Monday, September 9, 2013

Evolution Exposure

This June, during a quick trip to Seattle, I had lunch with Valerie Tarico. She is an ex-Christian psychologist who works to “heal a world that is being fractured by cultural and religious zealots,” as she puts it on her website. Also joining us at the table were two other refugees from religion, Rich and Deanna Joy Lyons of the Living After Faith podcast. These are smart, loving, delightful people, and our time together was a memorable one full of laughs, ideas, and shared experiences.

On the shoulders of giants. And these
are just some of the print books we cite.

Now Dr. Tarico has published an article about my faith story and the background of Evolving out of Eden, a book I co-authored with Dr. Robert M. Price about the conflicts between evolutionary science and Christian theology. Her introduction and questions in the Q&A that follows were insightful and thought-provoking, and the article is getting wide exposure on,, and the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Between them, the article has nearly 2,000 Facebook “likes” and 300 tweets.

And there are a lot of comments by readers, too. These three links go to the different editions of the article with their respective sets of comments: Alternet, Salon, and the RDFRS. I’ll get back to those in a minute.

The book is also getting attention from John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity blog. It is running an excerpt that goes into some theological depth about a nuance to the evolution vs. Christianity conflict, significant but little discussed: How could the half-human, half-divine nature of Jesus possibly be rationalized scientifically?

The problems aren’t just scientific: An evolved or even half-evolved Jesus would’ve had all the supposedly sinful natural inclinations that Christianity gives humans so much grief about—lust, anger, etc.—because he carried Mary’s human DNA and a supposedly divine portion that would have needed to be defective by design in order to match up with it. Besides all that, there is the issue of divine deception: Jesus wouldn’t be a man without a Y chromosome faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of human paternal ancestors. What a mess, and that’s just from this one small part of the overall problem that makes this book cover 340 pages and eighteen chapters.

Now, about those comments. I am amazed at how much people will say based on so little actual information. And I’m not talking about the silly “I didn’t come from some monkey” or “you weren’t there when the world was made” nonsense that pervades all public discussion of evolution in the United States, including in the pages of comments that follow these articles. That is easily disregarded by anyone who has honestly read a real science book on the subject. More vexing are the assumptions people flippantly make about all the solutions to the Christanity-vs-evolution puzzle that I must have missed, the sophisticated metaphorical reading of the Bible that muffles its inconvenient passages into a mystical, benign chant thrumming in the background.

The current top comment on the Alternet edition is representative of this. It complains, “One of the most frustrating aspects of ‘conversion’ stories like these is the lack of understanding of Biblical exegesis even after the conversions. In other words, even after a conversion from Christian to atheist, the converted still do not understand the Bible and the literalists’ misinterpretation.”

Hmmm. Perhaps my co-author’s two PhD degrees—one in the New Testament and the other in systematic theology—provide some counterbalance to the two Bible courses the commentator says he took in college, if not some glimmer of understanding about biblical exegesis. Certainly reading our book, skimming its Table of Contents, or even glancing at this paragraph from page 9 would address his concerns about our being trapped in literalism:

The Bible, of course, is the beginning of sorrows for the theistic evolutionist. In many cases (indeed it is fast becoming the rule) Christian evolutionists are not merely accommodating the reading of the Bible to the facts of science. They seem ready to accept Bultmannian demythologizing of the Old Testament, admitting it is marked by obsolete cosmology and mythical tales from the ancient world. (Rest assured, they comfort their readers, who can see what ought to come next; the gospels are in no such danger. But aren’t they?) In this way they claim (as Rudolf Bultmann did) not to be rejecting scripture but rather to be reinterpreting it. This distinction, they hope, will enable them to “sell” evolution to their evangelical brethren, suspicious as they are of the product. But one must suspect also that they are trying to cover their own posteriors, rightly sensing that their evangelical membership cards are in imminent danger of being canceled.

Another commentator (“Mike V” on Salon) is concerned that we former fundamentalists “think that the only legitimate form of religion is essentially the fundamentalist one. That is why they just can’t grasp the sophisticated and interesting theologies that are out there. It’s nice that he actually took the time to even look at [John] Haught, but his cavalier dismissal of it speaks volumes.” This is another article-skimmer who I would love to see become an actual reader of the book. Or perhaps just a glance at our index would help his own cavalier dismissal of our work: We have twenty separate index entries for Haught, John, citing his works on about as many pages. Haught is just at one end of the spectrum of science-savvy theologians we’ve identified, with, for example, the “evolutionary creationist” Denis Lamoureux near the other. (He gets 33 index entries, in case you were curious.)

Most baffling of all are those commentators who think I somehow co-authored a book subtitled Christian Responses to Evolution without being aware of, well, Christian responses to evolution. Like “kenkapkk” on Salon: “But why is Suominen desperately clinging to an attempt to reconcile creationism with evolution? It’s the THEOLOGY that’s a mess. Has he taken time to read the plethora of progressive Christian scholars or studied the evolution of the New Testament as a literary-historical document that is primarily mythological?”

Uh, yes. Yes, we have. I conclude this posting (below the update) with a copy of our References section. It’s in really small print, because there are 180 entries, but you get the idea.


Update—April 30, 2014: When Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist podcast shared a link to the article on Facebook, the comments from his audience were a pleasant contrast. My favorite, from Sara Greenwood: “I’m such a sentimental sap. I was relieved when I got to the part about his wife. Apparently they are very well suited to each other.” Yes we are, Sara, and I’m a sentimental sap, too.

I sent Seth a note of appreciation and, to my delight, that wound up resulting in an appearance on his April 29, 2014 episode with co-author Bob. With a million downloads of his podcasts every month, a full travel schedule, and a regular career besides, Seth is a very busy and prominent figure in the secular movement. I was truly honored to be a small part of his show.


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