Degree Year

2007

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

Advisor(s)

Clayton Koppes

Keywords

George Frederick Wright, Creationism, Theistic evolutionism, New School Calvinism, Christian Darwinism, Science and religion, Natural theology, Fundamentalism

Abstract

George Frederick Wright was an Oberlin-educated theologian and self-taught geologist who lived from 1838 to 1921. He was among the most influential Christian interpreters of Darwinism as Americans began to debate the theory in the 1870s and 1880s. In his writings, Wright illustrated a method for reconciling evolutionary theory with Christianity. Wright himself was a Calvinist, and he argued that his own conservative theological tradition shared important characteristics with Darwinism. At the turn of the century, however, Wright began to criticize both Darwinism in particular and evolutionary thought generally. A decade later, he was among the authors of a series of pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals, and thus a standard bearer for the conservative wing of American Protestantism that soon developed into the fundamentalist movement. Furthermore, one of the three articles he contributed to The Fundamentals, “The Passing of Evolution,” was a forceful attack on evolutionary thought. Wright’s ideas about Darwinism and Christianity changed dramatically over the course of his life not only because he became more concerned about the place of “orthodox” Protestantism in modern America – although he certainly did – but also because evolutionary and theological thought themselves evolved. In 1880 Wright perceived a number of similarities between the Darwinian and Calvinist orthodoxies. By 1910 the roles of Darwinism in evolutionary theory and Calvinism in Protestant theology had diminished, and the common ground which Wright had staked out as his own field of study was disappearing.

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