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Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Summary of Response

I’ve spent quite a bit of time reviewing, re-reading, and contemplating the massive book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. I reviewed the book, interacting with the scientific and philosophical parts, and then looking in even more detail at some individual chapters in the theological section of the work. I wished to make a post that summarized some of my thoughts, as well as providing a one-stop shop for viewing my lengthier criticisms as well as those of others.

Review

Theistic Evolution is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive collection of arguments against the eponymous position that I know of in existence. But that is not to say there is going to be much new here for those who have read about science-faith issues. Indeed, though almost every chapter is first published here (except where otherwise noted in a few chapters), most of the arguments have been dealt with or have been ongoing for years, if not decades. Here, I can only offer the briefest interaction with the massive work (but see my longer interactions linked below).

The scientific section is largely outside my area of expertise, so I’ll limit myself to a few broad comments. Time and again, various authors move from saying that scientists cannot determine the exact order of a certain evolutionary chain to saying that there is therefore no such chain. This is deeply mistaken, though I admit I used to buy into this type of anti-evolutionary argument myself. At first it sounds compelling, until one considers that nowhere else do we allow this reasoning. For example, we would not say that no automobile accident happened just because we could not determine the exact order in which individual parts of the cars involved were crushed. Another difficulty with the scientific part of the book is that time and again, the assertions are made that theistic evolutionists do not allow there to be design as a possibility or God acting in nature; yet this is false at best and disingenuous at worst.

The philosophical critique falls largely flat. For one thing, a constant refrain is that theistic evolutionists are no different from atheists when it comes to methodological naturalism, yet this strangely ignores the “theistic” part of the term theistic evolution. Because proponents of said position are theists, they clearly allow for divine activity, and major proponents of the theory like those at Biologos constantly affirm this. Second, assertions that evolution would not allow for theism in the first place also fail both because Christians from the beginning of interaction with evolution have noted that God could simply have ordained the whole process and because those Christians who think in Aristotelian terms can still have final ends in mind with evolution, even on the level of individual species.

The theological critique musters perhaps the strongest arguments in the book, but even here there are a series of blunders that undercut much of the case. In the chapter on the Old Testament, for example, the author fails to defend or even define the meaning of the term “history” and its use to describe the early chapters of Genesis. In the chapter on the New Testament, the author strangely insists that Jude must mean Genesis is “historical” (again failing to define or even touch on what that term is supposed to mean here) while also dismissing claims that other parts of Jude would make other events historical. Then, the author turns around and says that because Jude cites the book of 1 Enoch, that means some parts of 1 Enoch are historical while others aren’t. Which are which? Well, clearly, whichever parts benefit the author are historical; those that don’t are not. Moreover, the same author does not at any point defend the notion of taking a genealogy in the way that we Westerners in the 21st century take it, despite the genealogies in the New Testament being written in an ancient time with a completely different culture. In the chapter on historical Christian theology, the word “creation” is wielded like a sword, leading to some possible confusion on categories related to Aquinas and others.

Definitions are clearly very important in the book, though vastly important terms like “history” or “historical narrative” are thrown about without ever interacting with them. This, despite the intense debate in the field of history about the changing meaning of the term and how history is written. The definition of Theistic Evolution–“God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes” (67)–given in the book fails to adequately account for the range of beliefs of theistic evolutionists and does not draw adequately from major TE groups. Nevertheless, the authors use that definition as though it can exclude or include people in the umbrella term. Not only that, but some authors rail against TEs for things the definition that the editors themselves endorse use make clear TEs don’t all believe. Prominent Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland is among those who attack TEs for denying a historical Adam and Eve, yet the definition that the editors provide does not actually exclude this belief in any way.

Overall, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique does not contribute much new to the intrafaith debate about evolution. For one thing, as noted above, it fails to adequately interact with the actual views of those who hold to theistic evolution, while also failing to acknowledge the breadth of thought such a position represents. Additionally, the arguments presented herein have largely been encountered in other works throughout the science-faith debate. Finally, many of the arguments presented herein are either circular or self-refuting. As noted briefly above (and in more detail in my extended analyses below), several authors simply assert that parts of the Bible are “historical” and then use that to batter theistic evolution, as if no serious exegesis has been done on the other side. Where exegesis is addressed, it is typically perfunctory and laced with dismissals of rival positions. I cannot recommend the book to those wishing to have a full and honest discussion of theistic evolution, though if it does truly represent the best of the best by way of critique of theistic evolution, I would say that those holding to that position may sleep soundly.

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.

Extended Critique of Individual Sections and Chapters

My individual sections critiquing the book on numerous fronts can be found as follows:

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 1- Definition(s)– Definitions are a key issue throughout the book, and I take a look at a few here, including the definition the authors use for “theistic evolution” and the lack of interaction with major groups who are advocates of this position.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 2: Science– A significant portion of the book was dedicated to scientific critique of theistic evolution, which is largely to say critique of the theory of evolution broadly speaking. Though I’m not an expert in science by any means, I interact with this portions I felt comfortable with, especially calling into question the movement from lack of 100% certainty to not having any possibility of evolution being true.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 3: Philosophical Critique– Several philosophical issues are raised, from methodological naturalism to alleged contradiction of affirmations of Christianity that theistic evolutionists must hold. In contrast, I note that theistic evolutionists have a broader base to allow for ends in evolution, while also noting that the alleged contradictions are non-existent.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 4: Theistic Evolution and the Old Testament– From the creation accounts to the historicity of Adam, arguments are made to the effect that the Old Testament cannot be compatible with theistic evolution. I note the circularity of several arguments the author makes, as well as questioning their use of the category “history.”

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 5: Theistic Evolution and the New Testament– Several parts of New Testament teaching, from the genealogies in the Gospels to the faith list in Hebrews are taken to show that theistic evolution is “incompatible” with the New Testament. I argue that this is mistaken, and indeed the author fails to demonstrate this incompatibility.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 6: Theistic Evolution and Historical Christian Doctrine– Theistic evolution is often said to contradict the historic teaching of the church. Here, I analyze the extended arguments of one author who suggests this is the case, noting that at many points, modern categories are imported into the discussion of historical theology.

