Those who travel the evolution-vs.-creationist circuit will have a new voice to listen to. The blurbs on the dust jacket let the reader know the author is on the side of Phillip Johnson, chief opponent of scientific naturalism and evolutionary theory, William Dembski, chief proponent of Intelligent Design (ID) in evolution, Michael Behe, an evolutionist who claims to have instances of the kind of ID which Dembski looks for, and Stephen C. Meyer, a leading proponent of ID.
Like Johnson, Hunter argues that the theory of evolution is not well supported by the evidence and has so many flaws that something else must sustain belief in it. Where Johnson mainly attacks materialism and naturalism, however, Hunter collects citations from numerous evolutionists, past and present, to show that all of them uphold evolution by relying on a certain "metaphysics" as he calls it (a theology, in fact). The evolutionists share a theodicy, says Hunter. Pointing to the natural evils in the world, to the pain and death involved in the process of evolution, the evolutionists say that if God were directly involved, God would not do such things. Evolutionists thereby use a "modern" notion of God, meaning apparently a deist God who would make only something like the best of all possible worlds, and who would not get directly involved in the world. In fact, Hunter often calls the evolutionistsí "modernist" thought gnostic, on the grounds that they want to separate the material and the spiritual and remove God from responsibility for this messy painful world. Not revealing his own theology, Hunter nonetheless indicates at times that there is a different God in scripture, one who does create calamities, who punishes, who guides events in history.
Hunter points to other "metaphysical" arguments used by evolutionists. The belief that God actively guides and intervenes in the whole process of life has to face awkward challenges. 1) Would God create countless similar species of enormous variety, and then turn around and wipe most of them out, especially in the two great wipe-outs of around 250 million years ago and 65 million years ago? 2) Would God create species with engineering flaws, such as the dangerous appendix in humans or retinal axons placed so that they obscure vision in mammals? 3) Would God create DNA with its many non-functioning stretches of genes (pseudogenes)? 4) Would God create various species with patterns of similarities and differences, in both visible structure and on the molecular level, that make them appear as though they were related to each other in an enormous family tree (or bush) of common descent, when in fact they are products of special acts of creation? 5) Would God give them geographical distribution that strongly suggests patterns of divergence from common ancestries if this were not the case? Hunter notes in the end that the National Academy of Sciences says that religious doctrines should be excluded from science classrooms. In that case, Hunter argues, we had better exclude evolution from science classrooms; it is based on religious arguments about what God would or would not do.
As Hunter analyzes the evolutionistsí theodicy and their other metaphysical arguments, he simultaneously tries to show that the data behind these arguments do not really prove evolution. Technically, he is correct. They are simply convergent lines of extremely extensive evidence that together, in this reviewerís opinion, leave room for only two possible conclusions. Either an entirely natural process of evolution (perhaps intended or planned, as well as sustained and empowered, by God) accounts for the enormous variety of fossil forms and current life on the planet. Or God has in fact intervened in the natural process but in such a way as to hide these interventions and make the process appear to be entirely natural. Ironically, I think Hunter has done a fairly good job in reviewing the evidence that leaves us with only those alternatives.
This becomes especially clear if one raises the question that Hunter only implies in his discussion of micro-evolution. He acknowledges that we have first-hand evidence of micro-evolution, for example, the appearance of many species of sea gulls from a basic seagull type. Hunter does not tell us if he will allow any macro-evolution, the origin of a whole new kind of organism from significantly different ancestors. If it can happen even once, it could happen many times, and that opens the door to the full evolution which Hunter argues against. But if God had to intervene to make every new basic kind of organism, then the fossil record would indeed suggest that God was behaving bizarrely by any standards we might apply. Hunterís response, I suspect, would be to challenge our right to apply our standards to God.
Finally it comes down to an idea that Hunter shares with Johnson, that as humans we want to understand things. So we adopt naturalism in science, the assumption that all life on this planet flows from the uniform activity of natural causes. If we instead admit that natural events might be due to divine activities, we would be facing a cause whose actions and motives we cannot understand or predict. To have a science of the history of life, God must be set apart from the daily operations of the world. Hunter opposes this.
I find Hunterís theology of God a little thin. It offers him only two choices, a literalist reading of scriptures or a "modern" deistic God. He briefly considers and rejects the God of process thought in its various forms. I wonder what he would think of Rahnerís Infinite.