Guest Review: Finding Ourselves After Darwin

Findng Ourselves After Darwin

Finding Ourselves After DarwinStanley P. Rosenberg ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018.

Summary: This book presents and discusses multiple approaches to thinking about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of biological evolution.

This collection of essays is one result of a research project at Oxford University which “assembled scholarship presenting different approaches and methods and insights, introducing a variety of models that may be considered . . .” (p. 8). The individual authors are primarily theologians and biblical scholars, some with a science background.

As the title implies, biological evolution is presupposed, and the issue is how to think about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in the light of biological evolution. The book is divided into three parts, one for each topic. Each part includes a brief introduction, a discussion of the questions, challenges, and concerns for the topic, several essays offering different approaches, and a conclusion and further reading list.

Part 1 deals with why the image of God is important in the theology-evolutionary science dialogue. It begins with a discussion of what constitutes human distinctiveness. After four essays offering different views of the image of God in the light of recent developments in evolutionary science, Michael Burdett concludes by suggesting that “it is entirely possible that each of these models could be combined in interesting ways such that hybrid models could be constructed that rely on aspects from each one outlined here.” (p. 109)

Part 2 deals with original sin. The opening essay by Gijsbert van den Brink suggests that biological evolution does not require a radical abandonment of the doctrine of original sin, but rather a recontextualization within an evolutionary framework. After essays on Augustinian, Irenaean, federal headship, and cultural approaches, Christopher M. Hays presents a compelling account of the ways in which evolutionary theory aids our understanding of the universality of sin without appealing to an Adamic fall. In his conclusion, Benno van den Toren suggests that “Insights from different theories might well be combined for a new theological synthesis to arise out of this fermentation process. (p. 206)

Part 3 deals with the problem of evil by presenting a variety of approaches. Essayists discuss Augustinian, Irenaeasn, fall-of-the-angels, free process, only way, and non-identity theodicy and how they relate to evolution. The concluding essay by Michael Lloyd suggests that, despite their differences, the contributors to this part seem to believe the following: (1) the current state of evolutionary biology and modern genetics leaves plenty of room in which to do theodicy, (2) the seriousness of the problem of evil in relation to the evolutionary processes, (3) this volume falls far short of a full theodical narrative, and (4) their positions still have challenges to face and work to do.

The three Further Reading lists, the 26-page Bibliography, and the numerous informative footnotes provide a wealth of opportunities to pursue specific topics of personal interest.

It would help to have some familiarity with the issues before tackling this book, but it does succeed in bringing together multiple approaches to dealing with the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of evolution. I can recommend it to anyone interested in this topic. Three other helpful essay collections on the same topic are “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”, “Theology After Darwin,” and “Darwin, Creation and the Fall.”

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

Review: Confronting Old Testament Controversies

controversies

Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions About Evolution, Sexuality, History, and ViolenceTremper Longman III. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: With a commitment both to the authority of the Bible, and pastoral concern for readers, the author addresses controversial questions about origins, historicity, violence, and sexuality.

This work took a certain amount of courage to write. I suspect there will be a number who read it who applaud what the author says in some places and vehemently disagree elsewhere. Throughout, the author seeks to offer a reading of scripture, particularly the Old Testament that engages the text as a whole and seeks to listen to its overarching  message, that engages scholarship, including scholars, some friends, with whom the author disagrees, and seeks to exercise pastoral care, even for readers who may disagree.

The four issues the author addresses are the controversy of how we read the creation accounts of scripture in light of evolution; whether we can trust that the exodus and Canaanite conquest are historical events, despite claims that they did not happen; how we should think about the claims of divine violence in scripture; and what the Bible teaches about same-sex relations and the pastoral implications of this teaching. My brief summaries of the author’s responses to these controversy should not substitute for a careful reading of his responses, especially if one thinks one differs with the author.

