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
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. …