Sunday, October 12, 2008

Book Review: Saving Darwin

Is it possible to be a Christian and believe in evolution? Many Christians say it isn't. But the fact is that there are Christians who also believe in evolution. One of these is Karl W Giberson who once was a creationist but now believes in evolution and remains a Christian. In his book Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution he provides an incisive, cogent, and compelling argument in support of evolution and its compatibility with Christian belief. On his web site he explains why he wrote the book:

'I wrote Saving Darwin to build a bit of a bridge between two cultures at odds with each other: the scientific community and American evangelicalism. I have lived in both cultures and am dismayed at how far apart they are. In this climate of misunderstanding the ‘naturalism’ of science looks anti-religious and the anti-evolutionism of evangelicalism looks uninformed. I hope to illuminate the tension that divide these two communities and to contribute to improved communications.'

Giberson's book certainly fulfills his objectives. In his first chapter Dissolution of a Fundamentalist he shares his life journey from his hero-worship of Henry Morris (author of the classic texts of "scientific creationism"), through his teenage fundamentalism, and on to his increasing doubts about creationism and persuasion that evolution is the best explanation for origins of life on planet earth.

One of the great benefits of Saving Darwin is Giberson's superbly engaging and clear survey of the creation/evolution debate in America. He separates fact from fiction in relation to Darwin's developing theory of evolution and his faith in God and the birth and development of fundamentalism. Giberson explores 'Darwin's Dark Companions' — those individuals and movements who have coopted Darwinian evolution to justify such evils as genocide or amorality. According to Giberson, many of these have abused or misused evolution for their own purposes and evolution has inappropriately suffered from guilt by association.

The creation/evolution debate has had a long and prominent history in American courts. There is an excellent chapter telling that story from the Scopes trial right up until the recent Dover ruling. Following this is a history of the rise of "scientific creationism" which has now transformed into the Intelligent Design movement including a discussion of why Giberson believes the Intelligent Design argument fails. Despite Giberson's critique of Intelligent Design, he also acknowledges that evolution speaks ambiguously and different people hear it saying different things leading to the fact that people residing in 'profoundly incompatible worldviews' can accept it.

In an interesting chapter entitled How to Be Stupid, Wicked, and Insane Giberson turns his attention to the increasingly strident and often religious sounding rhetoric of some evolutionists. As far as Giberson is concerned the evolution/creation debate is more a culture war about who is going to determine, for society, the ultimate nature of reality. On one side you have the likes of Richard Dawkins who has explicitly declared his purpose to be the destruction of religion. And on the other side you have those like Philip Johnson who wants to bring down naturalism. This culture war is really not about origins at all but more about the imposing of a worldview from either side on the rest of society.

Finally, Giberson provides a summary of the multiple lines of evidence in support of evolution. Giberson believes that evolution is true and an 'expression of God's creativity, although in a way that is not captured by the scientific view of the world.' (p. 216) Giberson affirms the inability of science to remove mystery from what is. No matter how much we learn there will always be room for God because God is not the longtime abandoned 'God of the gaps'. God is the ground of everything that exists and, whatever we discover about the natural world, there is no reason to exclude God from reality.

Perhaps the most important conclusion we can come to on the matter of origins (and indeed anything we believe we know) is a profound humility as we seek to answer the questions we have about the universe. In his introduction, Giberson quotes Michael Ruse who wrote a book called Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? Ruse wrote:

If you are a Darwinian or a Christian or both, remember that we are mere humans and not God. We are middle-range primates with the adaptations to get down out of the trees, and to live on the plains in social groups. We do not have powers which will necessarily allow us to peer into the ultimate mysteries. If nothing else, these reflections should give us a little modesty about what we can and cannot know, and a little humility before the unknown.

Whatever side of the origins debate you find yourself on, remembering that we are mere humans and not God may be the most important thing we can remember. The arrogance and dogmatism at the two extremes of this debate do not seem to me to be appropriate for those who follow the teachings of Christ.

Saving Darwin is a powerful book that provides Christians who struggle with the discoveries of science and tension with their Christian faith with a middle way between two extremes. It is an important contribution to this most significant cultural conversation. It won't answer all your questions and you may find aspects of it with which you wish to disagree. But Giberson provides an important perspective worth considering. If nothing else, Christians must cease accusing other Christians who believe in evolution of not being truly Christian.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

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Who would have thought that a movie about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll would be anything worth watching. But Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl is a superb, deeply moving story that had me totally engaged and riveted to the screen.

Lars (Ryan Gosling) is a recluse who lives out in the garage owned by his brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and Gus's wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer). Lars goes to work and stays to himself in his little cubicle rarely talking to anyone. Margo (Kelli Garner) admires him from a distance while Lars is completely oblivious to her interest in him.

Lars has shut everyone out, including Gus and Karin who try their best to involve him in their lives. It is obvious that Lars doesn't want to feel anything or let anyone into his world.

One day at work, one of his colleagues is browsing the Internet and shows Lars a site where you can order an anatomically correct girl for obvious purposes. Lars secretly orders one. When it turns up, he introduces "Bianca" to Gus and Karin as his girlfriend. They are completely shocked but, recognising there is something very wrong with Lars, they play along, eventually persuading him to take Bianca to the town's doctor (Patricia Clarkson) who is also a psychologist. She convinces Gus and Karin that this is a phase that Lars is going through and that he needs to be able to play it out in order to heal some deep need.

Gus and Karin, although highly skeptical, decide to help and they begin to inform his work and the community of the plan. Thus begins a fascinating journey, not only for Lars, but for all who know him.

Lars and the Real Girl is absolutely wonderful. With a fresh narrative, superb acting, and a spot-on script, this potentially cheesy story is a moving portrait of a man in deep emotional pain who is healed by a community that gathers together to support him.

Humans yearn for love. But sometimes things happen that emotionally traumatise us to such an extent that we shut down all possibility of others making contact with us because we fear being hurt again. We often find meaning and fulfillment in things we believe will satisfy — but they don't. We are made for human relationships. But when we are broken and in pain, unwilling to let others in, how is it possible to be healed.

Lars and the Real girl is ultimately about the perseverance of those who love unconditionally and who ultimately succeed in penetrating the very high, very solid, walls of defence. For those who come from a belief in God, it isn't hard to see in Lars and the Real Girl a superb analogy of the persistent love of God who never gives up despite what seems like impenetrable walls of pain and suffering. For those who don't share that belief, it affirms an equally essential truth — we cannot survive without the love of other people. Our human relationships are absolutely essential to our survival.

Lars and the Real Girl is a wonderful, moving, heart-warming, gentle, profound story which will linger with you long after the credits roll.

My Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Positive Review

'It's nothing less than a miracle that the director, Craig Gillespie, and the writer, Nancy Oliver, have been able to make such an endearing, intelligent and tender comedy from a premise that, in other hands, might sustain a five-minute sketch on TV.' - Joe Morgenstern/The Wall Street Journal

Negative Review

'Lars and the Real Girl wobbles in a slow, toneless no-man's-land between mawkish and schmaltzy while trafficking shamelessly in heartland stereotypy.' - Ella Taylor/The Village Voice

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