Saving Darwin | Notes & Review

Posted on August 18, 2012


Karl W. Giberson. Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. HarperOne, 2008. (248 pages)


Giberson’s carefully documented history provides a sobering response to the claims of those who think that the current controversy can be quickly resolved. Just as with other great world conflicts, such as the current war in the Middle East, we will be forever doomed to disappointment in an effort to find peace and harmony if we don’t understand how we got to this contentious juncture. (vi)

Here are some true statements that cannot be ignored:

Darwin’s theory of evolution has been overwhelmingly supported by evidence from a wide variety of sources. (vi)
Alternatives to evolution such as young- or old-earth creationism and intelligent design find almost no support in the scientific community. (vii)

…the God of all truth is not well served by lies… (vii)

We must not, then, as Christians, assume an attitude of antagonism toward the truths of reason, or the truths of philosophy, or the truths of science, or the truths of history, or the truths of criticism. As children of the light, we must be careful to keep ourselves open to every ray of light. Let us, then, cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day. None should be more zealous in them than we. None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it, withersoever it leads. (From B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings [Phillipsburg, NJ: PRR Publishing, 1970, pp. 463-65.])

Introduction: The Dissolution of a Fundamentalist

THE END OF CREATION. Today I would describe this view as sophomoric in the most literal sense of the word, which it certainly was for me, as I watched it wilt over the course of my sophomore year in college. By the middle of that critical year I was sliding uncontrollably down the slippery slope that has characterized religion since it began the liberalizing process just over a century ago. (6)

THE EVOLUTION OF A FUNDAMENTALIST. As I studied science and mathematics, I began to doubt that science could have gotten everything as thoroughly wrong as the creationists suggested. The simple physics of radioactivity, widely used to date rocks, provides a characteristic example. Many different ways to exist to date the earth, and almost all of them agree that the earth is billions, not thousands, of years old. (7)

The literalist interpretation I had formerly embraced and defended so vigorously began to look ridiculous, as did the person I had been just one year earlier. (8)

THE UNIVERSAL ACID OF DARWINISM. The acid of evolution is not universal, and claims that evolution “revolutionizes” our worldview and dissolves every traditional concept are exaggerated. (10)

The acid of evolution dissolves the claim that God created the world a few thousand years ago, but does nothing to the claim that God may have taken billions of years to create or that God even continues to work as creator. | Creation, I hasted to point out, is a secondary doctrine for Christians. The central idea in Christianity concerns Jesus Christ and the claim that he was the Son of God, truly divine and truly human. (10)

Christianity, as its name suggests, is primarily about Christ. To be sure, different ideas about Christ exist across the spectrum of Christian belief. But these beliefs, rather than creationist assertions, are the heart and soul of Christianity. And these beliefs are not threatened by Darwin’s dangerous idea. Evolution does, however, pose two challenges to secondary Christian beliefs: the fall of humankind, and the uniqueness of humankind. (11)

The tricky issue for Christianity is teasing out which biblical and theological claims derive from a mistaken picture of science and which are central to the ongoing vitality of the faith. (14)

LOOKING AHEAD: THE PLAN OF THE BOOK. The creation-evolution controversy in America has become so overheated and loaded with half-truths and nonsense that it is all but impossible to get a clear picture of anything. Mythologies abound on both sides. (16)

In the pages that follow I offer readers a tour of this troubled battlefield. (17)

The most interesting and often unintentionally humorous challenges to Darwinism have not been scientific, but legal. … In the current controversy, science has disappeared, and the argument has turned into a culture war, with political allies in smoke-filled back rooms formulating strategies with little regard for truth. (17)

We don’t know anywhere near enough about evolution to infer from it that God is not the creator. And we don’t know anywhere near enough about God to dismiss the idea that evolution might be a part of God’s creative processes. If we can embrace a bit of humility and avoid the temptation to enlarge either evolution or biblical literalism into an entire worldview, we can dismiss this controversy as the irrelevant shouting match that it is. (18)

