The scientific theory of evolution and christian beliefs : A philosophical inquiry with special reference to Zambia

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Kapembwa, Julius
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The relationship between the Darwinian theory of evolution and some Christian beliefs is complex and has generated controversy between scientists and philosophers. The relationship has been perceived by many as necessarily one of conflict, a perception that has been highlighted in more recent times by the evolutionary biologist and self-confessed atheist, Richard Dawkins. This dissertation presents the arguments by both scientists and biblical literalists and makes a critical evaluation of both. It makes clarifications that expose the flaws in the thinking that has perpetuated the antagonistic view of the two. It also sets the framework for future enlightened debate on science/religion discourses in general, and those on evolutionary biology/Christian belief in particular. The problematic issues that arise from relating the theory of evolution and some Christian beliefs are outlined while drawing out the relevance of the research to Zambia in particular. Part of the problem in relating the theory of evolution to Christian beliefs lies in problems of biblical interpretation in general, and with regard to the creation accounts in Genesis in particular. Biblical literalism, which is characteristic of Christian fundamentalists, gives a literal rendering to the biblical creation accounts that fuels the conflict view between the theory of evolution and some Christian beliefs. However, the allegorical approach to biblical interpretation does not necessarily result in such a perception. Biblical literalism has found particular support in what has dubiously been called "creation science" which regards Genesis to be offering a scientific account of the history of life. This, however, seems to be based on an erroneous approach to literary interpretation that ignores important elements such as the literary genre in question and the general cultural background within which the creation accounts were written. Consequently, the allegorical interpretation appears to be the far more reasonable and acceptable approach. The design argument for the existence of God which focuses on the order and apparent purposefulness in the natural world is very popular among Christians. It has, however, found perhaps its most challenging criticism from the Darwinian theory of evolution which offers an account of the history of organic life that might seem to rule out the existence of God. Richard Dawkins shows how, on a certain level of interpretation, Paley's argument from design is flawed. He holds that given the explanatory versatility of the theory of evolution, atheism is the only intellectually acceptable position. He maintains, therefore, that belief in God is obsolete and, as a scientific hypothesis, redundant. An extensive critique of Dawkins' argument is presented showing it to be invalid and based on questionable premises. A reformulated version of the argument from design is then presented based on the purposeful directionality of organic life that can be found in neo-Darwinism. This renders it reasonable to postulate the need for the existence of God as an adequate explanation. Furthermore, the conclusion is reached that Dawkins' basis for attacking Christian beliefs is rooted in an unacknowledged metaphysical philosophical position (i.e. evolutionism) rather than a scientific one. From an explanatory point of view, therefore, theism rather than evolutionism is found to be a far more tenable, reasonable and comprehensive account of the order and purpose that can be detected in the natural world. As a result, the conflict model is rejected. Three alternative non-conflict models are finally considered for relating the theory of evolution and Christian beliefs as opposed to the conflict model represented by Dawkins on the one hand, and Christian fundamentalists on the other. These are identified as the independence, dialogue and integration models. Of the three, the independence and the dialogue models are found to be unsatisfactory. This is so because, although the independence view treats Christian beliefs and neo-Darwinism as valid on their own terms, it posits that they must remain separate in explanatory discourse. The dialogue approach, on the other hand, while identifying some points in common between the two, such as some presuppositions and methodological similarities, does not go far enough to show how the scientific account complements and helps in clarifying the understanding of some Christian beliefs. It also fails to show how Christian beliefs provide the metaphysical framework that offers a rational explanation for the findings of science. Consequently, the conclusion is reached that the integration model is the most satisfactory from a philosophical point of view on account of its elegance, coherence and explanatory fruitfulness.
Evolution -- Religious aspects -- Christianity