« Accidents That Happen Accidentally »

I’m late to the party for Topic #6, though I’ve been following the conversation with interest, and better late than never. The mere existence of this discussion is cheering: it couldn’t have taken place when I was in high school, in the 1960s. And our discussion is representative of a much larger ongoing dialogue, as evidenced by books such as Four Views on the Historical Adam, coming from Zondervan this November, Bradley J. Gundlach’s Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929, also scheduled for publication, by Eerdmans, in November, and Tim Stafford’s The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Explore the Divine Mystery of Human Origins, due at the end of this year from Thomas Nelson.

But as a footnote to the illuminating posts on this topic, I want to highlight one point which, though glancingly noted, has not been much addressed in our discussion (or so it seems to me), perhaps in part because to many writers it seems too obvious. To the list of books mentioned above, let’s add The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution, by Henry Gee (a paleontologist and for many years a senior editor at Nature and a highly respected science writer), just published by the University of Chicago Press. Gee is contemptuous of what he describes as “human exceptionalism” and the notion that evolution has any particular trajectory: “The patterns that we see in life are the results of evolution, and are contingent. In and of itself, evolution carries no implication of progression or improvement. Absolutely none. Zip. Nada.”

And yet, Gee says, coverage of evolution in the “popular media” persistently gets this wrong. Is that true? Actually, no. The very claims that Gee makes have been repeated ad nauseum in newspaper articles (in the Tuesday science section of the New York Times, for instance), in science magazines, in books intended for the general reader (we live in a Golden Age of science-writing), and on TV science programs. Are there also instances in which a whiff of “human exceptionalism” is strong? Of course. But the notion that, in the popular marketplace of ideas, Gee’s core claims about evolution are not routinely heard is simply absurd.

In fact, there is a strong vein in contemporary science-writing across the board—from Nature and Science on down—of hand-wringing and pontificating exactly as Gee does here. Such attitudes are not limited to a few figures—Richard Dawkins et al.—as is sometimes implied by would-be peacemakers. This is a reality that any account of “Evangelicalism and Scientific Models of Humanity” must reckon with.

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