Debating Darwin: Two Debates Is Darwinism True, and Does It Matter? by Graeme Finlay, Stephen Lloyd, Stephen Pattemore and David Swift
Milton Keynes: Paternoster 2009 pb 200 pp* ISBN: 978-1842276198 £8.99 *listed in catalogues as 144 pages
Think God, Think Science: Conversations on Life, the Universe and Faith by Michael Pfundner and Ernest Lucas
Milton Keynes: Paternoster 2008 pb 144 pp
ISBN 978-1842276099 £9.49
The debate between Christians concerning the scientific and biblical accounts of our origins is not as mature as toshould be. The key issues have been around for over a century, advances in scientific knowledge notwithstanding; books, publications and web pages continue to pour out from both sides; research continues apace. And yet the debate cannot be termed mature: positions are entrenched and polarised, the arguments on both sides are ill-tempered and manipulative, Christians are divided and the Gospel is neither served nor adorned by their conduct. It is in this febrile atmosphere that we are asked to consider two contributions convened by staff of the Bible Society.
The first, Debating Darwin, promises to be a standard knock-about between the two sides, and it does not disappoint. It’s all here: death or no death; creation or atheism, Genesis as history or as myth, an incomprehensible scientific paper on genetics, tables and diagrams, and dozens of footnotes. There are no new arguments on either side as far as I can see, which does not excuse the authors who appear unable to listen to each other. Lloyd spends the majority of his thirty-page chapter discussing three central doctrines for the non-Darwinian case, namely Adam, the flood and pain. Finlay and Pattermore’s response gives them one page, one paragraph and one sentence respectively. A debate in which opponents talk past each other like is most unsatisfactory. At times the authors also appear to get carried away by the heat of the debate and make rash statements. Lloyd appears undaunted by the logic of his rejection of neo-Darwinism requiring him single-handedly to rewrite science “by constructing a wide-ranging model that takes account of as much of the available data as possible…It is a project that is enormously exciting, innovative, enriching to science.” (25). Yet he fails to explain why no better model has so far even threatened the consensus of the scientific community that evolution is the best model yet for the evidence available. And on the other side, Finlay seems unfazed by a lack of evidence when he says “It would be perverse to deny that major phyla (sponges, molluscs, worms) arose by natural evolutionary means simply because the events occurred so long ago that the unambiguous genetic markers [ie the evidence] of evolutionary relationships have been obliterated” (165, my insertion). I could go on about accusations of Gnosticism, and suspicions of open theism, but they would add little to the review. While the expositions of the views on either side are as clear as many other similar treatments, the debate fails entirely to meet in the middle. I am still waiting for the ‘debate’ book that does not leave me angry, sad, confused and equally unhappy with both sides.
David Wilkinson’s foreword to Think God Think Science seems to promise different sort of volume. It is a kind of survey-with-an-agenda of three questions caught in the crossfire between some scientists and some Christians. The whole book (not a long book) is presented as an overheard conversation between Pfundner (the enquirer) and Lucas (the sage, who has written on science and christian faith and teaches Biblical Studies at Bristol Baptist College in the UK). It is of course an interview in which Pfundner coaxes Lucas along some well-worn paths, gently raising questions and objections on behalf of others. He begins by asking whether the Christian faith has been so marginalised by scientific advance and the rise of rationalism today as to be out of the picture. Are faith and science really that far apart? Four chapters then cover the major areas of apparent conflict. In ‘The Issue’, Lucas takes the reader through a potted history of the debates between scientists and the church, taking in Galileo and Darwin/Huxley. What they are seen to oppose is not the church as such, but something it stood for: in Galileo’s case, Aristotelian philosophy; in Huxley’s, authority in education; and in recent creationism, liberal Christianity. In ‘The Sky’ he meanders over creation and the Big Bang, Adam and the image of God and other topics. ‘The Cell’ focuses on Darwin, design and other Creation issues. Finally, ‘The Faith’ looks at the impact of Biblical studies in the twentieth century in trying to undermine biblical Christian faith (Bultmann and so on). In each case Lucas shows there is coherent path beset on one side by rationalists and on the other by literalist Christians. I found each of these to be good surveys of the field, and helpful for introducing some of the major names and currents, and showing how they reflect changing culture and differing approaches to the Bible and science. There were some frustrations: there was nothing to engage with at points of disagreement (because it is a survey); and it is sometimes too generous to significantly heterodox opponents. But here at least is an opportunity to listen to one, largely conservative, evolutionary theist tell story as he sees it. Whether or not we agree with it.
Book Review Submitted for publication in Churchman