Over at Huffington Post, Denis Alexander hawks his new book Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Darwin, coedited by Ronald Numbers. It features an essay by Alister McGrath entitled, “Evolutionary Biology in Recent Atheist Apologetics.” McGrath, if you are unfamiliar with him, is a Christian apologist whose most recent book is a defense of the notion of heresy. It features a foreword from Rick Warren, who writes, “We know that truth is eternal and unchanging. If it’s true, it’s not new.” Charming. Somehow McGrath is not someone I trust to lecture me about the perils of ideology.
Alexander’s essay has its interesting points, but it is really the following on which I want to comment:
In the hands of Prof. Richard Dawkins, evolution becomes an ultra-Darwinian philosophy in rivalry with the idea of creation. Dawkins argues that there are at present only three possible ways of seeing the world: Darwinism, Lamarckism, or God. The last two fail to explain the world adequately; the only option is therefore Darwinism. In such claims, McGrath notes, evolution becomes exalted to a metanarrative, infused with the ideological rhetoric of atheism.
The ideological uses and abuses of science are bad for science education, because so often the science gets lost in the rhetoric. They are also bad for religion, because scientific theories are always provisional, open to refutation, and simply not up to the herculean task of refereeing between pro- or anti-religious arguments. Darwinian evolution, for example, just happens to be the inference to the best explanation for the origins of all the biological diversity on planet earth. It’s a stunningly successful theory, but it’s best just to let scientific theories do the job that they’re good at, and not invest them with ideologies that have nothing to do with the science.
My personal library contains many volumes claiming to reconcile evolution with Christianity. They have titles like Finding Darwin’s God, God After Darwin, The Language of God and Thank God for Evolution. I wonder if McGrath or Alexander believe that these books represent ill-considered attempts to fuse science with ideology. Why do I get the impression that attempts to unite evolution and Christianity are fine with them, while arguing that evolution and atheism are a better match is somehow illegitimate? Evolution used in defense of atheism is ideology. Evolution used in defense of Christianity, by contrast, is just dandy.
Alexander’s plea that we send science and religion to their respective corners is a very common one. Sadly, it is completely unworkable. It is not because of Richard Dawkins that people think that evolution poses serious challenges to Christianity. People think that because it is true. It would have to be an incredibly unreflective sort of religious faith that just shrugs its shoulders at Darwin. There is a reason there is such a vast literature by Christian apologists attempting to place the round peg of evolution into the square hole of Christianity. Certainly if they are to be permitted to make the attempt, it is equally permissible for the rest of us to point out their arguments aren’t very good.