  • On evolution, he both argues against “wooden reading that would lead us to think that it was the intention of the biblical author to provide us with a straightforward description of the how of creation” and equally against those who would deny “a historic fall and concept of original sin.” He contends that the Bible is interested in the who and why of creation while science addresses the how.
  • On history, he affirms the historical reality as well as the theological import of the exodus and conquest narratives.
  • On violence, he believes that attempts to claim God didn’t hurt anyone or that seek to minimize the harm, do not do justice to the biblical text, which, consistent with the New Testament portrays a God who fights against, and finally defeats evil. He actually suggests that the violence of the Old Testament, first against the nations, and later against Israel herself, stand as forewarnings of God’s final judgment.
  • On sexuality, he affirms the historic view of the church affirming sexual intimacy within the boundaries of a marriage between a man and a woman. He thoughtfully deals with key texts and alternative readings. While he holds to what is now called a “traditional” view, he contends he speaks only to the church here and that there are implications of the Bible’s teaching about sexuality that challenge every believer. He opposes crusades against same-sex marriage or the withholding of business services to LGBT persons offered to others.

What I most admired are the gracious ways in which Longman engages and charitably differs with scholars, including one who was a former student, and another who is a close friend. I affirm the ways he shows pastoral concern without compromising theological integrity, modeling a belief that love and truth, story and principle need not be at odds. Finally, I appreciate the thoughtful, nuanced yet concise, responses to four controversies, each of which have been the subjects of multiple complete books. What each have in common are that they represent shifts from historic understanding, arising both from scholarship and other cultural forces. Longman offers a thoughtful restatement of the biblical teaching that weighs the counter arguments and finds them inadequate to justify abandoning historic understandings shared by most of the church through most of its history.

The work serves as a good starting place for someone who wants to read a well-stated “conservative” view (although some conservatives and some evolutionists alike would be unhappy with Longman on evolution) on the four controversies addressed by this book. The documentation points people to the full range of scholarship on each of the questions. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter may help both with personal reflection and group discussion. Most of all, the work models a spirit in desperate need of recovery, that can both speak unequivocally about one’s convictions yet shows charities toward one’s opponents.

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

 

Guest Review: Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide

Laying Dowh

Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation Evolution DivideGary N. Fugle (foreword Darrell R. Falk).  Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015.

Summary:  Christians can be comfortable with the revelations of both Scripture and scientific study

This book is based on the author’s personal experiences as a Christian who taught biological evolution at the college level for 30 years. He writes with the authority of someone who has dealt with creation-evolution issues regularly throughout his career. Throughout the book he emphasizes and gives his reasons for his Christian faith. His goal is for Christians to be comfortable with the revelations of both Scripture and scientific study.

The author is an evolutionary creationist and points out numerous problems with young-earth creationism and the intelligent design movement. He is “enthusiastically interested in a dialogue among individuals who are softened to the possibility of reconciliation in which the powerful message of Christian faith and the fascinating scientific understanding of evolution are integrated together.” (p. 8)

In his introductory Part I, the author suggests that “the voices of six-day, young-earth creationists and intelligent design (ID) advocates have not been widely suppressed or ignored by mainstream scientists; rather, they have been evaluated and deemed incomparable and incompatible with the scientific validity and value of evolutionary theory.” (p. 14)

He also suggests that “one of the changes that will bring healing and an end to the creation-evolution wars is an understanding within the Christian church that most scientists are simply pursuing their professions and are not the enemy of biblical Christian faith.” (p. 14)

In Part II the author discusses real issues for Christians: how did God go about his creative activities, which comes first-the Bible or science, and presuppositions on both sides. It also includes the obligatory brief history of young-earth creationism. He suggests that as believers in a sovereign God of creation, Christians should fully expect that nature and the Bible will complement and inform one another, which does not elevate the former over the latter, but can, and should, be elevated above any person’s interpretation of the Bible if there are major conflicts between the two.

