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Christianity and Science

This category contains 104 posts

Book Review: “Escaping the Beginning? Confronting Challenges to the Universe’s Origin” by Jeff Zweerink

Whether the universe had a beginning or not is a hotly debated topic in philosophical, theological, and scientific circles. Jeff Zweerink is an astrophysicist who works with Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank that comes from an Old Earth Creationist perspective. With Escaping the Beginning, he has written an important, insightful resource for people wishing to explore the science of various theories that preclude a beginning of the universe.

Zweerink’s book is robust on the scientific theories around the universe, multiverse, and quantum theory. Chapters in the book include “The Case for a Beginning,” “Did Our Universe Reincarnate?”; “Did Our Universe come from Nothing?”; “If Hawking and Krauss are Right, Does That Remove God?” and many more. These chapter titles hint at the content of each chapter, and each is absolutely filled with clear explanations of some pretty advanced theories on physics and astronomy. Zweerink covers the major theories of the multiverse and goes deeply into the labors of Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking to come up with theories that do not require a beginning to the universe. He does this by sticking to the science, showing where these theories have holes or import philosophical assumptions (which are usually unacknowledged by those putting them forward), and giving analysis of each theory on the table. Each chapter is followed by a brief summary of the contents of that chapter as well as some discussion questions.

Zweerink makes a strong case that many of these theories still do not get away from the need for an absolute beginning or a Creator. For example, even the theories which posit the universe came from quantum effects in a vacuum still must posit a reason for the vacuum itself existing to begin with.

The book ends with a discussion of whether Christianity could still be true even if there were no beginning of the universe. Zweerink argues from Scripture that there must be a creation out of nothing to align with the biblical evidence. Zweerink does not, however, engage with the parts of Christian tradition that does maintain the universe is eternal. Though in the minority, there are clear instances of Christian believers throughout history who held the universe was eternal and that this was unproblematic. Most obvious as examples are those Christians who hold to Platonic thought and see the universe as eternal due to philosophical precommitments on that regard. Thus, though it seems the Christian tradition and Scriptures align more readily with a beginning of the universe, it does not seem to be the case that such a belief is absolutely necessary for Christianity to survive. Further discussion of that topic would be well afield of the book, but it would have been good to have included at least an acknowledgement of this tradition in the section that alleges Christianity cannot comport with an eternal universe.

What makes the book especially laudable is that Zweerink consistently admits when their are difficulties with his own position–that the universe had a beginning–or where the challenges to his view can even come to be strengthened in the future. For example, though it is clear throughout that Zweerink favors a Big Bang model as an actual beginning of the universe, he notes that oscillating models provide a challenge to this position and that scientific challenges may confirm the latter and usurp the Big Bang model for the origins of the universe (84). This kind of frank discussion of the science is commendable, particularly in a book about science written from a Christian perspective with a clear position at stake. Yet Zweerink consistently notes that when he makes predictions or comes out on one side or the other in various debates where his own position might be falsified or confirmed. It makes the book that much more valuable to have one that not only lays out all of these scientific theories and approaches them from a particular Christian perspective but also notes where that perspective might be challenged.

Escaping the Beginning is a fantastic resource for those who want to learn about the latest scientific research related to the beginning (or lack thereof) for our universe. It is commendably even in its presentation of the evidence, and Zweerink is clear when he provides predictions and how they might be challenged. The book is an achievement, and very much worth anyone picking up to read.

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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Book Review: “An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science” by Geoffrey Ernest Stedman

An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science is a surprisingly fresh take on the science-faith controversy that continues with Christianity. Stedman is a physicist and his book brings that knowledge front and center when he discusses issues related to science and faith.

This book from a relatively unknown publisher immediately raises the question: why bother reading another book on science and faith? The thing that makes this book stand out in a crowded field is that Stedman goes into more detail than many scientists who have written similar books in outlining the math and science behind some of the theories he discusses. In particular, he discusses the meaning of “day” and how his own work in physics has shown how many factors impact the objective meaning of the length of a day. He writes fascinatingly about experiments he and others have performed with lasers and other tools to show the movement of the planet that impacts the length of days, the way that shifting magnetism can impact it, and many other factors that go into the actual, objective length of a day. Given the fact of relativity as well, it becomes increasingly difficult to say that “day” must mean an exact, objective figure and that that can be applied unilaterally to the Bible. Stedman reports these findings in a way that is accessible while also providing quite a bit of math and science to back up his claims.

