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Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist

4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1597260985
ISBN-10: 1597260983
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Roughgarden, a Stanford biology professor and author of Evolution's Rainbow, is impatient with the current tone of creation/evolution debates, but takes them seriously as an expression of a "pent-up urge for talking about God" in American public life. Attentive to "the spiritual yearning of people that compels them to overlook the evidence" if evolution is portrayed as an enemy of faith, Roughgarden urges science educators to show "more sympathy and willingness to accommodate people of faith, to offer space for seeing a Christian vision of the world within evolutionary biology." The book's main argument is that a suitably flexible reading of the Bible and Darwin bears out common, or at least compatible, themes, and that evolution can be read within a broader perspective of divine design. Roughgarden sees room in the biblical account for the common ancestry of all life on Earth, as well as the possibility that evolution is "guided by the hand of God, even if the mutation process is random" as described by Darwinian theory. While the book occasionally overreaches in attempts to have things both ways—or so it will seem to controversialists on either side—readers who see a role for both evolution and divine creation will appreciate Roughgarden's attempt to stake out a common ground that does not feel like a compromise. (Aug.)
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"Clear and brilliantly concise, Dr. Roughgarden's thoughtful analysis sheds much-needed light on the contemporary debate over the compatibility of Christian belief and evolutionary biology. Eschewing polarizing rhetoric and antithetical claims, she demonstrates that there is no contradiction between Christian faith and the facts of evolution and that it is false to suggest such dichotomous thinking is required by either faithfulness to the Bible or scientific evidence. Roughgarden's fresh approach suggests that much in the Bible invites Christians to recognize God's good creation precisely as a universe in evolution."
(Patricia Beattie Jung Professor of theology, Loyola University Chicago)

"Joan Roughgarden is more than an accomplished evolutionary biologist; she is also brave. Combining lucid evolutionary reasoning with personal Christian faith, she builds a remarkable bridge across the cultural chasm between science and faith in America today. Roughgarden rejects both junk science based on spurious metaphors and junk religion based on spurious theology. In their place, she offers an inspiring accommodation between thoughtful science and compassionate religion."
(Michael Rose Professor of evolutionary biology, University of California, Irvine)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press (August 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597260983
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597260985
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.7 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #654,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like the author of this book, I am both a Christian and an evolutionary biologist. As such, I welcome any contribution to the too-few voices calling for an end to the creationism/evolution controversy. And Roughgarden's book makes a good many valid and important points that I wish more people would notice. However, the book is undermined by its flaws.

Roughgarden's approach to the Bible seems to be "read it absolutely literally except the bits you find evidence against, and reject those bits completely." Such an inconsistent hermeneutic is hardly likely to impress many believers. It is possible to find, through sincere faith and careful scholarship, a consistent approach to Biblical interpretation that avoids both the narrow Bibliolatry of the literalists and the casual dismissal of theological liberals.

Roughgarden's presentation of evolutionary theory is strangely flawed. She does an excellent job of presenting the basic claims of evolutionary biology in her early chapters (her choice of "natural breeding" to replace the more familiar "natural selection" is a particularly excellent idea), and her critique of Intelligent Design is spot on (I only wish it were longer, there are even more problems with ID than she mentions-- but then, this is a short book so the brevity is appropriate). However she stumbles when she discusses the "problems" that social behavior creates for evolutionary biology, seeming to be entirely unaware of the substantial literature dealing with it and of principles such as inclusive fitness that address it. Roughgarden may disagree with inclusive fitness, but that's no reason to pretend that biologists are utterly at sea without even a suggestion to make. Following that, her chapter on sexual selection not merely stumbles but falls flat on its face.
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Format: Hardcover
Joan Roughgarden's book on evolutionary science and Christian faith is nothing short of delightful. The "priest theologian" who trashed this book in his review missed the point of this work entirely. It is brief, written in a folksy, conversational tone, as though one were sitting down with a fellow parishoner who happens to be a brilliant evolutionary biologist. I was stunned by the simplicity and clarity of Roughgarden's explanation of evolutionary thought stripped of the language of scientific privilege. Excellent science writers like Richard Dawkins and John Gribben can't approach the elegance of her descrptions of the core evolutionary principles: all life is related, through natural breeding, populations tend to become like the members who breed the most, etc. These descriptions are designed to be accessible to those who are unfamiliar with the language of evolutionary biology and whose sensibilities are shaped by a biblical vocabulary. Given Roughgarden's stature as a scientist, this is a wonder indeed.

In the process Roughgarden shows the unsustainability of Stephen Jay Gould's sterile "seperate magesterium" approach and Richard Dawkins proclivity to bash relgion by taking the name of science in vain. But all of this is done with characteristic gentleness. In fact, the prevailing tone of this little volume is love. If it's true that we can only understand what we love, Roughgarden is on a path to deep understanding here at the intersection of science and faith. This book is, in the best sense of the term, an exercise in devotion: to science and to faith.
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Format: Hardcover
Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford since 1972 and an active Christian in her Episcopal church, wrote this book, she says, to provide a succinct statement of exactly what evolutionary biology does and does not know, and how the Bible relates to that scientific knowledge. The book is short enough to read in a few sittings, has no footnotes at all, avoids bogging down in secondary literature on the subject, and is written at a level for people with limited knowledge of science. I especially appreciated her irenic spirit.

At its simplest level evolution teaches that all of life is related in one big family tree, and that species change over space and time through "natural breeding" (as opposed to artificial breeding, for example, that farmers and others do today). Because of random mutations in the genes that are passed on from the "original" to the "copies," changes occur, some of which are favorable and some of which are deleterious. These mutations are random, but whether the overall evolutionary process has any "direction" good or bad is hotly debated among evolutionary biologists, says Roughgarden. Finally, she thinks Darwin is badly wrong about universal sex roles in which aggressive males seek passive females in a competition of perpetual conflict. She believes that cooperation and interdependence (eg, an ant colony) are as important in nature as conflict.

Roughgarden insists that there need not be any conflict between science and religion, or that they need to be relegated to separate spheres (but see pp. 56, and 83 where she seems to qualify this). "Intelligent design," she believes, invents problems that don't exist, is hard to take seriously, and so is a "non-starter" for mainstream science.
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