Other Reviews/Interactions (will update with more)

J.P. Moreland and the Book “Theistic Evolution” (Part 1: What do William Paley, Richard Dawkins, and J.P. Moreland all have in common?)– A two-part analysis of J.P. Moreland’s commentary on theistic evolution and its method. Part Two.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Living Wisely with the Church Fathers” by Christopher A. Hall

What kind of insight can we glean from the church fathers, anyway? That’s a question I’ve heard often and asked myself before I began to delve into the answers. Hall’s series on the fathers is a lengthy answer to that question.

The first logical question is about this book as a series. Is it possible to read this without reading the other books and gain insight? Yes, absolutely. I, in fact, did not read any of the other books in the series and didn’t even know it was one until I read the introduction. I imagine readers would gain more from reading the entire series, but would also say that it is perfectly acceptable to read just this one.

This book is about living with the fathers. Specifically, it is about how we ought to live in light of Christ. Chapters focus on martyrdom, wealth and poverty, war and military service, sex and the dynamics of desire, life as male and female/marriage, life and death, entertainment, and the well-ordered heart. An incredibly broad array of topics, to say the least.

Highlights of the book include the chapters on entertainment, wealth and poverty, and war and military service. Regarding the latter, it seems clear that “for hundreds of years, the ancient church opposed service in the military” (126). However, perspectives began to change later, specifically with Constantine and Augustine. Nevertheless, a strong commitment to pacifism in the church remained a lively option even to this day. Entertainment is a tough field to navigate, and though some seem to suggest that people today face worse challenges than ever before, it is clear that in Ancient Rome, with its debauchery and gladiatorial games, had much to deal with as well. The way the early church dealt with this, argues Hall, reveals a kind of threefold response to entertainment: “first, the intimate link between Roman entertainment and Roman religious life; second, specifically what was being offered as entertainment; and third, the effect of this entertainment on God’s image bearers…” (199). It is easy to see how this can be applied to entertainment today, though Hall doesn’t spend much time highlighting how the application might be transferred. Regarding wealth and poverty, Hall notes that the wealthy and poor were both early Christians, and even then too many Christians ignored the plight of the poor (61). What we do with our wealth shows the state of our heart. If there is something negative to be said about the book it is that at  times, it seems Hall may smuggle a few of his own theological perspectives into the positions of the church fathers, but these are few and far between.

Living Wisely with the Church Fathers is a broad look at the theology of the early church regarding the Christian life. Those interested in learning more about Christian living or historical theology should check it out.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Myth of Equality” by Ken Wytsma

It is difficult for me to state how important I believe Ken Wytsma’s book, The Myth of Equalityis. Wytsma’s work is half about showing that we–and by we I generally mean WASPs- White Anglo-Saxon Protestants–have bought into serious misinformation or myths about equality and half about showing what we can do about it.

Part I of the book, entitled “The Story of Race,” is a well-researched, broad look at racism in the United States. Wytsma shows how the notions of race became so ingrained in our worldview–despite the United States being a nation, mostly, of immigrants. Then, he demonstrates that institutions have existed throughout the history of the United States that have influence stretching into today. This section is perhaps the most important for building up his overall case, as many express doubts about these very conclusions. The notion that slavery was “back then” and has little-to-no impact on today is one that I have run into many times. Wytsma shows that this is a completely mistaken idea. From the immediate re-enslavement of black people in the south through the use of convicts’ labor, the collapse of Reconstruction, to redlining and the war on Drugs, time and again Wytsma doesn’t just outline the woes of our country, but shows how these institutions’ have influence that reaches into today. The facts, details, and data are all brought to bear, however briefly, to demonstrate his points. Not only that, but he provides ways to do more research for those interested.

Part II moves from the “what” of inequality to the “what can we do about it?” Wytsma argues that racial justice does absolutely belong in conversations in church. Biblically, justice is at the center of the truths of Christianity. Racial reconciliation is a worthy end goal for all people of faith. Citing respected theologians like C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wytsma shows that the call to obedience and finding justice apply to all Christians.

Part III, called “The Challenge of Privilege,” brings forward that difficult topic of privilege, that many refuse to even acknowledge as an issue. Wytsma challenges us to see how we lie to ourselves and how the way we perceive things can reinforce racism and make it so that we don’t even see it as it happens.

I cannot recommend The Myth of Equality highly enough. It should be required reading for anyone who wishes to have any kind of informed opinion in discussions of race, inequality, and Christianity. From dismantling the lies we tell ourselves about race to encouraging us to seek justice and showing some avenues to do so, the book is an invaluable asset.

 

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Dynamics of Muslim Worlds”

The reasons to be interested in the current state of Islam cannot be fully numerated. It is one of the world’s largest faith traditions. It is intersecting with other major faith traditions. We need to learn about our Muslim neighbors for all kinds of reasons. Dynamics of Muslim Worlds is a sometimes technical look at Islam around the world today.

The book is divided into three parts which focus on Regional Perspectives, Thematic Analyses, and Missiological Assessments, respectively. The first part is particularly intriguing. Martin Accad’s chapter on “Challenging the Monochromatic View of Islam” is perhaps the best chapter in the book. In it, Accad notes that non-Muslims tend to view Islam as a single, unified entity when it manifestly is not. Among the things that such a faulty view reinforces, the notions that Islam is inherently violent or the “conflict thesis”–the notion that Islam must be in an ideological and direct conflict with any other idea–are examined and shown to be wanting. Other chapters explore Islam in Europe, Asia, and Africa and show how it is shaping the look of religion across the world.

