Review: A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture

A worldview approach to science and scripture

A Worldview Approach to Science and ScriptureCarol Hill. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019.

Summary: This book proposes that a worldview approach offers the best prospect of reconciling scripture and science, taking both seriously.

I’ve reviewed a number of books on scripture and science on this blog. This stands apart in many respects, one of which is the size of the book, the quality of the paper, and the lavish artwork, photography, charts, and graphs with which it is illustrated in full color on fine paper. It may equally serve as a coffee table book, or a supplemental text in an apologetics, biology or geology course in a Christian college setting. The author, a geologist teaching at the University of New Mexico has both the scientific background and familiarity with biblical scholarship to assemble this text.

Hill’s approach is one that has a high commitment both to the biblical text and the findings of science. She describes this as a “worldview approach,” following John Walton and other biblical scholars. She contends that we must read Genesis through the eyes of the pre-scientific worldview that informed the text of Genesis. By doing so, we rightly handle the text, rather than importing modern scientific concerns into that text.

A good example is the cosmology of the Ancient Near East and how it informs both our reading of Genesis 1 and the flood accounts of Genesis 6-9, allowing what is described as a “global” flood to be just that–a flood that covered everything in the known world of the observers, but yet was local. Likewise the six day sequence of creation consisting of three days of forming, and three days of filling with its numerous repetitions reflects a literary structure, not uncommon in the Ancient Near East, and memorable for readers and hearers.

At the same time, the author takes the existence of a real Adam and Eve in a real Garden of Eden seriously and explores the possible geographic location of that Garden, which she proposes might be about 100 miles northwest of Basra in present day Iraq. Later in the book, in coming back to the real existence of Adam and Eve, she discusses the possibility of pre-Adamite homo sapiens, with whom the offspring of Adam and Eve mated after expulsion from the garden, evidence of which we find in Genesis. She explores the numbers in the chronologies, noting the numerological interpretation of these numbers and the gaps in genealogies that make these both significant theological accounts, and totally irrelevant to the date of Adam and Eve or the age of the earth. The author argues for the flood as a historical, but extensive local event, probably around 2900 BC in Mesopotamia, looking at other records, and using studies of weather patterns to show how such a flood may have been possible. She discusses how the ark could have flowed up-gradient to Ararat from, counter to the prevailing flow of water into the Persian Gulf. Using her geological training, and familiarity with the American southwest, she demonstrates how it is just not possible to explain the Grand Canyon by “flood geology” that would contend that it was carved out, with all its layers of rock, in a year.

The upshot is a book that acknowledges the historic and literary elements of Genesis 1-11, and yet does not rule out the scientific accounts of the origins of the earth 4.58 billion years ago, the formation of the earth’s surfaces through geologic process over long time spans, and the rise of life along an evolutionary creationist model that does not try to force fit science into the Genesis 1 narrative. Her argument is that the worldview of the biblical writers as it shapes the writing of these scriptures does not require of us the gymnastics of trying to fit our scientific knowledge into either young earth or day-age approaches, but upholds what scripture affirms, read through Ancient Near Eastern eyes, as well as what science has revealed, finding no inherent conflict between them.

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

Review: Evolution, Scripture, and Science

9781532690143

Evolution, Scripture, and ScienceB. B. Warfield (Edited by Mark A. Noll & David N. Livingstone). Eugene, Wipf & Stock, 2019 (originally published in 2000).

Summary: A collection of the writings of B.B. Warfield consisting of lectures, articles, and reviews showing his engagement with evolutionary writers and his conviction that scripture and science need not be in conflict.

B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) was know as a staunch advocate of the inspiration, infallibility, and authority of the Bible, and as a “Princeton theologian,” trained by Charles Hodge. What is lesser known was that he closely followed the scientific literature of his day concerning the developing theory of evolution and did not see that evolution and scripture inherently in conflict.

