Phillip R. SLOAN, Gerald McKENNY, and Kathleen EGGLESON, eds. Darwin in the Twenty-First Century: Nature, Humanity, God. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015. pp. 461. $49.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-268-04147-2. Reviewed by Leo MADDEN, Ohio Dominican University, Columbus, OH 43219.


This volume is an anthology of papers delivered at two separate conferences held in 2009, one at the Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, and the other at the University of Notre Dame, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The loci of the conferences, two of the most prominent institutions of higher learning in the Catholic world, signal the importance that the Catholic intellectual community holds for the religion-science dialogue and the sense of confidence that Catholic scientists, philosophers, and theologians bring to that dialogue.

Given the encyclopedic nature of the explanatory power of the theory of evolution, the two conferences featured papers on a wide array of topics; the editors of this volume, though, explain their rationale for selecting papers for this anthology thus:

“The focus of this collection is on present and future developments in evolutionary science and its impact on the humanities, rather than on the commemoration of a historical achievement . . ..” (xiv)

Furthermore, in keeping with the subtitle of the anthology (Nature, Humanity, God), the editors selected those papers that nudged our attention towards

“. . . the directions of new scientific developments, the implications of evolutionary theory for the human sciences, and new directions in theological reflection, with particular emphasis on views within the Roman Catholic tradition.” (xiv)

An introductory essay by Phillip R. Sloan traces the development of the neo-Darwinian synthesis and locates the collected essays within the present context of that synthesis.

The five essays in the “Nature” section, all extremely adept at presenting the most recent developments in genetics and the mechanisms of biological systems, address in various ways the evolution of any appreciation of teleology in the various sciences.

The four papers in the “Humanity” section address the consequences for human uniqueness and ethical behavior in light of evolution. Worth quoting is this challenge posed by Robert J. Richards at the conclusion of his essay (“Darwin’s Evolutionary Ethics,” p. 198):

“. . . if you want to be true to your human nature – and you do (since that is the way you are evolutionarily constituted) – then you ought to act altruistically.”

The four papers in the “God” section remind the audience that the Catholic tradition on creation and science, founded on Biblical texts and reflections by distinguished philosophers and theologians for at least 1800 years, can engage the science-religion dialogue in subtle and fruitful ways.  This dialogue over the past 50 years has pondered the meaning of causation, the evidences for divine teleology, and the problem of suffering and death. In this dialogue, one can sense a renewed interest and appreciation for metaphysics.

The value of this anthology for upper-level and graduate students is its attention to the areas of intersection between the natural sciences and the humanities. For example, the anthology as a whole forces readers to abandon their casual use of terms such as “randomness” and “causality.”  What terminology may replace such notions is impossible to determine now, and that means that the future of the science-religion debate will continue to fascinate.