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.

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.]

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: Jesus, Beginnings, and Science

Jesus, Science and Beginnings

Jesus, Beginnings, and Science, David A. Vosburg and Kate Vosburg. Farmville, VA: Pier Press, 2017.

Summary: A guide for group discussions on the Bible and beginnings, human origins, and science co-written by a scientist and a campus minister.

Many people think there is a war between Christian faith and science, and one must “choose up sides.” Sadly, many committed to science have thus rejected faith, and many committed Christians either distrust science or distort it to conform to their faith. The husband and wife team of David and Kate Vosburg, a chemistry professor and campus minister, respectively, represent a marriage of science and faith. Investigation of the physical world deepens their appreciation for the work of God, and embrace of a biblical world and life view enhances their love of the scientific enterprise.

In this group discussion guide, they provide a series of twelve discussions around three main areas where tension may arise: the Bible and creation, the Bible and human origins, and the Bible and science more broadly. Part One looks at the Bible and creation and in four studies looks at Jesus’ role in creating and sustaining the world, praise to God for the majesty of creation, the creation account of Genesis 1 as a liturgy of creation, and the new creation of Revelation 21-22.

Part Two turns to what is often more controversial, the origins of human beings. This portion begins with considering the authority of the Bible and how we read the Bible, then turns to the Genesis 2 narrative of the creation of the first couple. The third study in this section considers this disagreements among Christians on origins, how we talk about these with each other and provides a very helpful table outlining the major positions. The fourth study focuses on Psalm 139, and how the wonder of God’s involvement with us from conception ought temper our disagreements.

Part Three is more broadly concerned with Christians and the scientific enterprise. The first study looks at some of the descriptions of the physical world in scripture and how these might not be so much about the science of creation but the Creator of science. The second study explores the limits of human knowledge and how this ought temper our statements about what we learn from science and conclusions about what role God does or does not have in the world. The third study was particularly helpful in showing the compatibility of foundational beliefs of science and Christianity. The last discussion concerns how pondering God’s deeds in the world is a way of loving God and opens the doors for Christian involvement in science.

Each study begins with review of the previous session or an activity between sessions, then offers an opening question followed by biblical texts with time for personal study and questions for group discussion. The discussion closes with a Share. Pray. and Reflect question. This is followed by a “Scientist’s Reflection” written by David, song suggestions if groups incorporate music, and further readings. Each of the three parts ends with a summary of that part. The book also includes an extensive bibliography at the end.

At the end of the guide, David and Kate reflect on their journeys. I appreciated what Kate has written here, which parallels my own journey in exploring these questions:

“In studying Scripture and combatting my biases against science based on fear, I’ve realized how much more Scripture tells me about God and the world and how much less it tells me about science. I’ve come to trust scripture much more deeply and become less defensive and nervous when people raise questions or issues. For example, I used to read Genesis 1 and be disturbed by conflicting scientific creation accounts. Now when I read Genesis 1, I see a beautiful poetic description of God’s creating. I see how the Lord is shown to be good, powerful, and creative. I see the incredible relationship God established with humanity. And it leads me to worship” (p.85).

The studies encourage respectful dialogue, and the Vosburgs don’t expect everyone to agree with them or each other. Rather, what they have come up with is a great set of discussions meant to facilitate thoughtful conversation around the Bible and what it does and doesn’t say, and how it bears on scientific findings and work. I think this could be used equally well by a group of Christians, or Christians and seriously seeking friends wondering about Christianity and science (I might skip the songs in that context). There is a great need for a better conversation about Christianity and science than what we often see in our media and in some of our churches. This is a great resource toward such conversations.

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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.

Review: The Truth About Science and Religion

the-truth-about-science-and-religion

The Truth About Science and Religion, Fraser Fleming, foreword by Gary B. Ferngren. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016.

Summary: A historical, scientific, and theological survey of the interaction of science and religion around the big questions of purpose, beginnings, the rise of life, the rise of human beings, the nature of mind and consciousness.

“Science and religion are intertwined like DNA. Science and religion provide two perspectives on reality that speak to life’s most fundamental issues: purpose, meaning, and morality.”