Mark Noll and David N. Livingstone have collected the writings of Warfield on the subject of evolutionary science. This includes lectures, articles, and excerpts from Warfield’s own writings as well as numerous reviews of articles and books by various writers on the subject. There are several things that impress me about Warfield:

  1. He both affirms the truthfulness of the Genesis accounts but is open to interpretations that do not insist on literal days, or use genealogical records to date when Adam was created.
  2. He insists on ex nihilo creation of the stuff of the cosmos, allows for providentially guided development, but insists on the creation of the human soul.
  3. His views develop over the course of his life. At one point, while allowing for evolutionary development under God’s providence, he advocated mediate creation. Later, after studying Calvin, he abandoned the idea of mediate creation and allowed for development and speciation.
  4. At the same time, he was willing to both affirm and critique various aspects of the writers of his day. His big issues were not evolution per se, but rather evolutionism that denied God’s providential involvement and the idea of randomness that denied teleology, the evidence of purpose in the development of life.
  5. He is, if anything more challenging in his remarks on theological writers when they deviate from orthodoxy than with science writers.
  6. He is unwilling to accept the fact/value dichotomy. He insists that theology and biology are both sciences, both are concerned with facts. Theology cannot be relegated to the subjective world of faith and emotion.

The editors provide an excellent essay on Warfield as a “conservative evolutionist.” Also each of the works are preceded by a brief summary.

It is sad that Andrew Dickson White’s History of the Warfare of Science with Theology shaped the public conception about Christianity’s response to evolutionary theory and science more generally, one sadly that even many Christians have adopted. Warfield called White’s work “special pleading,” projecting present controversies into a past when Christians were on the forefront of science and saw their investigations as giving glory to God, studying his revelation in the books of scripture and nature. It is sad that Warfield’s ideas did not gain greater currency in the culture and in the church.

At very least, this collection suggests that thoughtful Christians with a high view of scripture need not be at war with science. The state of evolutionary theory is far advanced from the time of Warfield and the discussions concern discarded aspects of the theory. Nevertheless, the model of respectful engagement, a theologian abreast with scientific research, a foundation of conviction with an openness to grow all commend Warfield as a model for those who would engage discussions between scripture and science. Wipf & Stock is to be commended for re-printing this work and keeping it in circulation.

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

Review: Friend of Science, Friend of Faith

friend of science friend of faith

Friend of Science, Friend of FaithGregg Davidson. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019.

Summary:  Shows how we can trust both the witness of scripture and the findings of science as we consider God’s works.

Gregg Davidson begins this account with a story I’ve sadly observed in too many college settings. A students has been raised with a particular interpretation of the Bible’s account of beginnings and all sorts of “answers” to the challenge of evolution. Then she discovers that the real evidence for evolution far more extensive, and that the supposed “objections” to evolution were groundless in light of the actual evidence. A well meaning youth minister brings by a book defending a literal, “plain sense” reading of Genesis, but the student finds it riddled with inconsistencies, misconceptions and false assertions. Forced to choose between science and the interpretation of scripture presented her as true and authoritative, she walked away from her faith, her Bible ending up in a landfill.

Davidson is saddened by this because he is convinced that most of the science versus faith conflicts are needless battles. He proposes three important questions where science and the Bible seem in conflict:

  1. Does the infallibility of Scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
  2. Does the science conflict with the intended message of scripture?
  3. Is the science credible? (p.23).

What Davidson does is illustrate, first with the historic case of heliocentrism, and then in much more depth in the accounts of origins how Genesis may give a true, but not literalistic account of origins that would have “rung true” for it original hearers and readers who would have been baffled by the concordist efforts to reconcile a literal reading with observed evidence. He then shows that in fact science does not clash with the intended meaning of scripture that affirms a universe that emerged ex nihilo, life that arose from the earth, and humans from the dust of the ground, and the evidence of a massive flood in the known world of the Bible.

Having contended for the trustworthiness of biblical accounts, and that read in terms of their intended message, they needn’t conflict with science, Davidson, a geologist by training, turns to the question of the credibility of the science of beginnings, summarizing in wonderful detail both cosmological origins, and the geology and origins of life on earth. He shows the problems the evidence poses for flood geology. He also addresses the objection raised by many of the lack of transitional forms, demonstrating that while this was true at one point, we now have great evidence for these forms in the fossil record showing transitions from dinosaurs to birds, reptiles to mammals, mammals to marine whales, and the origins of human life.