Chapter 1: The Lie Among Us

History records three Charles Darwins. The most interesting Darwin is the one who repudiated his theory of evolution on his deathbed. … History’s second Darwin is a sinister character in a story even more popular among evangelicals… This Darwin was an enthusiastic and committed unbeliever who combed the globe gathering evidence to rationalize his disbelief. …The third and actual Darwin was neither a deathbed convert nor lifelong crusader against belief in God. He was, in fact, a sincere religious believer who began his career with a strong faith in the Bible and plans to become an Anglican clergyman. He did eventually lose his childhood faith, but it was reluctantly and not until middle age, long after his famous voyage on the Beagle. Toward the end of his life he wrote to an old friend about the painful experience of losing his faith: “I was very unwilling to give up my belief.” (19-20)

THE DEMONIZED DARWIN. Spreading the gospel of anti-evolution, with Darwin as the villain, is a million-dollar industry reaching an eager audience of American evangelicals larger than the population of any country in Europe. (21)

THE TORMENTED EVOLUTIONIST. Unlike today, when theology and science reside in different buildings on opposite corners of university campuses separated by armed guards and barbed wire, at this time they were in a robust and congenial dialog. Many parish priests were active naturalists, and there was a consensus that the rapidly developing sciences would continue to provide useful theological insights. (22)

UNNATURAL THEOLOGY. Naturalists of Darwin’s generation, like most scientists before and since, studied nature within the framework of their best understanding of the natural world. It is a popular fallacy that scientists study nature with no expectations, their observations falling on mental blank slates to be organized with perfect objectivity into secure and dispassionate generalizations that do nothing more than summarize the facts. Observations, rather, are gathered to test various ideas that are in play. (23)

The network of expectations guiding scientific research at any given time is called a paradigm. It represents the collective wisdom of the scientific community… (23) Science advances, in general, by refining the understanding of these paradigms and by bringing more and more observations under the paradigm’s explanatory umbrella. (24)

…this is how the science that cured smallpox, built the atomic bomb, and put a man on the moon works. (24)

Paradigms become interesting when they start to fail, which was what Darwin experienced on the Beagle. Long-standing assumptions about the natural world, buttressed by the authority of countless experts and integrated into comprehensive visions of reality, are challenged by fresh observations. “Commonsense” views of the world begin to crumble; order descends into chaos and understanding into confusion. These radical, world-shaking developments receive the label “scientific revolutions.” (24)

The inertia of paradigms is, paradoxically, the very reason we can trust science. New ideas in science are subjected to a withering scrutiny before they are accepted. Old ideas must be thoroughly refuted before they are discarded. If a long-standing and traditional idea, like astrology or a young earth, has been abandoned by science, we can be confident that it was not without compelling reasons. (25)

DARWIN AND THE PARADIGM OF INTELLIGENT DESIGN. It would be hard to overstate the importance of divine design among British naturalists of Darwin’s generation. (27)

NATURAL THEOLOGY. Creationists have launched a salvo of accusations at Darwin, claiming he invented evolutionary theory to rationalize his lack of faith. These claims are so blatantly false and so clearly in opposition to everything we know about Darwin, that we have to wonder how they arose. The facts are quite clear: Darwin inherited a worldview that was solidly creationist, although that term was not in use at that time. The young Darwin could have been a staff biologist at Henry Morris’s Institute for Creation Research or perhaps a tour guide in Ken Ham’s creation museum. (27)

Darwin, as we know, eventually abandoned this way of looking at the world. But this transition did not derive from his creeping agnosticism. It resulted from his repeated discoveries that the world was full of things that did not look intelligently designed. Eventually he slowly, and quite reluctantly, began to wonder whether there might be a better explanation for the observations that were his passion. (28)

Virtually the entire scientific tradition from Galileo to Darwin was deeply religious. (28)

Paley’s watchmaker analogy — a standard part of the early nineteenth-century curriculum in England — bears exactly the same form as arguments that would be made two centuries later by intelligent design proponents. (30-31)

This is a critically important part of our story, as it illustrates the vitality of intelligent design thinking at the time of Darwin and, I am arguing, makes the early Darwin a nineteenth-century intelligent design theorist. (31)

The natural world, however, repeatedly failed to match Darwin’s expectations … Trained to believe that the natural world revealed a benevolent and wise creator, he began to wonder why so much of the world looked neither wise nor benevolent. (31)


I cannot see, as plainly as others do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to be too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. – Asa Gray

ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. His theory is disarmingly simple. Darwin begins by noting the great competition in nature. (36)

