There has been much debate over the compatibility between science and religion. This debate becomes even more passionate when evolution is discussed. Several new publications can help us Christians with the challenge of teaching creation in a scientific and technological world.
In the May / June 2009 issue I reviewed Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett’s two books Can You Believe in God and Evolution? A Guide for the Perplexed
(Abingdon, $14, 2006) and Theological and Scientific Commentary on Darwin’s Origin of Species
(Abingdon, $20, 2008). Can You Believe in God and Evolution?
respectfully critiques creationism and intelligent design as based on faulty biblical hermeneutics coupled with spurious science, and both books reinforce the belief that Christianity and evolution are compatible.
Another response to evolution is Celia Deane-Drummond’s Christ and Evolution: Wonder and Wisdom
(Fortress, $23, 2009), which is part of the Theology and the Sciences
series edited by Kevin J. Sharpe and including books by, among others, Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, and Ian G. Barbour. Deane-Drummond joins classic Christology with current views on evolutionary theory. She roots her theology in the belief that world and human history have an evolutionary quality and couples this with the idea of
history as a theodrama that began at the beginning of creation. She then suggests that what we humans are to work to evolve toward is, not some technologically enhanced trans-human, but Christ, the one who emptied himself for the sake of others. While some will find Deane-Drummond’s work too recondite and others too heavily reliant upon evolution, many will find her work to be a richly evocative reflection on how science and Christianity can inform each other.
Also responding to evolution, Benjamin Wiker's The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin
(Regnery, $27.95, 2009) argues that Darwinism is different from evolution. Wiker contends that a Christian can readily embrace evolution but not
Darwinism because the latter insists on atheism and attributes human morality not to God but to natural selection. This conclusion was problematic even for Darwin himself, who struggled to explain human morality adequately in terms of natural selection. Wiker contends that Darwin was intellectually brilliant and a great humanitarian, full of tenderness for his family, compassion for the underprivileged, and loathing of slavery. However, his own understanding of natural selection did not sufficiently explain the origin and development of such an advanced morality.
Wiker proposes that a better alternative to Darwinism is evolution, which must be theistic, in part because the existence of God helps to explain the supererogatory morality of someone like Darwin. As Wiker states in the book's final sentence, "As for me, I shall always prefer a theory of evolution that can explain so great a man as Charles Darwin" (p. 171), meaning a man of exceptional ability and moral character.
This praise for Darwin persists throughout the book, even while Wiker critiques him and accuses him of lying to himself and others. For instance, Wiker contends that Darwin's autobiography is unreliable because it was written late in life and with Darwin basing it on not what actually happened, but Enlightenment-based paradigms. Wiker goes on to argue that one of Darwin's greatest lies was the one he made to himself: "that he could have his moral cake and eat it too" (p. 149). That is, Darwin had an understanding of the development of human morality that did not take adequately into account the high levels that such morality can attain. However, he writes as if his theory does sufficiently explain such supererogation. Wiker further avers that Darwin's insistence on evolution as godless was rooted in "philosophical prejudice" (p. 149) rather than solid science. In conclusion, Wiker embraces evolution, which, for him is theistic, while discarding Darwinism.
When addressing the challenge of how we Christians can teach creation in a scientific and technological world, other fields of science are
germane besides evolution, and various books address these other fields. One such book is Aileen O'Donoghue's The Sky Is Not a Ceiling: An Astronomer's Faith
(Orbis, $18, 2007), although it is more of a memoir than a book that explains how science and religion can live together symbiotically. O'Donoghue relates that, as a child, she found obvious flaws in Christianity, which for her was Roman Catholicism. Then, as a young woman, she was sexually assaulted. She emerged from that horror with a dark sense of the universe's cold indifference to her.
When she was a graduate student, though, she shared that a dog "adopted" her, and the dog's prevenient grace toward her led her to reconsider God. She pondered God's existence, read about God and religion, and returned to Mass. More and more she found her faith deepening. For a while she struggled with the belief that she was not a legitimate astronomer, a true scientist, if she believed in God, but then she encounters an older and more brilliant colleague who was also a believer. She could see that a person could be both a scientist and a theist simultaneously. She went on to relate experiences she had with a monastery and with the Vatican Observatory.
Throughout the book, O'Donoghue draws connections between God and science, especially astronomy and physics. (For instance, Christ has two natures just as light has two natures, wave and particle). While her theology deviates from orthodox Christianity, her story of faith and science is poignant. Further, her theological reflections are engaging. She rejects legalism, regarding God as liberating. She also contends that the different religions may simply be attuned to different aspects of God which together help us humans to understand God more.
An author famous for her creative integration of science with Christianity was Madeleine L'Engle, and a book that provides a meditative introduction to her is 40-Day Journey with Madeleine L'Engle
(Augsburg, $12.99, 2009).
The book was edited by Isabel Anders and is part of the 40-Day Journey Series
, which features a different notable theological thinker for each volume, including Martin Luther, Kathleen Norris, Maya Angelou, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. L'Engle made a name for herself as the author of unusual, creative children's novels, starting with the Newbery Award-winning A Wrinkle in Time
and continuing with an array of spirituality books for adults and children. In 40-Day Journey
, Anders provides for each day an excerpt from L'Engle followed by a biblical quote, "Questions to Ponder," a psalm quote, reflections for writing in a journal, and prayers.
L'Engle is known for her intelligent applications of science to Christianity, and several of the excerpts illustrate such applications. An excellent example comes on Day 20, for which Anders provides a passage in which L'Engle is rejecting the ancient cosmological notion of God being "out there." In antiquity, when people believed that Earth was the center of the universe, it was easier to think that God was outside creation looking in. However, in light of new scientific understandings, if we think of God as "out there," then God becomes too remote. For L'Engle it makes more sense to embrace the biblical concept of God's immanence, which we experience in the ultimate way through the Incarnation.
Another profound example comes on Day 26, when the quote from L'Engle reads that the vastness and complexity of the universe do not make her feel insignificant but rather give her a sense that her life has meaning. She is in awe of the truth that God, who created the galaxies, also knows how many hairs are on her head.
For a final example, on Day 29, in response to biblical literalism, L'Engle writes, "Literalism is death to Christianity ... The story is far, far greater than that. It is the truth we live by. It is glory!" (p. 78).
May all our reading help us toward the Truth who transcends science and Christianity while embracing the beautiful profundity of both. David von Schlichten is pastor of St. James Lutheran Church, Youngstown, Pennsylvania, and the book review editor of
Lutheran Partners magazine.