How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals reflect on faith and science
Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, editors
Church Times Bookshop £9.90
Reason and Wonder: Why science and faith need each other
Eric Priest, editor
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
CONSERVATIVE Evangelicals have had a tough time of it over the past couple of hundred years. Confronted by all the evidence for deep time and an evolving world of life-forms, they have had to defend a young-earth interpretation of Genesis claiming that creation began less than 10,000 years ago.
They have had to contend with fraudulent claims, made by their own camp, that fossilised human footprints have been discovered alongside those of dinosaurs in Texas; they have struggled to explain how the sloth found its way to South America from Noah’s ark on Ararat; they have been encouraged to argue that ancient fossils were buried by Satan to lead evolutionary scientists astray; and they fervently deny the evidence of carbon dating on earth, and the awe-inspiring discoveries of an ancient universe by astrophysicists.
It would be easy, and smug, to mock the elaborate mental contortions that conservative fundamentalists have had to make to defend their literal reading of Genesis — but that would be neither loving nor helpful. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution, a product of the BioLogos Foundation, is, therefore, a welcome contribution to the growing corpus of books on science and faith.
Twenty-five memoirs reveal how a diverse collection of Evangelical academics made their own journeys from a state of cognitive dissonance which pitted the Bible against evolution to the discovery of wonder and worship through science in a vast and evolving universe.
Fear of the erosion of their biblical faith makes their various pilgrimages hard going. But, as they emerge, faith intact, from the constraints of their fundamentalist backgrounds, the relief and delight that they experience is clearly apparent. For many, the discovery is that scientific research can be a Christian vocation — and the ability to admit sometimes that “I don’t know” comes as a welcome alternative to certainty.
For some, the way forward to a more nuanced reading of scripture has been helped by encountering the works of C. S. Lewis. For others, it has been a careful study of the genetics of the fruit-fly which has led to their enlightenment. An astronomer acknowledges that she cannot answer all the questions about God raised by accepting, as fact, that the universe is more than 13 billion years old. Her excellent advice to Evangelical church groups who plan to debate the role of science is that they should start with praise for the God of creation.
The contributors to the volume Reason and Wonder (most of them with professorial posts) come with the highest possible credentials in philosophy, paediatrics, biology, astronomy, mathematics, psychology, and theology. The aim in their various essays is to explore the broad field of science and religion, in an integrated approach, whether they are marvelling at the heavens, questioning miracles, or contemplating evolution and evil. Theology and science need each other.
It is not possible in a short review to delve into all the fascinating realms that the writers survey, or consider the many probing questions that accompany every chapter. The essay by John Wyatt, for example, with its question “What does it mean to be a person?” deserves a review to itself. Conservative Evangelicals agonised about, then denied, the implications of evolutionary theory that humans are connected by descent to non-human ancestors. In the post-fundamentalist era of faith, the question has become greatly more interesting.
Wyatt’s fruitful suggestion is that reality cannot be defined merely in terms of matter and energy, but that the personal is a basic category of reality. Without this theological reflection, scientific accounts of the evolving universe are sterile.
The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.