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Religion, Evolution, and the Scientific Identity
Everything evolves, science tells us, including the public language used by scientists to sustain and perpetuate their work. Harkening back to the Protestant Reformation—a time when the promise of scientific inquiry was intimately connected with a deep faith in divine Providence—Thomas Lessl traces the evolving role and public identity of science in the West.
As the Reformation gave way to the Enlightenment, notions of Providence evolved into progress. History's divine plan could now be found in nature, and scientists became history's new prophets. With Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary science, progress and evolution collapsed together into what Lessl calls "evolutionism," and the grand scientific identity was used to advance science's power into the world.
In this masterful treatment, Lessl analyzes the descent of these patterns of scientific advocacy from the world of Francis Bacon into the world of Thomas Huxley and his successors. In the end, Rhetorical Darwinism proposes that Darwin's power to fuel the establishment of science within the Western social milieu often turns from its scientific course.
Rhetorical Darwinism: Religion, Evolution, and the Scientific Identity received the Religious Communication Associatons "Book of the Year" award in 2012.
1. The Social Meaning of Evolutionary Rhetoric
2. Francis Bacon and the Scientific Identity
3. Science in God’s Bosom
4. From Two Books to One
5. The New Christianity
6. Positivism in the World of Thomas Huxley
7. Scientism Scientized
8. The Continuing Education of Evolutionism and Science’s Battle for the Public Mind
"Science is no mere private pursuit. Rather, the most influential scientific ideas can transform a culture gradually, by first aligning themselves with older cultural ideas and icons, overthrowing the old order in the process. Those who wish to understand how 'evolutionism' insinuated itself into modern culture do no better than to read Lessl’s work."
—Michael J. Behe, Professor of Biological Science, Lehigh University
"This is a superb piece of scholarship that ranges widely across disciplinary boundaries, shedding light on the underlying humanity of scientific inquiry and, ultimately, on its politics and sociology as well. Lessl asks novel questions about axiology and ontology and, in so doing, he becomes Charles Darwin's amanuensis for a new age."
—Roderick P. Hart, Dean, Shivers/Cronkite Chair in Communication, University of Texas
"From the beginnings of the scientific revolution, demarcating the boundaries of science has been a problem for the scientific community. Thomas Lessl, comparing 'evolution' with what he calls 'rhetorical Darwinism,' argues persuasively that the scientific establishment has never guarded those borders carefully."
"Lessl challenges readers to link thinkers and texts in a connected series across centuries and to see how current secular values grew incrementally from religious beliefs."
—Jeanne Fahnestock, author of Rhetorical Style: The Uses of Language in Persuasion
"I love it! Rhetorical Darwinism is a great read and is a truly important contribution, not just to understanding the impact of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, but also to situating the public place of science. I recommend this book highly."
—Michael Ruse, Director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University
"With his insights into rhetoric, culture, and the English Reformation, Thomas Lessl makes a plausible case that the reformist science rhetoric of Francis Bacon and Thomas Henry Huxley gave us much more than research institutions—it also paved the way for a public ethos of evolutionism, a vision of 'progress' that keeps science well funded and prestigious. We may never see Bacon and Huxley—or the creation-evolution debate—the same again."
—Larry Witham, author of Where Darwin Meets the Bible: Creationists and Evolutionists in America
Thomas M. Lessl is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Georgia. A frequent contributor to the Journal of Communication and Religion and the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Lessl received the 2010 Religious Communication Association’s Article Award for “The Innate Religiosity of Political Rhetoric.” He lives in Athens, Georgia.
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Other books by:
Thomas M. Lessl
Books in Series:
Studies in Rhetoric & Religion
After the Genome - A Language for Our Biotechnological Future
The Faithful Citizen - Popular Christian Media and Gendered Civic Identities
Martin Luther King and the Rhetoric of Freedom - The Exodus Narrative in America's Struggle for Civil Rights
Preaching Politics - The Religious Rhetoric of George Whitefield and the Founding of a New Nation
Preaching the Inward Light - Early Quaker Rhetoric
The Rhetoric of Sir Garfield Todd - Christian Imagination and the Dream of an African Democracy
The Rhetoric of St. Augustine of Hippo - De Doctrina Christiana and the Search for a Distinctly Christian Rhetoric
Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965
Rhetorical Darwinism - Religion, Evolution, and the Scientific Identity
Romancing the Difference - Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University, and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism
Spiritual Literacy in John Wesley's Methodism - Reading, Writing, and Speaking to Believe
Stumping God - Reagan, Carter, and the Invention of a Political Faith
The Politics of Sacred Rhetoric - Absolutist Appeals and Political Persuasion
Words Well Spoken - George Kennedy's Rhetoric of the New Testament