Book Review: God and Evolution

God and Evolution, edited by Jay W. Richards, is an essay anthology designed to explain and clarify the essential definitions, scientific claims, theological issues and philosophical problems that pervade the debate about the compatibility of neo-Darwinism and religious faith. The central question of the text, specifically, is whether or not theistic evolution is a tenable position for theists of Christian or Jewish persuasion. Each essay expands upon a different aspect of the subject, but together they have a common goal: to shed light on what Richards refers to as the God and evolution enigma. He argues that this is a gray area that sorely needs illuminating; he says, “In a sense, it touches all of the biggest questions we can ask about ourselves and the world we live in.”[1]

 The Editor

Jay W. Richards earned his Ph.D. in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. He also holds a B.A. degree with a dual major in political science and religion, Master of Divinity, and Master of Theology degrees. He has authored numerous academic books and articles on a wide array of topics, including The Privileged Planet, a book co-authored with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. His work has also appeared in popular publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. He has been featured in documentaries as well as national radio and TV programs, and has served as executive producer of several documentaries. Currently, Dr. Richards is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and a contributing editor for The American at the American Enterprise Institute.[2]

Scope and Sequence

            The essays in God and Evolution are classified into four major sections: “I: Some Problems with ‘Theistic Evolution,’” “II: Protestants and Evolution,” “III: Catholics and Evolution,” and “IV: Jews and Evolution.” Richards sets the stage with an extensive introduction in which he clears up misconceptions about the history of the debate and distinguishes between the various definitions for the terms “evolution” and “theism.” He also describes several different views that fall under the umbrella of theistic evolution and discusses one of the major reasons for the adoption of this viewpoint–the problem of evil and suffering.

Section I begins with John G. West’s essay, “Nothing New Under the Sun.” In this essay, West asserts that a sound doctrine of creation is essential for a correct doctrine of redemption. He compares the Gnostics’ blind, ignorant Demiurge creator to the theistic evolutionary idea of natural selection acting on random mutations to bring about the complexity and diversity of life. The main issue that needs addressing, he says, is whether God was involved with the creative process–was he the true creator dictating the details, or was it undirected Darwinian evolution? Either mankind is exactly what God intended him to be, or he is the happenstance product of a blind process. In Part 2 of his essay, “Having a Real Debate,” West describes the NCSE’s efforts to promote Darwinism as faith-friendly, and how Francis Collins, a high-profile Christian scientist, instituted the BioLogos Foundation to promote theistic evolution.

In “Smelling Blood in the Water,” Casey Luskin explains why the acceptance of Darwinian evolution by the religious community will never satisfy atheist promoters of the science. Luskin says, “[R]eligious advocates are…allying themselves with people who favor the downfall of religion.”[3] Some “new atheists” even openly argue that there is no way to reconcile evolution with religion. Efforts to claim compatibility between Darwinism and theism are usually politically motivated and have an unspoken aim of diminishing religion, Luskin argues.

The final essay of the section, “Death and the Fall,” is William Dembski’s explanation for why theistic evolution does not resolve the problem of evil and suffering in the world. Theistic evolutionists claim that attributing the dysfunctions of the natural world to God’s creative activity is tantamount to blasphemy, and blind evolution serves as their solution. The problem with this way of thinking, says Dembski, is that the Creator isn’t “off the hook” if the mechanism he designed is responsible. The problem of evil and suffering must be resolved a different way.

Section II begins with Jonathan Witt’s essay, “Random Acts of Design,”  in which he reveals the inconsistency of Francis Collins’ argument for theistic evolution in The Language of God. Witt points out egregious flaws in Collins’ view of intelligent design theory and problems with the rebuttals Collins makes against irreducible complexity.

Jonathan Wells picks up the case against Collins’ viewpoint in the following essay, “Darwinof the Gaps.” Specifically, he answers Collins’ claim that intelligent design is a “God of the gaps” argument. Rather, he says, it is an inference to the best explanation, given the evidence. Wells goes on to point out the failure of Collins’ past assertions about “junk” DNA and its supposed support for Darwinian evolution.

