Two Views, One Reality

By Rosenhouse, Jason | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Two Views, One Reality


Rosenhouse, Jason, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


Darwin and intelligent Design by Francisco Ayala, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2006. 116 pp., 87. ISBN-10: 0800638026

Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design and the Future of Faith by Philip Kitcher. Oxford University Press, New York, 2007. 192 pp., 820. ISBN-10:0195314441

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

MODERN BIOLOGY TELLS A STORY of human beings emerging as the highly contingent result of four billion years of evolution by natural selection. Christianity teaches that the Earth was created by an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God specifically for humans. Francisco Ayala argues that it is reasonable to see in this dichotomy two sides of the same coin. Phillip Kitcher demurs.

A glut of recent books has addressed the perennial question of the proper relationship between evolution and Christianity. Whether written by scientists such as Ken Miller, Francis Collins and Joan Roughgarden, or theologians such as Alister McGrath and John Haught, the conclusion is invariably the same. No conflict is found. Several gambits are offered to attain this reconciliation: perhaps evolution is God's means of creation, the creation story in Genesis is intended allegorically, or science and religion address different questions. Representative of this genre is Ayala's short book. He opens as follows:

   The message that this little book seeks
   to convey is that science and religious
   beliefs need not be in contradiction.
   This message has a long Christian tradition
   that extends since the time of
   Augustine in the fourth century, and even
   earlier, to Pope John Paul II and other
   religious authorities of the
   present. There are many believers in the
   United States and elsewhere who think
   that science, particularly the theory of evolution,
   is contrary to the teachings of the
   Bible and to religious beliefs, such as
   Creation by God. Science has demonstrated
   again and again, beyond reasonable
   doubt, that living organisms evolve and
   diversify over time, and that their features
   have come about by natural
   selection, a process that accounts for their
   "design." I will seek to convince you,
   dear reader, that we may accept the scientific
   knowledge without denying the
   existence of God or God's presence in
   the universe and all natural phenomena.

After such an opening, you might be surprised to learn that fully 89 of the book's 104 pages say almost nothing about the reconciliation of science with faith. Instead we are treated to a brief historical introduction to Darwin and his work, a lucid explanation of the most basic elements of evolutionary theory and the evidence supporting it, and a brief discussion of the scientific and theological difficulties of intelligent design and creationism. This portion of the book is certainly competent and worthwhile, but it contains very little that is Dew.

It is the book's final chapter that addresses the faith question. Ayala opens with this bit of bravado:

   I want to make in this final chapter two
   main points, which to me seem obvious
   or at least beyond reasonable doubt. One
   point is that the theory of evolution is not
   incompatible with belief in the existence
   of God and God's presence in the workings
   of the universe. The second point is
   that science is a powerful and successful
   way of acquiring knowledge about the
   universe, but it is not the only way: other
   valid ways of acquiring knowledge about
   the universe include imaginative literature
   and other forms of art, common sense,
   philosophy and religion.

Obvious? Beyond reasonable doubt? How does the author back up his claim?

Ayala first addresses the conflict between evolution and Genesis. He argues that numerous religious scholars reject the idea of a literal interpretation of Genesis.

   Many Bible scholars and theologians
   have long rejected a literal interpretation
   as untenable, however, because the
   Bible contains incompatible statements. 

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