Evolution and Modern Religious Thought

Evolution and Modern Religious Thought

Peter M.J. Hess, Ph.D.
Peter M.J. Hess
February 12, 2012
Sacramento Darwin Day
John Smith Hall
La Sierra Community Center
5325 Engle Road
Carmichael, California

The annual celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday give us an opportunity to consider the significance of the evolutionary paradigm that permeates most dimensions of postmodern thought. Anyone with the slightest brush with education will recognize that we inhabit an ancient, dynamic, and evolving universe. In recent decades the debate about the relationship between science and religion, and the appropriate place of each in a pluralistic society, has become so acrimonious as at times to erupt in incivility.

This talk will explore the varying reception of evolution by modern religious groups. Some reject evolution completely, insisting upon a young universe, a recent creation, a literal Adam and Eve in a literal Garden of Eden, and a literal Noachian flood that covered the entire planet. Under this broad umbrella of science denial exists a number of subcategories, ranging from so-called “young earth creationism” to self-styled “intelligent design” theory.

Many people in ancient faith traditions now recognize that religion has everything to gain from a bold and incisive engagement with it. What does theology look like if it takes science seriously? What does science and its objects of study look like if we approach them with religious faith? These are hermeneutical questions about the translation of meaning not only across time and space, but between the contrasting cultures of religion and science. The interpretive framework within which a theistic evolutionist reads the Bible, church history, doctrinal theology, and religious ethics will inevitably reflect an unimaginably vast, ancient, dynamic and evolving universe.

This discussion will broach two central questions: (1) is it possible for religious believers both a) to believe in a purposeful God and b) at the same time to accept the evolutionary assumptions of modern cosmology, geology, biology, genetics, and neuroscience? I will contend not only that this is possible, but that it is essential for their coherence that religious traditions integrate the evolutionary world view into their theologies and religious cultures. (2) Second, what are the parameters of free thought in a pluralistic society? Do the interests of science and secularism demand the erasure of all cultural traditions that do not meet the rigorous demands of scientific reductionism? What place is there in our educational system for introducing students to some of the many religious and philosophical traditions developed by human kind over the last 3,500 years?

For more information: 
Contact: Peter Hess at hess@ncse.com