On the birthday of Charles Darwin, I want to discuss a book that I mainly started reading for the subtitle: Living with God and Darwin. I have always been around a lot of people who live with God and others who live with Darwin. But I have been a little short on people who are both believing and at home in evolutionary biology. The author of this book is such a person. His name is Charles Foster and the book is called The Selfless Gene.
Darwin, the man from Kent who devoted himself to the breeding of pigeons to work out his scientific ideas. Evolution was already the prevailing model in biology at that time. Darwin’s contribution was the idea of natural selection. Forced to publish becaus A. R. Wallace had independently come to a similar theory , he compiled his notes in 1859 under the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin had no knowledge about genetics, and thus could not explain exactly how heredity worked. This took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century, also in combination with old publications of the geneticist Mendel (1866).
Natural selection occurs because there is genetic variation. This variation is partly due to mutations and sexual reproduction. If it provides an organism with a characteristic that gives it advantage in the ‘struggle for life’, it has a higher survival rate aus a greater chance to pass on this feature to its progeny.
Foster gives an overview of the history of creationism, the mostly American movement that propagates a creation in 7 times 24 hours and a young earth. Then he mentions Richard Dawkins, the prophet of natural selection. In his book The Selfish Gene, he provides the general public with an impression of evolutionary that most scientist don’t subscribe to. He cannot be called a “Darwinian fundamentalist”, because Darwin has repeatedly stated that natural selection is not the only means of modification (as in the quote above).
Creationists are an easy target for Dawkins because they do not take science seriously. All fossils, all organisms living today, point consistently to an evolutionary movement. As in every field, there is scientific debate, but the wild creationist theories clearly don’t fall under that category: There is not a single case of a creationist article published in a peer-reviewed journal. To be honest, I find it outrageous that during the ‘EH-Basisjaar’ it was explained to us how the geological strata are caused by the Noahic flood. Tinkering with the truth is not a Christian attitude. It harms the image of Christians in general.
The author concludes that there is a lot of agreement between the creationists and Dawkins. Both believe in one simple idea that explains everything. Both are also convinced that the theory of evolution by natural selection excludes the existence of God. With their best-selling publications, they keep each other alive.
Foster continues with a discussion of the scientific evidence for and against the two positions. En passant, he declares the Intelligent Design theory disguised creationism. A chapter on altruism provides the first ingredients for the argument of this book: Natural selection, although the strongest, is not the only force in evolution. There is also a force that promotes collaboration and community. Increasing complexity means growing co-operation, within the individual and between individuals.
The following is a (for me somewhat too) comprehensive chapter on the interpretation of Genesis 1 with references such as Origen and Calvin. The perceived centrality of creationism to Christian teaching is recent.
In the second part of the book, the more interesting questions are addressed. What does it say about God that he made the world using natural selection? And how we look at ourselves, what makes us moral beings? This post is already too long, so that is for next week.