Picked up this book at the library, Saving Darwin, How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, by Karl Giberson, after searching the card catalog on the words, “christian” and “evolution.” I ended up very impressed with it.
I’ll admit I find studying Christianity fascinating, enjoying learning about it in ways I wasn’t able to before, ways which would have been too unorthodox to consider. And I am past feeling a need to prove or disprove anything, it is great just to learn.
So authors like Giberson interest me in the way they work their faith around issues like evolution without falling prey to the false dichotomy that says one has to believe in a 6,000 year old earth in order to be a Christian. While my church did not make young earth creationism a statement of faith, in practice it was encouraged and is what the majority believed. The power of peer pressure and social influence can easily become the tyranny of the majority, and I always felt out of place believing in an old earth and evolution.
Giberson’s book focuses a lot on the history of fundamentalism and how creationism came to be incorporated in that particular and peculiar variety of beliefs. Which I like, because I am a history nut, and because I really, really don’t like fundamentalism. This book covers the ground between the extremes of theistic creationism and atheistic evolutionary theory. Evolution and belief in God do not need to be mutually exclusive, and there is a lot of room to work the middle ground. And the book does not hold back from criticism directed towards both those views.
It turns out that evangelicalism and fundamentalism were not always inexorably linked to creationism as they can seem to be today. According to the author the idea was asserted later by others (in particular 7th Day Adventists) and was eventually grafted into fundamentalist dogma.
Giberson discusses an early famous (infamous?) series of essays titled The Fundamentals:
What was remarkable about these discussions of evolution, however, was the almost total absence of the six-day creationist viewpoint. Leading “fundamentalist” thinkers spoke approvingly of progressive creationism, historical linkages between species, and an ancient earth.
Clearly, even leaders concerned with defining and protecting the fundamentals of Christianity shared no consensus on what Christians should think about evolution.
Critiques of this middle ground abound. Jerry Coyne, author of the book, Why Evolution is True, offers a review of the book (warning, it’s long). In reviewing this book and another on the same topic by Ken Miller, Coyne states:
“Both of their books are worth reading… yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.”
I can see where Coyne is coming from and why he draws those conclusions. I think his work on presenting the evidence for evolution is important, and I think Giberson’s book in helping Christians view that evidence is important as well. But presenting evidence for evolution wrapped in an atheistic package is not going to be palatable for young earth creationists, and I don’t think it is necessary. I guess Coyne doesn’t feel a dichotomy between science and religion is a false one any more than Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis does. But I am grateful for those seeking common ground in the middle. Even where I don’t agree with them I feel they are trying to reconcile people to more reasonable beliefs one way or another.
For further reading, Giberson’s own brief response to Coyne’s analyses can be read here. Mystery Seeker provides a thoughtful analysis of Coyne’s perspective. And Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine interviewed Giberson, the videos can be viewed viewed here. Giberson described his interaction with Michael Shermer very positively. I find Michael Shermer to be a fantastic interviewer. Here he conducts an amazing interview at the Creation Museum.
And no, I haven’t read all those articles in their entirety or watched the videos!