Christian theology has always had a place for freedom, even for the followers of John Calvin, with their predestination; even they can smuggle in a bit of free will for themselves. Christian theology embraces the very human freedom to create or destroy, to choose evil or good, to promote life or death. Darwin’s invocation of chance in nature is equivalent to granting the natural order some measure of the very freedom so evident in human experience. … Why is this freedom, embodied in the natural order, so much more troubling than the freedom that human beings possess — a freedom that has given rise to both hospitals and concentration camps, violins and guillotines, poetry and pornography? (37-38)

THE SLIDE TO AGNOSTICISM. The Darwin described above was not a crusader against Christianity. Nor was he part of a conspiracy to destroy belief in God. He was, rather, a reluctant convert to evolution an ultimately agnosticism. (38)

In the final analysis, however, the event that did the most to destroy Darwin’s faith was not his concerns about the legitimacy of hell. It was not the growing implausibility of creationism or his embrace of evolution. It was the death of an innocent and beloved child a brief three years after the death of his father. (39)

THE BODY SNATCHERS. But Christianity is not fundamentally about how God created the world and its many interesting creatures. Christianity is about the extraordinary claim that God loves those creatures and cares deeply about their welfare. This, alas, is undeniably difficult to square with the death of a child. (40)

Chapter 2: A Tale of Two Books

Dawkins’s use of evolution to undermine religion differs from what happened in the nineteenth-century England, when Darwin’s new theory was first introduced. (44)

GOD’S FUNERAL. In the first place, the nineteenth-century secularism that Dawkins celebrates was not driven primarily by science, but by forces internal to religion, especially German biblical scholarship.

TWO BOOKS. Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. … Confronted with multiple theories about geology, biology, and Genesis and their relevance to each other, scientists and clergy alike were liberated to think creatively about origins. (49)

Textual license exists for the gap theory. The Hebrew grammatical construction does not require that God is creating “out of nothing,” but rather allows the translation that God is working with preexisting materials. (51)

The day-age and the gap theory are tools to reconcile the great age of the earth with a literal reading of Genesis, and millions of Christians found them entirely adequate. However, there were reasons why this interpretive strategy might not even be necessary. Multiple elements in the Genesis stories of creation suggest a figurative or symbolic, rather than a literal, reading. (52)

We must keep in mind that the full name of Darwin’s book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin’s great work must thus be considered from two separate and separable perspectives: common ancestry as an empirical fact, and natural selection as a theoretical explanation for that fact. | Biologists today consider the common ancestry of all life a fact on par with the sphericity of the earth or its motion around the sun. (53)

Without the insights of genetics, which were not incorporated into Darwin’s theory until well into the twentieth century, there was no knockdown argument for natural selection as the mechanism for evolution. Certainly his fellow biologists were not knocked down by natural selection as the mechanism to get a Victorian from an amoeba. And although they were convinced that this was indeed how Victorians had arisen, they were not sure that something so feeble and obviously purposeless as blind natural selection could accomplish that remarkable task. (54)

ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS FOR EVOLUTION. Lamarck noted the obvious fact that organisms develop adaptations that help them function. … Those of Darwin’s generation believed in nothing so much as progress, enamored as they were with the elevated stature of their own culture. (55)

BACK TO THE TALE OF TWO BOOKS. I have sailed briefly into these non-Darwinian waters to make the point that the Darwin who arrived in America was not the same fellow who had written On the Origin of Species. By 1875 evolution as a historical fact had been established to the satisfaction of most scientists as well as educated people who had taken the time to absorb Darwin’s argument. (57)

Ambiguities about evolution coexisted with ambiguities about biblical interpretation. For evolution to conflict with the Bible, these ambiguities would have to resolve in a specific way that was genuinely incompatible. We can certainly select a biblical interpretation that will conflict with a particular explanation for evolution. But why would we want to do that? Absent a revelation from God commanding such a cantankerous move, there is simply no reason to do this. Blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus, not those who go around manufacturing controversy. (58)

THE BIRTH OF FUNDAMENTALISM. To meet the rising tide of modernism, as it was known, an influential project was launched in 1909 to identify the essential core ideas of Christianity — the fundamentals — and rally Christians to protect those beliefs and keep them from being swept away by the rising tide of modernism. (60)

