International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Actions

edited by Robert John Russell , William R. Stoeger , Francisco J. Ayala

Introductory Essay by Michael Ruse

Based on a conference sponsored by the Vatican Observatory and Center for Theology and Natural Sciences, this collection is essential reading for those who would explore the science-religion relationship in the light of modern biology.

Following words of welcome by the late Pope John Paul the Second (who was always sympathetic to modern science), the first section offers detailed expositions of major themes in modern biology. Particularly important is the overview of modern evolutionary biology by the leading scientist Francisco J. Ayala. He is insistent that, however the science-religion relationship plays out, there must be no compromising of good science. There is also good discussion of human evolution and of our understanding of micro-aspects of organisms. Here also the fundamental premise is that the starting point of the discussion must be full acknowledgment and acceptance of established, pertinent science. This is not to elevate science over religion, but to recognize that science is a part of the overall picture not an alternative to such a picture.

The second section deals with God’s relationship to Darwinian evolution. Of major concern here is the apparent non-directionality of the developmental process, set against Christian claims about the special and non-contingent status of humankind. A number of important players, including Ayala, physicist Paul Davies, and physicist-theologian Robert John Russell, contribute to this discussion. The latter gives a clear exposition of his argument that, although we can see no direction to the evolutionary process, it is quite open to God to direct the process at the quantum level. Such divine intervention need not conflict with an entirely naturalistic understanding of life’s workings.

The third section becomes more theological and philosophical as contributors (including the late Arthur Peacocke, the Catholic theologian John Haught, and the doyen of science-religion studies Ian Barbour) wrestle with original sin in light of naturalistic human evolution, the status of natural theology (especially the argument from design) given Darwinian natural selection, and the true relationship of a God to His creation if He works through unbroken law rather than through miraculous intervention.

The fourth and final section, with contributions from (among others) theologian Nancey Murphy, philosopher Camilo Cela-Conde, and theologian Thomas Tracey, turns to ethical questions. If biology can give a purely naturalistic account of morality, what then of God? Is He now redundant? Or can one say that in some sense the ethical transcends the natural and that, hence, there will always be a place for a religious understanding of morality? What of the future? Does biology now show the way to control and change? in particular, what would this mean for humans? If change is possible, how much is desirable?

Given the rapid advance of our understanding of biology, particularly the fruits of the Human Genome Project, this volume needs to be supplemented with more recent works. But as a project tackling the relationship between biological science and philosophy and religion, it is still without a competitor.