In Part III, he discusses the collision of ideas, in which he argues for the separation of science and religion in our public education system, and notes that Christians are as wrong as scientists in their attacks on each other. Along the way he briefly discusses miracles, divine action, and the problems that the intelligent design movement has caused. He discusses how ID has no explanatory power, as opposed to biological evolution, which has an abundance of it.

Part IV is a survey of a sample of the evidence for biological evolution and illustrations of its explanatory power. The author has two goals in this part: (1) to communicate an understanding of the biological foundation behind evolutionary theory, and (2) “to continue to express how someone may accept that the biological world is both the product of evolutionary processes and the intended creation of a sovereign God.”

He accomplishes this by presenting example of homologous structures, vestigial structures, embryology, the fossil record, biogeography, possible mechanisms of evolutionary modification, and various aspects of molecular genetics, within which he emphasizes that molecular data has been found to be consistent with evolutionary predictions and makes little sense if God specialty created various organisms.

In Part V the author discusses reading the Bible with evolution in mind. He begins with a brief discussion of biblical interpretation, emphasizing that the book of Genesis was written for the ancient Israelites. He discusses creation over six days, the framework interpretation, and John Walton’s cosmic temple interpretation. He also argues that the biblical flood was not a global flood.

He clearly agrees that suffering and death entered the world long before the actions of Adam and Eve, and admits that the “Fall” of humanity through the actions of Adam and Eve is the most critical challenge from evolutionary biology for many Christians. While acknowledging that some Christians understand the Fall as a metaphor for our inherent human condition, he focuses on the difficulties with reading the Fall as a metaphor.

In his final chapter, the author discusses how to move forward, including a rejection of unjustified propositions on both sides, particularly metaphysical naturalism and strict young-earth creationism. He suggests that scientists could show more respect for belief systems and Christians could “incorporate legitimate scientific discoveries into a reasoned God-centered worldview.”

The author recommends this book for Christians who wonder how biological evolution can be accepted along with a Christian worldview and for non-Christians who don’t understand how a personal Christian faith can be embraced along with evolutionary ideas. I would also highly recommend it for anyone who wants a refresher course in biological evolution and its theological implications. The author did not intend this book for staunch proponents of young-earth creationism who hold unswervingly to their position or for committed atheists.

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

Guest Review: Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?

old earth

Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogosEdited by Kenneth Keathley, J. B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary:  Dialogue between BioLogos (evolutionary creation) and Reasons to Believe (old-earth creationism), moderated by Southern Baptist Convention seminary professors.

This book is the result of a series of meetings between representatives of BioLogos, advocates of evolutionary creation, and Reasons to Believe (RTB), advocates of old-earth creation.

I liked the structure of this book. Each chapter begins with an introduction and questions by a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) moderator, followed by responses from a representative of each organization. Then there is a redirect by the moderator with specific follow-up questions for each respondent, followed by their responses and a conclusion by the chapter moderator.

Topics covered include biblical interpretation and authority, the range of viable positions concerning Adam and Eve, natural evil, divine action, the scientific method, biological evolution, the geological evidence, the fossil evidence, the biological evidence, and the anthropological evidence.

The purpose of the book is to “help lay readers identify science-faith issues, comprehend what the two organizations stand for, understand the nature of their dialogue and what the two organizations hope to achieve through it, and appreciate how they and the church at large can benefit from the conversation.” (p. 6)

BioLogos is committed to the following core doctrines: (1) Humans are created “in the image of God,” with a special relationship to God and a role to play in God’s creation, (2) All humans who have ever lived have sinned by rebelling against God’s revealed will, and (3) God has dealt with sin through Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. (p. 50)

Within that commitment, BioLogos suggests four potentially viable scenarios for interpreting Genesis 2-3 that could be consistent with both biological evolution and their core doctrines. In response, Ken Samples of RTB concisely states the traditional case for a historical Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all humanity. RTB’s objections to the creation of mankind via biological evolution focus on both the theological difficulties and the biological evidence.