With this statement Fraser Fleming, head of the Chemistry Department at Drexel University, introduces this book which explores the intersection and interaction between science and religious faith, often thought to be a highly contended space. The author, however, explores the possibility that these two perspectives may be mutually enriching and together may give us a larger grasp on reality, though not without posing to us challenging questions that go to the core of what it means to be human and to exist in this world.

The first four chapters of the book survey what we know about the cosmology and biology of how we got here and the questions this poses and how science and faith have interacted around these. Chapter one considers the beginnings of the cosmos, the fine-tuning of the universe that has made the rise of biological life possible and the questions of whether this demonstrates a certain design and purpose inherent in the universe and how this is to be understood. Chapter two turns to the very beginnings of biological life on the planet, the emergence of cellular life from some form of pre-biotic soup, how the information code for all of life, DNA, arose, and eventuated in living cells. And how does all this relate to religious accounts including the early chapters of Genesis. Chapter three explores what is known of evolution from single-celled organism up to higher primates and explores the questions of whether randomness and natural selective forces are sufficient to account for the emergence of increasingly complex forms of life. The question is posed of how we are to understand pain and suffering, even before humans came on the scene. This, then leads to chapter four and the rise of human beings including homo sapiens, how we think about the development of religion, the existence of Adam and Eve. In each of the chapters of this section Fleming considers different explanations that have been advanced and ways religion and science have sought to address the fundamental issues of existence without arguing for or directing the reader to a particular conclusion.

Chapter five then takes a more theological turn, and particularly a Christian one, give the author’s own faith perspective. He considers the supernatural in the person of Jesus Christ, where he believes God and human experience intersect in the historical person of Christ. Under this heading he explores prayer, miracles, what he calls “the causal joint” (the intersection of the supernatural with physical processes in the world), and the resurrection.

Fleming then returns to science in chapter six, one of the longest chapters, in which he surveys science from its Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek roots, and up through the contribution of Islam. He then chronicles the rise of modern science, which he considers significantly aided by Christian premises. He profiles key figures of the modern period from Copernicus to Kepler to Galileo (whose ego leading him to go afoul of certain religious figures may have been much of his problem), up through the differing beliefs of Newton, Darwin, and Einstein. He shows how each engaged religious concerns, and in various ways approached religious faith or skepticism.

Chapter seven then explores the presently emerging field of neuroscience which raises all kinds of questions of what makes us “us.” To what extent is our consciousness, our mental processes connected to the neural networks of our brains? How are we to understand free will? What do we make of mystical and near death experiences, and what of us survives our deaths? From here, we move in chapter eight to a kind of summing up of the different models of how science and religion have engaged, from warfare (actually less common than thought), through separate spheres of inquiry to some form of integration of science and religion. The question is whether religion makes any difference. And this leads to the concluding epilogue where the author relates his own journey to Christian faith, and while admitting that other may see things differently, invites people to explore and seek for themselves.

What I appreciated about this work by a committed Christian was the even-handedness with which he dealt with science, religion, and their interaction. It is clear that as a scientist, he takes scientific inquiry seriously, is willing to look honestly at different explanations, consider hard questions, and leave room for differing conclusions. While it is clearly evident that the author would hope others follow him in embracing Christian faith, one never feels a pressure to do so or that one is being proselytized. I was struck with his honesty posing hard questions, for example why God’s revelation of himself comes so late in human history, and why there is so much pain and suffering before “the fall.”

This spirit of honest exploration of these important questions continues in the discussion questions at the conclusion of each chapter and the diverse recommendations for further readings reflecting a spectrum of views. His discussion presses skeptics, explorers, and people of faith to go deeper and wrestle with tough and important questions. I would highly commend this to groups of faculty, or others who are scientifically literate who are concerned about how science and faith address the most important questions of existence.

Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

the lost world of genesis one

The Lost World of Genesis OneJohn H. Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Summary: Walton argues from our knowledge of the ancient cultures in Israel’s context that Genesis 1 is a functional account of how the cosmos is being set up as God’s temple rather than an account of material origins.

