Guest Review: Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

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Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent DesignJ.B. Stump ed., Ken Ham, Hugh Ross, Deborah Haarsma, Stephen C. Meyer, contributors. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

Summary: A snapshot of the current origins debate in America.

The stated goal of this Four Views book is “for it to be an accurate snapshot of the origins conversation in America right now.” In my opinion, it succeeds.

The format consists of essays by Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis), Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe), Deborah Haarsma (BioLogos), and Stephen C. Meyer (Discovery Institute). Following each essay are responses by the other three authors and a rejoinder by the essay author.

The essay authors were asked to describe their position on origins, discuss the most persuasive argument for and biggest challenges to their position, their sources of evidence for their position, and how important it is to have a correct view of origins.

Ken Ham defends Young-Earth Creationism against all of the old-earth views. He states that “Scripture must control our interpretation of the scientific evidence and our critique of evolutionary, naturalistic interpretations” (p. 31) and that “the issue of the age of the earth for Christians comes down one of authority. Who is the ultimate authority, God or man, or what is the final authority, God’s Word or man’s word?” (p. 34) He neglects to mention that Scripture also needs to be interpreted, and that his interpretation is only one of many possible interpretations of Genesis 1-11. He claims that “all old-earth scientists ignore (or worse, twist) God’s eyewitness testimony in Genesis in their efforts to interpret the physical evidence from events of the past” (p. 212).

Ken Ham then goes on to state that “The scientific evidence confirming the literal truth [i.e., his interpretation] of Genesis 1-11 is overwhelming and increasing with time as a result of the research of both evolutionists and creationists” (p. 31). That statement is blatantly false and totally opposite of reality.

As part of his discussion of biological evolution, Ken Ham offers two cut-off quotations from Ernst Mayr’s book “What Evolution Is” (pp. 33 & 157) that appear to support his position until you look up the rest of the quotations.

Finally, in his rejoinder, Ken Ham offers a challenge: “Unless we are persuaded from the Scriptures that we are wrong, we will not recant our teaching and defense of young-earth creation, which historically is the biblically orthodox faith of the church” (p. 70). Christian old-earth and evolutionary creationists need to take him up on that challenge.

Next, Hugh Ross’s essay on old earth (day-age, progressive) creationism defends a moderate concordist (seeking harmony between nature and Scripture) approach to the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and what he calls “constructive integration, which he describes as anticipating “a straight-forward, harmonious integration of Scripture’s book with nature’s record.” His approach centers on a testable creation model “providing multiple scientific evidences . . . for God’s direct involvement in nature” (p. 78). For instance, he suggests that genetics studies will eventually show that the current human population descended from two humans.

As an astronomer, Hugh Ross’s strength has always been in the area of cosmological evolution. His essay, however, focuses more on biological evolution. He describes what he perceives as biblical and scientific challenges to biological evolution, such as the Avalon and Cambrian explosions and perceived evidences of God’s interventions. He also suggests that evolutionary convergence fits well with a common design perspective, which would appear to indicate that he is unfamiliar with the work of paleontologist Simon Conway Morris on convergence within biological evolution.

In the end, he believes that “Nothing less than active, repeated interventions by a supernatural Creator could ensure that just-right kinds of life at just-right population levels living in just-right habitats would replace the extinct species at just-right times to keep Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and surface temperatures optimal for life throughout the past 3.8 billion years.” (p. 91). This sounds like a “God of the Gaps” argument.

In her essay, Deborah Haarsma provides an excellent 30-page description of the evolutionary creation view of origins. She first discusses the geological and astronomical evidence for the vast age of the universe and the earth. She then briefly discusses how evolution works, including the fossil, embryo, and genetic evidence for evolution, and the various mechanisms of evolution. She then makes the case for human evolution and current options for viewing a historical Adam and Eve, about which BioLogos takes no specific position.

Haarsma then goes on to the theological issues around biological evolution, including what it means for man being made in the image of God, original sin, death before the fall, and natural evil. She concludes that evolutionary creation is a faithful option for Christians.

