Monday, April 15, 2013

Michael Ruse on the compatibility of Christianity and Darwinism

From Patheos 
I see nothing in Darwinism that should upset the Christian, although I fully admit that the Christian is going to have to work hard on some issues. Obviously you cannot be a Darwinian and believe in a totally literal interpretation of Genesis. However, at least since the time of St. Augustine around 400 A.D. it has been the Christian position that one can and indeed must interpret the Bible metaphorically at times. So I don’t think that literal readings are necessarily part of traditional Christianity, even though they are certainly part of American evangelical Christianity.

Of course, there are certain issues which come up from Darwinism which seem to give great worries for the Christian. Most obviously, there is the problem of evil. I myself am inclined to think that the problem of evil in itself is a fatal barrier for Christian belief. The question rather is whether or not Darwinism exacerbates the problem. I would argue that it does not. For instance, I am inclined take Leibniz’s position on the problem of natural evil. If God created through law – and I think there are good theological reasons why God would create through law – then probably the only way in which he could have created humans naturally is through the Darwinian process of natural selection brought on by a struggle for existence. The struggle for existence necessarily involves pain and suffering. So my position here would be that pain and suffering are a necessary condition of getting a greater good, namely humankind.

My personal feeling is that probably the biggest problem of all is that of the randomness of Darwinian evolution, and yet of the necessity of the appearance of humans in the Christian schema. My most recent thinking on this issue is to invoke the notion of multiverses. Since humans have evolved, it’s all a question of enough time and space to do this. Of course one might wonder about God having to wait so long for humans to evolve, since planet after planet might prove to be unsuitable. But in the Christian position this is no real problem because, as Saint Augustine argued, God stands outside time. He is not sitting around waiting for things to happen. So I do think that this is a problem that can be solved.

More positively, I would argue that this is a wonderful world brought about by natural law. It is a world of mystery and excitement. This, it seems to me, fits far more with a creator God of Christianity than the god who simply did it all by fiat in an instantaneous miracle. In many respects, therefore, I want to argue that, far from being a difficulty, Christianity finds Darwinism to be a challenge and a triumph. The Christian should welcome Darwinism just as he or she welcomes the Copernican revolution. Science is not the enemy of religion, but its complement.
Some Christians disagree with Michael Ruse, for example Wintery Knight, who says that theistic evolution is "...basically atheistic evolution, with an unnecessary fairy tale riding on top." 

Check out some other links to comments on theistic evolution by conservative Christians (is that the correct label? I'm unsure).
Melinda at STR: The trouble with theistic evolution

Reasonable Faith: Evolutionary Theory and Theism


  1. One of my main problem with theistic evolution is with the notion for us to not read the creation story as literal "days" (the day-age argument). Scripture says over and over again, after each account of creation, "and there was evening and there was morning, the [insert number] day." It seems therefore that the author of Genesis, recognizing the multiple interpretations of the Hebrew word for "day," clarifies by this that there is a specific passage of time, and hence it is speaking of literal days. I'm sure some might try to argue that the "evening and morning" are allegorical as well, but I think we're crossing dangerously into the Origen-ish tendency to read everything in scripture as one giant allegory.

    1. Hey, dispensationalists do it, so why not join'em and interpret it all as allegory? ;) :D


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