Some time back, I reviewed The Lost World of Adam and Eve, which is the sequel to this book. I thought it did one of the best jobs I’ve seen of showing how we must try to understand the book of Genesis as its recipients would have in their own cultural context, rather than trying to make it answer questions about origins in the light of the theories of Darwin and the evolutionary science that has developed over the last 150 years. I’ve always had the sense that we’ve been asking of the text of Genesis questions that neither the writer nor the inspiring Holy Spirit never intended to address. The question that remains is what does the early chapters of Genesis affirm? John H. Walton offers a strong argument that these were written out of a very different world view that was considering the cosmos not in terms of the causative factors in their material origins (although Walton is clear to attribute ultimate causation of and sustenance of the creation to God), but rather as an account of how God establishes the functions and places the functionaries in his cosmic temple over which he rules.

Several insights were particularly helpful. One was his demonstration that the cultures of Israel’s day looked at the world in terms of functional rather than material origins. With the rise of modern science we see the world very differently and this results in some of our difficulties in reading the Genesis texts. Also, he explains the seventh day rest of God, which always has seemed anti-climactic to me as in fact the climax of this account as God enters and sits down, as it were, on the throne of his cosmic temple and begins his rule over what he has set in place. Finally, there is the important implication that because this is not an account of material origins their need be no conflict between Genesis 1 (and indeed the chapters that follow as he argues in his sequel) and scientific accounts of origins as long as science does not try to address teleological questions and conclude there is no God.

As in the sequel, Walton develops his treatment of Genesis 1 as a series of propositions. The chapter titles will give you a sense of the flow of his argument:

Prologue
Introduction
Proposition 1: Genesis One Is Ancient Cosmology
Proposition 2: Ancient Cosmology Is Function Oriented
Proposition 3: “Create” (Hebrew bara’) Concerns Functions
Proposition 4: The Beginning State in Genesis One is Non-Functional
Proposition 5: Days One Through Three in Genesis 1 Establish Functions
Proposition 6: Days Four Through Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries
Proposition 7: Divine Rest Is In a Temple
Proposition 8: The Cosmos Is a Temple
Proposition 9: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration
Proposition 10: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins
Proposition 11: “Functional Cosmic Temple” Offers Face-Value Exegesis
Proposition 12: Other Theories of Genesis 1 Either Go Too Far or Not Far Enough
Proposition 13: The Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature
Proposition 14: God’s Roles as Creator and Sustainer are Less Different Than We Have Thought
Proposition 15: Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose
Proposition 16: Scientific Explanations of Origins Can Be Viewed in Light of Purpose, and If So, Are Unobjectionable
Proposition 17: Resulting Theology in This View of Genesis 1 Is Stronger, Not Weaker
Proposition 18: Public Science Education Should Be Neutral Regarding Purpose
Summary and Conclusions

Walton, a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton, contends that this reading of scripture that takes the cultural-historical context of Genesis seriously is in fact the most faithful to an evangelical doctrine of scripture. It does not start from the questions we want to ask, but asks what truths the text was affirming, first for its original readers, and only then for us. He argues that his approach can take the text at face value rather than needing to apply the hermeneutical gymnastics of those who try to reconcile Genesis and scientific accounts. The result is one that explains away neither scripture nor science.

I also think he makes wise recommendations about public science teaching needing to be neutral about metaphysical questions, excluding both atheist and creationist agendas from the classroom. Whether scholars agree with Walton in all the particulars (and some consider his denial of ancient near east culture interest in material origins in the Genesis text over-emphasized) Walton offers a proposal that defuses, at least from the Christian side, the perceived warfare between science and faith. It seems that there are many concerns from the care of creation to the alleviation of suffering in which both Christians and all thoughtful scientists may make common cause rather than be adversaries. Would that it were so.

Review: The Lost World of Adam and Eve

Lost WorldThe Lost World of Adam and Eve, John H. Walton. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Summary: Building on his earlier The Lost World of Genesis One, Walton contends that Adam and Eve are both archetypes of humanity and also historical figures, though not necessarily our biological progenitors, that their disobedience brought disorder into the sacred space of the creation affecting all people, and that Christ’s work has to do with restoring that order.

Genesis 1-3 are both foundational texts for Christian belief, and heavily contended texts because of the apparent conflict between scientific understandings of origins and the biblical account read “literally.” It has always been my sense that a significant part of the problem is that many of our discussions violate a fundamental principle of good scripture study which is, to the best of our ability, to understand what it would have meant to its original recipients rather than try to relate it with contemporary science, or show that it is a “scientific” account of origins as do those advocating “creation science.” I don’t think Moses, or whoever we believe wrote these texts was thinking at all about the science. I do think these accounts were shaped very much by the ancient Near East context, and the distinctive claims that the God of Israel was making about Himself, his world, and human beings.