Loren Haarsma of BioLogos presents a good discussion of the interaction of science and biblical interpretation, including the observation that, “BioLogos does not believe that science trumps theology or biblical interpretation, but we do believe that theology and biblical interpretation can draw useful insights from scientific discoveries.” (p. 50)

Darrel Falk of BioLogos points out that “many of us who subscribe to evolutionary creation do believe in a historical Adam and Eve. It is important to emphasize that mainstream science does not imply that Adam and Eve did not exist, just that they could not have been the only two progenitors of the human race.” (p. 136)

The most interesting chapters are the two where BioLogos and RTB disagree the most, namely interpreting the evidence for biological evolution (Chap. 7) and interpreting the anthropological evidence for the uniqueness of humans (Chap. 11).

The brief final chapter (“What is the Next Step?”) has a very promising title but contains very little meat to chew on.

It is no surprise that the SBC moderators tend to side with the RTB position whenever it differs from the BioLogos position. It is also no surprise that I tend to side with the BioLogos position. RTB is very good in the area of cosmological evolution but leaves a bit to be desired in the area of biological evolution. Fazale Rana, the VP of research for RTB, demonstrates in the book that there are a number of things that he doesn’t accept about biological evolution, including the Cambrian explosion and convergence in evolution. Perhaps this explains why RTB has such a problem with biological evolution.

This book provides the clearest-yet description of the positions of these two organizations as well as a clarification of their differences. I can recommend it to Christians who want to learn more about the intersection of biological evolution and Christian theology.

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

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

four views

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?

is there purpose in biology

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: What is Man?

What is man

What is Man?Edgar Andrews. Nashville: Elm Hill, 2018.

Summary: An exploration of the answers different worldviews come up with to the question of what it means to be human, making the case for a Christian view of humans descended from a historical Adam who was created in God’s image, through whom sin entered the human race in the fall, and for the redemption of all who believe through the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

The question of who we are, and our place on Earth and in the cosmos, is perhaps one of the most important questions that we face. The author of this work, Edgar Andrews, an emeritus professor of Materials Science, looks at three of the possible answers on offer today–that we are evolved from the family of Apes, that we (or our predecessors) arrived here from an alien world, or that we were created by God, descended from a historic Adam.

The book consists of three parts. The first considers our place in the cosmos, and perhaps did we come from somewhere else? He considers the origins of the cosmos, and whether it is possible for the cosmos to be self-generating and he describes the search for extra-terrestrial life and the absence of any substantive finding, albeit many worlds have been identified that may be candidates for such life. He lays out a form of the “fine-tuned universe” argument advanced by Sir Martin Rees, and the counter explanations of multiverse theories. All of this suggests at very least that our existence in the cosmos may be a fairly singular event begging explanation.

The second part of the book explores man and the biosphere, that is, evolutionary explanations for our origins. He raises a number of questions about our descent from the apes in terms of the distinctiveness as opposed to the commonality of our respective genomes and he contends that paleontology has very little conclusive to tell us about our forebears. Finally, in one of the more fascinating chapters of the book, he discusses the challenging question of how human consciousness is to be explained. Using the analogy of a house, he discusses materialist, epiphenomenalist, and dualist explanations and contends that humans were created with material bodies and a nonmaterial, self-aware mind.

In part three, Andrews considers the biblical account of what it means to be human. Beginning with a discussion of worldview, and how we know what is real, he contends that the Biblical account warrants belief as being consistent with our understanding of ourselves and the cosmos, has made accurate predictions of future events, passes tests of historical accuracy, and leads people into transformative experiences of God through faith in Christ. The remainder of the book then unpacks this Biblical world view of a sovereign and immanent creator God, human sin, accountability, and the person and work of Christ. He argues for a historic Adamic couple from whom we are all descended, against other explanations of our progenitors, and what it means for us to be in the image of God distinguished as creatures of soul and spirit, language and logic, creativity and competence, and law and love. The book then concludes with two chapters on Christ as the second Adam and the evidences for Christ’s resurrection, and the implications of this truth for our salvation and eternal destiny.

