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In Praise of Darwin: George Romanes and the Evolution of a Darwinian Believer

Biography / Memoir

By: J David Pleins (Author)

416 pages, illustrations

Continuum Publishing Company

Paperback | Aug 2014 | #215168 | ISBN-13: 9781623565947
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £23.99 $29/€27 approx
Hardback | Aug 2014 | #215169 | ISBN-13: 9781623565541
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £79.99 $98/€90 approx

About this book

George John Romanes, close friend and colleague of Darwin, remains a misunderstood figure in the history of evolutionary science. Although his scientific contributions have been valued, his religious journey has been either neglected or misjudged. Typically scholars only acknowledge some of the work on theism he did at the very end of his life and usually blame his wife for doctoring the record with her pieties. His extensive poetry writing, much of it religious, has never been explored and his "Memorial Poem" to Darwin has been completely overlooked. The recent discovery of the original typescript of the poem, lost for more than a century and reprinted in In Praise of Darwin for the first time, allows us to enter the mind of a major Darwinian as we watch him struggle to put together faith and science on a positive basis.

"This is a remarkable follow-up to the author's earlier work on Darwin's journey of faith, The Evolving God. Pleins has an exceptional sensitivity to the religious struggles of sincere seekers, especially scientists. Like Tennyson, he realizes that 'there lives more faith in honest doubt [...] than in half the creeds.' The journey into skepticism by some scientifically educated Christians was especially tormenting since it seemed to estrange them agonizingly from family members and friends. Instead of viewing the loss of faith as liberation from authoritarianism, many literate people, once they had been exposed to science and 'reason,' remained deeply tormented that they could no longer share the comforts of faith with the people they loved most. Darwin is a good example. George Romanes may be an even better one. We could hardly expect a more careful and scholarly treatment of Romanes's struggle than we have in Pleins's readable work."
– John Haught, Professor Emeritus, Science and Religion, Georgetown University, USA,

"In this fascinating re-investigation of the life and thought of George Romanes, the author weaves together insights from Romanes' magisterial Memorial Poem with material arising from his interactions with his hero Charles Darwin, to generate a narrative that subverts any simplistic 'science versus religion' historiography. The text is often counter-intuitive, full of surprises, and should be read by all those interested in the impact that Darwinian ideas had on the religious convictions of his contemporaries."
– Denis Alexander, Emeritus Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund's College, Cambridge, UK,

"Whilst Tennyson's poetic musings of Darwinian evolution in In Memoriam are now well-known enough to have passed into cliché ("Nature red in tooth and claw"), George Romanes' Charles Darwin: A Memorial Poem by contrast has faded into obscurity. Now, thanks to J. David Pleins' excellent new book, Romanes' poem can assume its rightfully central place in our assessment of the reception of Darwin's scientific theories and their impact on religious belief. A combination of the fortuitous discovery of the original typescript of Romanes' poem and meticulous historical scholarship, Pleins' book guides us through the poem as key to Romanes' remarkable scientific and religious thought. Detailed, nuanced and lively, the book breaks new ground in the study of Romanes and his relation to his mentor Darwin; it also contributes significantly to wider historical work on the inter-relations of science and religion in the nineteenth century, cutting through the tired metaphors of warfare and conflict towards a more subtle account of the intellectual negotiations of those, like Romanes, immersed in both modern science and modern religion."
– Russell Re Manning, Lord Gifford Fellow in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen, UK


Preface: Hidden for a Century
List of Illustrations

1 A Candid Examination of Theism: The Evolution of a Skeptic
2 The Tolling of the Funeral Bell: The Death of Charles Darwin
3 To Sleep Beneath Thy Sacred Floor: Darwin’s Funeral and a Revelation of Light
4 A Deathless Name: The Paradox of Fame
5 Treasures of the Heart: Memories of Down House
6 The Elemental War: Devilry and Harmony
7 Intuition of the Infinite: The Evolution of a Seeker

Chart: Typescript and Poems 1879-1889: Comparison of Poem Numbers
Appendix: Charles Darwin: A Memorial Poem

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J. David Pleins is Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University, USA. He is the author of The Evolving God (2013), When the Great Abyss Opened: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Noah's Flood (2003), and served as an associate editor for Doubleday's The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992).

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