This is the second post commenting on Michael Ruse's The Evolution-Creation Struggle (see Part 1). Christian responses to evolution come in three flavors: those that reject it as inconsistent with Christian beliefs; those that accept it and find evolution compatible with Christian belief; and those that minimize the interaction of belief and evolution by placing scientific knowledge and religious belief in two different domains.
Remember that Darwin's theory of evolution was built on natural selection as the process driving evolutionary change. Many, both Christian commentators and scientists, who disagreed that natural selection was driving evolution nevertheless affirmed their own variation of evolution. A particular problem that Christians had (and have) with Darwinian evolution was that natural selection is a blind process. What happens just happens; there is no final cause (God or otherwise) controlling or directing the process.
Adam Sedgwick was a noted geologist who tutored Darwin in geology before he left on his journey to South America. Sedgwick was also a conservative Anglican, and opposed evolution for just the reasons noted above. Here's how Ruse summarized Sedgwick's view (the quotations are from Sedgwick's 1860 published response to Darwin).
As far as [Sedgwick] was concerned, the traditional arguments of natural theology — that design in the organic world argued for a designer — continued to rule and were taken as a direct counter to Darwinism. His "deep aversion to the theory" was in major part based on the fact that it "utterly repudiates final causes." Many good English establishment Christians were appalled at what they rightly saw as a threat to a Bible-based religion, although the dismantling of the Creation stories of Genesis was not their major concern. The real upset was rather the pressure on the more Jesus-centered aspects of Christianity — the incarnation, the resurrection, and above all the promise of eternity, either eternal life or eternal punishment.
This quotation shows that the potential for conflict between evolution and traditional Christianity was clear from the beginning. It also highlights a problem in evaluating principaled Christian objections to evolution. Is the person objecting really in disagreement with the science, based on a different view of the evidence and with a different theory in mind, or is the person reacting primarily to a perceived threat to that person's religious denomination or beliefs?
Many in the 19th-century viewed evolution, even Darwinian evolution, as compatible with Christianity rather than in conflict with it. A good example is the American botanist Asa Gray. At Darwin's request, Gray provided information about North American flora to Darwin via letter. Gray was subsequently a lifelong friend of Darwin and a stalwart supporter of Darwin's theory, in stark contrast to the dominant American biologist of the day, Louis Agassiz. But Ruse notes that, unlike Darwin, Gray did not lose his faith.
Because Gray wanted to supplement natural selection with some kind of guided variation, Darwin thought that he was selling out — which was true — but Gray's commitment to evolution of a kind was solid. And in fact, something along the lines of Gray's compromise grew increasingly attractive to many Christians. They obviously could not buy into Huxley's agnostic materialism .... But they did want to be on the side of modern science, and in some respects evolution was attractive. It solved a number of scientific problems, and by speaking of origins it did take seriously the sorts of questions that Christians thought should be taken seriously.
A third response that Christians could take was to see neither conflict nor harmony but logical separation or independence. In addressing the Catholic as opposed to the Protestant reaction to evolution, Ruse observed that the Catholics didn't respond much differently than Protestants, but also that it wasn't really their fight.
Positivism, naturalism, and materialism were totally unacceptable — one could not imagine that immortal souls were things that just happened. There had to be divine intervention there. But beyond that, Catholics went with science, or at least the popular science that evolution had become. This was the position of John Henry Newman. ... His own position was that science and religion deal with different spheres and thus, properly understood, do not interact and cannot conflict.
That, of course, sounds a lot like Stephen Jay Gould's modern view that goes by the catchy title Non-overlapping Magisteria. Here's how Gould expressed the same thought:
The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise—science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives.
The Mormon Response?
I drew my examples mostly from the 19th century, but the same choices define 20th-century Christian responses to evolution. What about the Mormon response to evolution? Or, more exactly, Mormon responses? That probably deserves its own post, but I think that modern Mormon responses to evolution span the spectrum just as Christian responses do: some see unresolvable conflict between evolution and LDS faith; others find the two worldviews largely or fully compatible; and some see little overlap or interplay between the two.
Personally, I sort of straddle the second and third options. The problem with holding Mormonism (or any Christian denomination) and evolution as fully compatible is that evolution, like a noble gas, doesn't bond easily with other worldviews. Evolution is too potent a paradigm and just explains too many things, including some things that religion has traditionally felt it was uniquely qualified to explain. Holding firm to both Mormonism (or any religious worldview) and evolution always entails some creative tension. This is rarely acknowledged by LDS proponents of evolution. The problem I see with the independence option (Gould's NOMA approach) is that it smacks of compartmentalization. The world is messy and complicated, so there's no reason to think one epistemological or disciplinary approach will span its fullness, but it is still just one world. As an apologetic move, it is sometimes useful to bring up NOMA, especially in response to those who see science as explaining Everything. But I don't think complete nonoverlap, where the epistemological domains are entirely disjoint, is the last word.