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Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and…

Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (2007)

by Philip Kitcher

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I just finished this book last evening. It is an easy read being a synoptic treatment of the evidence supporting darwinism and the modern intelligent design criticisms. Kitcher takes us through the historical discoveries that undermined the biblical creation stories. For example, the earth is clearly much older than the bible indicates. There is no evidence for a worldwide Noah's flood. The evidence was so overwhelming that christian scholars, such as the Reverend Adam Sedgewick whom Kitcher quotes, had to admit that the biblical view was wrong. Biblical literalism was untenable after this point.

Kitcher takes ID seriously but ultimately finds that it is just the argument from design. ID has much to say against natural selection, but nothing positive to say about an alternative process. It is dead science having been buried long ago.

I was suprised by some other reviewers mentioning the 'Jesus Seminar'. Kitcher does not base anything on this group. In fact, they are not even in the index. They are only mentioned in two places. One, were he quotes their opinion on the effect of Mark's Ecce Homo scene where Pilate presents jesus to the mob. Let me quote it. "That scene, although the product of Mark's vivid imagination, has wrought untold and untellable tragedy in the history of the relation of Christians to Jews. There is no black deep enough to symbolize the black mark this fiction has etched in Christian history."( page 100 ). He quotes this where he is discussing the 'sitz im leben' of the gospels' composition. The other place is when Kitcher refers back to this quote on page 162. Kitcher makes no use of them for anything. He relies instead on older scholars such as Wellhausen and others who did the early work on figuring out how the bible was written. In fact, by 19th and early 20th century standards of biblical criticism, the Jesus Seminar is a very conservative group. A critical scholar like Joachim Jeremias ( not mentioned by Kitcher ) would say that the 'abba' saying by jesus is the only thing we can trace back to jesus with any confidence. Everything else he said or taught can be found in non-biblical sources.

Of course, as the old saying goes, you can't argue someone out of something that they weren't argued into. Creationists don't believe what they do for intellectual reasons but for emotional reasons. Kitcher ends up discussing what it might mean to be a christian if you do take the book seriously. It is what I call a 'post-critical naivete'. One knows that the stories are just that. In the community of fellow christians, one finds support, hope and a sense of transcendence.

If you want a short book dealing with these issues then this is your book.

There is no lack of books on this topic, but for those wanting to dig deeper into the critical scholarship of the bible you might want to consider some of the following books.

Who Wrote the Bible, Richard Friedman

The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems, Werner Kummel

The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart Ehrman

Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman

The Historical Jesus Question: The Challenge of History to Religious Authority, Gregory Dawes

And the classic of all classics

The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer ( )
  PedrBran | Oct 31, 2012 |
Living with Darwin
Phillip Kitcher
Dec 5, 2009 2:04 PM

This philosopher discusses and dismisses intelligent design as a legitimate alternative to evolution. The approach is to expose the lack of logical foundation, and to show how the argument of “intelligent design” is no different in substance from standard literal readings of creation myths. The arguments in the textbooks of the intelligent design advocates concentrate on exploiting gaps in evolutionary knowledge, but as Kitcher shows, have not advanced much beyond Bishop Wilberforce in the late 19th century. Accounting for the diversity of life on earth one has to either believe that the various forms of life are related and evolve, or that a creator decided, whimsically, to put all the fossils and intermediate forms, and leave in all the junk DNA and useless appendages in life forms. The more thoughtful part of the book talks of the challenges posed by “Enlightenment case against supernaturalism”, comparative religion and biblical scholarship, to the world view of providentialist religion. Kitcher suggests Darwin is the focus of the religious attack because these other areas are not as well know. He touches on the psychology of religious experiences, but misses citing the issue of religiosity in temporal lobe epilepsy. Finally, he is sympathetic to the needs of those indivduals for whom religion is a valuable social network and source of comfort. He paraphrases John Dewey, writing in the 1920’s, about the need to have a new attitude towards religion. Dewey suggested a need for outlets for the emotions underlying religious life, emancipated from the encumbrance of dogmas and the commitment of churches to the literal truth of their favored stories. “The task is to cultivate those attitudes that “lend deep and enduring support to the processes of living”.
The text is very readable, reasonable and humane, but probably will not be read by the supporters of intelligent design and only by those, like me, already convinced of the superiority of the scientific worldview. ( )
1 vote neurodrew | Dec 5, 2009 |
Kitcher has an intense interest in how secondary schools teach biology. Keeping Intelligent Design from being taught there was the motive for this book. Living with Darwin is formulated “in a way that people with no great training in science, history or philosophy could appreciate.” Those people would include, I suppose, American K-12 school board members and jurists---that is, the people who are determining the science curriculum.

