Darwin’s Pious Idea
Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong
Eerdmans, $34.99, 580 pp.
Conor Cunningham’s Darwin’s Pious Idea is a big book with big aspirations. It expects its readers to know something about philosophy, science, and theology. For those who do, it proposes a way to integrate these bodies of knowledge into a single worldview.
Cunningham’s subtitle pits his argument against “Ultra-Darwinists” and creationists, but his real target is what he thinks these two opposed groups have in common: dualism. According to dualists, the material stuff that surrounds us and constitutes our bodies is radically distinct from the immaterial stuff of our perceptions and thoughts. Most “Ultra-Darwinists” and creationists would deny being dualists in this sense, but Cunningham is out to show that they have unwittingly bought into dualism’s logic.
Christians have traditionally been suspicious of dualism, because it tends to elevate immaterial stuff as better or more real than the physical world, including our bodies (and Christ’s). Some dualists, denying the goodness of creation, have even taught that the physical world is evil. Cunningham translates God’s question to Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11) as “Who told that you were merely material or, more importantly, that matter was mere?” Why, in other words, did we ever become ashamed of our materiality, or imagine that it obscured the image of God in which we were created? The early church concluded that extreme dualism—as it appeared in Docetism, for example—was...