One of the most challenging portions of this book for those who advocate “creation science” is how Davidson exposes the rhetorical moves used to advance this cause: false dichotomies, the twisting of terms, the misapplication of scientific principles like the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the misleading ways of telling half a story, the use of distractions, the cherry-picking of quotations, and outright wrong and often outdated information. Some do this from sincere conviction, and I appreciate Davidson’s graciousness with those who do not agree, and his commitment to Christian charity and fellowship with those who differ. But he also challenges others who uphold a particular mode of creation at the expense of truth. The cause of truth and righteousness is never advanced by falsehoods. Their efforts are also misdirected. They become creation evangelists, rather than what Davidson would hope for, people with particular beliefs of what is true who can acknowledge those who read Genesis differently and then say, “so what do you think about Jesus?”

He discusses the intelligent design movement, and the difficulty of arguing for the activity of God in the places evidencing design not yet explicable by science. He confirmed what I’ve long felt that the things we do understand argue as much for the Creator as what we do not, and that to put our emphasis on the inexplicables is to worship a shrinking God, rather than a God, the grandeur of whose work only grows as we understand more of it.

Gregg Davidson represents a growing number of Christians in science who are convinced both of the inspiration and authority of the Bible and the credibility of the results of scientific research. As his title suggests, he is an advocate for a better conversation, a better relationship between science and faith, a friendly rather than adversarial relationship. In this book he makes a strong case from both scripture and science that this is possible, and that adversarial approaches, whether by Christians, or by atheists like Richard Dawkins, are needless, wrong headed, and harmful.

There are people on both sides of the “battle” who have built personal followings and empires that are sustained by the perpetuation of this battle. I frankly hope that Davidson’s book contributes to the opening of the eyes of many to recognize that “the emperor(s) have no clothes,” that they should no longer be heeded, and that former enemies might become friends–friends both of science and faith.

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

Review: Love and Quasars

Love and Quasars

Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science, Paul Wallace. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019.

Summary: An astrophysicist recounts both his journey away from faith as he saw it in conflict with science, and his return to a faith enlarged by his pursuit of science.

There are many books that contend that science and faith might be reconciled. What makes this book stand apart is not merely the reasoned argument, but more deeply the wonder and love for both God and the cosmos that brings science and faith together for the author.

It wasn’t always so for Paul Wallace. Like many children, Paul started out with an implicit faith in God and saw God’s glory in the world (the subject of a family joke). Beginning in second grade, he began to see contradictions between what he read in the Bible and what he was learning about the world from science. The religious adults he discussed this with seemed uneasy, the scientists were in love with their work. As he went along, he gradually came to believe that opposing faith to science was kind of like “chessboxing” the mixing of two very different things that each address different aspects of our existence. Faith shouldn’t exclude scientific explanations of origins, and science shouldn’t pretend to answer the questions of what kind of people we ought to be and ultimate questions of meaning.

He argues for the cooperation of friends, indeed lovers, as the model for the relationship of faith and science, both approaching the universe with wonder and love without imposing what each sees on the other, but mutually appreciating and learning from each other, sometimes coming to a seamless union, as in marriage. He speaks about how science may enlarge faith, even while some choose to believe there is nothing more while others grow in faith. He proposes this rewrite to a materialist vision of the universe:

You have a heavenly father. You’re an amazing product of his ongoing creation project. We’ve discovered a lot about that project, which has been going on for billions of years. We are human beings, the descendants of apes, who were drawn from earlier, smaller primates. Our lineage also includes reptiles and amphibians and fish and worms and even single-celled organisms. Like a flower that grows from the dirt yet is not itself dirt, we have been gradually assembled out of chaotic and disorganized elements. You were formed from the dust of the ground, given the breath of life, and carry the image of a loving and creative Father who is crazy about you.

He proposes that this view of science and faith opens us to a larger and stranger God, one who made a vastly more immense universe than anyone before Copernicus imagined, and even stranger than the universe delineated by Newton. He thinks this leads to a larger understanding of the Bible revealing God’s loving relationship to the world he has made rather than strained interpretations that tend to harmonize a literal reading of Genesis with the findings of science. Science reveals a universe “red in tooth and claw” and faith reveals a Christ who enters into violence and suffering and transforms it. He suggests that our problem with miracles may be that we look at such events from a human point of view whereas from God’s perspective, there are no miracles but only possible things.