Clearly, even leaders concerned with defining and protecting the fundamentals of Christianity shared no consensus on what Christians should think about evolution. This ambivalence in The Fundamentals offers a key insight into the history of this controversy. (60-61)

Chapter 3: Darwin’s Dark Companions

Social Darwinism remains a controversial topic around which countless questions continue to revolve. What, exactly, does the term mean? What did Darwin think about this supposed extension of his ideas? What is the actual connection between biological evolution and social Darwinism? Do the moral prescriptions of social Darwinism really find support in Darwin’s theory? To what degree was biological Darwinism invoked for propaganda purposes to buttress ideas with no connection to evolution? Was there, for example, an actual connection between evolution and Nazism, as a recent scholar has argued? Or is this just a propaganda move to make evolution smell bad? | These questions will no doubt occupy scholars for years to come and may never be resolved. Certainly I am not going to resolve them in this brief chapter. But their resolution is not important for my purposes. I simply want to argue that the mere existence of the concept of social Darwinism has enormous significance for understanding reactions to evolution. That a connection can and has been drawn between evolution and Nazism creates a disastrous public relations problem for Darwin. (65)

The fossil record — all those fascinating bones that attract kids in the science museum — is one long story of failure. (66)

A deep paradox exists here between the product of evolution and the process. (66)

This hierarchy of values has implications for human behavior. It also shapes the way we view evolution. If humans are more valuable than simpler life-forms, then evolution produces value over the course of time. (67)

IS THERE AN END IN SIGHT? Competition for limited resources, said Darwin, leads to improved competitors. … Social Darwinism is the idea that selection processes can work on different entities or “social units.” … Each one of these social units has its own arena of competition and specific fitness criteria. If fitness is going to improve — a desirable goal — then the stronger players must be able to defeat the weaker ones. (67)

In the decades after Darwin published his theory, dramatically different agendas invoked his theory as a rationale to justify various ideologies. If “survival of the fittest” was indeed a scientifically established vehicle for “progress,” then why restrict it to the production of species? Why not use it, for example, to selectively weed out unfit humans in order to improve the human race? If less fit humans were sterilized by the stronger stock, then wouldn’t the human race be stronger? Or perhaps unfit humans should simply be destroyed, suggested the Nazis. (68)

Naive but horrified biologists tried unsuccessfully to argue that evolution by natural selection was simply a description of a historical process, making no moral judgments about the ethics or integrity of this process. The historical fact that volcanoes spew lava over villagers hardly provides license for people to proactively mimic nature with moral impunity. But evolutionary theory provided an extraordinary new worldview that was especially seductive to self-congratulatory Europeans, already convinced that human history was best understood as a steady advance to the exalted plateau on which they found themselves. And much of this plateau, of course, rested on the blood, sweat, and tears of conquered peoples. | Darwinism, for better or worse, but mainly worse, has been continually attached to agendas that have nothing to do with the “origin of species.” … And today the opposition to evolution from Christians is driven by a conviction that Darwin’s theory undermines traditional values and opens the doors to assorted evils. This conviction, although often poorly articulated, has ample historical precedent and should be taken seriously. The same naive and horrified biologists, of course, continue to lament this misapplication of the theory and accuse Darwin’s critics of muddled thinking. But the truth is that Darwinism emerged in a socially complex milieu and has been socially embedded ever since. To understand the enduring intensity of America’s reaction to Darwinism, we must acknowledge the significance of this history, not dismiss it as a trivial aberration. (69)

THE FINAL SOLUTION. I hasten to point out that the connection between Darwinism and movements like Nazism is not casual, as some shrill anti-evolutionary pundits like Ann Coulter claim. Aryan Germans were not happily playing soccer and eating bagels with Jewish Germans until Darwin convinced them this was a bad idea. The connection is, rather, one of rhetorical and rationalization. It is rhetorical in the sense that dumb ideas play better when dressed in fine clothes. (77)

It is rationalization in the sense that conclusions already embraced rest easier on one’s conscience if supported by some thread of rational argument, no matter how thin. The relevance of these considerations, however, is not that Darwinism leads somehow to dreadful social policies. The point is, rather, that Darwinism has been, for all of its short life, hanging out in some rather terrible company and has now got a reputation. (78)