The second part has more extremely important topics, including two of the hot-button issues that arise when people talk about Islam: women and Sharia. Cathy Hine’s chapter on women in Islam demonstrates that, again, mistakes about Islam are abundant in our culture. Far from being silent and wholly without voice in Islam, many women are actually working both to change Islam from within and to preserve its traditions. Sharia law is typically the bogeyman in many discussions of Islam, the implication being that all people will be forced to submit to it (again, hearkening back to Accad’s chapter and the “conflict thesis”). However, the many interpretations of Sharia and its application once again mean that we cannot simply see it as a single, unified tradition in Islam. The final section focuses on missiological questions and challenges facing those doing outreach to Muslims.

Dynamics of Muslim Worlds gives readers a broad base from which to learn more while also providing some quite detailed analyses of Islam. I recommend it for readers interested in getting a deeper perspective on Islam and learning about its influence in the world today.

The Good

+Detailed yet brief analysis of significant issues
+Touches upon Islam across the world
+Gives readers an introduction to numerous topics
+Excellent tone and enagement

The Bad

-Somewhat esoteric for the lay reader

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Creator and the Cosmos, 4th Edition” by Hugh Ross

Hugh Ross is perhaps the most well-known advocate of the position known as Old Earth Creationism today. He is the founder of Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank that centers on the OEC position. His works have been highly influential in my own life and faith journey. Although I no longer ascribe to Old Earth Creationism of Ross and Reasons to Believe, I have much respect for all those working at Reasons to Believe and appreciate their mission. The Creator and the Cosmos is one of the more broadly applicable books from Reasons to Believe because it focuses not so much on the concordism that defines their position but rather largely on the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning.

The core of Ross’ argument in the book is the fine-tuning argument. Basically, this is the argument that certain constants about our universe are such that any minuscule change to them would mean our universe would no longer be life-permitting. Because there are so many of these factors, the argument goes, that chance is not the best explanation for our universe. Instead, some kind of being that can act on our universe is posited as the best explanation.

Ross begins his work with an autobiographical account of how he became interested in astronomy. His own interest in the night sky led to him deciding to go through the holy books of various religions to see if any aligned with what science has revealed about our universe. His search culminated in the surprising discovery that, he believes, the Bible actually taught first what science has now revealed. This is one of the central aspects of the Reasons to Believe model: the belief in concordism. Concordism is the idea that the Bible and science will not just operate alongside each other but rather confirm and interlink with each other. Thus, as Ross argues, the Bible speaking of things like the stretching out of the heavens (Psalm 104:2, for one example) is said to be not just metaphorical language but rather literal language about the creation of the universe through the Big Bang.

It is in the chapter entitled “The Bible Taught it First” that I find the most with which to take issue in the book. For almost the entirety of my life, I, too, ascribed to concordism, but as I have read more and more I think that it is not what the intention of the Bible is at all. The Bible is not a science textbook, and simply finding a few isolated sentences that seem to correspond to 21st century science does not demonstrate that it is scientifically advanced. Indeed, as many a skeptic would gleefully point out, there are many points in the Bible which seem to speak about the sky as a solid dome or the literal rising and setting of the sun. Groups like Reasons to Believe work to show how these are actually non-literal language or merely figures of speech, but to me this seems ad hoc. The approach seems piecemeal and the idea that the heavens stretching out “like a tent” is meant to teach Big Bang Cosmology is a tenuous link, at best. After all, if the Bible intended to teach Big Bang Cosmology, would it not be quite simple to do so rather more explicitly than an allusion here and there? It seems to speak rather directly about creation, after all. Instead, it seems that writers like John Walton are more on point when they note that the authors of the Bible had background scientific beliefs of their Ancient Near Eastern times, but that the Bible is not intentionally teaching any kind of cosmology. Instead, it is teaching about the ordering of the cosmos by God as creator. This approach allows readers to avoid the difficult questions raised against concordism regarding the difficult passages about creation, while also not completely divorcing it from reality.

Apart from this allegiance to concordism, the rest of the book is almost entirely focused on scientific discoveries of the past hundred or so years regarding the universe. These are covered in some detail, but Ross does a good job covering these discoveries in such a way that they will be generally understood by most readers. Time and again, he shows that major discoveries seem to show that the sheer improbabilities involved in our life-permitting universe undercut the notion of chance as an explanation for reality. These are cosmic-scale fine tuning arguments. They don’t rely on anything related to evolution or anti-evolution. Instead, the things Ross focuses on in this book are all large scale discoveries and constants that impact our universe writ large. A lengthy appendix summarizes much of this evidence, and going through that appendix shows that time and again our universe falls within an extraordinarily limited range for life to exist.

I do still feel some caution, however, even regarding the fine-tuning argument on a cosmic scale. Though many skeptics have acknowledged it to be perhaps the strongest argument for theism, I am wary of completely aligning ourselves as Christians to any scientific view of the day. After all, many are positing oscillating universe models or a big crunch as another possible alternative to a Big Bang and heat death of the universe. Yes, Ross does deal with these alternatives, but as with so many things in science, we can only hold the conclusions as strongly as the evidence allows and we are a single future discovery away from something that overcomes the problems Ross raises with these models. Is it possible that Big Bang cosmology is entirely correct? Absolutely, and it certainly seems to be the strongest model. But I don’t want to base my entire defense of the Christian faith on that. Indeed, I’d rather base very little on it.

The Creator and the Cosmos is a truly marvelous book for learning about the fine-tuning of the universe. Though I have noted my wariness of Ross’s concordism and of other potential pitfalls, I do think that overall, Ross makes a strong argument. As a non-expert in science, it is very impressive to see one piece of evidence after another appear to confirm fine-tuning of the universe. Time, and future discoveries, will tell whether the fine-tuning argument carries the day. As it stands, I believe it is but one piece of the total Christian apologetic, and this book will help Christians in that regard.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 6: Theistic Evolution and Historical Christian Doctrine

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on historical theology.