Andrews writes about fairly technical scientific material in clear, and sometimes witty, language, using readily understood analogies. I find it a bit puzzling that he at times uses scientific arguments (the Big Bang and Fine-Tuning) to advance his argument and then turns around and is utterly skeptical and questioning about anything to do with the evolution of human beings. I would have liked to see more engagement with scientists like Francis Collins, who not only see God’s design in the human genome, but also do not see evolution as antithetical to the creative work of God, or even a historic Adam.

Rather than attacking evolution, I think it would have been more helpful to attack the underlying worldview of evolutionism, a worldview that assumes there is nothing more or other than the material world, and that only what may be confirmed empirically is real or true (of course this statement itself cannot be confirmed by such means!). Such assumptions not only preclude the activity of God in creating but also in sustaining the world. There are many who study evolution who see the hand of God at work, as they do in other “natural” processes. Andrews seems to suggest they have to choose between their science and their faith.

Nevertheless, this book addresses an important question, and eloquently describes the human dignity we enjoy as creatures in the image of God, and the wonder of Christ’s redemptive work, and the joyful destiny of those who partake of his redemptive work and the power of the resurrection in salvation, Christ’s living rule over his people, and the certainty of his return. Christian teachers and apologists will find this helpful–particularly, I think the discussions about fine-tuning, and about human consciousness as well as his delineation of what it means to say we exist in “the image of God.”

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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: The Galileo Connection

The Galileo Connection

The Galileo ConnectionCharles E. Hummel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Summary: A study of past and present “conflicts” between science and the Bible, that proposes that the reality of these conflicts were actually more complex, that Galileo and others were sincere Christians, and that it is possible both to pursue rigorous science and believe the Bible.

The confrontation between Galileo Galilei and the church, in which Galileo was forced to abjure his views regarding a heliocentric model of the orbits of the planets, is often cited as the classic case of the warfare between science and Christianity. This work, something of a classic, proposes that the actual history isn’t quite that simple, and that science and the Bible needn’t be at war with each other.

The author, a former chemical engineer and national leader of a collegiate ministry responsible for launching its ministry with faculty, first studies the history of the conflict and the emergence of the scientific enterprise, then turns to the matter of the Bible and science, and concludes with some cases of possible conflict and possible resolutions concluding with a chapter that is worth the price of admission that outlines connections between theology and science.

Hummel begins by tracing the rise of science from Aristotle and Archimedes, including the Aristotelian geocentric model of the universe. This was systematized in Ptolemy’s Almagest and became enshrined in the church. Copernicus was the first to hypothesize a heliocentric view, and at the advice of Osiander, proposed this as a hypothesis or model for computations rather than a description of the way things were, keeping the Aristotelians at bay. Johannes Kepler saw the beauty in Copernicus’ proposal and, combining mathematical and observational data, proposed orbits that were ellipses rather than circular, and recorded his work in the Rudolphine Tables, The Epitome, and other works. He believed his ideas were not just models, but the way things were. At the same time, none of this shook his faith or seemed contrary to it and as he was dying declared where his salvation lay: “Only and alone on the services of Jesus Christ.”

Galileo had the misfortune to come along at the time of the Renaissance and Reformation. Galileo’s rising career and defense of the ideas of Copernicus at received a favorable reception from the Pope. Unfortunately, he ran afoul of the Aristotelian professors at Pisa who joined with church leaders to repudiate the work of Copernicus. Galileo went to ground for a time, but produced his Dialogue on the Two Principle World Systems, couched as conversations between an Aristotelian and a Copernican. The outcry resulted in his trial, where the Aristotelians prevailed. What is significant is that in the end, Galileo never thought his science in conflict with scripture, and the outcome was as much a result of political maneuvering by the Aristotelian academics, aided by clergy, as anything. The church still doesn’t look good, but what is evident was that Galileo was attacked as much for challenging a prevailing scientific paradigm, that had been conflated with church teaching, rather than teaching what was contrary to Christian doctrine.

