Charles Darwin's 1859 book The Origin of Species sparked a controversy that still stirs deep emotions in people. Most people find the narrative of creation in the sacred books and the theory of evolution mutually contradictory and thus irreconcilable. To be candid, there are fundamentalists on both sides of the divide.
This visible and palpable gulf between these two positions has been evident for more than 150 years. The contentious public debate took us through the so-called Monkey Trial (State vs John Scopes) in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925 and more recently in 2004 (Kitsmiller vs Dover School District) in Pennsylvania. Both of these trials were meant, as is the wont of legal process, to find the truth based on available evidence. Evolutionists carried the day at least in those two court cases.
There is, however, a third position, controversial for sure, that tries to reconcile religion with evolution. The book under review is an effort towards that goal. The three authors, representing three Abrahamic religions, make a case for evolution in the light of their respective scriptures.
Rabbi David Kay is a conservative rabbi from Florida and a believer in the truth of science. Howard Van Till is an astronomer and a physicist at Calvin College, a Christian college in Grand Rapids, Mich. Dr. T. O. Shanavas is a Muslim scholar and a practicing pediatrician in Adrian. The three of them are steeped in their own religious traditions and also in science. They delve deeply into their own sacred texts and conclude that those texts do not contradict the theory of evolution. Their arguments are persuasive and logical and to a great measure they succeed in achieving their stated objectives.
The book And God Said: "Let There Be Evolution is edited by two academic scientists: Charles Wynn, Sr., a professor of chemistry at Eastern Connecticut State University and Arthur Wiggins, distinguished professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Oakland Community College in Michigan.
The Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible and in the Old Testament tells us that the world was created in bold strokes in seven days and that all plant and animal life was created as it appears today.
Both the Jewish and Christian scholars tease out fragmentary evidence from the well-known passages in Genesis. They are convinced that the story of Genesis is a multilayered one and to read it as a simple narrative creates the difficulties most literalists' experience.
A detailed logical analysis of each day in the life of the creation of Earth tells us that different interpretations are not only feasible but necessary. To rely on the age-old idea that "God said it, I believe it. That settles it" is to refute the scientific evidence and ignore the deeper meaning of the Bible, they contend.
Shanavas calls the Qura'n and the physical universe twin manifestations of a divine act of self-revelation (by God). He quotes from the Qura'n to emphasize that the quest to study and understand the physical world is part of religion and thus sacred. He goes on to discuss the multifaceted meaning and subtle nuances of classic Quranic Arabic and points out the fallacy of literal one-dimensional translations.
He also points out that as early as the 8th century of the Common Era, Muslim scholars considered the concept of evolution to be consistent with the teachings of Islam. He quotes Ibn Khuldun (1332-1406 CE) who laid out the theory of evolution 400 years before the publication of The Origin of Species.
Faced with the difficulty of reconciling religion with science, a student of religion would have to look beyond the literal meaning and seek a deeper understanding of the scriptures. It would have been easier if God had provided explanatory footnotes to some of the dogmatic and enigmatic passages. But in His wisdom, He did not. Thus it is up to believers to read from the book of nature and also from the scripture to realize that the two are not contradictory.
Perhaps Van Till, the Christian contributor, captured the essence of the debate when he wrote, "Human intelligence, insight, understanding, and wisdom are divine gifts. To refuse to apply these, to deny the knowledge and deeper grasp of God's Creation that arise from these, would be at best ungrateful and at worst a rejection of God."
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon and columnist for The Blade. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org