This tragic chapter in German history that scholars are still trying to understand. But one thing is crystal clear: the Holocaust would have happened with or without Charles Darwin. There can be no doubt, however, that the Nazi campaign against the Jews was assisted via rhetoric and rationalization with arguments from social Darwinism. (79)

UNHAPPY BEDFELLOWS. Few ideas upset contemporary sensibilities more than the suggestion that intelligence varies by race. (79-80)

Thoughtful evolutionists hasten to point out that no necessary connection exists between biological evolution, which provides descriptive explanations of how nature works, and social Darwinism, which suggest prescriptive guidelines for how society should behave. (80)

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that such extensions are warranted, perhaps int he service of some “greater good.” We immediately face a host of ambiguities. How do we actually apply Darwinian principles to social behaviors? Consider the relatively benign world of capitalism, with iPods, Toyotas, and dishwashers. Applying Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” to resolve the dispute over Apple’s aggressive business practices, for example, is far from straightforward. (80)

Social Darwinism turns out to be almost useless when you actually try to do something with it. Many ideologically driven decisions have to be made before you can even apply it. As a result, it ends up being little more than a bogus appeal to science to rationalize an agenda already embraced for other reasons. (81)

CONCLUSIONS. Right or wrong, but mainly wrong, evolution continues to be connected to far more than the historical origin of species. And these connections exacerbate whatever concerns people might have about whether evolution is actually “true.” Believing something is false is much easier when you desperately want it to be false. (81)

From Dayton, Tennessee, where John Scopes stood trial for teaching evolution, to Dover, Pennsylvania, where a local school board tried to wriggle intelligent design into the curriculum, evolution has had a nearly permanent home in America’s courtrooms. (84)

Chapter 4: The Never Ending Closing Argument

America’s great divide over creation and evolution is a complex cultural phenomenon, largely because of the way power is distributed in America. The power divide establishes a significant distance between ordinary people, of which there are many, and elite leaders, of which there are few. (92)

EQUAL TIME. Separation of church and state is an endless negotiation in America. (93)

…science had moved steadily forward, while anti-evolutionary sentiment ran in place on a treadmill powered by nineteenth-century arguments. (95)

THE MIGHTY ACT OF ARKANSAS. The creation scientists who were called made it clear that their primary allegiance was to the Bible, not to science. And, although they were confident the two could not conflict, they would set aside scientific findings that disagreed with a literal reading of the Bible. (102)

BYE-BYE BIRDIE. As a noble as it might seem to “balance” education, the reality was that creation science was nothing but a tiny intellectual backwater championed by a handful of minor fundamentalist scientists. If every tiny opposing viewpoint received the equal time that Louisiana wanted for creation science, the public schools would be opening their doors to astrology, Holocaust denial, alien visitation, and countless other preposterous topics. | The long history of creation science revealed its thoroughly religious pedigree. Unlike evolution, whose adherents include many Christians of almost every variety as well as agnostics and outspoken atheists, creation-science adherents were almost exclusively fundamentalist Christians. This was not a coincidence and support for creationism has consistently been driven by a particular enthusiasm for biblical literalism, not scientific data. Furthermore, creationism has scant support among educated theologians and biblical scholars. (109)

CREATIONISM IN DESIGNER CLOTHING. Dover was a disaster for ID. (113)

Such duplicity plagued the defense to the point that Judge Jones actually got angry and started asking questions. In his decision he made reference to these “flagrant and insulting falsehoods,” noting as “ironic” the contradiction between defendants who “staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public,” but then in the trial would “time and again lie to cover their tracks.” (114)

The support for ID in Dover was rooted in local fundamentalist fervor and started not with concern about science in the schools, but concern about the absence of religion. Several board members admitted knowing nothing about ID other than that getting it into the schools would undermine evolution and advance creation. (116)

THE NEVER ENDING TRIAL. But Americans have never been eager or even willing to be led by intellectual elites. A simple commonsense argument by someone you trust is worth more than the pompous pronouncements of an entire university of condescending eggheads. America is a nation that loves cowboys, and cowboys don’t need experts telling them what to think. (119)

Chapter 5: The Emperor’s New Science

Progressive creationism was the idea that God created the world and its life-forms gradually, along the trajectory disclosed in the fossil record and with methods similar to those described by evolution. (132)

