Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?.
By Michael Ruse.
Harvard University Press. 371 pp. $29.95.
With a palpable twinge of defensiveness, the French biologist Lucien Cuénot once boldly asserted, “It is not foolhardy to believe that the eye is made for seeing.” No kidding. So why the defensive tone? Such is the subject of Michael Ruse’s latest book, a history of teleological arguments in biological thought from the ancient Greeks to today’s Intelligent Design movement. Although the earlier chapters on Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Kant are too sketchy, even potted, the book picks up with the nineteenth century, where ironies abound. Thomas Huxley (“Darwin’s bulldog”) saw Darwinism as the perfect opportunity to set up a secular religion to rival Christianity. But he nonetheless believed in “saltations,” big leaps in evolution to account for the transition from, say, fox to dog, and even claimed that “there is a wider Teleology, that is not touched by the doctrine of Evolution.” On the other side of the coin (and ocean), the Harvard botanist Asa Gray rightly recognized that saltations would mean the demise of the theory of natural selection and vigorously defended Darwin in the New World but always remained an orthodox Congregationalist, whereas his great rival at Harvard, the zoologist Louis Agassiz, attacked the Origin of Species root and branch but abandoned the Calvinist religion of his Swiss homeland and became a Unitarian. One chapter title might serve the whole book: “Darwinian Against Darwinian.” But why the confusion in the evolutionary camp? Although his book is more history than analysis and at times shares in the confusions of his protagonists, Ruse does make a remark in passing that, in my opinion, will prove to be the future key to resolving the issue: “We may no longer be thinking of a literal designer up there in the sky, but the mode of understanding persists.” But is this teleological mode of understanding metaphorical (as Ruse would insist), or is it not actually analogical? Ruse freely admits that there is a major difference between metaphor and analogy—similarity is involved in both, but analogies are rooted in literal truth, while metaphors shock by highlighting disconcerting similarities (ones “that apprehend more than cool reason ever comprehends,” to borrow Shakespeare’s defense of nonliteral metaphor). Here is where Ruse’s too-rapid treatment of Aristotle undoes him, for Aristotle had the distinction down just right. Toward the end of his life the great Thomist Etienne Gilson wrote a radiantly lucid book called From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. What Ruse has done, perhaps unawares, is to write a book that proves Gilson right: only when the contentious and confused Darwinians abandon their rank philosophical amateurism and clear up their conceptual confusions with Aristotle’s clarity will this persistent (and persistently misleading) issue of teleology be resolved in biological thought.
— Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945.
By Richard Steigmann-Gall.
Cambridge University Press. 300 pp. $35.
Recent years have brought forth several efforts to examine the attitude of Christian leaders in Germany toward the Nazis as they came to power in Germany. Equally interesting, but much more difficult to uncover, is the attitude of the Nazi leaders towards Christianity. As Richard Steigmann-Gall makes clear in The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945, the difficulty comes from the fact that there was not a unified “Nazi view” of Christianity. Some Nazis were pagans, others considered themselves to be Christians, and many shifted their views over time. As for the official position of the regime, Steigmann-Gall finds no evidence of a Nazi plan to rid Germany of all forms of Christianity. Rather, the plan was to eliminate Catholicism and to reshape Protestantism. Indeed, many National Socialists actually considered themselves to be good Christians. They were able to do so because they rejected the traditions and lines of authority within the existing Protestant and Catholic churches. Thus freed from hierarchy and tradition, they were able to interpret Scripture according to their own views. Bolstered by some extremely harsh writings by their German hero Martin Luther, the Nazis reformulated biblical teachings to serve their racial doctrine. They elected a hand-picked Reich bishop to unify Protestant Churches into a single new confession of “German Christians” whom they then hoped to exploit. This plan for “positive Christianity” failed, however, because too many conservative Protestant ministers rejected the core values of Nazism. By 1937, it became clear that the Nazis would not be able to construct a single German, Protestant Church, and relations soured. Hitler’s position in all this is somewhat ambiguous. His few clear anti-Christian statements relate to specifically Catholic doctrine, not to Christianity more generally. One is left with the impression that Hitler fully rejected the teachings of the Catholic faith into which he had been baptized as a child, but that he never truly rejected his own warped view of Protestant Christianity. An extremely valuable contribution.
— Ronald J. Rychlak
Prolegomena to Charity.
By Jean-Luc Marion.
Fordham University Press. 178 pp. $20 paper.
In an age that assumes it has moved beyond theology, some have re-proposed the theological possibility by concentrating on faith (Bultmann and Barth) or on hope (Bloch and Moltmann). Marion argues for the neglected potential of the third “theological virtue,” love. His phenomenological inquiry, both relentless and illuminating, is not always easy reading. There are excurses on the nuances of philosophical jargon and what sometimes appear to be strained reaches for linguistic novelty. But Marion is also learnedly at home in the Christian tradition and offers fresh interpretations of scriptural and patristic sources that make this book, as well as his other writings, very much worth the effort. Faith and hope, he contends, necessarily await final validation, while love is always immediately possible. Moreover, love is a way of knowing that provides anticipatory validation of faith and hope. For theologians, Marion is a seminal thinker who must be taken seriously; for all Christians who cannot separate thinking from believing, he is a guide whose company in intellectual and spiritual adventure well rewards the difficulties.
Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris — The Rake Who Wrote the Constitution.
By Richard Brookhiser.
Free Press. 251 pp. $26.
Richard Brookhiser has a good thing going; good for us and, we may hope, good for him. There were the books on George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Adams dynasty, and now he takes on the very congenial Morris. Although not as well known as Brookhiser’s earlier subjects (hardly anybody today visits his grave in the Bronx) Morris was a man of many achievements, not least being the drafting of the Constitution. He was a rake but he settled down to be a gentleman, and even a Christian gentleman of the nonassertive Episcopalian type. Eminently readable (as Brookhiser always is), this book should enhance and enlarge our appreciation of the remarkable men who were the Founders.
Worship of the Heart: Essays on Jewish Prayer.
By Joseph B. Soloveitchik.
KTAV. 197 pp. $25.
Rabbi Soloveitchik (1903-1992), known to his admirers as “the Rav,” was one of the most influential talmudists and Jewish thinkers of the past century. His student Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva University here brings together ten of the Rav’s reflections on the nature and practice of prayer. Christians and others who are prepared to be drawn into a rich and close reading of traditional Jewish texts will be rewarded both intellectually and spiritually.
That Old-Time Religion in Modern America: Evangelical Protestantism in the Twentieth Century.
By D. G. Hart.
Ivan R. Dee. 246 pp. $24.95.
Another narrative of how early- twentieth-century “fundamentalism” became the publicly potent evangelicalism that is today both celebrated and excoriated. A weakness of the book is that evangelicalism today is much more various than Hart allows. The book does provide useful material on the fundamentalist origins of important aspects of contemporary evangelicalism.