On Tuesday, I introduced Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson. Today we’ll continue by going through the body of the book.
Before we start, let me first mention that Giberson is an outstanding writer. His writing seems effortless and the teacher in me greatly appreciates the analogies, which are used when appropriate and are all spot-on. This book, as mentioned yesterday, is a welcome and necessary addition to anyone’s library who is interested in the evolution and creation story/controversy in the U.S. Because Karl is such a good writer, in addition to reviewing the book today, I am going to post a number of the quotes that I found to be most illuminating on Saturday.
Ch. 1 (The Lie Among Us) provides the reader with an introduction to Charles Darwin and dispels the common myths that people believe regarding him as a person. Some Christians have been led to believe the myth that Darwin repudiated the theory of evolution on his deathbed. Not true. Another myth is that Darwin was an atheist who went looking for biological reasons to take down God and disprove Christianity. Also not true. Darwin was instead a much more complex man, one who started as a believer but struggled with this belief as personal tragedies of life befell him and the evidence for his theory spoke against the natural theology of the day. Couple that with a devout wife (and a respect for her faith) and Darwin was not the anti-religious man many Christians like to believe he was.
Ch. 2 (A Tale of Two Books) contrasts two books and their reception in the U.S. The first is Darwin’s Origin of Species and the second, perhaps surprisingly, is David Friedrich Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. According to Giberson, the former was received much more positively than the latter. The latter, which was indicative of much of German biblical scholarship at the time, led to an uprising and charged response, resulting, in part, in the publication in the early 20th century of the Fundamentals. Thus, the framework for the anti-evolution movement was not speaking against science, but instead internal to religion.
Ch. 3 (Darwin’s Dark Companions) takes a look at the ways in which evolution (usually titled Darwinism in this case) has been applied to disciplines most definitely outside of biology. This can be highlighted specifically by Social Darwinism and eugenics, in which evolution is used to justify evil behaviors because it is thought to promote “survival of the fittest”. This marriage of biology and ideology is an extremely unfortunate one. Although it has not only occurred with evolution as one of the spouses, the evolution-ideology marriage has caused some serious collateral damage.
A history of the legal battles, beginning with the Scopes Trial (creation vs. evolution) and ending with the Dover Trial (now intelligent design vs. evolution) is provided in Ch. 4 (The Never Ending Closing Argument). In between these two high profile trials, there are a number of other legal cases and Giberson does a much better job than I would of keeping this chapter interesting and lively. As usual, there is much more than meets the eye.
Ch. 5 (The Emperor’s New Science) and Ch. 6 (Creationism Evolves into Intelligent Design) talk about the history of the Creationist and Intelligent Design movements and is an area where Giberson is clearly an expert. He describes the “advent” of scientific creationism, beginning with Ellen White’s prophetic writings, extending to George McCready Price’s The New Geology, and ending ultimately with Henry Morris and John Whitcomb’s publication of The Genesis Flood and the creation of the Institute for Creation Research. After Creationism floundered as a scientific paradigm (though it still flourishes to those unaware of or unable to accept the evidence), Philip Johnson and others decided to change the anti-evolution game. Instead of promoting Creationism, the target now became naturalism. Naturalism ruled out the possibility that God acted on nature and because of that, a priori, it must be rejected. Or at least augmented. Over years, this movement gathered biologists, mathematicians, and philosophers and became intelligent design (ID). ID was put forth as a detectable scientific model although to many it was viewed simply as another “God of the Gaps”. ID proponents say that it is not Creationism although Giberson presents a story that makes this distinction seem minor at best. Just like Creationism, ID has also floundered as a scientific paradigm; nevertheless, it has gained many converts because it appears more “scientific” and is broad enough to include many different opinions on creationism.
Richard Dawkins, a remarkably excellent science writer and advocate for evolution, but equally a remarkably poor philosopher and theologian, famously said, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” Ch. 7 (How to be Stupid, Wicked, and Insane) looks at the cultural war that the attitude observed in the above comment and many other writings triggered between Christians and scientific atheists. It’s a war that has been fought by both sides and it has unfortunately only escalated over the last few decades. I’m not sure there’s a need to add much more here as it’s pretty difficult to be a citizen in the U.S. and not be aware of the cultural war that we all get to witness.
For a book on evolution and creation, Giberson sure takes his time getting to the evidence for evolution! And… it’s the perfect way to teach it. A colleague of mine uses the same tactic in her class on Evolution. Why? Because students come to the class with preconceived notions regarding Darwin and evolution. Once those are out of the way, and only then, can the evidence for evolution be presented. This is an issue in the sciences that is unique to evolution to the best of my knowledge. It shouldn’t be, but it is what it is and we do well to acknowledge it.
In the preceding 7 chapters, Giberson has done his best to counteract the preconceptions. In Ch. 8 (Evolution and Physics Envy), he provides an overview of the evidence for evolution. The main areas (fossil record, species distribution, common structures, developmental similarity, evidence from genetics) are noted and some detail is provided. Readers who are looking to engage more deeply with the science should look elsewhere as that is not the main point of this book and there are many other options available. In this chapter, Giberson also notes the difference between theories in physics and biology. This is important when we get into discussions on the philosophy of science as the philosophies of physics and biology will necessarily be different from each other.
In the last chapter (Ch. 9: Pilgrim’s Progress), Giberson, as many are wanton to do in similar works, takes a stroll off the beaten path and tells us what he makes of all of this. He takes us along with him on his yearly trek to Indian Lake in rural New Brunswick. He talks about the beauty surrounding him and how therapeutic this is to him. And he asks why this should be. Why are we connected to the natural world in such a profound way?
Well, to me, the answer depends upon whether you’re a person of faith or not. If not, you’re intimately connected to the surrounding natural world because you share its “stuffs”. You are a part of the great Cosmic story with it. Oh sure, the end result of all of this may be purposelessness but the view can certainly inspire. If you’re a person of faith, not only are you connected because you share the stuffs and evolutionary history with your fellow creatures, but the connection is further bolstered because you believe you are a part, with the rest of the natural world, of God’s Creation. There’s the difference.
I think Giberson might agree with me that the scientific evidence isn’t going to convince anyone one way or the other. It may strengthen belief or non-belief but it’s not going to be the cornerstone for either or the catalyst for movement from one to the other. A believer to my left and a non-believer to my right can both look out at a beautiful scene of lake, loon, trees, and ripple, and gasp in awe and wonder. The person on my left worships God and the person on my right worships nature, human progress, or nothing. The experience can be meaningful and beautiful for both.
Karl sides with the person on my left and so do I. We both believe that the validity of evolution does not require us to move to the right side. And we also believe it’s important, no essential, that others appreciate this and are encouraged by it.