A lengthy manuscript by Paekakariki historian and lecturer Terence Green has been shortlisted in the Wylie Mind Body Spirit Literary Awards.

His work Wisdom's Lament: A History of God and Science in the Modern Age is a finalist in the unpublished manuscript category.

The awards, established in 1999 thanks to a bequest from the late businessman Ashton Wylie, are unique in the country for their encouragement of writing in the mind, body, spirit genre.

Mr Green, who was thrilled to be a finalist, has had long-standing interest in "the way in which science and religion have sort of collided and intersected".

Advertisement

"I was always intrigued with that, and from reading over a long time, it seemed to me that the 19th century was a pivotal moment when we began to find out so much compelling scientific evidence about ourselves, our place in the universe, about the Earth and how old it was and so on.

"So much was in conflict with religion that people were really forced to begin to question their long held and most cherished beliefs.

"It seemed to me that understanding that 19th century period helps us to understand our own time."

He has sifted through a lot of books, online material and more to gather the thoughts of dozens of people from the past including some key individuals.

"Throughout the book [which is 118,000 words long] I've tried to present as balanced a view as possible."

For example, he highlights Erasmus Darwin, who was Charles Darwin's grandfather, who developed one of the first theories of evolution.

"And of course as soon as you do that you start to challenge the established religious beliefs, and particularly the account in Genesis, of how life began.

"We have to remember that at that time many people believed that was the genuine account of how life began, and the world was thought to be 6000 years old and all the rest of it."

Advertisement

Then there was Alfred Russell Wallace who, Mr Green said, came up with the same theory of evolution, but unlike Charles Darwin, was a firm believer in spiritualism and believed "evolution could not account for the soul".

"He believed there has to have been some sort of higher guiding power."

At the end of the manuscript, which Mr Green is trying to get published, he states no one should tell others what they ought to think.

"People have to be able to be free to decide for themselves."

Judges' comments regarding Terence's work:

Terence Green has undertaken extensive research to deliver a manuscript full of engaging stories of great thinkers and philosophers of the past who involved themselves in fierce and knotty debates over whether God's word or the advance of science should hold sway in the world.

His inclusion of vignettes relating to such strong characters as Francis Bacon, Erasmus Darwin and Thomas Paley make them and their arguments come alive.

Great advances in science in the 19th century made God-versus-science arguments particularly intense and Green focuses on that era to produce a work that has resonance for the 21st century too, as we move into an uncertain future still seeking to understand our origins and the connectedness that links all of creation.