In his essay on the intelligent design view, Stephen Meyer presents a brief history of the classic design argument and the case for Intelligent Design. He states that intelligent design is an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origin and development. His basic claim is that intelligence is the only known cause of specified information, and that therefore an Intelligent Designer is the best explanation for the origin and evolution of life. The majority of his essay seeks to make his case. He makes no effort to tie his message to the creation accounts in the Bible.

Throughout the book, areas of agreement among the views were mentioned, and there were pleas for unity and suggestions for how to achieve it. Interesting insights in the essays and responses were too numerous to mention here.

Basically, Haarsma and Ham did a good job of addressing the issues and connecting with the reader; Meyer and Ross not so much.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone, Christian or non-Christian, interested in the origins debate among Christians.

This guest review was contributed by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.

Review: Is There Purpose in Biology?

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Is There Purpose in Biology?Denis Alexander. Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2018.

Summary: An exploration of the idea purpose in biology, the association of purposelessness with the randomness and chance of evolution and whether this is warranted, and how a Christian perspective may both be consistent with what may be observed, and how Christian theology may deal with questions of pain and suffering in evolutionary processes.

One of the common conclusions advanced with the support of evolutionary theory is that there is no inherent purpose evident in the natural world. Much of this is predicated on a process in which life arises through chance and randomness, and that any apparent purpose is illusory.

Denis Alexander, a researcher in biochemistry and Emeritus Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, argues in this book that this is not necessarily a warranted conclusion. First, though he is careful to distinguish between Purpose and purpose. He will not be trying to show evidence of metaphysical Purpose in biology, but that the processes of evolution do evidence purpose in the sense that outcomes were not strictly random, either at a genetic or macro level, but are constrained in certain directions consistent with “purpose.”

Chapter 1 begins with a survey of the use of the language of Purpose and purpose in biology through history from the Greeks up through the beginnings of science, and the subsequent denial of purpose as the theory of evolution became established. Then chapters 2 through 4 get “into the weeds” of evolutionary science.

Chapter 2 argues that the direction of evolution toward increasing complexity over time may be reflective of purpose and also that body size and plan is subject to “allometric scaling” and cannot simply occur in any form or size. Convergence where different species in different lines under similar conditions evolve similar structures, is another example of this. Chapter 3 observes that similar constraints exist at the molecular level. Chapter 4 then looks at the genetic level, and the idea of random mutations. It turns out that mutations are not purely random but seem to occur at particular places on chromosomes. Likewise, forces of natural selection are not random, but also constrain outcomes in certain directions. These chapters are fairly technical, but offer a good glimpse of the current state of the discussions in evolutionary biology, as opposed to popular caricatures.

In chapter 5, Alexander shifts to theological discussion. He recognizes that in practice, people do introduce discussions of Purpose that reflect their worldviews. What he does is articulate an understanding of “top down” creation at work through evolutionary processes–not in the “gaps” but throughout, a version of theistic evolution. A significant aspect of this has to do with his belief in God’s “immanence” in creation, working in and through evolutionary processes.

Chapter 6 concludes the discussion by dealing with one of the problems of his proposal. To argue that God is involved “immanently” in evolutionary processes makes God in some ways responsible for the pain and suffering implicit for both animal and human species facing natural selection, or dying because of mutations leading to genetic defects or cancer. Alexander dismisses responses of “fallen creation” or attributions of suffering to sin, arguing for a kind of “freedom” in evolutionary processes that necessarily includes pain–that God no more compels creation than he does human beings.

I suspect there is material here in every chapter that someone will take exception to, including the basic theistic evolutionary position Alexander takes. Those who dismiss theism will reject Alexander’s case for purpose. Others will struggle with his theodicy. Some would argue that you can see not only purpose but Purpose in biological science in itself. I would contend that the strength of Alexander’s argument is that it is neither dismissive of evolutionary science nor of a God engaged with creation working out God’s purposes. He shows how the two are at least consonant with each other. He chooses a “messy” explanation to the problem of pain that leaves room for mystery rather than pat answers. For those not interested in an oppositional approach to evolution and creation, Alexander’s work offers a way, or at least hints of a way forward.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Creation and New Creation

creation and new creation

Creation and New Creation, Sean M. McDonough. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017.