Hummel completes his survey of science with chapters on Isaac Newton and modern science. Newton not only elucidated foundational theories of physics and mathematics, but also wrote extensively on the Bible. He advocated for observational science while affirming that the cosmos reflects the work of “an intelligent and power Being.” The concluding chapter in the first part explores modern science, arguing that its methods and basic premises are both consistent, and may actually have been facilitated by a Christian worldview (e.g. the regularity, contingency, and intelligibility of the universe).

Part Two focuses on biblical interpretation. Hummel explores the importance of the historical and literary context of scripture as well as the biblical language of nature which is the language of appearance (e.g. the sun rises), and nontheoretical. In discussing miracles and scientific law, he notes that science is descriptive and not prescriptive, and that miracles, as non-repeating events are beyond the purview of science, and are matters for philosophy and history. Finally, he turns to the early chapters of Genesis showing the highly structured character of chapter one in which God forms during the first three days what he fills during the second three, he discusses the difficulties concordist approaches have of conforming scientific discoveries to a literal six day, young earth interpretation, and observes how, when we move beyond preoccupations with “how long,” we find much of import for Israel among the nations, for biblical theology, for the scientific enterprise in de-divinizing nature, and for our care for the creation.

Part Three centers around two areas the conflicts in geology and biology, including tracing the history of evolution controversies in the United States, including the creation science controversies of the 1980’s, up to the time of the book’s publication. In each, he shows the nature of the conflict as well as approaches that resolve and move beyond those conflicts. The final chapter demonstrates the connections between science and faith, reflecting the idea of the two media of God’s revelation, that are mutually informing. Science answers “how” and theology answers “who and why.” Science explains what “is” and theology explores what “ought” to be. Science helps us understand mechanism while theology reveals goals and values. He lays a basis for conversations where theologians and scientists might learn from, rather than fight with each other. He concludes the work with an epilogue on the life of Pascal, scientist, mathematician, and apologist and theologian, whose Pensees profoundly influenced French literary work. Hummel writes of Pascal:

“If a passage of Scripture seems to contradict the senses or reason (scientific explanation), ‘we must interpret the Scripture, and seek therein another meaning which will be in agreement with the testimony of the senses.’ Since the Word of God is infallible, and our observations provide reliable information, the two must be in agreement when properly understood. To confirm that principle Pascal quoted both Augustine and Aquinas.” (p. 272)

Written over thirty years ago, Hummel does not address more recent conflicts around Intelligent Design Theory or climate science (a political as much as theological conflict). Nor does he deal with newer developments around sociobiology, neuroscience, and genomics, nor the explosion of technology and the lures of trans-humanism. The work also does not incorporate the biblical insights of John Walton on the early chapters of Genesis, though his comments on Genesis are consistent with Walton’s treatment.

What Hummel does is give us a good account of the rise of science, particularly the tension between Aristotelian and observational science. He explores well the questions both science and scripture can and cannot answer, and how, rather than being in conflict, may together give us a fuller understanding of reality than either can alone.

I first read this book shortly after publication. Coming back to it thirty years, and many discussions later, I found much that is still relevant, and a large measure of good sense. The author died in 2004 and the work is now “print on demand” or available in the second hand market. Other books have come on the scene since but I still appreciate the breadth and careful thought that combines history, biography, interpretive principles in scripture, an exploration of the nature and philosophy of science, and models of reconciling conflicts in one volume. For both the apologist and Christian who is in science or works with those who are, this book ought to be on your reading list.

Review: Evolution and Holiness

Evolution and Holiness

Evolution and HolinessMatthew Nelson Hill (Foreword by Darrel R. Falk). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Summary: Evolutionary sociobiology proposes a genetic basis both for selfishness and altruism yet does not provide a sufficient warrant for altruism. The author proposes ways that Wesleyan theology and practice of holiness both intersects with scientific theory and offers a capacity for human goodness that goes beyond genetic dispositions.