Historical Christian Doctrine

Gregg R. Allison’s chapter is entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with Historical Christian Doctrine.” As with the chapter on the New Testament and that on the Old Testament, this is a strong claim that requires the author not merely to demonstrate that TE has difficulty meshing with historical theology, but rather that the author show conclusively that such melding is impossible. After all, TE is supposed to not just be difficult to reconcile with historical Christian doctrine, but rather simply “incompatible” with it. As we will see, this claim is far too strong for Allison to carry.

The chapter begins with a rather strange assertion that, of anyone, church leaders cannot hold to TE because they are charged to root out false doctrine (927-928). Yet this is exactly what is at question, right? The question is whether TE is false doctrine; starting a chapter that purports to show this is the case by simply demanding church leaders drop TE because it is false doctrine is question begging from the start.

Remarkably, after a brief overview in which he claims to show that the early church held to ex nihilo creation, Allison then states that “Biblically, the silence of Scripture on how God created the heavens and the earth implied creation ex nihilo” (930). I was taken aback by reading this. Here, in the middle of a chapter with lofty enough goals to claim that TE is incompatible with historic Christian doctrine, we find that one of the key points in favor of a full on doctrine of creation ex nihilo os that Scripture is “silent” on it! Not only is this an argument from silence, but Allison words it as though no one could possibly disagree–the silence “implied” the doctrine he prefers. That’s quite convenient. Moreover, although plenty of TEs would and do affirm ex nihilo creation of the universe, Allison is of course trying to expand this to include, minimally, diversity of life. Yet he doesn’t actually show that, generally, historic thinkers would have agreed or even understood what was meant by such an application of ex nihilo creation. Indeed, that continues to be one of the biggest problems throughout this section and the two previous chapters–the authors simply assert that something is “historical” or make statements that entail ancient thinkers knew about things like the diversity of life (when manifestly they did not–hence the debates over whether fossils were actually vestiges of ancient creatures or not up through the 1600s and slightly beyond [1]).

I was equally surprised by the analysis of Aquinas’ thought regarding creation. I realize that Allison is an expert in church history and so perhaps was glossing here, but he seems to be conflating on the use of the term “creation” regarding Aquinas’ thought (and throughout the essay, in fact). That is, when Allison uses the word “creation,” he seems to take it to mean comprehensive ex nihilo creation of all things, without exception. However, he does not actually do the work to demonstrate that his meaning is the same as that of the historical figures he cites. More importantly, in some cases it seems to not be the meaning  of the original author. For Aquinas, Allison cites a passage that he says shows Aquinas did not give the power to create to any creatures. But of course, the use Aquinas is intending seems to be moving from nonbeing to being, whereas TEs and evolution in general would be movement from being to being, or as Aquinas’ own categories would seem to imply, the creatures are actualizing potency rather than pure act or moving from nonbeing to being. After all, if Allison’s reading of Aquinas here is correct, it would seem to imply that procreation is impossible. But surely Aquinas knew that creatures procreate! Thus, his meaning cannot entail that creatures have no power to move from potential to actual; instead, it is Allison’s rather idiosyncratic use of the word “create” here that he uses to govern what Aquinas could mean. Of course, what Aquinas means according to Allison would, perhaps, exclude TE. But again, though I haven’t read a huge amount of Aquinas and only a dozen or so books about his thought, I am fairly confident that his use of “create” in the passage Allison uses is not what Allison makes it out to be. Potency is exactly that which creatures do have in Aquinas’ thought, so creation in his thought is, yes, ex nihilo but also, no, not meaning that creatures’ forms can never change. After all, if they did, he could simply define that as part of the potency within the creature. And that is exactly what several prominent Thomists have done.[2]

The same use of the word “create” continues through the rest of Allison’s chapter. Time and again he takes “create” to mean something like the ex nihilo formation of all things which now exist (including diversity of species). Yet many, many studies have demonstrated this is not accurate (or, minimally, called into question Allison’s reading). John Walton, for example, has argued quite extensively that creation was a way of expressing order in cosmos. It would be surprising if none of the early church writers held to the same ANE expressions as the Bible in regards to some of this language. But Allison does not engage with these kinds of studies. He simply uses the word create, declares it is unanimously and unilaterally used to mean what he says it does, and moves on.

Allison’s study of pre-Adamite theory is more interesting, but even there he does not acknowledge the questions people have asked about, for example, who Cain was afraid of in the early chapters of Genesis if the only humans on the planet were those of his family group. Allison then goes on to cite many confessions of faith that do state things like having Adam and Eve as the physical predecessors of all humans. From my own Lutheran tradition, he cites Hollaz (though not the Lutheran Confessions) and a confession of the modern Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. I was raised LCMS but am now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and our confession does not parallel the LCMS. If nothing else, this shows that church doctrine is intended to change and meet new challenges. Alister McGrath has written extensively on this, but I think he has conclusively shown that yes, doctrine forms in response to new ideas. Evolution is one of those new ideas and the debates we are having now demonstrate McGrath’s point. Whether the church as a whole ever settles on this issue is beside the point: it is clear that new explorations of doctrine and new arguments are being made about an issue that had not before been on the horizion of intra-Christian discussion. This ought not to be seen as a concession of Allison’s point–that TE is incompatible with historical Christian doctrine. Indeed, at best he has shown that a selection of confessions of faith are incompatible with the belief that Adam and Eve had contemporaries.

In the next section, Allison asserts that TE is incompatible with specific doctrinal standards of the church. Whence he draws these apparently universal standards is not provided; they are simply asserted. For example, the first point is that TE “does not go far enough” in its affirmations on creation. According to whom? Allison, of course. The second point, that TE holds God didn’t intervene in the creation of life or diversity thereof is “in clear conflict with the church’s historical position” is alarming in that, again, he seems to completely miss the Thomistic possibility of final causation or ends in being, and many TEs from across the Christian spectrum have already done the work showing that a robust view of providence is quite possible on TE.