In this book, and his earlier The Lost World of Genesis OneJohn H. Walton, who is an Old Testament scholar, rigorously explores these texts in light of the growing body of material about the ancient Near East, and through careful reading of the texts himself. Usually I would not paste in a “table of contents” to summarize the book, but in this case it is the best way for you to see Walton’s argument, summed up in twenty-one propositions:

Introduction
Proposition 1: Genesis Is an Ancient Document
Proposition 2: In the Ancient World and the Old Testament, Creating Focuses on Establishing Order by Assigning Roles and Functions
Proposition 3: Genesis 1 Is an Account of Functional Origins, Not Material Origins
Proposition 4: In Genesis 1 God Orders the Cosmos as Sacred Space
Proposition 5: When God Establishes Functional Order, It Is “Good”
Proposition 6: ’adam Is Used in Genesis 1-5 in a Variety of Ways
Proposition 7: The Second Creation Account (Gen 2:4-24) Can Be Viewed as a Sequel Rather Than as a Recapitulation of Day Six in the First Account (Gen 1:1-2:3)
Proposition 8: “Forming from Dust” and “Building from Rib” Are Archetypal Claims and Not Claims of Material Origins
Proposition 9: Forming of Humans in Ancient Near Eastern Accounts Is Archetypal, So It Would Not Be Unusual for Israelites to Think in Those Terms
Proposition 10: The New Testament Is More Interested in Adam and Eve as Archetypes Than as Biological Progenitors
Proposition 11: Though Some of the Biblical Interest in Adam and Eve Is Archetypal, Yet They Are Real People Who Existed in a Real Past
Proposition 12: Adam Is Assigned as Priest in Sacred Space, with Eve to Help
Proposition 13: The Garden Is an Ancient Near Eastern Motif for Sacred Space, and the Trees Indicate God as the Source of Life and Wisdom
Proposition 14: The Serpent Would Have Been Viewed as a Chaos Creature from the Non-ordered Realm, Promoting Disorder
Proposition 15: Adam and Eve Chose to Make Themselves the Center of Order and Source of Wisdom, Therefore Admitting Disorder into the Cosmos
Proposition 16: We Currently Live in a World with Non-order, Order and Disorder
Proposition 17: All People Are Subject to Sin and Death Because of the Disorder in the World, Not Because of Genetics
Proposition 18: Jesus Is the Keystone of God’s Plan to Resolve Disorder and Perfect Order
Proposition 19: Paul’s Use of Adam Is More Interested in the Effect of Sin on the Cosmos Than in the Effect of Sin on Humanity and Has Nothing to Say About Human Origins
Excursus on Paul’s Use of Adam, by N. T. Wright
Proposition 20: It Is Not Essential That All People Descended from Adam and Eve
Proposition 21: Humans Could Be Viewed as Distinct Creatures and a Special Creation of God Even If There Was Material Continuity
Conclusion and Summary

A few key things to note. One key contention is that Genesis 1 is a functional rather than material account of creation. The focus is on the functions and functionaries of creation rather than their material origins, which is key to Walton’s understanding that the creation, and the garden are an ordered sacred space. Another is that Walton sees Genesis 2 as a sequel–humans have already been created, but God then makes a garden, and two particular humans who are both real figures and serve as archetypes acting on behalf of the human race. This allows Walton to contend for a historical Adam and Eve, without needing to insist that they are the progenitors of all human beings. Their decision to make themselves the center of order and source of wisdom had the opposite effect of bringing disorder into the world, which affects all humanity down to the present. Walton also deals with the important Pauline texts concerning Adam, with the help of N.T. Wright, arguing that the concern is the disordering of the cosmos rather than sin’s effect on humanity.

It is true that Romans 5:12 says that through one man sin entered the world (cosmos), it also speaks of death coming through sin, a clear effect of Adam’s sin not only on the cosmos but on humanity. I wonder here if Walton presses his ideas of order and disorder in the cosmos too far. I also find myself questioning the “functional” versus “material” distinction since both the spaces God makes and the creatures he fills them with are material as well as functional. What this pointed up to me is that while I want to take Walton’s argument as it stands, I also want to go back and take a closer look at the texts.

