Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today
Spencer (Nick) & Alexander (Denis)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Author’s Synopsis

  1. Rescuing Darwin argues that Darwin and his theory have become caught in the crossfire of a philosophical and theological battle in which he himself had little personal interest.
  2. On the one side stands a handful of modern Darwinians who insist that evolution has killed God and ideas of design, purpose, morality and humanity. On the other side are their mainly, but not exclusively, religious opponents who, unwilling to adopt such a bleak vision, cite Genesis and Intelligent Design as evidence of evolution's deficiency.

Contents
    Introduction
  1. Darwin and God
  2. God after Darwin
  3. Darwin today
  4. Darwin in the crossfire
  5. Rescuing Darwin
    Conclusion

BOOK COMMENT:



"Spencer (Nick) & Alexander (Denis) - Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today"

Source: Spencer (Nick) & Alexander (Denis) - Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today


The text below is a collection of quotations and section headings. As it’s not original to me, I’ve coloured it as by “other authors”.

Introduction
  • Only 37% of people in the UK believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution is “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Chapter 1 - Darwin and God
  • “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.”
  • Before the Beagle
  • “Dear Charles I hope you read the bible and not only because you think it wrong not to read it.”
  • The view from the Beagle
  • The origin of The Origin
  • The death of a daughter
  • Deistic theism
  • The death of an agnostic

Chapter 2 - God after Darwin
  • “Just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that He created primal forms capable of self-development…as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas [gaps] which He Himself had made.” (Charles Kingsley)
  • The Oxford debate of 1860
  • ”There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law…For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God.” (Aubrey Moore)
  • The reception of evolution in North America
  • Evolution was popularised in North America largely by Christian academics.
  • Virtually every American Protestant zoologist and botanist accepted some form of evolution by the early 1870s.
  • Darwinism in the twentieth century
  • “From the earliest times, evolution was understood - and sometimes rejected - as a philosophical, social or political theory, rather than simply a biological one.”
  • Fundamentalism and Darwin
  • “Many of the early “fundamentalists” actually held to evolution.”
  • The twentieth century and the rise of creationism
  • Conclusion

Chapter 3 - Darwin today
  • Research in the USA
  • “Nearly half the US population maintains anti-Darwinian beliefs.”
  • “Today, 41% of Americans still think that parents, not scientists or teachers, should have the final say as to whether and how evolution is taught in schools.”
  • Research in the UK
  • Young earth creationism
  • “17% of people agreed with the statement that “humans were created by God some time within the last 10,000 years”.”
  • Intelligent design
  • “Just over one in ten (11%) of the sample agreed with the statement, “humans evolved by a process of evolution which required the special intervention of God or a higher power at key stages.””
  • Evolution
  • “Just over a third of respondents (37%) agreed that “humans evolved by a process of evolution which removes any need for God”.”
  • “When presented with a definition of theistic evolution 12% of people said they thought it was definitely true and 32% said it was probably true.”
  • Conclusion

Chapter 4 - Darwin in the crossfire
  • “Around 20 million adults are more or less ill-disposed towards Darwinian evolution.
  • A bleak vision
  • “Darwinian evolution has become associated with a massively reductive agenda, a kind of systematic “nothing-buttery”.”
  • Intelligent Design
  • “That Dawkins’ work should have been the trigger for the ID movement is somewhat ironic.”
  • The historical background to design arguments
  • “Like a rare clock…where all things are so skilfully contrived, that the engine being once set a-moving, all things proceed, according to the artificer's first design…by virtue of the general and primitive contrivance of the whole engine.” (Robert Boyle)
  • The contemporary ID movement
  • “ID is not the same as creationism, as ID proponents specifically reject appeals to religious texts as a source for their beliefs.”
  • Intelligent Design: a critique
  • “ID has none of the characteristics that make it recognisable as science.”
  • “In truth, ID looks rather like the old “god-of-the-gaps” argument.”
  • Conclusion
  • “Recent decades have seen Darwinian evolution emerge dressed in a new outfit: a reductionist philosophy that reduces morality to self-interest, agency to an illusion, hope to a fantasy, and humans to an irrelevance.”

