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Darwin in the subcontinent

24 April 2012

Andrew Wingate on his ideas’ reception

Darwin, Science and the Indian Tradition
David L.Gosling

THIS slim volume of 84 pages (with a slim price, too, of £3) breaks significant new ground. These are the Teape lectures given by Professor Gosling in India in Delhi and Calcutta in 2010. These were endowed by an Anglican parish priest William Teape (1862-1944) who was challenged by the encounter between Hinduism and Christianity. They have been given every two years since 1955, under arrangements made by the Cambridge-Delhi Christian Partnership.

Gosling has been in academic posts in St Stephen’s, Delhi, in Cambridge, and in his very testing appointment as Principal of Edward’s College, Peshawar, in the North West Frontier of Pakistan. He is a physicist and environmentalist, deeply committed to engagement between science and religion. This volume brings in a third factor, that of Indian philosophy, and its response to the Darwinian theory of evolution.

He finds this interaction more eirenic than that between Darwin­ism and Western Christianity. Edu­cated Indians had embraced West­ern science, and when the Origin of Species was published in 1859, Gos­ling comments, they were receptive to what was best in both science and religion, “possibly more so than their counterparts in England”.

One reason, Gosling suggests, is that reincarnation, deeply embedded in Hindu traditions, does not make a rigid separation between humans, animals, and other forms of life. Vivekenanda, for example, asserted that the idea of separateness between beings was a Western heresy. All life was one, pervaded by the spirit of Brahman, the ultimate one. He saw brahman as benign, and pervading the universe with love, and he hated the “hideous, cruel and ever angry God of Christianity and Islam”.

Gosling feels that it is a superficial grasp of science that particularly causes conflict between science and religion. One might add that a superficial grasp of religion leads to the contemporary aggression of the new atheism.

Gosling considers various Indian Christian theologians, and finds the Tamil convert Chenchaiah the most challenging. Chenchaiah, quoting Romans 8, sees Christ as the peak of the evolutionary cycle — for humanity, but also for all creation. Gosling gives his view about Dar­win­ism and Christianity in England, that the main difficulty was the unease that humans and animals could have a common ancestry, something taken for granted by Hindus, and some Indian Chris­tians. Creationism and the theory of Intelligent Design entered India primarily though Evangelical Chris­tian churches and student organisa­tions, especially from North Amer­ica, but have fallen on infertile ground.

This is a densely written book. It challenges us to reflect again on the interaction of religion and science. New is Gosling’s understanding of Hindu philosophy and Indian Christian theologians around these questions, which comes out of the remarkable career of this brave educationist and priest.

Canon Andrew Wingate is a former Director of Interfaith Relations of the St Philip’s Centre in the diocese of Leicester.

*This title can be bought from the publisher at www.ispck.org.in.

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