I do think it is important that those who take the biblical accounts seriously investigate to see whether Walton’s propositions can be sustained. If Walton’s argument stands the test of good exegesis, then he makes a critical contribution in ending the contentious battle between science and scripture over origins. His account does not insist that scripture makes claims about the material origins of the universe, nor does he insist that Adam is the biological progenitor of all human beings. Yet he argues for creation as an ordered sacred space, disordered by the sin of a historical Adam.

A number of the online reviews I found of Walton’s writing seemed more interested in defending a particular view of origins rather than carefully engaging his exegesis. For those interested in such things, this review by Richard Averbeck seemed among the most helpful in confirming Walton’s arguments at some points while raising important questions at others.

What I most appreciate about Walton’s book is the careful effort to look at Genesis as an ancient Near East text, while also taking it seriously as scripture. While mindful of the scientific arguments, his concern is to discern most clearly what scripture does and does not assert. Whether you agree or not with Walton’s argument, I hope it will have the effect it had for me of driving you back to the scriptures themselves “to see if these things are so.”

 

 

 

Review: Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything

Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything
Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything by Gerald Rau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but most discussions of origins seem to generate far more heat than light. They preach to the choir of those who agree, fail to engage those with whom they disagree on their own terms and perpetuate the unfortunate notion that Christianity and science are at war with each other. This book is a notable exception to that trend in that it is intended to promote understanding and conversation rather than more controversy.

Gerald Rau takes a novel approach in this book. Rather than taking a side, he lays out six different models that may be found in the current discussions. This itself is important because most of the coverage of this issue assumes two very diametrically opposed options: naturalistic evolution, that there is no god and the universe and all life arose simply through physical causation, and young earth creationism, which treats Genesis 1 as a literal account of how God created the world in six literal days, a world that is approximately 10,000 years old.

Rau identifies four other models and their proponents:

Non-Teleological Evolution: There is a deity but once the universe was created, it developed and evolved apart from any intention of God. This would be Ian Barbour’s position.

Planned Evolution: This assumes a deity who created the universe so perfectly that it evolved according to God’s plan without further intervention. Francis Collins and the Biologos folk would hold this.

Directed Evolution: This assumes a deity who creates the universe and intervenes to direct natural processes. Michael Behe and Loren Haarsma would hold to this model.

Old Earth Creationism: This would take a day-age approach to reading Genesis that assumes God’s creative work in each of these “long days” in which at least the major body plans of living creatures were created separately and did not evolve. Hugh Ross would be a representative of this group.

What Rau then does is shows how each of these models treats four major aspects of origins. His observation is that throughout, all six models are dealing with the same evidence but their interpretation of this evidence is shaped by differing fundamental presuppositions that account for the differences in the models. The four major areas Rau surveys are the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of species, and the origins of humans.

Rau observes that there are difficulties every model has with the evidence as well as varying explanations of both the evidence and the difficulties. For example, the anthropic principle, that observes the existence of 26 constants that allow for the existence of organic life, including human beings poses difficulties for the idea of a randomly arising universe of naturalistic evolution, although proponents would argue that in a multiverse with infinite universes, at least one would satisfy these requirements. Similarly, the commonalities of genetic material across species and the relatively small genetic difference between humans and apes pose questions for those who would argue against some form of evolution, explained by the use of “common design”.

Rau contends that rather than the currently polarized camps around these models, what might be more helpful is recognizing that it might be possible for each to learn from the others, that each has insights that may be useful in explaining some evidence and that this could be more fruitful than our present debates.

His conclusion however goes to the heart of the differences that exist, which are differing definitions of science, and fundamental disagreements about the existence of a God and whether such a God is involved with the physical world and how. My question as I consider this is whether these deepest differences can either be over come or held in abeyance to realize the kind of interchange between proponents of the different models that Rau hopes for.

If that kind of engagement is ever to occur, the work Gerald Rau has done lays excellent groundwork for such interchange. And for those trying to understand the different positions in the origins debate, Rau gives us an excellent “map” of the landscape.

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