Human Experience

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780195175325
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199784707 | DOI:
 							Experiencing Evolution: Varieties of Psychological Responses to the Claims of Science and Religion

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This essay examines in some detail a range of positions that people have adopted in coming to personal terms with evolution. Numbers focuses on four individuals, all from the United States and with scientific backgrounds, who struggled with reconciling evolutionary theory and theistic faith. He begins with Joseph LeConte, well-known in the late 19th century for his efforts at harmonizing theism and evolution. LeConte’s deep personal struggles over the loss of a two-year old daughter and his rejection of the atheistic “dragon of materialism” formed a powerful emotional thrust toward an espousal of evolution which avoided materialism, supported the hope of immortality, and maintained a resolute if not altogether traditional theism. Numbers’s second and third examples, J. Peter Lesley and George Frederick Wright were both trained in geology and had deep religious backgrounds. Both accepted modified forms of Darwinism, yet rejected full-bore evolutionary thought, understandable via life events and quite different forms of engagement with Christianity; Lesley rejecting much of it though not, in turn, embracing evolution, and Wright growing more fundamentalist with time. His final example, early 20th century creationist George McCready Price, found personal and professional satisfaction in well-publicized rejections of evolution. Numbers candidly recounts his own life story, in which emotional crisis precipitated in part by reconsideration of evolutionary theory, eventually led to rejection of a fundamentalist upbringing. Numbers closes by reiterating his belief that “feelings count often more than facts,” suggesting that this is why so many Americans continue to call themselves creationists rather than evolutionists.

Keywords: creationism; evolution; faith; Joseph LeConte; J. Peter Lesley; Ronald Numbers; science; theism; George Frederick Wright

Chapter.  14191 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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