Tacking Religious Beliefs on to Darwin.
A Feature Review of
Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist.
Hardback: Cambridge UP, 2012.
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Reviewed by Todd Edmondson
As hot button issues go, ongoing debates about evolution, creationism, and Intelligent Design, situated at the point where religion, science, and politics collide, are among the most contentious. Thankfully, a number of Christian scholars and leaders of the church like Rowan Williams, Alister McGrath, and Peter Enns have stepped into the fray, endeavoring to work toward some measure of reconciliation between the tenets of orthodox Christianity and the findings of modern science. There is still, however, much work to be done. If Christians are ever going to be at peace with the findings of modern biology – in a way that involves neither stubborn resistance nor passive silence – a weighty theological task lies ahead. Fruitful conversation between what are often perceived to be competing orthodoxies will require humility, prayer, and rigorous scholarship. At the close of his excellent work The Evolution of Adam, Enns presents this concluding thesis: “A true rapprochement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis, not simply adding evolution to existing theories.” To put it another way, one cannot merely take a scientific theory and tack a religious belief onto it, without committing an injustice against both.
As one who agrees with Enns on this point, I picked up Robert Asher’s recent work Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist hopeful that Asher would take another step toward integrating faith and science, this time from the scientific side of the perceived rift. However, as if to confirm the old adage about judging a book by its cover, the promise of this book’s title goes largely unfulfilled. I should state up front that there is much that this book does well. Asher is not only a respected paleontologist; he is also a very good writer. The prose here is excellent and highly readable, so that even the passages that tend more toward hard science are not lost on a layperson like myself. Throughout the book, Asher guides readers through a number of debates and questions surrounding the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution. As someone thoroughly unenlightened on many significant aspects of natural selection–common descent, the fossil record, the development of animals both familiar (the platypus and elephant) and obscure (the tenrec), and molecular biology – I appreciated Asher’s exposition and analysis of these points.