The book is laid out in five chapters and the middle three are where Kitcher is most sure of himself; but those three chapters were much less interesting to me; they were the Inside the Laboratory view of ID criticism of three principles of evolutionary science and the counterarguments of those working within the evolutionary science paradigm. I will not discuss those arguments here other than to say, as a good Kuhnian, I endorse Kitcher’s proposal that IDers are doing “dead science”. It seems to me that as long as IDers are pointing out hard cases and inconsistencies within the evolutionary science paradigm they are doing somewhat useful work. However, if they step outside that role and propose Intelligent Design as a solution without an accompanying program that defines “the problems available for scientific inquiry and standards for what counts as an admissible problem and solution“---that is create their own paradigm of “normal science”---I would suggest they are simply doing theology.

In the last chapter Kitcher moves to speculations about the future of religious faith, which is a much more ambitious and interesting topic. He narrows his audience to the “honest and worried” people who accept ID and want to keep their fundamentalist beliefs. I have several criticisms of the last chapter.

I believe Living with Darwin would have benefited from a greater historical perspective. For some reason, Kitcher dates to the 18th century “what is wrongly viewed” as a conflict between science and Christian beliefs. However, one can get a better handle on Darwin if he is viewed as simply one more de-centering movement to Christian beliefs; a movement continuous with the revolution brought about by Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th century. At that time society was ordered and its worldview determined by Christianity to far greater degree than any of us can imagine today; a society with very limited secular activities outside of organized religion and independent of its authority. The Catholic Church famously reacted to Copernicus by placing his De Revolutionibus on the Index and making poor old Galileo recant. So the competition between science and Christian beliefs is not a new one centered on Darwin but a continuation of five centuries of Western intellectual thought in which great progress has been made in the secularization of Western culture.

I believe Kitcher makes a tactical mistake in the last chapter when he revisits such topics as why God would allow evil in the world, what is divine justice, etc. By doing so he unnecessarily gets himself entangled in 2000 years of theology created by some very smart guys (who I can guarantee have a better grasp of the issues than Kitcher), and fights the fundamentalist on his home turf----well, good luck with that. He makes another mistake when he reiterates what he calls “the enlightenment case” against supernaturalism. The enlightenment case puts a heavy emphasis on reason and casts the “honest and worried” fundamentalist as irrational in some sense. I would suggest to start a conversation with a fundamentalist by claiming she has her theology all wrong and is irrational would make that interlocutor defensive and more resistant to change.

Moreover, Kitcher does not come across as being a particularly trustworthy friend to the honest and worried fundamentalist. Kitcher is disingenuous when he tries to assure his fundamentalist reader with comments like “it would be arrogant to declare categorically that there is nothing that might answer our (that is, Kitcher’s, not the evangelical’s) vague conception of the transcendent” and “It would be wrong to maintain that we know sincere religious experiences are the products of delusion.” For he turns around in other passages to authoritatively intone, “to believe in the genuine possibility of ...a reunion in the hereafter...would be self-deception”, and “the promise is literally false---there is no God that will wipe the tears from our eyes”, “eternal salvation---all that I repeat is literally false” and “churches provide a sense of hope, illusory to be sure.” I think a reasonable response by our “honest and worried” fundamentalist is to tell Kitcher to get lost.

There is a tendency for Kitcher to associate religious experience with emotion, access to the divine and in one place explicit identification that “the core of the experience is an accurate sense of the transcendent.” Instead of separating religious experience from religion, as Dewey did, he embraces religion because he thinks it is the only source of religious experience. He is less than convincing when he recommends what he calls “spiritual religion” to the fundamentalist as a replacement for their already organized religion. “Spiritual religion” is religion shorn of its dogma and tradition. To his credit Kitcher recognizes his problem: once he has eliminated the dogma and tradition he has no idea what the content of “spiritual religion” would be that would differentiate it from secularism. Perhaps the only difference Kitcher sees for the fundamentalists he converts is that they already own a place to meet once a week and sing songs.

At the present moment in America, converting Southern Baptists and Mormons to a spiritual religion is far-fetched. The best chance for success is for a new Mary Baker Eddy or Joseph Smith to arise and invent a religion that doesnt have dogma but simply preached love. We’ll see.

Now this review will grade into a short essay. A more sensible approach is to leave religion to itself, and propose something that looks attractive to the unconverted. It is ironic, that the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia does not embrace and recommend Dewey’s own approach. Dewey took a naturalistic stance in order to emancipate religious experience from religion and thereby allow religious experience to be safely used by secularists. In A Common Faith he says, “Any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of conviction of its general and enduring value is religious in quality. Many a person, inquirer, artist, philanthropist, citizen, men and women in the humblest walks of life, have achieved, without presumption and without display, such unification of themselves and of their relations to the conditions of existence.” (By the way, I must admit Dewey’s attempt in the same book to hijack the word God for secular purposes was very unconvincing.)

