The Challenge of Evolution to Religion
- ISBN: 9781108685436
- Published By: Cambridge University Press
- Published: January 2020
The relationship between science and religion is an area of growing interest for both scholars in the humanities and the hard sciences. Johan De Smedt and Helen De Cruz’s The Challenge of Evolution to Religion provides a fine overview of the intersection of religion and evolution, and the tensions that arise from their relationship. Focusing on three challenges of evolution to religion, De Smedt and De Cruz provide a helpful introduction to several themes in the study of evolution and religion, leaving the beginner reader with a broad overview, and the seasoned scholar with new insights and questions.
The three challenges that De Smedt and De Cruz take up are teleology, human origins, and the evolution of religion. Each section begins with the assumption that the reader has little to no background in the challenge the authors are about to address. As such, the authors are careful to outline each challenge by defining terms and providing a succinct explanation of what each challenge entails. From this point, the authors move to address more nuanced questions about the particular challenges. For example, when considering the challenge of evolution to teleology, the authors trace a survey of the concept of teleology beginning with ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. Only after having established a framework for and definition of teleology do the authors move to consider how evolutionary theory can confront teleology. By progressively introducing more difficult questions and considerations, as well as new religious and scientific interlocutors, the book moves systematically and logically. This theme is consistent throughout the duration of the book, as each new challenge is introduced.
Because of the aforementioned approach, De Smedt and De Cruz’s book is widely accessible. Those who have never considered the relationship between religion and evolution can benefit tremendously from the in-depth introductions and definitions that the authors provide in each new section. Scholars of religion and evolution will benefit from the nuanced questions and considerations to each challenge that the authors consider. As the authors consider the role of original sin in their discussion of human origins, for example, the authors attempt to synthesize “the biological and social models of the transmission of sin” to “outline a gene-culture coevolutionary process” (43). It is clear that the authors are not simply seeking to propose aconflict and solution, but are ardently grappling with the issues that evolution presents to religion, and considering if and how religion might adapt to these issues.
If there is a weakness to the authors’ presentation of the relationship of evolution to religion it is that they do not consider the work already being done by theologians in this area. The Jesuit priest Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, for example, spent the majority of his academic career addressing the very challenges set forth by De Smedt and De Cruz. Including scholars such as Teilhard, or contemporary Teilhardian scholars, would enhance the voices that the authors already include, and provide a more robust picture.
De Smedt and De Cruz demonstrate expertise in their application of religion and evolution. Their book can serve as a helpful primer for the student hoping to discover the “asymmetric dependence relationship” (1) of evolution to religion. The book equally serves as a deeper exploration of the finer details and questions that arise in the midst of these challenges for more seasoned scholars. The authors successfully explore the challenges they outline in their compact book.
Jillian Langford is a PhD student in theology and religious studies at Villanova University.Jillian LangfordDate Of Review:September 21, 2021