Rational Inquiry -Volume 6 Number 3
Book Review: Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? The Relationship between Science and Religion
By Edvard A. Hemmingsen
Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? The Relationship between Science and Religion. Michael Ruse, 2001, Cambridge University Press, New York.
Science and religion have in different ways been very important in shaping our culture. Fundamentally, they exist far apart, and they appear to be irreconcilable in most if not all areas where they overlap or butt together. One deals with natural phenomena which can be observed, tested, measured, quantified and verified; the other deal with untestable beliefs that are based on supernatural forces and events. Obviously, this leads to conflicts for anyone attempting to embrace both.
Yet, books arguing that such conflicts are not necessary appear at intervals on the market. Recently I received for review one such book written by philosophy professor Michael Ruse. His book deals with the apparent conflict between evolution and religion. This conflict has a long history and may have reached its peak when Darwin’s monumental "Origin of the Species" was published in 1859 and immediately attacked by the religious establishment. Evolution has been under attack by various religious groups ever since. The initial reaction was not surprising because Darwin was the first to present science-based evidence that challenged the prevailing belief that each species was specially created by a god. Little did it matter to the attackers then that Darwin’s ideas about the evolution of species were developed meticulously from his own research and observations as well as from other scientific evidence. And little does it matter to today’s religious zealots that additional overwhelming scientific evidence from a variety of fields in the intervening 148 years has validated Darwinian concepts and established evolution as a fact.
But does the acceptance of evolution exclude a belief in a higher power, even a creator? Michael Ruse, a self-declared Darwinian but not a self-declared Christian (although one must suspect that he is), attempts to answer this question. He largely skirts the broader topic of science versus religion. This may have made it easier for Ruse to write the book, but it has muddled his answer.
The book appears mostly to be directed towards those who at some level accept the Darwinian evolutionary concepts, but at the same time would like to accept the tenets of Christianity, or perhaps some other religion. Because Darwin never addressed the matter of how life may first have begun (except informally in letters to friends), there is a "loophole" in Darwinism that can be, and has been, explored by, for example, the Catholic Church in recent times.
Ruse explores it as well-by avoiding the issue altogether. Thereby, he implicitly appears to accept the religious dogma that the first life form was created by a supernatural being and the other forms of life evolved thereafter by evolutionary processes. Ruse embraces the scientific fact of evolution, and vehemently rejects the new creationists and their anti-science views. He does not dwell on the scientific aspects of evolution, but rather he deals with the philosophical aspects that he chooses to associate with it. However, most of his efforts are spent on the Christian philosophical and theological views of life, including morals and ethics. He summarizes some of the main philosophical views that historically led to different branches of Christianity and their current varied position on the biological evolutionary process. This is well written and quite informative. Ruse claims that he is attempting to be objective in his analysis. Yet, in his argumentation he relies on the supposition that there is a Christian god. At no point does he question this postulate, although he does refer briefly to others who do-without fairly presenting the arguments they have in support of their position.
Ruse’s conclusion is that, certainly, a person who accepts Darwin’s principle of natural selection can also subscribe to the basic claims of Christianity. Furthermore, he claims that belief in both can be mutually reinforcing. However, a more pointed question today would be: Will a true scientist who knows and understands the evidence for evolution have a need to pre-suppose a supernatural creator? The answer to that obviously would be far less affirmative.