Summary: A work on the doctrine of creation with particular attention to the connection between the creation and the new creation in Christ, but also focusing on other aspects of creation including issues of time, space, Platonic ideas and their influence on the doctrine, in each case tracing relevant scripture, and the theological contributions of theologians from the fathers to the present day.

“Creation” over the past couple centuries has been treated more as a point of contention than as one of the significant doctrines of the church, explored for what it may reveal about God and God’s relation to his world, and humanity, our relationship to the rest of creation and why it, and we, exist. Yet, in recent years, theologians have been writing more and more about the connections between creation and the new creation in Christ.

Sean McDonough contends that this is, in fact, not a new development. He writes:

“The burden of the present volume is that this emphasis on creation and the new creation has been a feature of the doctrine since the beginning, whether it be in the eschatological reading of Genesis 1 that predominated at least until modern times, or the intertwining of the narratives of creation and redemption in thinkers from Irenaeus to Barth” (p. vii).

As promised, this volume, first a part of the Christian Doctrine in Historical Perspective series, and now published on its own, elaborates the connection between creation and the new creation in its first chapter, beginning with the New Testament connections back to creation from John 1 throughout the epistles and Revelation. McDonough then introduces us to the theologians from the fathers to the present who made this connection, and explores how the end will be like, and unlike, the beginning.

Building on this base, and having established the methodology of this volume, McDonough proceeds in subsequent chapters to explore often neglected matters such as who the God is who creates, why the creation, matters of time and space, Platonic ideas and how they relate to both process and structure of creation, the place of humanity in that creation, and finally beauty and the creation. McDonough reflects both upon biblical testimony and the wrestlings of theologians to articulate these aspects of the doctrine of creation.

We join these theologians in wrestling with some of the big questions of the ages. How do we understand the work of each person of the Trinity in creation in a way consonant with our Trinitarian theology? What does it mean that God created the world in freedom and did God create for redemption or did God redeem for his creation? How do we understand the when of creation with a God who is eternal and outside time. Similarly, where are we as creatures inhabiting space in relation to an infinite God who transcends that space? And where did the stuff of creation come from?

Platonism has had a big influence on the life of the church (for which I thought McDonough made a convincing case) and this is certainly the case as we discuss how ideas in the mind of God and the structure of creation correspond. Also, rather than creation being a once and for all event, we find revealed a process of continuous creation, “de-creation” and new creation in Christ. How does this process unfold in the material fabric of the universe? What is the role of human beings in all this, beginning with Adam (and what are we to think about a historic Adam)? What is our destiny as creatures in the image of God redeemed in Christ? Just how far are we warranted to take talk of “deification”? Finally, what does God the creator have to do with beauty? What does beauty have to do with the presence of ugliness in the world, and what can we learn from Christ’s redemptive work?

Part of the delight of this work is seeing contemporary theologians like C. S. Lewis, Karl Barth, and Colin Gunton in conversation with Athanasius and Irenaeus, Origin and Augustine, and down through the ages with Aquinas, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. We often wrestle with holding truths of Christ’s true humanity and full divinity in tension, or God’s sovereignty and free will. What this volume helped me see is how such things are rooted in creation, where the eternal God creates in time, where the God who is spirit speaks matter into existence, where God creates humans in God’s image, imparting a freedom that goes with that image while remaining sovereign creator. I realized afresh that as one human with a very puny brain, I am in the presence of things too wonderful for me, and yet to wrestle with such things, to listen to the conversation of others, is to think great thoughts of God, to stand in wonder afresh of God’s creative work, and to marvel that such a God would set his love and include in his purposes the likes of me! That is the value of reading good works of theology. That is what I found here.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Engaging the Doctrine of Creation

engaging the doctrine of creation

Engaging the Doctrine of CreationMatthew Levering. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017.

Summary: A systematic theology of the doctrine of creation beginning with the nature of the Creator, the significance of creatures, the meaning of the image of God, the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, original sin, and atonement that engages with scripture, contemporary sources, and most significantly, the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

In the last century, the discussions of the doctrine of creation often quickly have degenerated into creation-evolution debates. Classically, the doctrine of creation has been foundational to our understanding of God, our place in the cosmos, the purpose of our existence, the tragedy of our fallen condition and our hope of redemption. In this magisterial volume, the third in a series on doctrines of the Church (the first two on Revelation and the Holy Spirit), Matthew Levering seeks to recover this classical focus, and particularly one which draws not only upon scripture but the work of Thomas Aquinas.

