Seemingly, religion, or at least religion based on the Bible, is incompatible with evolution. The Bible contains two creation stories: Genesis 1.1-2.4a and 2.4b-25. According to the first story, God created all life within four days (days three to six of Creation). Species did not evolve separately over tens of thousands of years, with some species dying out and others emerging. Rather, all species that have existed or will exist were created in four days, separately from one another, and presumably have never died out.
Human beings were created last and, in conformity with evolution, are the most advanced of all animals. But they were created independently of all other living things, will never be succeeded by a more advanced species, and from the outset were created in their present form.
According to the second creation story, God created humans before he created most other living things. He put humans, or the first human, in a single place, Eden, where snakes as well as plants were also to be found. A big change in humans did occur, but it occurred within Eden, and it was more psychological than physical. Humans today are no different from Adam and Eve.
Mary Kathleen Cunningham has amassed 25 selections representing the array of responses to the biblical accounts. With succinct and lucid introductions to each section, she takes us through authorities who stress the similarities between religion and science, those who explain what evolutionary theory does and does not establish, those who deny evolution in the name of the Bible, those who espouse intelligent design rather than creationism, those who take evolution to be the explanation of everything human, those who limit evolution to biology, those who rephrase traditional religious beliefs in evolutionary terms, and finally those who replace traditional religious beliefs with ones compatible with evolution.
Cunningham's authorities hail from history, philosophy, science and theology. Among them are Mary Midgley, Michael Ruse, and Daniel Dennett (philosophy); Ronald Numbers (history); Richard Dawkins and Francis Ayala (science); and Ian Barbour, Sally McFague, Jurgen Moltmann, and Gordon Kaufman (theology).
All contributing theologians take for granted that the war between science and religion is over and science has won. If it is to survive as an intellectual enterprise, religion must do other than explain why cows give milk.
One new job that religion has commonly assigned itself is that of ethics. Because science does not prescribe, religion as ethics is safe from competition with science. Of course, religion faces competition here, too, but from secular ethics rather than from science. At the same time religion as ethics is as old as the Ten Commandments, so that religion as ethics is less a new job than a fallback to a second old job.
Not one of the theologians in this collection opts for ethics as the proper task of religion. All want to retain a link between religion and the physical world. But if religion cannot explain why cows give milk, what can it do in the world? The theologians all give the same answer: finding metaphors for God's involvement in the world, even though He is not literally involved. As theologian John Haught puts it: "Thus, in theology's conversations with contemporary science, it is more helpful to think of God as the infinitely generous ground of new possibilities for world-becoming than as a 'designer' or 'planner' who has mapped out the world in every detail from some indefinitely remote point in the past."
Want to know why cows give milk? Turn to science. Want to know how the provision of milk attests to the solicitousness of a God who in no way causes cows to give milk? Turn to theology.
Robert A. Segal is professor of religious studies, Aberdeen University.
God and Evolution: A Reader
Editor - Mary Kathleen Cunningham
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 408
Price - £65.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 9780415380133 and 0140