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Keith Thomson

The Watch on the Heath

In his book Natural Theology, William Paley used the analogy of a watch to argue that living things must have had a designer. In The Watch on the Heath Keith Thomson looks at the context in which Paley's arguments were put forward. Thomson describes the work of earlier writers such as John Ray, Thomas Burnet and many more. There's a chapter on how Robert Plot struggled to make sense of fossils and a look at the different ideas of how to explain geological strata. Thomson also looks at those who came after Paley - Lyell, Buckland, and Charles Darwin himself, who was strongly influenced by Paley's book.

The books gives an interesting description of how people tried to reconcile the biblical account description of Creation with scientific findings, and the insuperable problems which eventually faced such reconcilations. Thomson has clearly a wide knowledge of this area, and I liked how he traced ideas back to their roots - apparently an argument like that of the watch can be found in the works of Cicero. Sometimes I feel that the 'Science v Religion' conflict has never been as strong as works such as this seem to imply, but the book is certainly very useful for those readers wanting to get an idea of the source of such conflict.

Note: This title is for the UK version of this book. The US title Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature doesn't seem so appropriate for the content of the book.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 336 pages  
ISBN: 0300107935
Salesrank: 1997384
Weight:1.3 lbs
Published: 2005 Yale University Press
Amazon price $10.01
Marketplace:New from $6.02:Used from $2.25
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 320 pages  
ISBN: 0007133138
Salesrank: 1695195
Weight:1.37 lbs
Published: 2005 HarperCollins
Marketplace:New from £7.50:Used from £0.01
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 336 pages  
ISBN: 0300107935
Salesrank: 3993098
Weight:1.3 lbs
Published: 2005 Yale University Press
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 34.20:Used from CDN$ 2.96
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Product Description
For 200 years before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, findings in the sciences of the earth and of nature threatened religious belief based on the literal truth of the Bible. This book traces out the multiple conflicts and accommodations within religion and the new sciences through the writings of such heroes of the English Enlightenment as David Hume, Robert Hooke, John Ray, Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather), Thomas Burnet, and William Whiston.
Keith Thomson brings us back to a time when many powerful clerics were also noted scientific scholars and leading scientists were often believers. He celebrates the force and elegance of their prose along with the inventiveness of their arguments, their certitude, and their not infrequent humility and caution. Placing Charles Darwin’s work in the context of earlier writers on evolutionary theory, Thomson finds surprising and direct connections between the anti-evolutionary writings of natural theologians like William Paley and the arguments that Darwin employed to turn anti-evolutionist ideas upside-down. This is an illuminating chronicle of an important period in the history of ideas and one that casts interesting light on the anti-evolution/creationist controversies of our own time.