The best books on religion, evolution, and chance

Brendan Sweetman Author Of Evolution, Chance, and God: Understanding the Relationship Between Evolution and Religion
By Brendan Sweetman

Who am I?

I'm a teacher, philosopher, writer, Professor of Philosophy, and holder of the Sullivan Chair in Philosophy at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. I'm the author/editor of sixteen books on such topics as religion and science, religion and politics, contemporary European philosophy, and political philosophy. I'm particularly interested in how religion and science, especially evolution, can be shown to be compatible with each other, as well as in developing an argument that there is no chance operating in nature (including in biology). My book and the books below explore these fascinating topics from almost every possible angle, and should whet readers’ appetites for further thinking about these intriguing matters!


I wrote...

Evolution, Chance, and God: Understanding the Relationship Between Evolution and Religion

By Brendan Sweetman,

Book cover of Evolution, Chance, and God: Understanding the Relationship Between Evolution and Religion

What is my book about?

I wrote this book in order to explore the challenging but fascinating topic of the relationship between religion and the scientific theory of evolution, which special attention to whether the process of evolution includes a significant (or indeed any) element of chance in its operation. Written in an accessible style for the non-specialist, the book probes the implications of evolution for religious belief and along the way discusses such topics as the meaning of chance and randomness in biology and science more generally, the difference between predictability and probability, and the absence of chance in nature. The book goes on to explore related topics of design, suffering, and morality, as well as considering some of the ways that God might act in and through creation. 

The books I picked & why

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Chance in Evolution

By Grant Ramsey (editor), Charles H. Pence (editor),

Book cover of Chance in Evolution

Why this book?

This collection of essays takes a different position to mine on the question of chance in evolution. This book boldly approaches the study of evolution with the assumption that there is a large element of chance, contingency, and randomness in the process. Bringing together biologists, and philosophers of science, it explores many aspects of the theory as well as its implications for the existence of life on earth, and especially for the emergence of Homo sapiens. Along the way, the authors tackle such topics as genetic drift, mutation, and parallel evolution. By engaging in collaboration across biology, history, philosophy, and theology, the book offers a comprehensive overview of the history of chance in evolution and at the same time prompts readers to push further the central question as to what the existence of genuine chance would mean for our understanding of nature.  


Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith

By Christoph Cardinal Schonborn,

Book cover of Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith

Why this book?

In this book, catholic Cardinal Christoph Schonborn tackles hard questions concerning religion and evolution by developing a carefully reasoned "theology of creation." When I first read it, I was intrigued by his disagreement with some of his fellow Catholic thinkers, a disagreement that illustrates the range of positions that one can take on these issues, even if one shares the same general perspective. Schonborn considers such questions as: Can we still speak intelligently of the world as "creation" and affirm the existence of the Creator, or is God a "delusion"? How should an informed believer read the Book of Genesis? Are human beings a part of nature or elevated above it? Is everything a matter of chance or can we discern purpose in human existence? 

The Cardinal argues that science and a rationally grounded faith are not at odds and that what many people represent as "science" is really a set of philosophical positions that will not withstand critical scrutiny. He provides readers with a vigorous, frank dialogue that acknowledges the respective insights of the philosopher, the theologian, and the scientist, but which calls on them to listen and to learn from each other. 


God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution

By John F. Haught,

Book cover of God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution

Why this book?

I have always appreciated John Haught’s point that theologians, in particular, have to do a better job of thinking about how to incorporate evolutionary theory into their theologies. While I would not follow him all the way, I learned much from his arguments that the ongoing debate between Darwinian evolutionists and Christian apologists is fundamentally misdirected; he suggests that both sides mistakenly persist in focusing on an explanation of underlying design and order in the universe. His own suggestions for the direction we might take are intriguing and provide much food for thought. What is lacking, he argues, is the notion of novelty, a necessary component of evolution and the essence of the unfolding of the divine mystery.  


Divine Action and Modern Science

By Nicholas Saunders,

Book cover of Divine Action and Modern Science

Why this book?

This book considers the relationship between the natural sciences and the concept of God acting in the world. Nicholas Saunders examines the Biblical motivations for asserting a continuing notion of divine action and identifies several different theological approaches to the problem. He considers their theoretical relationships with the laws of nature, indeterminism, and probabilistic causation. His radical critiques of current attempts to reconcile special divine action with quantum theory, chaos theory, and quantum chaos are especially interesting, though he will not convince everyone! Saunders provocatively suggests that we are still far from a satisfactory account of how God might act in a manner that is consonant with modern science despite the copious recent scholarship in this area.


Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists Versus God and Religion

By Karl Giberson, Mariano Artigas,

Book cover of Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists Versus God and Religion

Why this book?

There are a group of leading thinkers in science and religion who simultaneously provoke fertile thought in their readers and irritate them at the same time! This group includes biologists Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Edward O. Wilson, and physicists Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Steven Weinberg, who have become public intellectuals, articulating a much larger vision for science and what role it should play in the modern worldview. The scientific prestige and literary eloquence of each of these thinkers combines to transform them into what can only be called oracles of science. Curiously, these thinkers create a very misleading and culturally damaging impression that science as a whole is incompatible with religion. Giberson and Artigas offer an informed analysis of their views, carefully distinguishing science from philosophy and religion in the writings of the oracles. Overall, the book is a great introduction to many of the fascinating questions that are now a standard part of the religion/science debate/dialogue. 


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