Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Review: Darwin's Pious Idea by Conor Cunningham

This book breaks down apparent divides: between organism and environment, between mind and matter, and (most obviously from the title) between Darwin and God. It's even published by a prominent evangelical publisher, although from the title itself you can see that it's intended to challenge evangelicals, so there's an attempt to break down a wall there as well.

The best two chapters are easily those on the concept of progress in evolution and how early church fathers like Irenaeus would have had no problem with evolution. For some reason that latter chapter is placed last, which makes for a nice climax but you have to wade through too much to get to it. Other long chapters include attacks on evolutionary psychology and eugenics, which seem out of place -- I can't imagine anyone is actually defending those and knocking them down doesn't do much to show that evolution is somehow "pious." I would prefer that those chapters be shunted to another book and this one focus on the positive parts of bringing evolution and faith together.

Cunningham gets big points in my book for referencing both Conway Morris and RJP Williams (if he had referenced Eric Chaisson, that'd be the trifecta). He touches on tricky topics like panpsychism and veers close to hand-waving, but sitting back now I think he struck a helpful tone overall. Still, the topic seems a little half-baked, although I can't help but think of Owen Barfield when I read it. I myself am lurching back and forth and don't want to go there now.

So this is a long, sprawling book with a very good aim, but with me, Cunningham's preaching to the choir. I'd like to know if this book could convince a hostile audience, whether one of the ultra-Darwinists or the creationists of the subtitle. I found lots of good ideas that go along with my in-progress manuscript ... and maybe my next one as well.

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