In the decades that span this transformation, there were no scientific discoveries undermining the great age of the earth; no new books were added to the Bible; no advances in biblical interpretation suggested more literal readings of Genesis. And yet millions of American fundamentalists changed their minds about the age of the earth. (132)

THE PUPKINIZATION OF AMERICAN EVANGELICALISM. The Genesis Flood was intellectually disastrous on two fronts. …For almost two thousand years virtually nobody made a big deal about the age of the earth or the details of the flood. … A broad range of acceptable positions on this topic collapsed into one. “Creationism” lost almost all of its traditional theological meaning and became a political label attached to Christians who reject evolution and embrace a young earth and worldwide flood. (138)

FIVE DECADES OF “FLOODING”. The Genesis Flood became “brand-name creationism” and created the paradigm for almost all subsequent developments in the creation-evolution controversy. (138)

CREATION GOES GLOBAL. The discussion of young-earth creationism is now an in-house conversation, reaching few Americans outside of the evangelical subculture. (144)

Chapter 6: Creationism Evolves into Intelligent Design

Not a single scientific paper explicitly promoting any aspect of this brand of creationism has been published in a scientific journal. Not even one. (145)

Apparently, some creationists believe there is no such thing as a wrong argument against evolution. (146)

The parade of evidence continued, until there was hardly a single creationist claim that retained even a shred of scientific credibility. (146)

The rhetorical power of claims that evolutionists can’t defend their own theory, even with a $250,000 incentive, makes it appear that evolution must indeed be dying. Perhaps it never had much life in the first place. It is thus not surprising that creationists love to claim that evolution is gradually being abandoned. (148)

REASON IN THE BALANCE. Phillip Johnson was convinced that the issue was not evolution per se, but rather the pervasive and dogmatic naturalism of science. (149)

THE WEDGE OF NATURALISM. The rapid emergence of ID as a cultural phenomenon has been nothing less than astonishing. … ID, like the creationism it was intentionally replacing, rode the same wave of anti-evolutionism that took creationism to the Supreme Court. This time, however, the energy came from a more intellectually sophisticated demographic. Flakey, fringe creationists like Carl Baugh and Ken Hovind were nowhere in sight. (153)

THE SEDUCTIVE POWER OF DESIGN ARGUMENTS. Design arguments are, in fact, logically attractive on many levels, practical, scientific, and even religious. They “feel” right, as if they somehow have to be true, and therein lies their attraction. And the ID proponents are indeed correct that people make judgments all the time about design. (154)

The claim that complex and interesting natural phenomena reveal the handiwork of God is indeed compelling and perennially attractive. However, although I wish it were true, it must be rejected. (155)

WHY THE ID ARGUMENT FAILS. From my perspective, ID must be rejected on two completely separate grounds. In the first place, ID doesn’t work scientifically. … In the second place, ID is theologically problematic. (156)

Scientific theories without effective explanatory power and unproductive scientific approaches are rejected because they are useless. (158)

The publicity surrounding the creation-evolution controversy can easily blind us to the reality that the majority of work in science has absolutely nothing to do with origins and thus couldn’t make use of ID, even if it wanted to. … The second reason I reject ID is theological. I think ID makes dangerous and incoherent claims about God that create far more problems than they solve. (160)

In the first place, the God of Christianity has to be way more than just a designer. … Are not compassion and grace far more central to understanding God than design? … And, although “designer” can certainly be one of these facets, it takes a backseat to God’s other attributes such as love, wisdom, and grace. (161)

Much of nature exhibits impressive levels of design. But so do torture chambers, gun factories, and liposuction machines. Design, even intelligent design, is not automatically desirable. Promoting “design” in isolation from God’s other attributes is a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating way to get God back into science. Christianity will be far better off if ID fails. (162)

NORENE’S KNEES. Even if we can somehow convince ourselves that “intelligently designed mechanisms for doing terrible things” should be explained as the handiwork of God, there is an even more serious problem: bad design. (162)

The human body is riddled with design problems. (163)

Chapter 7: How to be Stupid, Wicked, and Insane

Evolution is the most culturally complex and controversial idea in all of science. (165)

Teaching evolution is almost impossible. In no other subject, even outside of science, is the primary challenge whether the students believe what is taught, rather than understand what is taught. (165)

