Guest Review: God’s Good Earth

God's Good Earth

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, Jon Garvey. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books,

Summary: A biblical, theological, and scientific case for no fall of nature.

In this book, Jon Garvey, a retired medical doctor, challenges “some of the underlying assumptions now made in the discussion of natural evil, particularly within the evangelical Christian tradition, about what Christianity itself has taught on it, both from within its biblical foundation, and in its theological history.” (p. xvii) He presents “the true position of biblical and historic church teaching as clearly as possible.” (p. xviii) “It has to be a worthwhile goal to take an authentic view both of what science and Christian doctrine actually reveal about the world.” (p xix) “[T]he aim of this study is to point out that what happened to humankind in the garden did not spread to the rest of the world”. (p. 4)

In section one, Garvey surveys the relevant biblical material and showed that the Bible’s position is that the natural creation remains God’s servant, and has not become corrupted or evil because of human sin. This section included some interesting and new (at least to me) observations from Scripture supporting the case for an unfallen world by pointing out how good God’s creation actually is. Garvey concludes that neither the sin of humanity nor the corruption of the angelic powers is associated in Scripture with any major changes in nature.

The second section documents the history of “the doctrine of nature, with reference to the fall, through the past 2,000 years, to show how the balance shifted from a strongly positive view of the goodness of creation to a seriously negative one” (p. xix), including possible reasons why the traditional view rose to prominence around the sixteenth century. He includes a little more than I wanted to know about that history, but obviously believed it was important in order to make his point. Chapter 7, aptly titled “Creation Fell in 1517,” describes a profound reversal in the writings of the reformers. Garvey attributes at least some of this to the Greek Prometheus cycle, particular Pandora’s jar (aka Box), suggesting that natural evil flew out of a jar in a Greek myth, and not primarily from Christian Scripture at all. (p. 112) This section was well worth getting through for what came next.

In the third section, Garvey looks at natural evil as evidenced within the world itself and why nature is now so widely perceived as cruel and malevolent, when once it wasn’t. Garvey makes good use of his medical training and practice to frequently provide a fresh perspective on the usual arguments for “nature red in tooth and claw,” suggesting that they have been somewhat exaggerated. For instance, he completely discredits the claim that most animals suffer an agonizing death. Garvey proposes that “since evolution and the living world generally are found on close examination not to be steeped in selfishness at all, but overwhelmingly founded on cooperation and interdependence, human sin and selfishness may be seen for what they truly are—an aberration within God’s good creation.” (p. 146)

In the final section, he sketches out the differences it makes to Christian life and hope to accept either the traditional view that creation is tainted by the fall, or the view that it is not fallen. For instance, “one is much more likely to wish to preserve what one loves because it is God’s good handiwork, than if one views it as irretrievably corrupted by evil” (p. 199) There is also “the Christian hope engendered by the resurrection of Christ [in] the renewal of all things in heaven and earth, not their complete replacement . . .” (p. 199)

Finally, “This understanding will demand, for many of us, some fundamental readjustments of beliefs and attitudes, but we may take comfort in the fact that we are not, by making those changes, moving away from the faith of the Bible and the church of Christ, but closed back towards both.” (p. 202)

This book was written by a Christian layman, and it is suited for Christian laymen as well as anyone else interested in a fresh perspective on the fall of nature. I highly recommend it.

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: Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and Science

Evolving Certainties

Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and ScienceTerry Defoe. Self-published, 2018.

Summary: A well-written, comprehensive survey of virtually all of the current popular literature on the creation-evolution dialogue.

Pastor Terry Defoe’s goal for this book is to inform, not to persuade, and inform he does. In his introduction he points out that scientific discoveries have resulted in significant challenges for the Christian church, specifically, (1) How old is the cosmos and the earth? (2) Do species evolve? and (3) How was creation accomplished?

The author focuses his attention on the dialogue between science and Christianity, both historically and currently. He begins by discussing the scientific revolution, the cosmological revolution, the geological revolution, and the biological revolution.

He then devotes a chapter each to possible belief systems in response to the scientific advances: [1] Atheistic evolution, [2] Old Earth Creationism (including the gap theory, the day-age theory, and progressive creationism), [3] Evolutionary Creationism (aka theistic evolution), [4] Young Earth Creationism, and [5] Intelligent Design Creationism. Evolutionary creationism is clearly the author’s preference.

For him, it comes down to “the critical importance of hermeneutics – an accurate interpretation of the Holy Scriptures” (p. xviii). He includes very brief discussions of the theological issues impacted by adoption of an evolutionary perspective, including original sin, death before the fall, theodicy, the image of God, and the historicity of Adam and Eve. Pastor Defoe refreshingly admits several times that these issues have not yet been settled.

In his concluding chapter, Terry Defoe suggests that “The truth of evolution cannot and should not be decided by those who are not scientifically literate. It is important that Christian leaders possess a basic scientific literacy if they are to evaluate science and scientists. We have seen that it is not helpful to the church or to its integrity when church leaders make statements about science that are clearly ill-informed.” (p. 195) He is not advocating a scientific takeover of theology but is asking that science be given a fair hearing. He further suggests that “Scientific discoveries remind Christians that the science in the scriptures is simply the common-sense understanding of an ancient people living in a prescientific world. Rather than inappropriately reading modern notions back into the scriptures, evangelical Christians are learning to let the scriptures speak for themselves, uncovering the message intended by the original authors.” (p. 147)

His conclusion is followed by a 23-page Appendix in which he presents and discusses the results of a number of polls on the topic of evolution, including Gallup, Religion Among Academic Scientists, the Pew Research Center, the National Study of Religion and Human Origins, and a Barna pastors’ survey.

The book is written for the popular audience and in a somewhat unusual style. It reads very smoothly, but almost every other sentence is footnoted, resulting in 1,704 endnotes, most of which are from the popular literature and many are references to readily accessible websites.

Except for numerous typos (a hazard of self-publishing), this book is a well-written, comprehensive survey of virtually all of the current popular literature on the creation-evolution dialogue.

This would be an excellent book to recommend or give to a young earth creationist who is amenable to examining the compatibility of the Bible and modern science since the author shows “why it is possible to leave young earth creationism for biblical reasons.” (p. 11)

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