Weaving together science and religion while respecting the autonomy of each has never been easy. The task has become more complicated in recent years as science and religion have been thrown into the U.S. culture wars, including marked efforts to wedge creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution in the science classroom.
In "God and Evolution?" Dutch geneticist Gerard Verschuuren makes a valiant, sometimes confusing effort at intertwining science and religion. He does an excellent job debunking the claims to science made by creationism and intelligent design and defusing the efforts by some thinkers to transform scientific evolution into a worldview substituting for religion and philosophy and their value systems.
Verschuuren frames the science and religion issue within the broader one of faith and reason. He freely acknowledges that he is writing from within Catholic tradition. The book is dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI and quotes extensively from him and Blessed John Paul II on the compatibility of faith and reason and religion and science, even when they seem at odds.
The first three chapters are the best part of the book. They deal with the Catholic position on faith, reason and evolution; a theological understanding of biblical creation accounts, which emphasizes that they are not meant to give scientific explanations of the physical world; and the scientific support for evolution. Verschuuren points out the difference between creation, as a religious and philosophical concept that helps to explain why human life exists, and evolution as the scientific process explaining how human life got to be what it is today.
These chapters could well serve as a textbook for Catholic high schools and parish religious instruction classes. They give students the intellectual tools to critically challenge creationism, intelligent design and evolutionism, which the author defines as an effort to convert evolutionary concepts such as natural selection into a worldview that explains why human life exists.
The final two chapters, however, are preachy, confusing and repetitive.
Verschuuren tries to convince supporters of creationism, intelligent design and evolutionism that their views make no sense without the Catholic theological concept of God the Creator and the Catholic philosophical concept of God as the primary cause of the physical universe. His arguments make sense to people who are part of Catholic tradition. But they are liable to fall on deaf ears to those trying to force religious and philosophical explanations of evolution into public classrooms and to people who see in the randomness of natural selection a basis for atheistic ideologies.
Needed at the beginning of the book is clear development of the idea that religion and philosophy are among the many ways of analyzing and interpreting what science discovers through its empirical methods. Not until the middle of the book does Verschuuren make this clear.
But the fact that a decade into the 21st century a book needs to be written telling why science is not religion or philosophy and why religion and philosophy are not science shows the chasms created by today's cultural wars.