Finally, Allison briefly surveys a very few of the modern theologians who affirm some form of TE. Rather than seeing this as a rather broad-spectrum demonstration that many, many, many Christians from almost every faith tradition disagree with his analysis of church history, he simply dismisses them by saying that the “overwhelming consensus of church history still argues against following their lead in embracing some form of theistic evolution” (951). This kind of doctrinal hubris is more than a little alarming, but it also goes against the entire point of his whole chapter. If TEs can cite people as broadly based as C.S. Lewis, B.B. Warfield [though there is an appendix claiming Warfield was not TE], Tim Keller, John Stott, John Walton, Deborah Haarsma, Etienne Gilson, N.T. Wright, etc., etc. as advocates for their position, is that not a kind of consensus in its own right? Or at least enough of a challenge to it? Allison says no, of course, but must we?

Once more, we see a chapter fail to demonstrate its thesis. Far from showing TE is incompatible with historical church teaching, the most Allison has done is show that some selected confessions (even having to go so far as picking the  one stream of certain branches of Protestantism) would show that Adam and Eve must be the first humans. This is hardly the kind of broad spectrum consensus-based agreement against TE one would expect when the chapter purports to show incompatibility between positions. But that’s what readers have. Yet even in the analyses we do read, we find that it is Allison’s own use of the word “create” to unilaterally unite people as diverse as Aquinas and Francis Turretin in the same meaning without argument that dominates the conversation. Suffice to say, I, for one, remain unconvinced that  Allison has shown TE really is incompatible with historical Christian doctrine. Is there work to do? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean no work has been done or that it cannot be done.

[1] See the work of John Ray (1627-1705), for example, to see how the debate over the meaning of fossils. Some great readings can be found on this site (click individual links to read).

[2] One example would be Etienne Gilson, who did not consider himself as a Neo-Thomist, though he has been classified as Thomist in his thought. His work “From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again” is an example of just how easily a Thomist model would be compatible with evolution.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 5: Theistic Evolution and the New Testament

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on the New Testament.

The New Testament and Theistic Evolution

Guy Prentiss Waters wrote the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the New Testament.” As with John D. Currid’s chapter on the Old Testament, the implication is that the author will demonstrate not just that the New Testament works better with rival theories, but that theistic evolution (hereafter “TE”) and the New Testament cannot both be true. Whereas Currid focused on attempting to rebut the ways TEs read the Old Testament–launching a hermeneutic attack on TE, Waters instead tries to show specific passages from the New Testament  contradict teachings of TE. We’ll focus on a selection of these passages.

Waters’ first move is to argue that the use of Adam in the New Testament demonstrates that TEs are mistaken in their beliefs about Adam and Eve.[1] The first line of evidence Waters uses is the genealogy in Luke 3. After blithely “setting aside the exegetical questions attending this passage, and the challenges of harmonizing this genealogy with that of Matthew…”–things that would clearly be highly relevant in one’s interpretation of this passage–Waters states that “Adam appears among dozens of figures whom the biblical writers regard as fully historical…” (882). Adam is “at the head of a linear genealogical sequence” and “Adam… is the first man” which we can tell because it simply says he is the “‘son of God,’ a reference to his special creation in Genesis 1-2.” (882-883). Waters insists that these mean that if TEs say Adam is not the first human, Jesus as “Redeemer of all human beings is void” (884).

Waters’ choosing to set aside the exegetical questions about this passage is quite strange, given that he then challenges TEs to account for it exegetically. Biblical genealogies, as argued, for example, by Robert McLachlan Wilson in his book “Genealogy and History in the Biblical World,” are grounded in ANE thought, which saw genealogies less as linear historical accounts tracing one ancestor to the next (as we think of them in the 21st century) than as legitimizing familial relationships, a view of genealogies which persists in some cultures to this day. If this is even remotely accurate given the biblical genealogies, then Waters using Adam as “head of a linear genealogical sequence” is hardly of consequence; after all, he has already read in his own modern sense of “genealogy” into the meaning of the text. Moreover, Waters’ interaction with John Walton on this point amounts to begging the question, as he simply asserts that because Adam is historical (in the sense Waters prefers, of course–as once again we have an author fail to give any definition of or reflection upon the meaning of “history” in the biblical or modern context), Walton is mistaken for making Adam a theological point (884).

Turning to 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Waters claims that Paul must be using Adam and Eve as historical persons rather than mere illustrations. But in the very same section, Waters goes on to make the complementarian argument that the “creation of Adam prior to Eve” is somehow the basis for the complementarian reading of the passage. Setting aside how poorly complementarians read this and many other passages of Scripture, it is surprising to then see Waters turn around and criticize Walton and other TEs for claiming Paul is using this passage illustratively. After all, that is exactly what Waters does: he uses the passage as an illustration for why the complementarian perspective is correct. Sure, he could object by saying he takes the original, Old Testament passage “historically” (again, without defining what that term means), but that doesn’t show that his reading isn’t doing exactly what he objects to others doing.

Remarkably, Waters then turns to the book of Jude–the same book which clearly uses a contemporary story about Satan trying to take Moses’ body–to say that Adam must be historical. Because Jude 14 states that Enoch was the seventh from Adam, Waters takes this to affirm that Jude explicitly views Adam historically. Then, because the book has passages that quote the pseudepigraphical book 1 Enoch, Waters must also make the argument that Jude does not take 1 Enoch historically. That is, according to Waters, Jude explicitly means to affirm the historicity of Adam but not the historicity of 1  Enoch despite the fact that the same author uses both in the same context! So readers are expected to agree that Jude moves from historical narrative to using a non-historical book that has perhaps some historically accurate parts. It gets even more confusing, because Waters goes on to hypothesize that perhaps the statement about Adam being seventh from Enoch was historically accurate and spoken by Enoch, but that the rest of the book (or parts of it) were invented. What is the criterion for seperating fact from historical fiction here? Quite simply, it seems to be that whatever Waters wants to affirm as historical is that which is historical, and what he feels uncomfortable about affirming as historical is not historical.

