The title of this volume by retired dean of the faculty of science at the University of London comes from a movement in medical education and research. The movement toward evidence-based medicine originated in the early 1990s and intends to make medical decision-making depend more on the critical appraisal of data and less on the assumed authority of one’s teachers. Burge borrows the “evidence-based” phrase and applies it to Christian belief and the relationship between science and belief.
Burge begins by describing his understandings of evidence and belief. Evidence is that which is ground for belief, and evidence may take on many forms – scientific, documentary, oral testimony, among others. The criteria for evaluating evidence or resolving conflicting bits of evidence are not as well articulated in this book as some would wish. The varieties of evidence go into making up our beliefs, scientific and religious.
The remainder of the book examines various instances of evidence and belief from the creation and evolution questions that are the source of current American political strife to incarnation, suffering, miracles, atonement and resurrection. These chapters serve as mini-reviews of each topic which provide a good overview, generally presented from a moderate Anglican theological perspective.
Several key themes emerge in Burge’s work. He views kenosis as the key to understanding creation and incarnation and to making some sense of suffering. Although Burge does not weigh in directly on the “intelligent design” proposals currently the subject of debate and court cases, he is sympathetic to the anthropic principle, that the “universe seems to be made in such a precise way that humans can evolve, suggesting that creation is dependent on an anthropic (human-making) principle” (67).
The idea of evolution is a core one in this work, not only geological and biological, but also theological. His penultimate chapter discusses the evolution of belief, especially religious belief. The historical evidence is cited for the development of understanding of the ecclesial roles of men and women, incarnation and atonement, supernatural beings, and life after death. In general, Burge sees the development as progress, but is aware that this view is not shared universally by all Christians. Indeed he writes, “There seems to be no overall natural selection process to fashion our religious beliefs, except to the extent of those beliefs that are either the result of sexual awareness and reason or logic depend on the degree to which the brain has evolved, in capacity, complexity, and character”(173).
In short, this work is an accessible and gracious discussion of some of the issues that have engaged science and religion over the past several hundred years. It is written from the perspective of a theologically sophisticated scientist and should appeal to a broad general audience while perhaps engendering some frustration among the specialists in each discipline.