Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford Debate

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University of Toronto Press, 2009 - Science - 144 pages
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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.

  

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Contents

The Struggles of Soapy Sam
30
Thomas Henry Huxley and Richard Owen
47
Joseph Dalton Hooker and the Early History of a Great
64
Remembering the Oxford Debate
88
The History of the Present
108
Bibliography
129
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About the author (2009)

Ian Hesketh is a research associate in the Department of History at Queen?s University.

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