Nevertheless, he takes a dim view of, for example, an argument that reinterprets original sin as the selfishness that drives evolution. I will not go into detail, but this kind of thinking ultimately leads Rosenhouse to conclude that the creationists are essentially correct and that evolution and Christianity are not compatible. In this sense, he has the same narrow view of religion as the creationists – that it is all or nothing – and he risks alienating moderate theists who are otherwise on his side.
Since this is almost the exact opposite of what I say in the book, I do feel the need to clarify a few things.
In the book’s epilogue I summarize my views on compatibility as follows:
In 2001, philosopher Michael Ruse published a book entitled Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? He presented his answer in the book’s epilogue: “Can a Darwinian be a Christian? Absolutely! Is it always easy for a Darwinian to be a Christian? No. but whoever said that the worthwhile things in life are easy?”
Though I have made my own sympathies perfectly clear, I do not propose to give a definitive answer to Ruse’s question. Instead I ask simply that we recognize it as a matter of opinion and not of fact. How you answer depends on what you believe is central to Christian faith and on what you consider it plausible to believe.
Ruse continued with, “Is the Darwinian obligated to be a Christian? No, but try to be understanding of those who are.” I would ask that the same understanding be extended to those who find the reconciliation too difficult to manage. Once you have acknowledged that evolution forces a profound rethinking of traditional faith — and how can you not? — why is it unreasonable to conclude our reappraisal with the finding that one of the two systems must simply give way? (218-219)
With regard to reinterpreting original sin I write (referring to Daryl Domning’s idea that original sin refers to the selfishness inherent in the evolutionary process):
There is no “fact of the matter” regarding the proper understanding of original sin. If Domning, or anyone else, finds it fruitful to view things this way, then it is not for me to tell them they are wrong. Under Domning’s view, however, one can reasonably wonder whether the concept of original sin is making any contribution at all to our understanding of the human condition. It seems that we are just taking a body of knowledge provided by science and attaching a Christian label to it. (172)
This is typical of what I say throughout the book. I really don’t see how I could have been more clear that I don’t think that the question of compatibility is “all or nothing.” It’s a judgment that people have to make for themselves based on whatever Christianity means to them and whatever they think is plausible.
A further example is the conclusion to my chapter on the problem of evil:
This brings to an end our brief tour of evolutionary theodicy. As with most theological questions, we can do no more than consider the arguments on offer and decide for ourselves what we find it plausible to believe. Considering the manifest weaknesses in the attempts we have considered, it is unsurprising that so many people find it impossible to think of Darwinian natural selection as the sort of creative mechanism a loving God would employ. (152)
Whenever I discuss points of conflict between evolution and Christianity I mostly take the same approach. I explain what the problem is, point to possible resolutions offered in the scholarly literature, and then explain my reasons for finding those proposed resolutions unpersuasive. But I also make it clear that there are no definitive answers to be found, and that all such judgments are matters of opinion and not of fact. That’s about as far from “all or nothing” as you can get.
But I’d also like to address Matt’s remark about alienating moderates, since that’s something that really bugs me. Why is it that, in these sorts of discussions, religious moderates are always made to seem like complete ninnies?
Whatever you think of my arguments as presented in the book, I think you would have to agree that I am not polemical or snide or insulting. I am circumspect in all my conclusions. According to Matt, even that’s enough to bring the moderates to tears, and to send them running to the fundamentalists.
It’s bizarre. Could you imagine an atheist saying, “Gosh, I’d like to support quality science education, but I just can’t stand the fact that Ken Miller and Francis Collins write about how evolution strengthens their faith.”? Of course not. So why should it alienate moderates that I believe evolution and Christianity cannot be reconciled in a plausible way? Are they really so delicate? Do they really find it too complicated to say, “I think he’s right about the science and wrong about the religion?” (which is, after all, precisely what people like me say about Collins and Miller.)
The actual religious moderates can handle people like me. There’s really no need to walk on eggshells around them, or to endlessly there-there them when someone like me points out that science and religion don’t really play well together. As for the ones who just can’t abide the thought that someone might demur from their religious views, let me suggest they were never really so moderate to begin with.