Mathewes Reviews Wade and Bellah

Check out this thoughtful and learned review by (sometime CLR Forum commenter and — we hope! — regular reader!) Prof. Charles Mathewes (UVA) of two books on the ‘evolutionary’ study of religion — Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures and Robert Bellah’s Religion and Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age.  It’s fair to say that Prof. Mathewes is more a fan of Bellah’s book than Wade’s; take a look at the review for why.  Here’s a very interesting (and, for me, even somewhat heart-warming) bit from the description of Bellah’s book:

The basic point of the book is not so much Durkheimian or Weberian—the two great tribes of sociology, especially sociology of religion—but Faulknerian; he echoes Faulkner’s famous line, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” “Nothing is ever lost” is Bellah’s near-constant mantra; the habits, patterns, reflexes and modes of behavior we acquired in our primate prehistory continue to shape our individual behavior and social order. While these realities remain powerful forces, we have achieved some relative autonomy from them and thus some power to shape how they affect us. We can cultivate some parts of our inheritance and create protective strategies against other aspects, as we judge best. We have, that is, the ability to be partially self-transcendent. And this capacity is part of the story of evolution, as Bellah tells it, which is not the necessary unfolding of a foreordained script, or the development of snug little functional niches for the way the world works today, but rather a chaotic, highly contingent and ironic tale of agents interacting, reacting and responding to the situations, contexts and environments in which they have found themselves. 

Asher, “Evolution and Belief”

Fascinating looking book by the paleontologist Robert Asher (Cambridge), Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist (CUP 2012).  The publisher’s description follows.

Can a scientist believe in God? Does the ongoing debate between some evolutionists and evangelicals show that the two sides are irreconcilable? As a paleontologist and a religious believer, Robert Asher constantly confronts the perceived conflict between his occupation and his faith. In the course of his scientific work, he has found that no other theory comes close to Darwin’s as an explanation for our world’s incredible biodiversity. Recounting discoveries in molecular biology, paleontology and development, Asher reveals the remarkable evidence in favor of Darwinian evolution. In outlining the scope of Darwin’s idea, Asher shows how evolution describes the cause of biodiversity, rather than the agency behind it. He draws a line between superstition and religion, recognizing that atheism is not the inevitable conclusion of evolutionary theory. By liberating evolution from its misappropriated religious implications, Asher promotes a balanced awareness that contributes to our understanding of biology and Earth history.

Scientific Progress and the Socio-Religious Worldview

This month, Baylor University Press publishes Rhetorical Darwinism: Religion, Evolution, and the Scientific Identity by Professor Thomas M. Lessl of the University of Georgia Department of Communication Studies.  Please see the publisher’s abstract below.

Everything evolves, science tells us, including the public language used by scientists to sustain and perpetuate their work. Harkening back to the Protestant Reformation—a time when the promise of scientific inquiry was intimately connected with a deep faith in divine Providence—Thomas Lessl traces the evolving role and public identity of science in the West.

As the Reformation gave way to the Enlightenment, notions of Providence evolved into progress. History’s divine plan could now be found in nature, and scientists became history’s new prophets. With Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary science, progress and evolution collapsed together into what Lessl calls “evolutionism,” and the grand scientific identity was used to advance science’s power into the world.

In this masterful treatment, Lessl analyzes the descent of these patterns of scientific advocacy from the world of Francis Bacon into the world of Thomas Huxley and his successors. In the end, Rhetorical Darwinism proposes that Darwin’s power to fuel the establishment of science within the Western social milieu often turns from its scientific course.