Chapter 5 - Rescuing Darwin
  • Genesis in history
  • “Writing in the third century, the theologian Origen was scornful of those who read the opening chapter literally.”
  • “What man of intelligence, I ask, will consider that the first and second and the third day, in which there are said to be both morning and evening, existed without sun and moon and stars, while the first day was even without a heaven? And who could be found so silly as to believe that God, after the manner of a farmer “planted trees in a paradise eastward in Eden”…I do not think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history.” (Origen)
  • “Augustine was particularly hard on those who damaged the Bible’s credibility by using it ignorantly to pronounce on unrelated issues.”
  • “It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics … [Such] reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” (Augustine)
  • “Early Jewish commentaries on Genesis favoured symbolic readings of the early chapters.”
  • Genesis today
  • “When we read the early chapters of Genesis carefully what emerges is “a conscious and deliberate anti-mythical polemic which meant an undermining of the prevailing mythological cosmologies.”
  • “In stating the conditions in which the cosmos existed before God commanded that light should spring forth, the author of Genesis rejected explicitly contemporary mythological notions by using the term tehôm, whose cognates are deeply mythological in their usage in ancient Near Eastern creation speculations, in such a way that it is not only non-mythical in content but anti mythical in purpose…It appears inescapable to recognize here again a conscious polemic against the battle myth. (Gerhard Hasel)
  • “Genesis 1-3 is no more a “scientific” account of how life developed, than the Torah is a study of ethical origins.”
  • “The atheistic interpretation of evolution is based on a fundamental misunderstanding about the aims and scope of science.”
  • Rescuing evolution
  • “Reductionism is essential as a methodological approach in science.”
  • Understanding science
    1. Science, in its methodologies, excludes questions of ultimate purpose, value and significance. By contrast, Aristotelian science included final causality1 as one of the explanatory features of nature. As we have already noted, empirical science only really began to take off in the 16th and 17th centuries as it became more modest in its ambitions and began to exclude the consideration of final causes.
    2. Science looks for testable hypotheses.
    3. Science aims at formulating generalisations about the properties of things whenever possible, the highest levels of which are called “laws”.
    4. Science values mathematics highly and incorporates mathematical assessment whenever appropriate and feasible.
    5. Science aims at objectivity and downplays the role of the scientific observer, deliberately excluding the personal.
    6. Scientific knowledge aims to be publicly observable and repeatable. It is only taken seriously within the scientific community following publication in peer-reviewed journals. In a sense, you can define science by what is contained within the pages of scientific journals.
  • “The Astonishing Hypothesis is that ‘You’, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Francis Crick)
  • “The problem with this ultra-reductionist view of science is that it sees the scientific story as the only story worth telling.”
  • “Science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.” (Stephen Jay Gould)
  • “The theory of evolution by natural selection is a supremely elegant and parsimonious explanation of the relevant biological data. But it cannot adjudicate on the existence of God any more than it can on the reasons for the Battle of Hastings, the literary merits of Paradise Lost, or formation of the Andromeda Galaxy.”
  • “The theory of evolution is quite rightly called the greatest unifying theory in biology. The diversity of organisms, similarities and differences between kinds of organisms, patterns of distribution and behaviour, adaptation and interaction, all this was merely a bewildering chaos of facts until given meaning by the evolutionary theory.” (Ernst Mayr)
  • Are theism and evolution compatible?
  • “The objection that evolution is a “wasteful” process doesn’t bear close examination.”
  • ““Wasteful” is a slippery and subjective word, and we need to be very careful to avoid inappropriate and over-sentimental anthropomorphisms when using it.”
  • [It is] now widely thought that the history of life is little more than a contingent muddle punctuated by disastrous mass extinctions that in spelling the doom of one group so open the doors of opportunity to some other mob of lucky chancers…Rerun the tape of the history of life…and the end result will be an utterly different biosphere. Most notably there will be nothing remotely like a human.
    … Yet this, he observes, is badly wrong.
  • “What we know of evolution suggests the exact reverse: convergence is ubiquitous and the constraints of life make the emergence of the various biological properties [e.g. intelligence] very probable, if not inevitable.”
  • “Pain is essential for our survival. Without it we would be munching on broken glass, walking on broken legs, and ignoring disastrous infections.”
  • “Theists do not derive their theology solely from studying nature. They recognise another source of legitimate “data”.”
  • “The present world is a place in which we grow morally and spiritually, where suffering is not final, but can be healed and redeemed; a place where love rather than death has the final word.”
  • “Christians understand the primary location of God’s revealing Word to be the history of God’s people and above all the history of Jesus Christ, whom we acknowledge as the Word made flesh, to which the Bible is the authoritative and irreplaceable witness.” (Rowan Williams)

Conclusion
  • “One word more on “designed laws” & “undesigned results”. I see a bird which I want for food, take my gun & kill it, I do this designedly. - An innocent & good man stands under tree & is killed by flash of lightning. Do you believe (& I really sh[oul]d like to hear) that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this; I can't & don’t.” (Darwin to Asa Gray)
  • “For all that he was unable to reconcile evolution by natural selection with his understanding of God, Darwin was equally unconvinced by the idea of a “blind, brute” universe.”
  • “In their correspondence we see everything that the debate surrounding evolution and God should be, and everything it has lost. The protagonists are gracious, respectful and thoughtful. They are persuaded of their own views but open to criticism. They occupy the middle ground between aggressive atheism and dogmatic religiosity, and explore possibilities without rancour or ill-feeling.”


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