Waters asserts that Jesus would see the entire book of Genesis as historical because he mentions a range of prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. His only support for saying Jesus was 100% intending all of this historically is to say “We have no reason to doubt, then, that Jesus regarded the entirety of the events of Genesis to be fully historical” (895). This, despite the fact that this is exactly what is at question. Time and again (see 896 for an example related to Noah), Waters seems to think that having select references to events in the Old Testament entails that every aspect of it–or at least Genesis–is “fully historical” in whatever sense he desires it to be.

The faith list in Hebrews is taken to mean that every single figure on it is historical. Why? “Nonhistorical figures could not persuasively model persevering faith for historical people” (898-899). While I tend to agree that the faith list in Hebrews is full of people who did exist, Waters’ point is mistaken. What about the example, say, of Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings? Today, he is seen by many as a great example of persevering faith and friendship. This, despite the fact that the people who see him as such (myself included) clearly know that he is nonhistorical and explicitly fictional. Examples like this could easily be multiplied ad infinitum. As such, Waters’ point that people must be historical to be seen as models for persevering faith for “historical people” is wrong, and deeply so. Because this is his central point regarding the Hebrews faith list, we see once again that TEs has no difficulty here, regardless of the position they hold.

Waters then briefly surveys a few TE readings of Paul. This survey is grounded upon his analysis that preceded it, so the comments already written apply.

Waters’ method was quite different from Currid’s. Nevertheless, his analysis, like Currid’s, fails to demonstrate the thesis of his chapter. Do TEs have a lot of exegetical work to do regarding the New Testament? Absolutely, and they have done much. But Waters’ analysis fails on a number of points: he selectively assigns historical reality where he sees fit–even in the same chapter and verse of Scripture; he sets aside exegesis or historical context when necessary to carry his view; and he makes other specific arguments that fall apart on examination.

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.

[1] It’s worth pointing out that not only do many TEs affirm an historical Adam and Eve, but that the book’s own definition of TE does not entail that TEs cannot affirm an historical Adam and Eve. See the post on definitions.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 4: Theistic Evolution and the Old Testament

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on the Old Testament.

The Old Testament and Theistic Evolution

John D. Currid’s chapter is entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the Old Testament.” Such a title shows that Currid’s purpose is not just to say that other science-faith positions are easier to align with the Bible, but rather that TE is explicitly excluded because it is directly incompatible with the Old Testament. There is no way Currid could fairly be expected to refute every possible way TE could be constructed, but it is clear that his task is to show that the major ways that TEs read the Old Testament on creation are not just mistaken but actually in some way are incompatible with the texts themselves. To his credit, that is what he attempts to do in this chapter.

After a brief story about an early controversy over TE and some comments on scholars who continue to embrace TE, Currid dives into his examination of some of the main TE ways to read the Old Testament. First, he examines the work of John Walton. I have read and reviewed much of Walton’s work, including several posts here (scroll down to browse). Walton is an expert on the Ancient Near East and much of his work is tied up into his thesis that we must take this ANE context into account as we read the biblical text. Currid’s strategy for approaching Walton’s interpretation is to claim that the ANE documents are not solely interested in functions but rather do teach about the material origins of the cosmos (844). To back up this claim, Currid surveys a number of texts from the ANE and says that they are clearly focusing on the physical origins of the universe. He also argues that Genesis 1-3 seems to be clearly focused on physical origin as well (850ff).

Currid’s analysis here is mistaken, however. For one thing, he himself admits that in Genesis 1:2 and thereafter “the universe and, in particular, the earth is pictured in the process of creation” (850). Because Currid states plainly that this Genesis account is about “putting things in their right places,” this seems to contradict his claim that the focus of Genesis 1-3 is primarily about physical origins or that it ought to at least in part be taken as such. His own analysis of the text effectively grants Walton’s point, that physical creation is here being ordered by function. Indeed, it is telling that Currid does not look more deeply at Walton’s own points regarding individual days of creation. As Walton argues, if we take these as physical creation events we find that they contradict our own observations of the material world. For example, there is no solid expanse in the sky, as the text speaks of on the second day of creation. Yet Currid’s own look at the days in context of Walton’s view (851) is merely to list individual things he believes were physically created on each day, completely missing Walton’s own explicitly stated point about why those verses cannot be about physical creation. It seems that here Currid has failed to demonstrate that TE is directly incompatible with the Old Testament.

Next, Currid turns his analysis to those who view Genesis 1-3 as myth “in the sense of a legendary story without determinable basis in fact or history” (851ff). This view sees the creation account(s) not as scientific but rather as a shared basis for telling stories about the purpose of creation–a mythic meaning for those stories. Currid begins his critique of this position by asking “Why does Genesis 1-3 contain so many elements that appear to be literal history if in fact it was borrowed from an ancient Near Eastern myth?” (852). But of course that is exactly what is at question on this view! That is, he can’t simply assert that Genesis 1-3 is literal history and then claim that because it “appear[s] to be literal history” it can’t be mythic. That’s just begging the question. To his credit he goes on to claim that the author of Genesis was practicing demythologization to turn the ANE mythic tale into “monotheistic, non-mythic orthodoxy” (853). To support this, he notes places where he believes there is anti-mythic polemic in the creation account(s). While I think it true that there is certainly some polemic here, one thing that Currid failed to consider is whether the polemic is anti-mythic in the sense he means–that is, is it against legendary stories that don’t have a determinable basis in fact or history–or is the polemic rather against polytheistic paganism of the groups surrounding Israel? That is, could the story not be both mythic and polemical? I think it certainly could be, and the bare possibility of this being its purpose undermines the claim that the Old Testament is incompatible with this specific view of Theistic Evolution.