This is no where more in evidence than in his first two chapters on “divine ideas” and “divine simplicity” in which he draws upon Aquinas to answer more contemporary theologians such as Victor Lossky in defending the idea that all creation has its origin and existence in God’s eternally present thought with no resort to something external to God’s self and that God is identical with his attributes and without parts spatially and temporally. Thus, God as wise and good is utterly distinct from his creation, and yet its source. These chapters involved close theological reasoning worthy of careful attention.

The next chapters focus on God’s created beings. The third chapter focuses on creation and particularly, accepting the geological records, the profusions of creatures that have lived and died on the earth, dealing with the difficulties of death and destruction that are part of this succession. He contends that nevertheless, these offer a kind of “cosmic theophany” that proclaim through “a superabundance of finite ways” something of the infinite and yet personal God. He then turns particularly to humans in the image of God and explores in what this consists, which he contends involves our rationality employed in our royal and priestly mission as wise and good stewards of the creation. In chapter 5, Levering engages the contention that as creatures, we have fulfilled the mandate to be fruitful and multiply and should limit procreation, made by Christian environmentalist Bill McKibben, and others. Upholding Catholic teaching, Levering would not have us “constrict the circle of interpersonal communion for which God created the whole cosmos.”

The last two chapters explore the doctrines of original sin and atonement. In chapter six, he takes on contemporary theologians like Peter Enns, who argue against the idea of a historical Adam and thus, never an original goodness. Levering argues that this undermines the idea of a wise and good Creator in making God the author of sin, and that if we believe in a wise and good Creator, then it follows that there was originally a human who was free of sin, sustained by God in that goodness, until willfully rebelling against God.

The chapter on atonement would seem out of place in this volume until one understands the concern Levering seeks to address and the integral importance of creation to responding to that concern. Levering engages the contention of philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff that since Christianity commends freely forgiving our debtors, it is inconsistent to insist upon a penal character to the atoning work of Christ. Levering’s response, again drawing upon Aquinas points to the original relational justice of the good Creator that was broken or breached by human rebellion that must be restored through the relational act the death of God’s Son. Thus, the doctrines of creation and atonement are closely linked.

Levering writes as a Catholic theologian and yet engages thoughtfully with Protestant, Orthodox and secular writers. I would consider this a sterling example of excellent theological writing. Levering is not content to engage the writers of the last ten or fifty years, but roots his work in biblical teaching, the work of the church fathers, as well as major teachers of the church like Thomas Aquinas. One may not concur with all of his contentions, but to read Levering is to read someone, who like Aquinas, gives first the reasons of other positions, then his own carefully thought-through conclusions leaving it to the reader to conclude which are the better arguments. For those desirous of rooting their faith in rigorous thought and not simply devotional passion, Levering’s work is worth the careful attention it requires.

[My review of Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation appears here.]

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free in e-book format from the publisher through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

God at Play?

“Work that’s unrelated to want.” That’s how our pastor defined “play” in a message on “the Christian at play.” This sparked some thinking about what it was that God was doing in the “work” of creation. If this definition is accurate, God was in fact at play, because there was no want or necessity in God’s creation. God didn’t create because God “had to.” All this was done simply for God’s pleasure. In the old King James Version, Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”

One gets a sense of God at play in making the creation. He says, “let’s do so and so” and it springs into existence, and then at the end of each day, he looks at this and says, “that was goo-ood!” (Bob’s paraphrase!). When he creates fish, he creates a bazillion different kinds. He doesn’t just make green, but an infinite variety of greens. And he gives human beings eyes that can distinguish those shades.

Was God at work or play in creation? Genesis 2:2 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” It sounds like God is in fact working, But then I notice the rest part. Was God wiped out from doing all this stuff? I don’t think so. Genesis says he “had finished”. One senses that God is admiring and delighting in what God had done–savoring the delight of making and the things made. Was God at work or play in creation? I think the answer is “yes”.