A TALE OF TWO WORDS. Decades of reflecting on the evolution controversy convinces me that the conflict is only tangentially scientific. Those who would adjudicate this dispute by appealing to science are wasting their time. The conflict is not about determining the proper inferences to draw from fossils, genes, and comparative anatomy. The conflict resides at the much deeper and far more important level of worldview. It centers on one simple question: Can there be any role at all for God in our own creation story? (166)

Hysterical overreactions to trivia are the signature of conflicts with high stakes. Benefits accruing to one side must be opposed, not because they are wrong or even significant, but simply because anything that strengthens the “enemy” is bad. (167)

For starters, nobody understands the trajectory of evolution well enough to make unpredictability a part of its definition. (167)

What was going on here? … The answer is, quite simply, that evolution has become the focal point of a culture war, which means that the goal of the protagonists is to win, not to discover the truth. (172)

EVOLUTION’S PERENNIAL CULTURE WAR. For all of its history, as we have seen in earlier chapters, evolution has been embedded in larger and often more substantial agendas than simply the history of life on this planet. (173)

EVOLUTION AS RELIGION. Evolution now provides a rich and satisfying creation story — a scientific myth displacing the religious origins myth in the Bible. Evolution offers a source of meaning and an explanation for good and evil. | Is it any wonder that evolution and creation are locked in mortal combat? (174)

Now, if all that Dawkins and company were doing was popularizing science, there would be no cause for alarm. But an examination of the writings of this group reveals a larger agenda, one of breathtaking scope and ambition. …we find suggestions that science should replace religion. (175)

THE CULTURE WAR. The controversy is about the larger question of who decides what the nature of ultimate reality is. (182)

Chapter 8: Evolution and Physics Envy

In this chapter I want to spotlight evolutionary theory’s remarkable capacity to unite disparate observations of the natural world. Seemingly unrelated patters in nature become part of a coordinated package when brought under the explanatory umbrella of evolution, although not exactly in the simple and elegant way that Popper would have preferred. (186)

THE STORY OF EVOLUTION. Evolution is a solid and robust scientific theory, because it explains many things about the world and relates countless otherwise disconnected facts to each other. It is not a science because it resembles physics. Evolution is a messy theory, however, with a history of dumb mistakes, serious errors, occasional fraud, and overconfident assertions. When its problems are gathered and packaged by clever polemicists like Phillip Johnson, Ken Ham, or the late Henry Morris, evolution comes off looking rather pale. Such a judgment, however, is uninformed. To be sure, the theory of evolution does indeed have problems, but these are little more than tiny holes in a vast tapestry of compelling explanation. (189)

The convergence of so many unrelated lines of investigation is a compelling argument for the truth of evolution. (190)

HAS THE JURY REACHED A VERDICT? The claim that evolution has no facts supporting it is quite ridiculous. We can argue, to be sure, that the facts might be interpreted in some other way; but to claim that there are no such facts is absurd. Books written by those who make such claims should be read for nothing more than their entertainment value. | The theory of evolution is a vast and complicated network of interlocking explanatory concepts tying together everything from the age of fossil bones to similarities between human and chimp DNA. There is, quite simply, a mountain of evidence from multiple sources supporting evolution. Organized by evolutionary theory, this mountain of evidence becomes a comprehensible and manageable landscape. Without evolutionary theory, it disappears into the clouds, a hidden and impenetrable mystery of unexplained patterns. (194)

  • The fossil record
  • Biogeography
  • Comparative anatomy
  • Developmental similarities
  • Comparative biochemistry/physiology

THE FOSSIL RECORD. To be sure there are still gaps in the fossil record, but enthusiastically pointing them out has become a bit like crying “wolf.” | Hundred of thousands of fossils now demonstrate transitions from one life-form to another. (197)

Human evolution is so clearly on display in the fossil record now that one paleontologist has called it “the creationists’ worst nightmare.” (197)

EVIDENCE FROM GENETICS. Because multiple independent lines of evidence support evolution, it is instructive to compare the conclusions on one line of evidence with another. … But when independent lines of evidence converge, like in a rock-solid court case, the conclusion becomes quite irresistible. (201

CONCLUSION. Evolution unites the disparate data surveyed above in ways that creationism simply cannot. (204)