Recent research on genetics and sociobiology proposes that at a genetic level we have evolved with “selfish” or perhaps “altruistic” genes that play a role in our behavior. Some would go so far as to say that these genetic traits determine behavior. Most would propose that environmental, along with genetic factors contribute to our behavior, indeed explain our behavior. Often these explanations are made in ways that preclude theological explanations of altruistic behavior.

Matthew Nelson Hill makes the contention in this monograph that Christian, and particularly Wesleyan, understandings of human nature, and growth in holiness is neither unrelated or antithetical to sociobiology, but there are profitable points of intersection between science and theology. Theologians may profit from this work. At the same time, theology offers helpful correctives.

After an introductory chapter that outlines the aim and contours of his argument, in chapter two, he surveys sociobiological theories of altruism, and the mix of genetic propensities to preserving and passing along our own genes, and the inborn tendencies to altruistic behavior toward kin and social group. Then in chapter three, he explores the limitations of these theories to fully explain altruism. He explores the influence of culture, the problematic uses of language, and the reductionistic character of some sociobiologists (particularly E. O. Wilson) who make assertions beyond the scope of their discipline.

He then moves in chapter four to dealing with a fundamental issue in this discussion: is human behavior fully determined or do we have the capacity to overcome our inclinations or even move beyond the best of these? He argues for a compatibilist understanding of free will that recognizes an evolved capacity to consciously act in ways that contradict or transcend genetic or environmental influences. This sets up his exploration of Wesleyan holiness teaching that reckons with human nature and enables the embrace of Wesleyan “perfection.” Chapter five explores the sanctifying grace that is God’s initiative, with which we may cooperate, drawing ever closer to God in affection and life, with the aim of being perfected in love. Then chapter six explores how Wesleyan societies and “bands” provide an environment that supports this growth in holy affection and life. The concluding chapter recapitulates this study and makes brief observations of how other traditions might engage this discussion.

This work is valuable in several ways. Hill gives us a concise overview of sociobiological theories, a helpful assessment and critique of reductionist and totalizing assertions, and a compatibilist discussion of genetics, environment and free will that suggests ways theology and science may intersect. Finally, the discussion of a Wesleyan theology of sanctification, often an object of argument, in the framework of a discussion of altruism was a breath of fresh air. The appendices that introduce us to Wesley’s ideas of Christian perfection, and the ordering of his societies may be a first introduction for some to Wesley in his own words.

I did find myself wrestling with some questions concerning how I think some of this was framed. The language of “selfish” and “altruistic,” which is a vivid way to describe a genetic tendency to preserve and perpetuate either one’s own genotype (selfish) or that of related or unrelated others (altruistic) seems to slide easily from the behavior of our genes to human behavior. It also seemed to me that the writer tended to equate fallen human nature with genetic influences that undermine altruism. At the same time he argues for a free will that may be empowered by grace to overcome and go beyond natural tendencies. I wonder if it is right to suggest that our fallenness is written into our genes? I wonder if the defect is not in our genes but our will? Both preservation of our selves and our kin or wider social group seem inherently good. If we indeed have a will, is it not this that turns these instincts to selfish ends or ends of holy love under grace?

That said, and I hope I have accurately understood and represented the writer, I greatly appreciated this work as a model of the kinds of fruitful dialogue that I believe can occur between science and theology. I appreciate that he neither impugns the motives of scientists, nor denies scientific findings but rather brings them into a theological conversation. It is a frank conversation that challenges imprecise language and instances of overreach while listening to and representing the science fairly. This is the work Christians who do not believe science and faith are at war must do to make good that claim. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if in the process, more friendships between scientists and theologians were formed?

Review: How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

How I Changed My Mind About EvolutionKathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Summary: Twenty-five narratives of Christians who accept evolutionary creation and how, in most cases, they changed their minds in reaching this conclusion.