Rich’s definition explores the paradox that often play involves this intense investment of energy that we might be tempted to call work. Likewise, aren’t there times when the work we do that is related to want ceases to be labor and seems to be play? I often describe the joy I have in setting foot on the campus where I work as “feeling like a kid in a candy shop who just received his allowance”!

Sometimes, people think that work was “the curse” or part of the curse of the fall of Adam and Eve. I’ve often taught that work existed prior to the fall (see Genesis 2:15) and that work simply became toilsome and a necessity in consequence of the fall (see Genesis 3:17-19). What the message makes me think about is that there was a connection between work and play that was damaged along with the connections between God, people, and the creation. Work becomes this survival necessity that is often laborious but sometimes still has glimmers of play. Play gets relegated to a “carve out” in our days, or something we live for on the weekends. Sometimes it becomes an obsession and we literally work at our play.

Perhaps then, “playing together”, which is something Rich suggests should be part of the life of our community, is a way of celebrating “the new creation”, the ways Jesus is restoring all the connections severed in the garden. Playing together isn’t just a bonding, fellowship activity (nice churchy words!). It looks forward to the fulfillment of new creation–the new heaven and earth that exceeds our wildest dreams of all that is good and true and beautiful. Maybe Euchre Tournaments really are a taste of heaven!

This blog also appears at our church’s blog page: Going Deeper.

Either/Or

Yesterday I stirred up a bit of a firestorm of comments on my Facebook page because I posted my son’s blog, Evolution vs. Creation (IT DOESN’T MATTER)I posted it not to stir up a flurry of posts defending one or another theory (although it did–what was I thinking?). Nor do I think the discussion doesn’t matter. Actually, I think it does. Rather, I posted it because I think his post reflects what many of those on both Nye and Ham’s side don’t get–that the way this discussion has been occurring has become tiresome and off-putting. Many scientists would just like to get on with their science. And many Christians feel like we are shooting ourselves in the foot in having these arguments. Even if we “win” the argument, we lose people who conclude we are narrow-minded and anti-scientific. And as Ben pointed out, the center of our faith is the cross of Christ and his call for us to follow him in demonstrating and sharing his sacrificial love in a lost and needy world.

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What I think matters crucially in this discussion that I find needed on both sides is a willingness to think about how physical causes that are scientifically observable and the activity of God in creating and sustaining the world go together. I feel both sides of the “debate” are locked into an “either/or” paradigm. Either the universe came about purely through a series of random events and a chain of physical causes, or God created the universe, whether in a shorter or longer time.

The issue is larger than the question of beginnings though. Christians are not deists who simply believe God started the world but that it now runs on its own. Hebrews 1:3 claims this of the Christ who redeems the world:  “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” That states that God in Christ is continually active in the world. It has been said that “the laws of science are adjectives for the activity of God in the world.” It was this in fact that motivated many of the early scientists in their research, to more clearly understand how through physical causation God was at work in the world.

If in fact we believe that we can both study physical causation in the present and understand something of the mind and working of God, why can this not also be so when we speak of beginnings?  Why can we not think in both/and terms? I think part of why both “sides” in debates like the one between Ham and Nye are so entrenched is that the debate is framed almost exclusively in either/or terms. It becomes a zero sum game where if science wins, the Bible loses, or if the Bible wins, science loses.

For scientists like Bill Nye, I think the question is, are you willing to admit the possibility of a universe in which God exists, and in which he actively is involved in the beginnings and continuance of its existence including your very own?  Are you willing to admit that such a God is capable of revealing himself and that this, along with the fruits of reasoned observation should shape our view of the world? Good science doesn’t exclude this possibility, only “scientism”.

For Christians, are we willing to live in the tension of believing that Genesis 1-3 is a true account of God’s activity in creation while not forcing a reconciliation between the findings of geology, physics, and biology and our narrative of beginnings that compromises either faith or science? This means living with unanswered questions. The truth is, we live with many unanswered questions in this life and I would rather do that than summarily say that the science around origins is wrong or that Adam never existed.

For those who did not see the debate, Al Mohler, Jr. gives what seems a good account that underscores the real issue of the debate–the worldview clash between what I’ve called “scientism” and the Christian worldview that is open to learning both through reasoned inquiry and revelation. If we can get to a discussion of this, then I think we can have a discussion that “matters”.