Creationism offers virtually no alternative explanations, and most of its “evidence” is nothing more than a catalog of small details that don’t fit neatly into the standard evolutionary scenario. Rejecting evolution on the basis of these small details, however, would be like abandoning modern medicine because it can’t cure every illness or declaring that meteorology is not a science because weather forecasts are sometimes unreliable. (204)

Evolution as an explanation for the history and diversity of life on this planet is, quite simply, true. (206)

In the same way that Christians made peace with Galileo’s astronomy, once they stopped trying to disprove it, many have made peace with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some have even found evolution to be a rich resource for theology, a “disguised friend of faith,” in the words of one thoughtful observer. (206)

Conclusion: Pilgrim’s Progress

Darwin joined all of life together in a most magical way and in so doing dismantled the wall that separated humans from the rest of nature. (208)

Darwin may have closed the gap between humans and animals, but he did that by promoting the other species, not demoting ours. (209)

THE GLASS HALF FULL. I am attracted to the idea that God’s signature is not on the engineering marvels of the natural world, but rather on its marvelous creativity and aesthetic depth. (210)

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY. The confident assertions of evolutionists can give the misleading impression that we know everything we need to about the historical details of the process. This is simply not true. Evolution is what we call an undetermined theory, which implies that many of the details are missing and have to be filled in by “connecting the dots.” This underdetermination provides no argument that evolution is a false theory or so weakly supported that rational people should withhold support. It suggests, rather, that we should be careful about making global generalizations about evolution. (211)

To claim, with Gould and Dawkins, that our evolutionary history, our ancestor’s tale, is a long and glorious accident is to make a statement about details that we don’t have. We must resist the tendency to turn our ignorance into a conclusion. Absence of evidence is only rarely evidence of absence. (213)
Meaning is not the conclusion of a scientific investigation. (214)

The connections we draw between the mysteries of our existence and those parts of the world we understand must be drawn always in pencil, in anticipation of being erased. (214)

Charles Darwin challenged the traditional view of creation, to be sure. But the facts of nature were challenging the traditional view long before Darwin came along, if only we had been willing to look more closely. (214)

THE QUESTION. This dichotomy plays well in the press. It’s controversial, combative, and simple. There are good guys and bad guys, no matter where you stand. But this dichotomy is wrong. These are not the only two options. These are not even the most reasonable options. [“Choose evolution” vs. “Choose creation.”] (216)

COMING CLEAN. I think evolution is true. The process, as I reflect on it, is an expression of God’s creativity, although in a way that is not captured by the scientific view of the world. … God’s creative activity must not be confined to a six-day period “in the beginning” or the occasional intervention along the evolutionary path. God’s role in creation must be more universal — so universal that it cannot be circumscribed by the contours of individual phenomena or events. (216)

A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING. Natural history is richly layered in surprising ways. At the deepest level of reality the world is so simple it boggles the mind. There are only four kinds of interactions that occur in nature: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Every event, from a thought in your head, to the chirp of a bird, to the explosion of a distant star, results from these four interactions. | There are only two kinds of physical objects in the world: quarks and leptons. … All natural phenomena, no matter how rich or mundane, result from two kinds of particles interacting via four kinds of interactions. Who could possibly conceptualize the extraordinary creativity of a world built like this? (217)


The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming. There are some striking examples in the laws of nuclear physics of numerical accidents that seem to conspire to make the universe habitable. – Freeman Dyson

When a scientist claims that something occurred by “chance,” that is an admission that there is no explanation. (22)

We shall not cease from exploration…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

— VIA —

As you can tell from the copious notes above, it was really hard to not simply retype the whole book. I consider this one of the most illuminating works out there that really helps one get a proper education on the issue. I endorse this book, especially for Christians who have not studied the issue as starting place. My only quibble with this book would be the subtitle (perhaps chosen by the publishers). This is really not a book on “How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.” It’s more a survey and historical summary of the controversy, ideas, main characters, dramatic turning events, and solid conclusions we can draw from all of that. Perhaps bringing Christianity and evolution together is a by-product, but the value of this book is truly its illumination to the ignorant.

To my brothers and sisters, I contend, if we continue playing the dishonest and prideful game of buttressing our own dogma, and we get this issue wrong, we compromise everything; our faith, the Scriptures, our reputation, our souls. I look forward, with anticipation, in seeing how all of this eventually plays out in our culture.

Huge thanks to Janelle for our copy!