The third position Currid considers is that the account is theological or figurative rather than a literal creation account. This reading is of course tied up in the previous two, to the point that it shows how diverse TE and indeed non-TE readings of Genesis 1-3 are. Nevertheless, Currid presses on and argues that “Genesis 1-3 bears all the markings of Hebrew historical narrative” (860). Yet Currid does not, at any point, demonstrate whatever he defines as “Hebrew historical narrative” is some kind of literal, objective history. As someone who has studied historiography, I find myself quite skeptical of this position and wonder what Currid’s view of “history” is. Nevertheless, if Currid is right, this still doesn’t demonstrate a complete incompatibility between TE and Genesis 1-3. After all, one could perhaps read it historically but take its objective meaning as different from whatever Currid believes.

The chapter ends on some analysis of etiological readings of Genesis 1-3. These are readings that see the Old Testament as written in response to various events or observations about the world around the authors. As I admittedly have little experience of or reading in etiology regarding the accounts here, I’ll leave Currid’s analysis as it stands.

Overall, it should be clear that Currid fails to establish his central thesis: that TE is incompatible with the Old Testament. Indeed, both Walton’s theory and the mythic theory come out largely unscathed from his rebuttal. Walton’s thesis is effectively granted by Currid’s own analysis. Regarding the mythic thesis, Currid simply offers an alternative explanation rather than a thorough rebuttal. Thus far, at least, TE seems theologically sound.

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 3: Philosophical Critique

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the philosophical critique offered in the book.

Philosophical

As I read through the chapters on the philosophical critique of Theistic Evolution, I found that although each chapter was thoughtful and interesting, there was little by way of actual refutation of TE in the chapters.

Stephen C. Meyer and Paul A. Nelson, in a chapter entitled “Should Theistic Evolution Depend on Methodological Naturalism?,” state that TEs “accept a philosophical rule known as methodological naturalism… [which] asserts that, to qualify as scientific, a theory must explain by strictly physical or material–that is, non-intelligent or non-purposive–causes” (561) and then argue that “…no sound justification exists for holding methodological naturalism… Christians should not use [methodological naturalism] as a reason for adopting theistic evolution, or excluding other theories” (561-562). The chapter is extremely long and filled with a number of analogies and parallels, but the thrust of it is of course centered around these theses at the beginning. But suppose that Christians don’t use methodological naturalism as a reason for adopting theistic evolution or excluding other theories? Indeed, that is the case for myself. I am still not entirely convinced of methodological naturalism as the only way to do science; but I am leaning that direction. However, the reason I began to lean towards TE was because I found time and again that evolutionary theory seemed the best explanation for the observations we have. So I suppose it is possible that methodological naturalism is a poor reason for adopting TE; but that doesn’t mean TE is false, nor does it mean methodological naturalism is false. Indeed, in my reading, this methodological naturalism is an operating assumption. Indeed, I doubt that many TEs would say it is impossible for some natural feature of life to be designed; rather, the argument would be that we have yet to see evidence thereof, and time and again natural explanations are better. This latter point allows scientists to feel justified in looking for natural causes for the features of life rather than going through something like Dembski’s explanatory filter and positing design when current research comes to a dead end.

The very next chapter of the book, by Stephen Dilley, simply argues that “Theistic evolutionists should reject methodological naturalism” (593). Again; suppose this is true. If true, does it show theistic evolution is false? No. Maximally, it just means that methodological naturalism is not the best way to go about things as a TE.

J.P. Moreland’s chapter’s lofty title caught my attention: “How Theistic Evolution Kicks Christianity Out of the Plausibility Structure and Robs Christians of Confidence that the Bible is a Source of Knowledge.” Certainly, Moreland’s chapter appears to be a broadside against TE. In his “summary” of the chapter, Moreland puts his argument thus: “…given the widespread scientism–the view that the hard sciences are the only or the vastly superior way to know things…–in our culture, theistic evolutionists reinforce this view by constantly revising biblical teachings and interpretations because science says so. Thus, by adopting this unbiblical epistemological outlook, theistic evolutionists weaken the rational authority of biblical teaching among Christians and non-Christians” (633). Moreland’s concern, then, is not that TE actually inherently destroys Christianity, but rather that because TEs allegedly continually change what they think the Bible says [which part? where? why?], it undermines confidence in the Bible.

Moreland argues, for example, that TEs have changed their position on the soul because of science, turning towards physicalism as opposed to dualism regarding the mind-body problem due to advances in neuroscience. Alongside blithely noting that “Jesus believed in a soul” (655) (what did Jesus mean by “soul”? Does physicalism truly deny the possibility of a soul or does it say that the soul is emergent or part of the physical self? Are our ideas about the “soul” so advanced or perfect that we can easily claim Jesus is certainly in agreement with us?), Moreland’s broader claim is that TEs willingness to change what the Bible says about the soul (which, as I’ve read on this issue, is not very much and rather vague–this, coming from someone who would consider himself a Thomist regarding the mind-body problem) demonstrates that TEs are willing to undercut dualism in behalf of science.

Though Moreland does briefly acknowledges that theology may change, he quickly goes on to state that “we should be very careful and reluctant to revise what the church has held for centuries…” (657). He goes on, “…it seems hardly a coincidence that just when the naturalistically informed culture puts pressure on us to believe a certain thing, even though the history of biblical interpretation supports the exact opposite, we conveniently discover that we have misunderstood the Scriptures all along!” (658). Indeed, that would be convenient if that were what is happening, but before there was cultural pressure from the “naturalistically informed culture,” Christians like George Frederick Wright were noting that God’s special divine interaction with the world is not appealed to for the movement of planets and need not be for things like the diversification of life. Wright wrote at a time when evolution was still a theory very much debated, so he can hardly be accused of caving to cultural pressure. The TEs we see today are in that same line of tradition that stretches back more than 100 years, seeking to understand the teachings of Scripture and what God has revealed to us by nature. Moreover, as Alister McGrath notes, “Christian theology undergoes periodic revision, often in response to particular situations within the culture at large, even if it could be argued that it nevertheless keeps certain core ideas at the centre of its vision” (Alister McGrath, The Science of God, 27-28). Whether it was the development of Nicene orthodoxy, the condemnation of the Donatists, or the rejection of the prosperity gospel, Christianity has often changed or clarified issues in response to cultural pressures. That’s because we don’t have the full picture. Now we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), so we must constantly seek for truth and revise our ideas as we run into more evidence, no matter where it comes from.