One of the most helpful chapters is one in which he re-examines the popular view of the church versus Galileo, suggesting that the real history is more complicated and that much of the purported warfare between science and Christianity has been cooked up and is an oversimplification of history. He describes his own journey back to faith as he recognized the limits of science to address life’s big questions of why we are here and our sense of wonder at the beauty we behold in the world. Most of all, faith, and not science revealed that we are creatures of love, a love that embraces people, God and the cosmos that scientists study.

What I appreciate is that Wallace does not try to argue a concordist explanation between the Bible and science. He doesn’t try to argue God from irreducible complexity or fine tuning. He traces his own recognition of the inadequacy of materialist science to answer the deepest longings and intuitions of his life. He recognizes the connection between the wonder and love of the believer and the scientific researcher. He does all this in a manner that is at times disarmingly offhand and at others is caught up in the wonder of the world he studies, inviting us, “do you see it too?” Just as the woman who eventually became his wife didn’t make him an evangelistic “project” but simply entered into a relationship of wonder and love that was instrumental in his return to faith, so he treats the reader. One feels we are not projects but fellow seekers, trying to make sense of our own wonder and love and a longing for making some sense of the world, even as we listen to his personal journey of discovery.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Fearfully and Wonderfully

Yancey

Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image (Updated and combined edition), Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: A new edition combining two classic works exploring both the wonders of the human anatomy, the value and dignity of every human being, and parallels with the functioning of the body of Christ.

Thirty years ago Dr. Paul Brand and writer Philip Yancey teamed up on two books exploring the wonders of the human body, Brand’s medical practice and its affirmation of the human dignity of even some of the most physically unapproachable and parallels to the body of Christ. I never had a chance to read these works but every person I met who hand raved at the beauty of these works. Now, thirty years later, and having read a new edition combining these two works, I am ready to join the chorus of those who praise the fruit of this collaboration. This writing about how fearfully and wonderfully made is indeed wonderful.

Brand’s distinctive work up until his death in 2003 was his work among those with leprosy, and his critical insight that began with his first encounter with a leper that the insidious part of the disease was its destruction of nerve endings that transmit pressure and pain. Deformities, particularly in hands and feet result from repeated injuries that occur because people don’t feel the pain of fire, or wounds from tools or knives or implements, or even the turning of an ankle. Much of Brand’s work as an orthopedic surgeon was operating on misshapen hands and feet, eyelids, noses, and restoring function and form.

One of the beauties of this work was the power of treating those who suffered from these deformities as persons of great dignity. At one point the book describes an incident where Brand was assuring a leprosy patient that they could arrest the disease with medication and restore some movement. As he did so, he made what he thought a joke as he put his arm around the young man’s shoulder, and the young man began to sob. Brand discovered that the man was crying because no one had touched him for many years.

Another part of the beauty of this book lies in the descriptions of the wonders of the human body. He describes the incredible diversity of cells that make our bodies, and how they all share the same set of instructions on their chromosomes. He describes how normally functioning bodies distribute stress and adjust when tissues are expose to repeated stress. Lepers, who cannot feel, do not. He explores various bodily systems: skin, blood, respiration, bone, and muscle, sensory nerves and brain. So much that we are unaware of reflects incredibly complex and efficient systems to sustain, protect, and heal our bodies.

The third beauty of this book is the insights drawn from our physical anatomy to a parallel Body–the Body of Christ.Brand describes the primitive but effective techniques of vaccinating people using the lymph of previously vaccinated persons to vaccinate others, protecting them from and overcoming deadly illnesses like smallpox. Then follows a spiritual insight into what it means to overcome by the blood of the Lamb, blood that overcomes the infection, and effects of sin.

Descriptions of the wonder of human anatomy, the dignity of every human being and the healthy functioning of Christ’s body weave through this work. These lessons all have one end–to help us understand what it means both individually and collectively to be image bearers, the embodied representations of God and Christ to the world. I came away from reading this work with a profound sense of wonder and thankfulness for the function of my body in all its parts and its whole. The very act of typing these words is a wonder, involving thought, brain centers dedicated to each of my fingers, visual impulses from my eyes, all woven together. How wonderful it is when one works with a team of believers, using our various gifts and skills toward common goals, accomplishing far more together than any of us could individually. Brand and Yancey not only open my eyes with the wonders they describe and their spiritual parallels, they encourage me to look for these wonders in my own life and the world around me, fostering what an embryologist friend describes as doxological fascination, a rather fancy way of describing “fearfully and wonderfully.” That seems to me to be a rather wonderful way to live.

