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Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929
Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929
Bradley J. Gundlach
Eerdmans, 2013
352 pp., $39.00

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P. C. Kemeny


The Road Not Taken

Debating evolution at Princeton, 1845-1929.

In Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, historian Mark Noll laments that "far too many of us" evangelical Christians "still make the intellectually suicidal mistake of promoting 'creation science' as the best way to resist naturalistic philosophies of science."[1] Bradley J. Gundlach's study of the leading scientists, theologians, and philosophers in the Princeton Seminary and Princeton College community of the 19th and early 20th century suggests that they would have likely endorsed Noll's complaint. To be sure, as Gundlach convincingly demonstrates in Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929, the orthodox Protestants of Princeton categorically rejected Darwinism because of its atheism. But they did not embrace antievolutionism. Instead, Gundlach's study reveals that the Princetonians affirmed developmentalism as quite compatible with their Reformed theology.

Rather than anachronistically recasting the history of science and theology at Princeton during this period into neat evolutionist and creationist parties, Gundlach explores how Princetonians themselves actually saw the evolution question. By giving them voice, he offers a fresh perspective on the major questions involved in evolutionary thinking during this critical period. In the first three chapters, Gundlach examines their assessment of evolutionary thinking starting with their response to Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, the immediate forerunner of Charles Darwin's work. While rejecting Chambers' proposal on both metaphysical and epistemological grounds, everyone on both the college and seminary faculty who addressed these questions, Gundlach proves, rejected materialistic evolutionism but embraced some form of non-Darwinian developmentalism of the natural world. Gundlach also explains the Princetonians' Battle Plan, as he labels it, for defending the faith. This plan rested upon two closely ...

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