Moreland also turns his sights against non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) and claims that TEs largely hold to this view and that it undercuts Christian doctrines and ethics. How? Because if we say that science can only test some claims, apparently that means that we would automatically assume that other doctrines or ethical positions are merely subjective. This unfortunate non-sequitor is the kind of argumentation I’d expect to be beneath Moreland, a scholar I respect. In no way does NOMA entail that there can be no objectivity outside of science, unless one then pairs it entirely with scientism. But very few TEs would embrace full-on scientism, because, after all, they remain theists and so affirm that God exists and is the ground of reality. Thus, this fanciful tale in which scores of TEs are out there undermining Christian doctrines and ethics and calling them subjective seems fear-mongering. Indeed, some TEs are among the most steadfast and brilliant theologians of our time and certainly do affirm objectivity in theology and ethics (for example, John Walton and Alister E. McGrath).

C. John Collins’ chapter on God’s action in the world largely seeks to say that we should allow for miracles in the workings of the natural world, something that I doubt many TEs would deny. The difference is that many TEs (though certainly not all) would see things like the emergence of life or the way nature is set up to allow for evolution and lead to humans as miraculous, while leaving the individual workings to “natural” processes. Again, very few people today would demand Christians affirm that the movement of the planets is an act of special divine intervention, even though historically many Christians did affirm that and the Bible explicitly states that the “heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Yet we don’t have books arguing against Christians who don’t believe that the movement of the stars or weather patterns are the direct acts of God? Why not? Because we have accepted that God may use natural processes, and that this, too, is glorious.

Other chapters argue about the origin of conscience, the problem of natural evil on evolution, and the interaction of science and scripture. These are interesting, but again seem to do little to undercut the position of TE.

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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SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 1- Definition(s)

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

In this first part of the review, I want to focus on the book’s definition of theistic evolution.

Definition(s)

A book of this scope must have a working definition of that with which it interacts. “Theistic evolution,” or as many proponents of this idea now label it, “evolutionary creation” is quite a broad field with people of many different perspectives. For the sake of interacting with this book, I will stick to its nomenclature of “theistic evolution” while sometimes simply shortening it to TE. Appropriately enough, after the front matter, the introduction by longtime proponent of Intelligent Design Stephen C. Meyer has, as its topic, the definition of theistic evolution. After highlighting various definitions of “evolution” itself, such as “change over time,” “common descent,” “creative power of natural selection/random variation,” and more specific details on each level. Then, Meyer notes that there are different concepts of theistic evolution itself even among proponents. However, it is not really until the next section, in Wayne Grudem’s overview chapter, that we discover the editors’ agreed upon definition of theistic evolution:

God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes. (67)

For whatever reason, this agreed-upon definition of theistic evolution doesn’t actually appear in the introduction that is supposed to define theistic evolution, but that’s just a minor problem of strange oversight. Grudem then cites Francis Collins and Karl Giberson in support of this definition. I don’t have access to the work cited, but the quote is not a definition from the two authors but rather a statement that just says their model doesn’t require “intrusions from the outside” for the creative process.

The definition the editors agreed upon for this work, then, has two primary parts: an affirmation and a denial. The affirmation is simple: God created matter.” The question of what is meant by “matter” or what distinctions may be made between life and non-life are ignored in this book, though I imagine that they are of great importance to fully understanding the distinctiveness of various positions of theistic evolution.[1] The second part of the definition is the denial, and it has several components. It essentially boils down to saying that God did not specially intervene in any aspect of the development of life on earth. It is interesting that the majority of this definition is negative–that is, it is almost entirely a definition by denial.

Due to the broad diversity among theistic evolutionists, there will be plenty of disagreement with this definition. It is clear the editors needed a working definition, but it is not clear why they chose to use this rather than draw more explicitly from major TE definitions used by primary thinkers.  Indeed, Biologos, the largest theistic evolutionist organization, provides its own, in depth look at the beliefs that are typical of their position. Among these are:

We believe that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years. God continues to sustain the existence and functioning of the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.

We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes. Therefore, we reject ideologies that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God[2]

Looking at these affirmations, it becomes clear that the definition offered in in this book will be controversial. After all, more than one author uses the editors’ definition to say that theistic evolutionists deny that God created life on Earth, while the faith statement of Biologos explicitly affirms the very same thing. Of course, the question is one of means, and this is exactly what is at question throughout much of this book and the debate between theistic evolutionists and Christians of other persuasions. But it is important not to simply define out of existence affirmations another group makes. This will be a problem throughout Theistic Evolution.

Going forward in the book, there are many times where individual authors rely directly upon the editors’ definition of TE in order to make a point. As such, the definition looms large in the work as a whole–perhaps too large. When so many points rely on a definition of a word that may be contentious in itself, those points seem to lose some weight. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is found in Wayne Grudem’s chapter in which he lists 12 doctrines that, allegedly, all TEs must deny (785). Some of the points he listed as TEs denying are, in my reading, not generally denied by TEs. Certainly, some of them are accurate, but they rely so heavily on paring down the broadness of TE thought that it makes it seem to be nearly a straw man.

 

Conclusion

I’ll draw my comments on this section to a close here, but will be continuing my review of the book in the following weeks.

Notes

[1] See, for example, the brief affirmation about creation made on the Biologos website: “in light of the Christian narrative — in which a rational God intentionally created a universe congenial to life — the fine tuning of the universe makes sense.” Thus, according to this theistic evolutionist organization, the creation of matter included a “fine tuning” of the universe at large, making it “congenial to life,” among other things. Source: https://biologos.org/common-questions/gods-relationship-to-creation/biologos-and-christianity

[2] See the full statement in “What We Believe.”

 

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.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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