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

 

Guest Review: Enriching our Vision of Reality

Enriching Our Vision

Enriching our Vision of RealityAlister McGrath. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2017

Summary: The natural sciences and Christian theology can enrich each other’s understanding of reality and help us better understand this strange world in which we find ourselves.

The fundamental theme of Alister McGrath’s book is that “the natural sciences and Christian theology can enrich each other’s understanding of reality and help us better understand this strange world in which we find ourselves.” (p. 77)

His intended audience is “scientists with an interest in theology and theologians aware of the importance of the natural sciences” (p. viii), of which I happen to be neither.

McGrath suggests that “insisting that we use only scientific methods, forms and categories confines us to a narrow world that excludes meaning and value, not because these are absent but because this research method prevents them being seen.” (p. 16)

McGrath discusses the shortcomings of Ian Barbour’s four general approaches (conflict, independence, dialogue and integration) to the relation of science and religion, then goes on to favorably describe John Polkinghorne’s four approaches (deistic, theistic, revisionary, and developmental). The developmental approach is described as a continuously unfolding exploration wherein Christian doctrine is revised in the light of new insights.

He points out the numerous ways in which scientific and theological thinking are similar, particularly regarding Darwin’s theory and Christian theology, in that “both scientific and religious theories find themselves confronted with mysteries, puzzles and anomalies that may give rise to intellectual or existential tensions but do not require their abandonment. . . . In each case, there is a common structure of an explanation with anomalies, which are not regarded as endangering the theory by its proponents but are seen as puzzles that will be resolved at a later stage.” (pp. 147-8)

And it wouldn’t be an Alister McGrath book without a discussion of natural theology, which he describes as “an attempt to demonstrate the existence or character of God by an appeal to the order or beauty of the natural world, without presupposing or relying on any religious assumptions or beliefs.” (p. 165) McGrath suggests that “Christianity offers a framework that makes sense of what is otherwise a happy cosmic coincidence.” (p. 11)

In summary, McGrath provides an exploration of the relation of the natural sciences and theology and how they can complement each other. Along the way, McGrath responds to the views of some of the New Atheists, particularly Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

The book includes a two-page “For Further Reading” but no Index. The only fault I can find with this book is that the publisher chose to go with end notes (28 pages of them) instead of footnotes, thus requiring constant page-flipping.

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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: 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: Faith Across the Multiverse

faith across the multiverse

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science, Andy Walsh. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2018.

Summary: Explores how science, particularly math, physics, biology, and computer science, might illuminate one’s understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible.

In his parables, Jesus spoke of various natural phenomenon to help us understand the kingdom of God–seeds, birds of the air, lilies of the fields, yeast, sheep, and more. God invites Abraham to count the stars and questions Job about the creation. In Faith Across the Multiverse, Andy Walsh asks the question of how various observable phenomenon and theories in science might illuminate our understanding of God, the Bible and spiritual realities. He focuses his inquiry in the fields of math, physics, biology, and computer science, reflecting his background in several of these fields. His day job is Chief Science Officer at Health Monitoring Systems where he develops statistical methods for public health surveillance. His doctoral and post-doctoral work was in fields of molecular biology and immunology and computational biology. He writes a weekly science column for InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network blog.  It is also important to know that Andy is a fan of super-hero comics, particularly X-Men and he mixes these characters and stories, along with popular science fiction into his discussion of science and faith.

In the realm of mathematics, he explores faith as a choice of axioms, sin in terms of mathematical optimization and choosing an objective function to maximize. Most fascinating for me was his use of chaos dynamics as a possible way to understand sovereign grace in which various paths might lead to the same outcome, as is the case with “strange attractors.”

In the realm of physics, he follows John Polkinghorne in discussions of how the dual wave/particle character of light might give us insight into the incarnation of Jesus. He also explores how entropy might help us understand sin and death, and the transformative work of dying to oneself in Christ.

The biology of the genome, our immune systems, and even the constitution of ant colonies may shed light on the relational dynamics and nature of the church. The world of computer science, in which simple rules, procedures, and inputs may result in complex outcomes suggest how a single book, the Bible might be able to address the complexities of human existence throughout our history.

