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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jerry Coyne Reviews Efforts to Reconcile S&R

Check out Jerry Coyne's robust review of Karl Giberson's book Saving Darwin and Ken Miller's book Only a Theory in The New Republic. Coyne, a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, looks at the ways in which the religious scientists attempt to reconcile science (namely, evolution) and religion, and show others of faith how their beliefs can be compatible with scientific truths. A "proper solution," writes Coyne, "must harmonize science with theism: the concept of a transcendent and eternal god who nonetheless engages the world directly and pays special attention to the real object of divine creation, Homo sapiens. And so we have Karl Giberson and Kenneth Miller, theistic scientists and engaging writers, both demolishing what they see as a false reconciliation—the theory of intelligent design—and offering their own solutions."
Regular readers of this blog will recognize many of the topics Coyne touches on, such as evolutionary inevitability and convergence, the anthropic principle, and multiverse theories. His conclusion: In the end, the authors "fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people's religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims."


Karl W. said...

I was quite appreciative of Coyne's review and think that it contains many valuable critiques of my book, most of which I would have made myself. I would comment though, that he has an enlarged sense of what I was trying to do with Saving Darwin. The subtitle--unfortunately attached to the book against my will by the publisher--gives the impression I am try to produce a "reconciliation" of science and religion,or at least evolution and Christianity. I was not really aiming this high. I was simply arguing for both sides yielding "space" for the other.

I don't think that evolution and Christianity will ever be mutually supportive in the way that, for example, Aristotle's thought and medieval Christianity were mutually supportive. On the other hand, I do think that both evangelical Christianity and Darwinian secularists should be able to pull back and concede a "demilitarized zone" for both to occupy peacefully.

I also think that Coyne fails to adequately appreciate that faith is deeply personal and that people with faith don't always feel the need to reconcile that with the rest of their beliefs. Worldviews, including his, I suspect are complex jumbles of a broad cross-section of ideas, some of which may indeed contradict each other. This is the real world.