The 'battle' between science and religion over evolution in nineteenth century New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History at Massey University

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Massey University
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This thesis describes and analyses the New Zealand response to the Darwinian theory of evolution in the second half of the nineteenth century. Traditional accounts, using a distorted version of the Huxley-Wilberforce debate as their model, have been triumphalist, positivistic, and militaristic. The bloody 'battle' between science and religion, according to these received views, resulted in the overwhelming victory of science, truth, and progress over religion, ignorance, and superstition. This model is inapplicable in the New Zealand context. Generations of reconciling Genesis with geology had prepared the Christian mind well for coming to terms with scientific discoveries, and adjusting interpretations of Scripture accordingly. After an initial period of caution and deliberation, churchmen within the major denominations came to terms with biological evolution as readily as they had earlier accepted the findings of geology and palaeontology. By the 1880's evolution became acceptable to most educated Christians. Scientists too, quickly accepted biological evolution but remained religious believers, and in many cases devout, practising Christians. The irreligious view of nature was reinforced rather than destroyed by Darwin. The handful of freethinkers who proclaimed that Science had supplanted Christianity also belie the positivist model, for evolution became for them a surrogate religious faith. Science did effectively become secularized by the beginning of the twentieth century, but this was the work of devout scientists who wanted to prevent religious controversy from constantly holding back the progress of biology. The 'battle' between science and religion over evolution culminating in the final and decisive triumph of science was a myth.
Charles Darwin, Theory of evolution, Evolution and christianity, Science and religion