Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation is alternatively very good and very disappointing. As a historian, Neal Gillespie is at his best in a detailed and stimulating review of the fundamental problem for nineteenth-century biology, namely, to what extent are theological premises necessary or even desirable in a truly scientific biological science? Working with a theoretical structure amalgamated from Kuhn’s notion of paradigm and Michel Foucault’s somewhat similar construct “episteme,” Gillespie argues that the nineteenth-century marked a great turning point from an older paradigm in biological science which found theological premises necessary for a naturalistic account of the world to a new paradigm which he calls “positivism.” Advocates of this new outlook sought to banish theology from science both because they thought that any true science must be based on human knowledge, not on premises derived from revelation. To assert that something in the natural world cannot be explained by man and must therefore be accounted for and by the hand of God was, the positivists asserted, a betrayal of the true scientific spirit. Physics and astronomy had long since given up the need for God as an explanation for observed phenomena; so why not biology, they claimed.
As a historian, Gillepie has done his homework. Anyone familiar with nineteenth-century biology will recognize the material he pulls together; moreover, Gillespie shapes and categorizes it well. He makes distinctions among various positions, distinctions that are very helpful in making sense of the whole story, such as his careful discussion of the different forms of belief in special creationism. For the general reader or student, the most helpful sections will be his clear demonstration of how pervasively theological premises were involved in biological work—even by scientists who were not in any sense committed to extreme biblical literalism such as espoused by Louis Agassiz.