Asian Religious Responses to Darwinism
Evolutionary Theories in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian Cultural Contexts
- ISBN: 9783030373399
- Published By: Springer
- Published: May 2020
Asian Religious Responses to Darwinism is a welcome and valuable addition to the literature about the intersection of evolutionary theory and religious belief, much of which has focused on monotheistic traditions, primarily Christian theology with a lesser focus on Jewish and Muslim concerns.
The selections in this edited volume cover a tremendous amount of ground, both geographically and in terms of traditions: ranging from Turkey across south and southeast Asia to China and Japan, and considering views within Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, several schools of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. As a whole, the work presents a diverse overview of the influences of evolutionary science on Asian religious traditions. For those familiar with these traditions, the religion and science conversation, or both, the book will no doubt present new insights and suggest new lines of inquiry.
C. Mackenzie Brown’s introductory essay identifies three major challenges that evolutionary theory presents for religious belief: (1) that the universe itself and all life within it are the products of chance, (2) that this chance production suggests a lack of any moral principles behind physical existence, and (3) that human beings have no unique characteristics which set us apart from other living beings. Brown notes that the differences between the religious views under consideration here and the largely Christian considerations of these scientific challenges found in Western scholarship bring new issues and diverse insights to familiar religion and science discussions. What is challenging to Christian thought may be largely irrelevant in Buddhist or Daoist thinking and vice versa. Brown also briefly considers responses to evolution from the Sikh tradition, a religion which has not had significant engagement with Darwinian ideas until recently.
Three essays discuss the reception of evolutionary theory in the Islamic world. While Taner Edis’s essay on the conflict between Muslim beliefs and secular science in Turkey covers ground that may be familiar to many readers, the essays by Martin Riexinger and Kamran Arjomand concerning South Asian Muslim and Persian-speaking Muslim responses, respectively, to evolution identify views that have been far less well explored. Both Edis’s and Arjomand’s essays discuss early responses to Darwin’s theory along with more recent considerations, giving a sense of how Muslim reception of evolution has developed over the past century and a half.
The remaining essays deal with responses from religious traditions originating in the Indian subcontinent, China, and Japan. Of particular interest is Brianne Donaldson’s essay concerning responses to Darwinism from Jainism, a religion that has seldom, if ever, been discussed in this context. Donaldson provides an excellent overview of Jain cosmology along with a critical analysis of the challenge presented to Jainism by evolutionary theory. Several essays deal not only with biological evolution, but also the “Social Darwinism” approach to understanding human societies that was built upon it. In particular, this idea had some appeal to both Confucian thinkers and Buddhists who sought to understand human society in the light of scientific developments.
One of the strengths of the book is the multiplicity of voices represented by the essays. Three authors, including Brown, discuss various aspects of the Hindu response to Darwinism; three essays by two different authors consider Daoist and Confucian reactions; and three authors address responses from various schools of Buddhism, including the Nichiren school of Japanese Buddhism. While Yulia Burenina’s essay on Japanese responses to Darwinism includes discussion of the reactions of other religious groups besides Nichiren Buddhism, an additional essay on Japanese religious responses would have been welcome in what is nonetheless an excellent and comprehensive introduction to Asian religion and evolution conversations.
Darwinian evolution and the later development of genetic theory represent a capstone for scientific knowledge. Evolutionary theory and the genetic explanation of the mechanism behind it demonstrated that science could provide a naturalistic explanation not only for the physical universe but also for biological life itself. To whatever extent any given religion provides an explanation for the existence of the universe and life within it, science in general and evolutionary theory in particular present a challenge. While western religious responses to Darwinian theory are well known, this work shows the breadth and diversity of reactions found within various Asian traditions. Each of the essays includes a substantial list of works cited, including many non-English sources, making the book of particular interest to laypersons and scholars who do not specialize in any of these traditions. Overall, this is a valuable addition to the religion and science literature and deserving of a wide audience.
Jim Sharp is an adjunct instructor of religious studies and philosophy at Colorado State University Pueblo.Jim SharpDate Of Review:September 24, 2021