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Previous. Next. The Selfless Gene

Understanding natural selection and evolution

Can you be a sincere Bible-believing Christian and, at the same time, believe in natural selection and evolution? Most certainly! That’s why it is tragic that views have polarised so disastrously into Dawkins-type ultra-adaptationism and naive Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design. This book is a breath of fresh air on the subject. It is The Selfless Gene: Living With God And Darwin by Charles Foster (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009, ISBN 978-0-340-96436-1).

Foster’s writing style is a delight; he knows how to turn a good metaphor. This makes it easy to follow his (to my mind) irrefutable arguments. Read them for yourself. With interest in Darwin currently at a high point, it is vital that Christians do some serious investigation so as to present themselves well in discussion. This book will help you in that direction.

It’s main point is that, alongside ruthless natural selection, another force seems to have been at work encouraging the development of co-operation, selflessness, community and altruism.

...the relatively recent rise of creationism, a movement that sprang fully deformed from the loins of Seventh Day Adventism. (p xiv)

Not a single paper espousing creationism or intelligent design has ever been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. There are no proper creationist publications because there is no proper evidence for any of the creationist assertions. (p xiv)

Creationism itself is a very recent movement. Until it reared its head, evolution and Christianity cohabited perfectly happily. The Church has taken in its stride (with a few unfortunate stumbles) everything that science has come up with. One would hope that this is no surprise: both science and the Church are, after all, supposed to be in the same business of uncovering and expounding the truth.  (p19)

If Young Earth creationism is true, neo-Darwinism is false, and vice versa. There is no room for both of them. And we should not decide who has it right by measuring the volume of their sermons, the intensity of their zeal, the sales of their books, the number of their biblical references or their ability to sway US presidential elections. (p31)

Being as kind as possible, it is impossible not to note that the creationist ideas about the age of the earth are contradicted by every single piece of evidence available.  (p46)

Just as Darwin predicted, and despite the creationists’ howls of protest, you see transitional forms—forms bridging the gap between a more basic X and a more refined Y. It is correctly argued that when look at the fossil record we generally—not exceptionally—see transitional forms.  (p57)

It cannot be denied that we have a lot of subtle things in common with the other organisms on this planet. All those similarities fit with the neo-Darwinian paradigm. It is of course possible that God, in a moment of divine mischief, decided to implant in the genomes of his entirely unrelated creatures misleading suggestions about common ancestry, just as some creationists accuse him of doing in the fossil record. It is possible, too, that he impishly chose to give the impression of random mutation and genetic recombination by loading specifically designed cells with redundant junk. But it somehow does not seem like the sort of thing he would do.  (p70)

We know, beyond serious contradiction, that many of the animals existing before the arrival of man were efficient and enthusiastic carnivores.  (p78)

Dinosaurs were not only being dismembered alive by other dinosaurs and creaking from osteoarthritis in their joints, but were wasting, staggering and dying under the burden of deeply unkind cancers. It is historically hard to pin the whole thing on Adam.  (p80)

...the premise, held by Dawkins and Dennett but not by Darwin himself, that evolution by natural selection explained absolutely everything about the natural world. (p94)

It is perfectly clear that natural selection has contributed in a very significant way to the shape of the world as we see it. Moreover, a good deal of that contribution appears to have been in the morally repugnant way against which Darwin, Dawkins and all decent people rail—the way that involves ruthless suppression of the weak. However, a process of natural selection might also have been at work instilling into the natural world a mode of being that is selfless and genuinely community based.  (p108)

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is another force operating alongside natural selection: a force that is an ally of real community and real altruism; a force that rejoices in beauty for its own sake. (p111)

[Dawkins] is at his buccaneering best when dealing with the creationists. But it is an unequal contest. It is not quite sporting. It is like hunting dairy cows with a heat-seeking missile. (p114)

Among the many unholy agreements of Richard Dawkins and the Young Earth creationists, the one that is most basic, most disappointing and most corrosive is their radical misunderstanding and underestimation of the book of Genesis. (p119)

Creationism has systematically unlearned not only most of the scientific advances of the last three thousand years, but also much of the theological understanding. Calvin, a man not noted for his flabby liberalisrn, observed In his commentary on Genesis: ‘Nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.’  (p125)

The Genesis compilers had looked into a dog’s mouth; they had heard the desert lions roaring. They knew that there had never been actual vegetarian lions, and they knew, too, the sort of literature they were writing. This part of the story tells us not about what happened but about God’s dream for the world. Not only is it not science; it is neither history nor purported history. It is a statement of original intention and eventual outcome. It is a mission statement. It is prophecy. The first chapter of the Bible is just as much an apocalyptic vision as the last chapter. (p136)

The Genesis story of universal vegetarianism tells us not that wolves ever ate cucumbers, but that God’s reaction to animal pain is the same as ours is or should be: he is disgusted. (p136)

Evil was not injected into a morally pristine world by anything that Adam or Eve did or did not do. There was a snake already in the garden, whispering wicked things. It seems that God expected trouble from whatever it was that had been incompletely subdued at the time of creation. Why else commission man to ‘subdue’ the earth? You subdue things that rise up against you. (p139)

The truth is that nothing remotely like the ‘traditional’ Christian doctrine of the fall was recognised either by Jewish scholars or by the early Church. (p162)

The problem for anyone who believes in a good and powerful God involved in creation is not that he chose to use natural selection, but that both the by-products and the end-products of natural selection seem to contain elements antithetical to the picture of God that orthodox Christianity paints. Nature is a weird, heady cocktail of splendour, horror, joy and agony: we would like it to be made out of pure God-juice.  (p181)

If God could have excised this primordial cancer from the creation without free will being at stake, why did he not do it? We do not know. We are given no hints. All that we can say is that because he is love, he loathes it; because he is peace, he is at war with it; because he is ingenious, he can bring good things even out of bad, because he is almighty, he will ultimately triumph over it.  (p184)

God entered the evolutionary chain, and was ultimately a victim of it. In becoming man, he took on our ancestry. God became familiarly related to those ancient bacteria. How otherwise could he redeem them?  (p185)

Where man has failed most disastrously is in his role as subduer. He went over very quickly to the other side, becoming one of the revolutionaries who needed to be subdued. (p202)

It is common to hear Christians say that the fall has defaced the image of God in us. That may be true in a sense, but it is diametrically opposed to what Genesis says. The post-fall Adam looked more like God than the pre-fall Adam. The image of God in Adam was enhanced. That was precisely the problem.  (p211)

The direct and immediate consequence of the ‘fall’ is civilisation as we know it. (p214)

Real, full-blooded Christianity, acknowledging the absurdity of anaemic literalism, confronting the challenges of the Bible (a very difficult, cryptic, challenging document) and the world (a very difficult, cryptic, challenging place) is a hugely more compelling creed than the one peddled in the fundamentalist ghettos by the fearful and the fearfully dogmatic. (p221)

It looks as if, consistently, another force has been at work moulding the shape of the biological world—the force of community, of altruism, of selflessness. Sometimes this force might have been the tool of natural selection – there is no problem at all with that. Sometimes it might have been a self-energising force. (p223)

[I have made some notes on this book. If you are toying with the idea of buying it they may give you an idea of its overall approach and so help you decide.]

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