There is a widespread impression in American universities and among many young people that Christianity and science are at war with each other. No where is this more the case than over the issue of evolution. And sadly, many young people walk away from their faith, seeing the explanatory power of evolutionary theory and the failure of “evidences” for some creationist positions to hold up under scientific scrutiny. In many cases their teachers in the church have presented a choice between believing Christianity and believing science and that both are not possible and they believed them.

The twenty-five contributors to this book share two things in common–they deny that science and faith need be at war, and they embrace a position which they describe throughout the book as evolutionary creation (others would describe this as theistic evolution). They are scientists like Wisconsin embryologist Jeff Hardin, pastors like John Ortberg, biblical scholars like Scot McKnight and N. T. Wright, and theologians like James K. A. Smith. Most came to this position after much careful thought and study of both the scriptures and the science, often from young earth views, hence the title. N.T. Wright stands apart in observing that the American and British landscapes around these issues are very different, with most British Christians not seeing the conflict. He explores the elements in the American worldview that he thinks contribute to our scientifically and politically polarized climate.

The journey was sometimes costly. Tremper Longman III describes being terminated from a seminary position for coming to a position that did not see Genesis in conflict with evolution. For others, this was a journey of joyful discovery. Deborah Haarsma, a physicist and president of BioLogos (publishing partner for this book) describes how her understanding of evolutionary creation fosters worship as she praises God for his work over the long term, the glory of the system by which life came forth, his upholding of the natural world, all that is glorious in creation, and how aspects of creation illuminate scripture.

Pastor John Ortberg speaks of a phenomenon I’ve observed in work with Christians in graduate school and on faculty. They struggle with a kind of spiritual loneliness. He writes, after attending a BioLogos conference with many Christians in science:

“I can’t tell you how often I’d sit down with somebody at that conference and hear them say, ‘You know, when I’m at work and I’m with a bunch of scientists, they’re really skeptical about my faith. They’re suspicious about me.’ Then they’d say, ‘When I go to my church, they’re really skeptical about me because of my science. I feel like I don’t have a place where I really belong.’ The church ought to be a place where scientists can feel at home” (p. 94).

Several themes running through many of the contributions are a love of both scripture and science, a passion to think about the relationship between the two without forced solutions, which often means living with questions, and the importance within the Christian community for places where these questions may be explored in safety. Jeff Hardin discusses how he makes sense of evolutionary biology in light of his faith:

“One important ingredient in any answer is a commitment to apply the right interpretive approaches to the book of God’s Word and the ‘book’ of his world. Evangelical scholars have been crucial here in helping the church read ancient documents as they were originally intended to be read. Second, I believe that while the church should passionately affirm each of these two ‘books.’ we must resist the temptation to insist on an excessively tight articulation between each, given our limited human understanding. Third, we need to provide a space where godly people can engage in edifying dialogue about difficult subjects” (p. 60).

Not coincidentally, the collection is concluded by Richard Mouw discussing the creating of these safe spaces where hard questions can be discussed and different points of view explored respectfully. He recounts a conversation with a Catholic couple wondering about the thinking about creation they had encountered among many evangelicals about, and musing, “Don’t you evangelicals realize that God is slow?” Mouw raises the question of whether, indeed, our quest for quick solutions to hard questions is part of our problem–we have a hard time when God moves slowly.

This book is probably most helpful for those who, like the authors, are not satisfied with how they read the two “books” of science and scripture together, how they understand evolution in light of their faith. It will be helpful to any Christian in the biological sciences who must face these questions. And it will help pastors as they work with scientists and youth as they engage with science.

Lastly, I hope this book contributes to a different kind of conversation between Christians and those in science, whether they believe or not. Both of us, when we study the world, marvel at what we see and wonder at its intricacy and beauty. Might we have conversations celebrating together the capacities that enable us to explore and the wonderful things we find? Might we model a hunger for truth that never fears that a new discovery will diminish God, or us? And might we collaborate together in exploring ways to use what we find for the good of our fellow creatures? It just might lead a group of scientists to someday write a companion to this book titled How I Changed My Mind About Christianity.