We have just reviewed a book by CE Cosans, called Owen's Ape & Darwin's Bulldog: Beyond Darwinism and Creationism (Indiana Univ Press, 2009). It's an interesting discussion of the famous debate between Darwin's public (pugilistic) advocate, TH Huxley, and Darwin's opponent Richard Owen (founder of the British Natural History Museum). The question was whether humans have distinct anatomical characters compared to apes (genes were not known at the time).
The brain, naturally, was the organ of interest. Huxley claimed that there were only quantitative differences between the anatomy of ape and human brains. Owen claimed distinct differences, including a structure called the hippocampus minor. The debate was long, public, and bitter. In the end, because Darwinism won the nature-of-life debate, Huxley is treated as the winner of this debate, too. But Cosans provides good evidence that, considering their worldviews and what they actually said, Owen's interpretation was perhaps closer to the anatomical truth. Cosans analyzes the history in terms of theories about science and its relationship to the empirical world and our interpretations of it.
The analysis of this history is fine, but Cosans also delves into what Darwin, Huxley, and Owen believed about God (and hence his subtitle). This is only peripherally relevant to the main event, the debate about anatomy. It makes a saleable subtitle, and we guess that these days nobody can simply leave the religion vs 'creationism' fight alone.
The point here, however, is not who believes what and why in that regard, but that the religion debate provides a distraction, that we constantly see these days, away from the merits of the various scientific cases. In particular, we should no longer be concerned as scientists about what Darwin's or Huxley's personal religious views were. Darwin's writing is of interest to history, certainly, but not as a sacred text (though one to be revered, to be sure!).
What we think today about biology and its nature needs to be evaluated in terms of what we know and what we can testably speculate about. The gravitational pull of gossipy food-fights is natural, since even scientists are human. We have enough trouble being objective about the science itself, such as the relative roles of natural selection, population structure, environmental change, and chance in the nature of life. But too often we relate these discussions to irrelevant, but often highly emotive, sideshows.
We don't need that in order to struggle with truly fascinating questions such as what makes humans seem so different from other animals, despite great similarities in our genomes!