There are times when you read a book and realize it will be foundational going forward for your understanding of a certain topic. Gregg Davidson’s Friend of Science, Friend of Faith: Listening to God in His Works and Word is a book that will surely be formative for this reader on science and faith issues. It is a rigorous, insightful examination of the intersection of Christianity and science that will surprise, delight, and challenge almost any reader.
Science and Christianity is one of those topics that seems so overdone that it may feel as though nothing new can be written on it. But Davidson has written a book that will be refreshing for those who’ve already (as I have) read hundreds of books on the topic. Davidson starts off simply, noting the way that many have created a scenario for a crisis of faith by painting mainstream science as in direct opposition to aspects of Christianity and the Bible. Davidson notes that there are three essential questions when assessing apparent science-Bible tensions (wording and questions on p. 23): 1. Does the infallibility of Scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question? 2. Does science conflict with the intended message of Scripture? 3. Is the science credible?
These questions form the basis for much of the rest of the book, but Davidson approaches them in ways that are informative and even surprising for those who have trod much of this ground before. One of the many examples of this is right near the beginning, as Davidson goes over the conflict over Heliocentrism vs. Scripture. First, Davidson notes that it was not just Roman Catholics who had problems with Galileo, citing Martin Luther and John Calvin’s own objections to the man’s theory. Second, Davidson notes the real shift in interpretation on Scripture here–something that is integral to the story but often skated over. Christians really were reading passages literally and seeing this as conflict with Scripture. Davidson then filters the Heliocentrism debate through his three questions presented above, noting the way that believers were forced to re-evaluate commonly held notions about Scripture. The conclusion is that science can force us to go back to the text and test our interpretation to see whether it is accurate.
Davidson also argues extensively for accommodation in Scripture. Through his arguments, it becomes clear that Christians must either accept for accommodation of worldviews that had mistaken views of science present in Scripture or deny reality. This is a strong dichotomy, but one example is the question of seeds. Jesus clearly states that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds (Mark 4:30-32), and it decidedly is not (forget-me-nots, celery, poppies, orchids, and sundews all have smaller seeds). Moreover, Jesus says that grains of wheat die in order to produce more wheat (John 12:24), but seeds do not die in order to grow. Readers who insist on a lack of accommodation in Scripture must therefore live in the uncomfortable realm where Jesus was mistaken on the size of seeds or how plants grow. This is just one of the examples Davidson raises, in addition to answering common objections (like the attempt to argue these are simply phenomenological language) (43ff).
Davidson goes on to note several parts of Scripture that cannot be read literally, problems with insisting on modern science as the real rationale behind several passages dealing with things like the firmament (see 64ff), and how to read Genesis well.
Next, Davidson moves on to the question of whether modern science conflicts with Scripture. This fascinating part of the book sees Davidson showing biblical accounts of things like creation, the origin of life, and more, showing the scientific explanations for these, and then offering a synthesis. This synthesis, it ought to be noted, is not a Concordist view of Scripture that attempts to say modern science is found in Scripture. Instead, Davidson’s syntheses are offered to show that modern science does not conflict with Scripture, a substantive difference that makes a significant change for how Scripture is treated alongside science.
The next part of the book addresses whether modern science is credible. First, Davidson notes the difference between science and philosophy, and how many on almost any side of the science/faith debates conflate the two, insisting that materalism just is science or the like (121ff). Then follows several chapters outlining in clear, distinct ways the science behind things like the age of the universe and Earth, evidence for evolution from many, many different lines of evidence, and problems with various creationist accounts of the same. At no point does Davidson denigrate his opponents, but he instead offers incisive criticisms that demonstrate flaws in their systems.
Several more chapters address problems with creation science, the strange and somewhat surprising shift of so many young earth creationists to effectively endorsing hyper-evolution, and problems with Intelligent Design. Davidson addresses many common creationist arguments and demonstrates their flaws. For example, the argument that millions of years was invented to challenge Christian faith is fatally mistaken due to the fact that many geologists who discovered deep time professed their Christian faith alongside their discoveries. Soft tissue found in dinosaur bones is another argument addressed, showing that the molecular structure of preserved proteins in dinosaur tissue actually show more similarity to birds than reptiles, and that the discovery of rare soft tissue does not, in fact, demonstrate a young earth (219-220). Many more arguments are addressed. Prominent young earth groups like Answers in Genesis have been offering scenarios where rapid speciation occurred post-Flood in order to explain away many difficulties with a certain reading of the Ark narrative. Davidson notes many problems with this scenario, including the lack of time for generational adaptation, the existence of isolated populations, and the misuse of loss of information in genetic coding to explain speciation.
Davidson’s analysis of Intelligent Design points out several flaws with the movement and its arguments. For one, he shows the major difference between William Paley’s original advocacy of design, which was seen as something across all of nature and served as a very broad argument, and modern ID theory which focuses on a few specific instances that are said to point to design. Davidson argues that “if evidence of God is found primarily in places of nature that are beyond our current comprehension, then evidence for God is–almost by definition–continuously shrinking” (261). Moreover, even in the time of people like Leibniz, arguments were already being offered against design of specific features, because they could just as easily be seen as evidence of inefficient design or the need to correct a very good creation. Another problem with ID is that its hypothesis is, ultimately, untestable. Though it is argued that ID can be seen as science, science must be testable, and any number of ways to consider an experiment to try to demonstrate ID fail (264ff). Finally, Davidson closes with a summary of the work and how he’s offered a way forward that won’t lead to the crises of faith noted at the beginning of the book.
It should be noted that the book is richly illustrated in black-and-white with many charts, graphs, and pictures that always add to the text and which often are used to highlight specific ideas or topics.
Friend of Science, Friend of Faith is simply fantastic. It’s the kind of single-volume look at science and faith that could be handed to almost anyone to challenge assumptions and lead to new learning on the topic. I cannot recommend it highly enough; it’s that excellent.
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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