Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford Debate
Published: October 2009© 2009
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 144 Pages
Dimensions: 6.20 x 9.35
144 Pages, 6.20 x 9.35 x 0.71 in
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Tell me, sir, is it on your grandmother's or your grandfather's side that you are descended from an ape?
In June of 1860, some of Britain's most influential scientific and religious authorities gathered in Oxford to hear a heated debate on the merits of Charles Darwin's recently published Origin of Species. The Bishop of Oxford, "Soapy" Samuel Wilberforce, clashed swords with Darwin's most outspoken supporter, Thomas Henry Huxley. The latter's triumph, amid quips about apes and ancestry, has become a mythologized event, symbolizing the supposed war between science and Christianity. But did the debate really happen in this way?
Of Apes and Ancestors argues that this one-dimensional interpretation was constructed and disseminated by Darwin's supporters, becoming an imagined victory in the struggle to overcome Anglican dogmatism. By reconstructing the Oxford debate and carefully considering the individual perspectives of the main participants, Ian Hesketh argues that personal jealousies and professional agendas played a formative role in shaping the response to Darwin's hypothesis, with religious anxieties overlapping with a whole host of other cultural and scientific considerations. An absorbing study, Of Apes and Ancestors sheds light on the origins of a debate that continues, unresolved, to this day.
1 Charles Darwin: Historian of Natural History
2 The Struggles of Soapy Sam
3 Thomas Henry Huxley and Richard Owen; or, Darwin's Bulldog and the Queer Fish
4 Joseph Dalton Hooker and the Early History of a Great Friendship
5 The Oxford Debate
6 Remembering the Oxford Debate
Epilogue: The History of the Present
'Hesketh does an effective job of summarizing current historical thought on the Oxford debate. Of Apes and Ancestors serves as a welcome primer.' Richard Bellon, ISIS vol 101:04:10
‘Of Apes and Ancestors is a thought-provoking account of the Oxford debate. It would be particularly valuable at the undergraduate level, where it would serve as an engaging introduction to Charles Darwin, his theory of evolution, and the controversy it created in mid-nineteenth-century England.’ Todd Webb, Canadian Journal of History: Winter 2010
‘Apes and Ancestors is short, well written and accessible, and with less than two hundred pages of text it will serve undergraduate audiences. It might usefully provoke them to think about the relationship between the present and the past, about the practice of history, and about the cultural role of the historian.’
Piers J. Hale, Victorian Review, vol 37:01:2011
‘Ian Hesketh has given us a handy treatment of the well-known Oxford debate… He has gathered everything needed for a more balanced view of events into one convenient little volume.’ Frederick Gregory, Journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences; vol 33:03:2011
'Of Apes and Ancestors examines an event that has been widely mythologized in popular culture, one that has contemporary significance with regard to continuing tensions between Christian theology and Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Ian Hesketh has written a commendable in-depth introduction to this famous controversy and offers original insights on the creation of the myths surrounding the Oxford debate.' John Brooke, Faculty of Theology, Oxford University
'In this elegantly written little book, Hesketh has produced a compelling account of the historical significance of the Huxley-Wilberforce debate at Oxford in 1860, using it as a focus to examine the controversy surrounding Darwinian evolution. Hesketh not only covers the main figures involved, including Darwin, Wilberforce, Huxley, Owen, and Hooker, but also discusses how the debate has been remembered and politicized by participants, observers, and twentieth-century intellectuals.' Bernard Lightman, Science and Technology Studies, York University