The book has the feel of being written for “science nerds,” kind of like the characters one encounters on The Big Bang Theory, who geek out on in-depth discussions of scientific theory, punctuated by excursions to the comic book store and debates over Star Trek versus Star Wars. Walsh writes, “One feature of the world that pains me and I believe pains God is the fact that so many feel they need to choose between science and belief in the God of the Bible.” I’ve worked with “science nerds” in graduate student ministry, and I can vouch that there many who think science and faith are mutually exclusive. Walsh’s careful explanation of scientific theories and phenomenon, which may be off-putting for some, establishes for the scientifically literate grounds for drawing the connections or “parables” of science and Christian belief. The effect of his discussion is both to suggest a consonance between science and Christian beliefs for the skeptic, and to shed fresh light from science on Christian belief for those who do believe. The frequent references to comic superheroes makes this all the more fun.

I suspect this book was not written for a social science-liberal arts-theology nerd like me. I’ll confess that I haven’t solved a math equation since college, and while I enjoy general science writing, the depth of explanations was a stretch for me, that made me flex some under-used mental muscles. I suspect my math geek, computer scientist son would love this book, particularly the portions on fractals and chaos mathematics. There are significant numbers like him out there, and many question whether there is even room for Christian belief in a world shaped by science and technology. Andy Walsh writes as one of them who hopes to remove the barriers between science and belief by sharing the ways his own research and other science reading has enriched his understanding of and love for 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: Mere Science and Christian Faith

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Mere Science and Christian FaithGreg Cootsona. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: Many emerging adults think that science and faith should complement each other and are put off by church contexts that force a choice between faith and science. The book contends that it is possible to bring science and faith into fruitful conversation, and provides examples of how this is possible.

Emerging adults (18-30 year-olds) are leaving the church in record numbers. “Nones” or those who identify as “spiritual but not religious” are on the rise. There are a number of causes for this but one is that emerging adults encounter congregations where science is the enemy and the relationship between faith and science is defined as a conflict. Many of these emerging adults see beauty in creation that is enhanced by their study of science and don’t see science and faith as opposed. But if forced to choose, many choose science. Science and technology play a huge role in their lives, whether it is in their concern for their environment, their understanding of human sexuality, or the smartphones that are a ubiquitous presence and have changed their ways of relating to each other and the world.

Greg Cootsona writes about these trends and how Christians might foster a better conversation that aspires to intersection and integration rather than conflict and warfare. After profiling emerging adults, he discusses our engagement with the new atheism, often alienated by anti-science attitudes in Christian communities, principles for interpreting the Bible, recognizing both the good in technology, and where we may need to take a break from it.

These chapters are interspersed with “case studies” of engaging various contemporary developments–cognitive science, the Big Bang and fine-tuning arguments, Intelligent Design, climate change, and sexuality. Can cognitive science explain belief? How can we take fine-tuning arguments too far? What does Intelligent Design’s focus on irreducible compexity miss? How can we have a fruitful conversation about the highly politicized subject of climate change? How do we engage genetic understandings of orientation and gender?

The concluding chapter is titled “Moving Forward.” Cootsona articulates a compelling vision of telling better, true and beautiful stories that bring faith and science together. He writes:

“I do know, however, that these true, better stories are also beautiful. They will bring together the goodness and truth of the good news with the beauty of God. There truth becomes beautiful. And it should not be overlooked that rhetoric–as an engagement with beauty–should be used in concert with philosophy–as the pursuit of truth. Truth is only worth engaging if it’s beautiful, and beauty is that which allures us.” (p. 162)

This is a short, pithy book that is written conversationally rather than didactically. Quotes from emerging adults illustrative of chapter themes are sprinkled throughout the text. Pithy however does not mean light weight. Current scientists like Katherine Hayhoe and Elaine Ecklund are cited, writers on the philosophy of science like Ian Barbour, and theologians like Arthur Peacocke. Both text and footnotes point readers to further resources in both print and online form. This is an ideal introduction for those working with emerging adults as well as for emerging adults themselves who are wondering if it is possible for there to be a better conversation between science and faith. If Greg Cootsona is right, there are indeed many better conversations we might have.

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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.