saving darwin

October 14, 2009 at 9:18 pm 17 comments

fishPicked 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!

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Entry filed under: creationism, fundamentalism, science.

bread and wine demanding conclusions

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sabio Lantz  |  October 15, 2009 at 8:12 am

    I too live in the USA now and am surrounded by those who need these middle ground folks. Below are links to other cultures struggles, for those interested in watching the various voices addressing religions in their world.

    1) Irtiqa is a blog by Salman, a Hampshire College prof who follows evolutionary thinking among Muslims.

    2) Nirmukta is a blog about Indian skepticism

  • 2. atimetorend  |  October 15, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Those links look interesting, the Indian one in particular because it is such a foreign culture to me. They have an entry on there titled: “Do We Need Yoga?”

  • 3. Nate  |  October 17, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Thanks for the comments on my blog. I appreciate the insight.

    I recently picked up a book titled “Thank God for Evolution” which I thought was going to attempt something similar to this book. In the end, it only seemed to be a redefinition of “God” by pointing towards the powers of the cosmos and deriving meaning from it all. I would recommend the book, but now I am definitely interested in this one. I have wanted to read an honest attempt at reconciliation between Christian theology and evolutionary science for some time. Thanks for the post.

  • 4. atimetorend  |  October 17, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Hi Nate, thanks for stopping by. I’ve read some of Michael Dowd’s (“Thank God for Evolution”) writing as well. I took his blog off my RSS reader a while back, ultimately I don’t find it resonating to me, or it doesn’t make sense to me at this time. You described it well, a redefinition of God rather than a reconciliation between theology and science.

  • 5. Lorena  |  October 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    It was progressive Christian writers like Giberson who helped me start thinking outside the box.

    Fundys are right to be scared of books like this one, because once the believer changes his/her mind about one essential issue, letting go of the others is a matter of time.

    For example, once a churchgoer comes to believe that evolution is possible, a pastor that insists on a 6-day recent creation will sound a little ignorant, and the believer will start questioning the guy’s teachings like never before.

  • 6. Grace  |  October 21, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Hi Atimetorend, and Nate,

    Hey, you should also check out Dr. Francis Collin’s book, “The Language of God.”

    Dr. Collins is one of the world’s leading scientist, formerly head of the Human Genome Project, also a committed Christian believer.

    He is a theistic evolutionist believing that faith in God, and faith is science can co-exist within a person, and be harmonious.

    So, in this book, he makes his case for God, and for science, really talks about Genesis, too.

    Think you would enjoy the book.

  • 7. Mark  |  October 21, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    I think holding to both science and a belief in the supernatural is a difficult balancing game, and many in the religious circles don’t do it well. So far I have been relatively pleased with Miller, Collins, and Giberson. However sometimes even Collins can stray away from science like in his belief of where morality comes from.

  • 8. atimetorend  |  October 22, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Hi Mark, I haven’t read much of Collins other than quotes in the media and a couple of articles about him. I agree with you about where writers like that stray away from science. I think it is a bit of the “God of the gaps” where they accept science where it is more firm and attribute to supernatural evidence areas that are more vague or less well understood scientifically like morality. Of the authors you noted, which do you think best articulates a view of science compatible with Christianity? My feeling reading Giberson was not that I agree with him 100% but that I appreciate the way he wrestles with his faith through his study of science.

  • 9. Mark  |  October 23, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Atimetorend,
    I would say that all three have a view of science compatible with Christianity. They tend to take the science where it leads and then mold their beliefs around that. I don’t think that is bad. Its what we do too, change our views when new evidence comes. A book that deals with Christian faith and evolution is “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation” edited by Keith Miller. It has some good chapters that deal with original sin, making Christianity compatible with science, and so forth.

  • 10. the chaplain  |  October 24, 2009 at 9:59 am

    I think there are serious theological issues for Christians who accept evolution. Nevertheless, the fact that many Christians accept evolution and, as Mark said, “mold their beliefs” around it is encouraging to me. It shows that those people are willing to think and are not hyper-dogmatic about their religious belief. Thus, they may be potentially open to shedding superstitious beliefs altogether, which would be a good thing, in my view. As long as they continue to believe, however, they can be our allies and possible influential voices in political and social discourse. Hard-core Christians may listen to fellow believers on matters in which they won’t give nonbelievers the time of day. Some hard-core believers won’t listen to anyone but themselves, but many believers will listen to others.

  • 11. Sabio Lantz  |  October 24, 2009 at 10:03 am

    An agreed nod with a smile to the chaplain.

  • 12. Kay  |  November 7, 2009 at 11:35 am

    When I bought Michael Dowd’s book I, too, expected it to be a theistic evolutionary apologetic. In hindsight I’m very glad it was not.

    It resurrected (no pun intended) a previous way of thinking that got buried the past year while I attempted to fit in to the conservative to moderate Christian mindset.

    I don’t understand why he still calls himself a Christian, but if he finds meaning in it, then more power to him. :)

    (That was a little off topic. Apologies.)

  • 13. Chris Lawrence  |  November 8, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Interesting post & interesting comments. For me the big issue of accommodation between theism & evolution is not so much the fundamentalist/creationist theory of creation, but that old chestmut the ‘problem of evil’. It is possible that there is a God, & it is possible that God arranged for evolution to happen the way evolutionary theory now understands it. But if so this raises questions about the character & intentions of God.

    If you are interested I expand on this in a review of John Cornwell’s Darwin’s Angel.

    Thanks,
    Chris Lawrence
    thinking makes it so

  • 14. atimetorend  |  November 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    @Kay, no off-topic apologies needed. You’re glad Dowd’s book wasnt theistic evolutionary apologetic because you benefited from it?

    @Chris L.: What you said about the “problem of evil” chestnut makes sense of why Answers in Genesis et al are so adamant about “no death before the fall.” They feel it is necessary to defend that position in order to avoid a problem of evil in the world. Their perspective on evil is certainly incompatable with theistic evolution.

  • 15. Kay  |  November 14, 2009 at 10:35 am

    ATR,

    When I bought Michael’s book I was in a place where a theistic evolutionary book was what I wanted, but my desires changed before I even got the book.

    I thought “Great! Another $10.00 wasted on a book I won’t want to read.”

    Then the book showed up and whadyaknow? It actually was about (in a round about way) something I had been interested in in the past – Evolutionary Spirituality.

    As is my habit, I read the first few chapters and then got sucked into another book on a related topic (Spong’s latest).

    So yeah, I benefited from Michael’s book (without having really read any of it yet). ;-)

  • 16. Ben Sanders  |  December 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Cool review. Though it doesn’t seem to be too hard to find that middle ground. Lots of Christians believe that the bible is inspired but fallible, and that the lessons of the Bible should be taken symbolically. Under that set of beliefs neither science nor evolution offer any threat. You would think more evangelical preachers would fall back to that as a more defensible position.

  • 17. atimetorend  |  December 10, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    It would seem that allowing either a measure of fallibility, or more conservatively a measure of allegory and mystery would be easier than following a convoluted path of biblical inerrancy. But then Jesus says “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,” so maybe that provides a measure of incentive to stick with the inerrancy model.

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