Crossing the Bridge
Recently BioLogos' Karl Giberson was interviewed by Marcio Campos for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo's Tubo De Ensaio (i.e. "Test tube") section. What follows is a translated transcript of that interview, which we will be posting in three installments. Here is the second.
Campos: You mention cases of mockery against creationists (like in The Simpsons and Family Guy episodes) and say that this strategy isn't very successful in making people accept evolution. "Creationism can be hard to dislodge", you write later. How can one make people cross the bridge and finally see the compatibility between evolution and their religious beliefs?
Giberson: The key for most people is developing an understanding of the Bible that goes beyond what they learned in Sunday School. Sunday Schools teach Bible stories about the early chapters of Genesis that are appropriate for children, but then they don’t revisit those stories to help young adults find a “grown up” way to read Genesis. Discovering that the Genesis stories contain all sorts of clues indicating that they are not literal history can be very liberating for Christians. If we encountered the Genesis stories of creation first as adults we might not be so quick to assume that this account of talking snakes, a magical garden, God “coming down” to walk with Adam and Eve every day was supposed to be actual history. Even the names of the principal characters are an important clue. The Hebrew word “Adam” simply means “man.” “Eve” means “life.” Imagine a story in English about a couple named “Man” and “Life” in a magical garden. Wouldn’t we immediately understand that this is not intended to be historical?
Also, important, but secondary to Scriptural issues, is the fact that there is a mountain of evidence for evolution. The recent evidence from the mapping of genomes proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, that humans share a common ancestor with other primates. Presenting this new evidence effectively is important to help people make the transition.
Campos: Which approach is more effective with individual evolution naysayers: showing the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution (appealing for people's rationality), or showing that evolution doesn't harm belief in God (appealing for their religiosity)?
Giberson: Protecting religion from supposed attacks by evolution is critically important. Most people are far more concerned about being on the right page with their religion than they are with their science. The problem for evangelical Christians, unfortunately, is that there are a host of really bad books circulating that argue that science supports creation. For laypeople it just seems like a battle between a “science they like” and a “science that assaults their religion.” It doesn’t set up as “science” versus “religion.”
Campos: I may be wrong, but in Chapter Seven of Saving Darwin (one of the keys of the book in my opinion) you seem quite pessimistic and disillusioned about how the debate on evolution became a cultural war where the scientific truth now matters less than destroying the opponent. Have we really reached a point of no return? Why?
Giberson: A few weeks ago I was in a remarkable museum in Kentucky run by Answers in Genesis, the world’s largest and most effective promoter of young earth creationism. They have a huge bookstore and, as I walked around in it, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the efforts to undermine evolution. There were hundreds of books, DVDs, curricular materials for every age group, including pre-schoolers, mugs with logos, T-shirts with anti-evolution messages and so on. Answers in Genesis is a huge multi-million dollar anti-science propaganda machine, devoted to convincing Christians that they must not believe in evolution. They have magazines, an extensive web site, a program of workshops, a staff of “scientists,” endless books, and more. This entire effort would collapse if they became convinced that evolution was true.
I find it hard to imagine how scientific fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett could ever make peace with religious fundamentalists like Ken Ham, who heads up Answers in Genesis.
Campos: You leave the reader wondering, along the book, how God fits in the evolution scheme and, in the conclusion, you give a great description of how evolution doesn't mean atheism. But in an evolutionary process driven by competition, natural selection, random genetic mutations, doesn't "God's creative activity" seem to play a minor role for an almighty being? What would you say to someone wishing for a somehow bigger "God's presence" in the process?
Giberson: In the final analysis, we must look to science. Does it appear that God was constantly intervening in dramatic ways throughout natural history? We must not put God in a box of our own making and insist that his actions conform to our sense of how God should behave.
I might suggest, however, that our skeptic might think hard about how they are looking for God in the world. Are they looking for God in the gaps where science is still searching for explanation? Or are they looking for God in the grandeur of a sunset, the nobility of a volunteer at a soup kitchen, the laughter of a child. We inadvertently sign on to the theology of Richard Dawkins when we insist that God must function as an engineer and his actions must be clearly identified by science.
Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.