Next, Jay Richards critiques Howard Van Till’s Robust Formational Economy Principle in “Making a Virtue of Necessity.” Richards explains that the appeal of Van Till’s position is that it attempts to make Christianity compatible with methodological naturalism by claiming that the creation is entirely self-sufficient in its creative power, exhibiting no evidence of divine activity. He then points out the fundamental theological problem with the Principle, namely, that there is to reason to assume a priori that God should have or did indeed create a world that never needs his intervention.

In the subsequent essay, “The Difference it Doesn’t Make,” Stephen Meyer describes and critiques the idea of “evolutionary creation” promoted (most notably) by Dennis Lamoureux. Meyer points out the theological and scientific shortcomings of this view, which entails a purposeful “front-loaded” creation instilled with natural laws capable of producing biological complexity and diversity.

Section III begins with Denyse O’Leary’s essay, “Everything Old is New Again,” in which she expounds upon the true inconsistency between the historic Catholic theology and Darwinism. She gives examples from theologians that are highly revered by the Catholic church, such as Thomas Aquinas and G.K. Chesterton, to support her argument for the historic acknowledgement of God’s evident design in the natural world. O’Leary demonstrates that early Catholic writers recognized that Darwinism was nothing less than the creation story of atheism.

Next, Logan Gage asks, “Can a Thomist be a Darwinist?” He shows the hopeless conflict between the theology of Thomas Aquinas and the Darwinian denial of true species and the existence of formal (exemplar) causes. He also shows how much Thomists and ID theorists have in common.

Jay Richards completes the section with a three part essay. In the first part, “Straining at Gnats, Swallowing Camels,”  he attempts to clear up some of the confusion surrounding Catholic teaching about evolution, and explains why orthodox Catholics should fully support ID theory and related work. He uses the creation teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas as the central theme of his argument, but he also discusses the stance of prominent Catholic figures in recent history to show the inconsistency of trying to embrace both neo-Darwinism and Catholic orthodoxy. In “Separating the Chaff from the Wheat,” he makes a distinction between mechanistic reductionism and “teleo-mechanism.” He says there has been a misperception that relates ID with the former, when it should be related to (but not identified with) the latter. In the final part of the essay, “Understanding Intelligent Design,” Richards shows the differences between teleo-mechanistic arguments and ID, and highlights the problematic, sharp delineation some Catholic thinkers draw between science and philosophy.

Section IV contains a two-part essay by David Klinghoffer addressing Judaism and Darwinism. The first part, entitled “The Maimonides Myth and the Great Heretic,” Klinghoffer argues that classical Jewish teaching is discordant with Darwinism and harmonious with ID. He points out that an intellectual lineage can be drawn between Epicureanism, a philosophy the Jews view as heretical, and Darwinism. In the second part, “God’s Image, Our Mission,” he explains the importance of the image of God concept in Judaism, and how that concept is incomprehensible under Darwinism.

 Evaluation and Recommendation

Although no one volume could cover every detail of the long-running, nuanced debate about the compatibility of theism and Darwinian evolution, the editor and authors of God and Evolution do a tremendous job of educating their readers on this historically, philosophically, and theologically complex subject. The essays are articulate, informative, and interesting, but are not intimidating in their language and scope. The reader gains a clear idea of each essay’s thesis and supporting points, and doesn’t become mired down in trivial accessory information. Important current and classical works are mentioned throughout the book, which is a nice benefit for the reader who wishes to explore the subject further using reliable source material. The organization of the text has a logical feel, and the essays can be read individually.

As a whole, the book’s thesis is wholly and competently supported; the incompatibility of Darwinian evolution and theism is thoroughly demonstrated. Proper distinctions and definitions frame the text’s argument, eliminating ambiguity and correcting misconceptions. Even readers skeptical of ID will profit in understanding what is truly at stake in the debate and how to view it with fairness.

God and Evolution is an outstanding book choice for persons of faith seeking clarity about whether or not Darwinism is truly compatible with their worldview. Leaders and students of Christianity and Judaism would particularly benefit from the text, as would science educators and writers who wish to accurately portray the issue.


[1] Jay Richards, God and Evolution (Seattle,WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2010): 27.

[2] Editor’s biographical information found at http://www.discovery.org/p/9

[3] Richards, 68

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