Book Reviews, Christianity and Science, Science, Theistic Evolutionism

Book Review: “Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins” by Bishop, Funck, Lewis, Moshier, and Walton

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective is a massive introduction to various sciences alongside Christian thought from the perspective of evolutionary creationists (also known as theistic evolution). It can fairly be said to be the most comprehensive book of which this reader is aware of for giving a broad look at the many related fields in the origins debate within Christianity.

The book is broken into 7 parts: Getting Started on the Journey, which offers 4 chapters on biblical interpretation, doctrine of creation, pursuing origins questions, and seeing science and theology together; Cosmic Origins, which has 6 chapters starting with a look at Genesis and then going through the details of Big Bang theory, Fine-Tuning, and biblical/theological perspectives; Origin and Geologic History of the Earth, which has 8 chapters on the origin and formation of the Earth and Solar system, the history of geology, discussions of the biblical Flood, how we know about geologic timescales, plate tectonics, finding history in rocks and fossils, and biblical/theological perspectives; Origin of Life on Earth, which has 5 chapters discussing spontaneous generation to abiogenesis, the chemistry of prebiotics, biological information, alternate scenarios, and biblical/theological perspectives; Origin of Species and Diversity of Life, which has 5 chapters on the history of the theory of evolution, the modern synthesis, evidence for evolution, developments in evolutionary theory, and biblical/theological perspectives; Human Origins, which has 4 chapters on the biblical story, physical anthropology, genomic evidence, and biblical/theological perspectives on the image of God; and a Concluding Postscript, which is 1 chapter tying things together. The book is about 630 pages of text, with a glossary, general index, and scripture index. Throughout the whole book, there are color illustrations and charts, and it is richly detailed.

To be sure, there are many books with a lot of this information that you can find elsewhere. The things that set this book apart are 1) its comprehensive scope, with experts from various fields contributing huge sections of data and reflections from a Christian standpoint; 2) its one-stop shop type of reference; 3) its extensive look at the scientific evidence for evolution alongside some counters to arguments against it; 4) its accessible format; 5) the wealth of its illustrations (in color!). Many books in the creation-evolution debate have tended to focus almost entirely on theological questions or scientific ones (though I acknowledge there are exceptions). Rarely is the evidence presented in such a balanced fashion, and with such detail when it comes to the scientific arguments. It’s a massive text that is a bit daunting to read cover-to-cover, but the tone is so accessible and the explanations so well-written that it remains interesting and readable throughout.

The book can be read either in individual chapters or front-to-back. Thus, it would be useful as a textbook in many classes, or as a study book, or as a reference tool for interested readers. This is the kind of book that people like this reader have been longing for: a truly broad introduction to the many, many topics that converge upon theories of origins that is presented from a perspective that remains thoroughly orthodox in its theology. Those who oppose evolution will find here not some conspiracy or lies, but rather evidence and data backed with a warm, winsome tone that encourages readers to explore these tough questions.

Some of the most contentious questions, of course, receive the most space. Human Origins, as noted above, has its own entire section with more than 50 pages dedicated to the topic. Some things that struck me in that section were, first, the theological introduction that shows some of the questions that come up even from a “simple” reading of the text. Second, the extensive look at the physical and genomic evidence for human evolution is presented in a straightforward way. From my own background, I tended to think that any such evidence was falsified or simply presented in a misleading way. It would be impossible to accuse the authors here of doing so, as they note (especially earlier in the discussion of evolution) some of the problems with classification. But these problems are not demonstrations of the theory being false; rather, they show that we will probably never have a complete picture. For example, one common charge I have seen is that because scientists cannot put together a sequence of fossils that show human evolution in a chain: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H but rather that we have an idea that it may be A-D-G-J or something of the sort, this means there is no sequence. But that is demonstrably false. A ladder that is missing a step could still be identified as a ladder, just an incomplete one. Similarly, an incomplete fossil record does not demonstrate there is no such record or series. What’s particularly surprising, though, is how comprehensive the fossil record we do have is, particularly related to human origins. Though the exact sequence will likely be debate in perpetuity, the fact remains that there are many, many, many fossils of clear ancestors of humanity throughout the fossil record, and that a comparison of skulls, MRI measured brain sizes, etc. seems to demonstrate a sequence that does exist, even if incomplete. Of course, there is much more offered in regards to human evolution, such as population genetics, and the like, but the evidence is presented here and is fascinating.

Readers who are wondering about the scientific credibility of evolution will find this an excellent work to pick up. Those already convinced will have a superb introduction to the topic on hand that does not eschew faith for science or vice versa. The authors do a truly commendable job of showing that Christianity does not counter science, and neither does science show Christianity is false.

The chapters on geology are another excellent section, which teach the basics of geology alongside real-world examples that show the principles are sound. Coming from a young earth background, it was the geologic evidence that convinced me some years ago the Earth had to be much older. The authors present real, measurable evidence to show the earth is much more ancient than a few thousand years. But set alongside that is the valuable history of thought surrounding the age of the earth and how these discoveries were made, often by Christian geologists! To see how yes, science has changed as we’ve come to a fuller understanding helps readers understand that as well. The origins of life is another hotly contested area, and the authors do a good job of showing that it remains contentious while there is much work being done that suggests even biological information may have a natural origin. The many theories of origins will continue to be tested and improved, but we should be careful to attempt to plug God into the gap in understanding between what we don’t know yet and what may be discovered. Indeed, some of the scenarios presented for the origin of life continue to gain credibility as tests confirm aspects of their theorizing.

The authors have, with Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective , written a book that is sure to be a reference point for years to come. Though science constantly updates and changes with new discoveries and insights, the book is destined to be fruitful for some time. It provides a serious, fairly comprehensive introduction to many of the most hotly contested issues within Christianity today. It comes highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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