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Joan Roughgarden, Evolution and Christian Faith; Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2006), 155pp.Joan Roughgarden, Evolution and Christian Faith; Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2006), 155pp.

           Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford since 1972 and an active Christian in her Episcopal church, wrote this book, she says, to provide a succinct statement of exactly what evolutionary biology does and does not know, and how the Bible relates to that scientific knowledge. The book is short enough to read in a few sittings, has no footnotes at all, avoids bogging down in secondary literature on the subject, and is written at a level for people with limited knowledge of science. I especially appreciated her irenic spirit.

           At its simplest level evolution teaches that all of life is related in one big family tree, and that species change over space and time through "natural breeding" (as opposed to artificial breeding, for example, that farmers and others do today). Because of random mutations in the genes that are passed on from the "original" to the "copies," changes occur, some of which are favorable and some of which are deleterious. These mutations are random, but whether the overall evolutionary process has any "direction" good or bad is hotly debated among evolutionary biologists, says Roughgarden. Finally, she thinks Darwin is badly wrong about universal sex roles in which aggressive males seek passive females in a competition of perpetual conflict. She believes that cooperation and interdependence (eg, an ant colony) are as important in nature as conflict.

           Roughgarden insists that there need not be any conflict between science and religion, or that they need to be relegated to separate spheres (but see pp. 56, and 83 where she seems to qualify this). "Intelligent design," she believes, invents problems that don't exist, is hard to take seriously, and so is a "non-starter" for mainstream science. She consigns ID to "junk science" along with the many versions of "junk religion." As one might expect, Roughgarden shines when it comes to science, but less so on matters theological and Biblical. But this is still a gem of a little book for those, as she says, who need to come up to speed on the subject for a Sunday school class or school board meeting, and it is heartening for a well-placed biologist like her to publish such an unapologetic confession of Christian faith.

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