Mike Clawson here again…
I must have evolution on the brain or something lately. Anyway, I know that many of you here come from conservative Christian backgrounds, and even if you consider yourself an atheist now, you still have Christian friends and family with whom you interact. Perhaps this past holiday season included heated discussions about religion and science for some of you. Some of you may also know by now that sometimes in these discussions you have to set aside ultimate goals for proximate ones. So, for instance, while you might like for your whole family to stop believing in God altogether, you’d settle for them to just stop being quite so antagonistic towards science and especially toward evolution. If that’s the case, I’d like to recommend a book or two that I have found helpful in persuading my Creationist friends to not reject evolution out of hand.
The first is Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology and Biblical Interpretation by Stephen Godfrey and Christopher Smith. It was written by two brothers-in-law, one of whom happens to be a Christian paleontologist (Dr. Godfrey) and the other a pastor and biblical scholar (Dr. Smith). Both describe their personal journey’s from literal six-day Creationism to an acceptance of evolutionary science and a more nuanced understanding of the Biblical texts. Godfrey does an excellent job of describing the science and showing why it doesn’t have to be seen as a direct challenge to Christian belief. Likewise, Smith talks about how his background in literary studies helped him come to a new way of reading and understanding the Bible in relation to the question of cosmology and natural origins – a way that makes room for things like an old earth and evolution, while still remaining faithful to the Bible as it was written.
One of the most insightful observations of the book for me, in fact, was when Dr. Smith pointed out that while the Genesis accounts were not ever meant to be read primarily as a factual, scientific description of the origin of the universe, nonetheless, the cosmology they describe actually is fairly “scientifically sound” for its day. In other words, given the kind of observations it would have been possible for ancient near eastern writers to have made about the world in 1000 BCE (or 1500 or 500 BCE, depending on when you think that section of Genesis was first composed), the biblical cosmology is not too bad. The people of that day were looking at the world and reaching the best description that they could with the instruments and set of knowledge that they had at the time. And isn’t that all science ever does? I mean, it’s not like the scientific descriptions we have today are complete either. They’re simply the best descriptions we have so far, given the instruments and set of knowledge we currently have. At any rate, Smith makes a convincing argument that the purpose of the Biblical accounts is not to convey scientific information anyway, and that six-day Creationist Christians misunderstand the point of the text when they try to make it answer those questions.
Once again, however, the point of a book like this is to convince fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians that they can believe in both the Bible and evolution. If you’re not interested in that goal; if you’ll accept nothing short of getting your Christian friends and family to stop believing in the Bible altogether, then this book will be of no use to you. But if you’re willing to settle for lesser objectives and intermediate steps, or if you simply want to help win more supporters to the cause of good science regardless of their religious views, this can be a very helpful book.
Another book in a similar vein by Daniel M. Harrell is Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith. I’m currently reading it as a blog reviewer for my friends at Abingdon Press, so I’ll have a fuller review later, but, like the previous book, it also encourages Christians to see evolution as an ally, not an enemy. Harrell argues that if one believes that God exists, and is the Creator of all else that exists, then whatever that creation can tell us about itself (i.e. whatever we discover through science, evolution for instance) helps us understand more about God. Once again, however, he is writing for Christians who already believe in God’s existence, so you won’t find much in the way of apologetics aimed at convincing atheists (indeed Harrell freely admits to his doubts about theism and acknowledges that faith is not certainty). The apologetics in this book, rather, are pro-evolution and aimed at conservative Christians. So once again, if you think you probably won’t be able to convince your religious friends to give up their faith, but might be able to convince them to give up their antipathy towards science, this is a good book to pass along.
Hope y’all find these resources helpful.