What is more, Dewey provides what Kitcher thinks is lacking with secularists: Hope. (Kitcher, who thinks most people have a drab, painful, impoverished life, is remarkably pessimistic himself). For Dewey sees one of the happy by-products of science as the change in our view of the world from something we fear and must try to propitiate to something we can predict and/or control. It’s a move from what Freud called a “pious worldview” to a causal one. This new worldview is the spur human beings need to reach maturity as a species. It’s the prodding to realize all we have is each other and therefore we need to consciously and courageously take charge of our own future and, as Rorty says, stop masochistically abasing ourselves before some non-human authority. Dewey believed participation in democratic politics would be the vehicle by which humans would fight social evils and make life better for themselves and future humans. That is my hope as well, but we’ll see if it pans out.

But even Dewey does not go far enough. As Kitcher notes, Darwin and science do not provide comfort at a funeral. I agree with Kitcher that the development of communities (political organizations, work unions, and continued cultivation of the family) to provide support at times of great personal distress is most important. Perhaps at future funerals, instead of songs about low swinging chariots secularists can sing songs of ourself. Perhaps ideas like people videotaping their own eulogies will catch on, and it becomes a moral responsibility like leaving a last will and testament; a self-eulogy where a person can give mourners a first hand account of what people, poems, and ideas were important to her and how she lived to make things better for others. Perhaps this is idle thinking. And a tough case remains: what are secularists to do for a parent when she loses a child, as Huxley did? ( )
2 vote semckibbin | Jul 18, 2009 |
A lot of the books recently written in defense of evolution have turned even me off, even though I'm a firm believer in the obvious truth of the science: they're frequently insensitive, arrogantly written, and written by people who are also kind of assholes, to put it plainly. This book is much better suited for the job of defending Darwin, I find. People like Dawkins are preaching to the choir; Kitcher's book, however, relies on a persuasive tone as well as irrefutable science, and therefore does a much better job of explaining the failings of creationism and intelligent design, and is probably much more likely to be read with an open mind by a creationist or an intelligent design theorist than any bombastic text of Dawkins'. Written by a philosopher and with genuine respect and sensitivity, it's about a million times more pleasant to read, I find.

Most interesting is Kitcher's final chapter, which tries to tackle the idea of why America, out of all places, continually sees these attacks on Darwin. His conclusions are likely to provoke discussion.

Anyway, a fine read. I recommend it strongly to any intelligent design theorist who would like to know what the other side is all about. This book would be less likely to offend them and more likely to educate them than anything else published recently. ( )
2 vote lmichet | Feb 10, 2009 |
166 pages. Delightful, clever, sensitive, intelligent.

After a long string of strident atheism books, (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Hitchens, et al), here's an author that is spot on and unflinching in his science, and sensitive and human in his analysis. ( )
2 vote Atomicmutant | Aug 10, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195314441, Hardcover)

Charles Darwin has been at the center of white-hot public debate for more than a century. In Living With Darwin, Philip Kitcher stokes the flames swirling around Darwin's theory, sifting through the scientific evidence for evolution, Creation Science, and Intelligent Design, and revealing why evolution has been the object of such vehement attack. Kitcher first provides valuable perspective on the present controversy, describing the many puzzles that blocked evolution's acceptance in the early years, and explaining how scientific research eventually found the answers to these conundrums. Interestingly, Kitcher shows that many of these early questions have been resurrected in recent years by proponents of Intelligent Design. In fact, Darwin himself considered the issue of intelligent design, and amassed a mountain of evidence that effectively refuted the idea. Kitcher argues that the problem with Intelligent Design isn't that it's "not science," as many critics say, but that it's "dead science," raising questions long resolved by scientists. But Kitcher points out that it is also important to recognize the cost of Darwin's success--the price of "life with Darwin." Darwinism has a profound effect on our understanding of our place in the universe, on our religious beliefs and aspirations. It is in truth the focal point of a larger clash between religious faith and modern science. Unless we can resolve this larger issue, the war over evolution will go on.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:08 -0400)

"Charles Darwin has been at the center of white-hot public debate for more than a century. In Living With Darwin, Philip Kitcher peers into the flames swirling around Darwin's theory, sifting through the scientific evidence for evolution, Creation Science, and Intelligent Design, and revealing why evolution has been the object of such vehement attack. Evolution is a dangerous idea. In this volume, Philip Kitcher illuminates this idea while suggesting ways to defuse the danger, suggestions that embrace both the religious impulse and the force of scientific evidence"--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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