International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Can a Darwinian be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion

by Michael Ruse

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

In the arena of science-religion dialogues, there are those who practice benign mutual neglect, there are combatants who believe that there can be no happy harmony between rational science and faith-based religion, and there are the bridge builders who argue that one can be religious and accept the findings of science as well, even if some religious doctrines blatantly contradict certain basic doctrines of science.

Michael ruse, philosopher and expert historian of evolution, belongs to the third category. In this book, he argues with great acumen how it is possible for a Darwinian to be a Christian as well. A Darwinian is one who accepts at the very least the thesis that “Organisms living and dead came by a long, slow, natural (law-bound)process from primitive forms, which lived long ago.” [28]. Before plunging into his reconciliation project, Ruse gives a comprehensive survey of Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism) which is as thorough and succinct as one can find anywhere. Then he takes on a number of key topics that are central to Christianity (or any religion for that matter). Here he expresses his view that “the liberal Christian … is going to have little trouble with anything claimed in the name of science.” [48]. Problems arise between literalists (Fundamentalists) and science.

The chapter on origins traces the history of the idea and brings to the fore the conflicts between Christianity and the Darwinian account on this matter. Here Ruse reminds us of a statement by St. Augustine to the effect that it would be unfortunate if Non-Christians were to laugh at Christians who, in the name of their Holy Scripture, talk nonsense. Such situations would arise if one gave only literal interpretations of sacred texts. From his analysis Ruse concludes that “if one’s understanding of Darwinism does include a natural evolution of life from nonlife, there is no reason to think that this now makes Christian belief impossible” [67].

In the chapter on Humans, Ruse talks about the complexity of the notion of the soul, and suggests that “if you think of the soul in the Thomistic fashion, as something animating the body, and that the distinctive human aspect of this is intelligence linked … with freedom and moral choice, then this is very much in line with what the Darwinian sees as having evolved through natural selection” [81].

In the interesting chapter on naturalism, Ruse interprets “the supreme miracle of the resurrection as no law-breaking return from the dead. One can think Jesus in a trance, or more likely that he really was physically dead but that on and from the third day, a group of people, hitherto downcast, were filled with great joy and hope” [96].