Earning Their Place

Christmas Critics

One of the joys of having so many friends and family members who are writers is living in a house bursting with books. They arrive in waves from publishers seeking reviews; as gifts from their authors; they grow like mushrooms—and I love mushrooms!—in the corners of every room. Tempted as I am to recommend those I give as presents year after year (such as Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints, Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing), I’ll offer instead some very recent books that have already earned a home on our bookshelf.

In The Evolving God: Charles Darwin on the Naturalness of Religion (Bloomsbury, $29.95, 192 pp.), J. David Pleins provides a new understanding not only of Charles Darwin, but also of the relationship between science and religion.

In contrast to Richard Dawkins and others who have portrayed Darwin as one who simply lost his faith in the course of his scientific research, and who use him as a “sledgehammer to beat religion,” Pleins offers a nuanced view. Darwin continued to struggle throughout his life with theological questions, complicated by his growing awareness that “evolution was not just about physical forms but had religious and moral trajectories.” Pleins traces this development—one might say evolution—in Darwin’s thought through close (and impressively documented) readings...

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About the Author

Catherine Wolff is the editor of Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero (HarperOne, 2013).