Re: [asa] Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons: Evolution and Christianity fromDarwin to Intelligent Design by Peter J. Bowler

From: Steven M Smith <>
Date: Sat Jan 05 2008 - 15:48:43 EST

I have just finished reading this book by Peter Bowler. Although I don't
feel qualified to assess his historical accuracy, I did enjoy the fact that
he did not present historical personalities as one dimensional thinkers. He
described a lot of the subtleties of the individual positions. For example,
Richard Owens is not described as a simple "anti-evolutionist" but rather as
an "anti-natural selectionist" because of his opposition to the
materialistic implications of Darwin's theoretical evolutionary mechanism.
(My descriptive labels in quotes, not his).

I especially enjoyed his final chapter on the "Modern Debates." Here he
rejects the militant atheism of Dawkins and Co. as unnecessary &
inflammatory and he discusses some of the problems that evolution presents
to many modern Christians (death, pain & suffering, Original Sin). I beg
your forgiveness for the inclusion here of a rather lengthy quote from his
final chapter.

--Begin Quote--

To accept that suffering is a central feature of the world presents a
problem for religion in general, but it may offer an opportunity for liberal
Christians who are prepared to think more flexibly about the relationship
between God and humanity, as manifested in the life and death of Christ.

Here the thought of John Polkinghorne and John F. Haught (2000, 2004)
becomes instructive, because they see that the central role played by
suffering in the world may be just what we should expect if God had
relinquished His control over nature in order to give His creatures a degree
of freedom within their world. Unlike some other religions, Christianity can
be presented as a religion in which God, far from sitting outside His
creation, has actually entered into it and suffers along with the struggling
creatures within it. Such a vision seems to make sense of the fact that the
son of God himself suffered the consequences of human selfishness and
intolerance--and the Father did not intervene to prevent this supreme level
of involvement and sacrifice. As Polkinghorne writes:

In the lonely figure hanging in the darkness and dereliction of Calvary the
Christian believes that he sees God opening his arms to embrace the
bitterness of the strange world he has made. The God revealed in the
vulnerability of the incarnation and the vulnerability of creation are one.
He is the crucified God, whose paradoxical power is perfected in weakness,
whose self chosen symbol is the King reigning from the gallows
(Polkinghorne, 1989 58).

This is powerful stuff, even for a nonbeliever like myself. Here is a
totally different vision of the relationship between God, humanity and
nature to that offered by the fundamentalists. This is not a God who
punishes us eternally unless we accept His son's sacrifice as the only route
back into His favor. It is a God who participates in the human drama and in
the drama of creation, and if there is any kind of God who makes sense to
the convinced Darwinian, this is probably it.

No fundamentalist will accept such a rival vision of the Christian message,
and there is little chance that evolutionists will benefit in the short term
from any mass movement toward Polkinghorne's position among American
Christians. But the fact that liberal Christian thinkers can now articulate
a vision that seems almost to welcome those aspects of Darwinism long
regarded as incompatible with any form of religious faith shows that the
renewed state of war between fundamentalists and atheistic Darwinists is not
the only game in town.

--End Quote--

Much of this is not new to members of the ASA list but it was refreshing to
see it expressed by a non-religious writer.
I do have a couple of complaints about the book. Although Bowler used a lot
of ink to describe the intricacies of different individuals and their
positions, he refers to all Christians that accept some form of evolution as
"liberal Christians" and those who do not as "conservatives" or
"fundamentalists." This can be seen in the quote above.

The other pet peeve that annoyed me was his use of the term "evolutionism."
For Bowler, "evolutionism" was a general term that included all of the ideas
of evolution -- "change over time," "common ancestry," and "natural
selection." I personally prefer to see that term restricted to the
naturalistic philosophical position that "evolution removes any need for and
proves the absence of a creator God."
Steve Smith

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Received on Sat Jan 5 15:49:35 2008

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