Stedman is keen to show that “Much opposition to science stems from ignorance of the nature of
scientific theory” (49). To do this, he outlines how several things that have been established through scientific testing go against what may be perceived as common sense or even paradoxical. But that doesn’t change the nature of reality, which can be observed directly through much of this testing. Stedman also exegetes some key passages, like Psalm 19 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. These, he argues, can help us to better understand both an orthodox view of Christianity and of science, in part by noting that there is no conflict in using science to learn about God’s creation. The exegesis seems to be from a Reformed position, particularly when talking about the foolishness of human wisdom and the wisdom of God (he makes good points about how this does not entail that all scientific theorizing is foolishness in the text).

The book could still use some editing, as a few typos were found throughout, and some of the sentence structures had a cadence that felt off. Additionally, the structure of his argument occasionally flows strangely or relies too much on sending readers to other chapters. Stedman also uses the archaic “man” or “mankind” to refer to all of humanity.

Overall, An Orthodox Understanding of the Bible with Physical Science is an interesting read with a heavy dose of science to go along with some detailed explanations. Readers wanting to dive into physics more deeply when thinking about the creation debate would do well to read the book.

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: “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.

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.

 

The Age of the Earth: How Interlinking Evidence from Tree Rings, Carbon-14, and Varves demonstrates an old earth

Image from Wikipedia. Credit: By Copyright © National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28702247

What kind of evidence do we have to support the notion that the Earth is truly ancient? It’s a question I often get asked, as someone who came from a young earth background. Young Earth Creationists often posit that the evidence for an “old earth,” if viewed from a different angle, could just as easily (or perhaps better) point to a young earth. However, there are some aspects of evidence for an old earth that seem to defy this argument, particularly because they interlink in such a way that independently points towards an old earth. Here, I take a look at an article by Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth in which they make this very argument. Below is the title and abstract.

Testing and Verifying Old Age Evidence: Lake Suigetsu Varves, Tree Rings, and Carbon-14
Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth

Abstract
Carbon-14 measurements from layered sediments collected in 2006 from Lake Suigetsu, Japan, together with tree-ring data, offer an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate how competing old- and young-earth hypotheses can be quantifiably tested. Conventional observation of radioactive decay rates, atmospheric carbon-14 production, tree-ring growth, cross-dating, and varve formation yields a narrow range of expected values for the carbon-14 content of samples over the last 50,000 years. Young-earth challenges to each observation should result in specific and predictable departures from conventional expectations. This article documents a sequence of tests to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that carbon-14 decay rates have remained unchanged, estimates of past atmospheric production rates are accurate, cross-dating of tree rings is reliable, the sampled trees have grown one ring per year going back more than 14,000 years, and finely layered sediments from Lake Suigetsu were deposited annually going back more than 50,000 years.

Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth, in this paper, analyze three independent lines of evidence that interlink to confirm each other. Specifically, by looking at tree rings, varve formation, and carbon-14 dating, they yield a range of possible dates that matches across these independent variables. This gives a strong confirmation of the age of the earth, along with demonstrating that the decay rate of carbon-14 does not seem to have changed and remain accurate for more than 50,000 years.

The importance of this paper, and arguments like it, is that these are independent lines of evidence that all interlink to show the same conclusion. This needs to be emphasized, because young earth creationists will often call into question these pieces of evidence individually, shooting them down with objections that they then conclude shows they are individually faulty. Rarely, if ever, do young earth creationists acknowledge or deal with the fact that these evidences, while being independent, yield results that all add up to the same ages. Again, the importance of this cannot be understated, because it would mean that, for whatever reason, the young earth creationist must then assert that their independent objections to each individual dating method also can somehow explain why those dating methods to which they are objecting yield the same results.

Tree Rings

Trees record the years they’ve been growing through rings that show how quickly their cells grew during different seasons. A record of years can be traced by comparing tree rings to show wet/dry seasons that form something similar to a bar code type pattern allowing for identifications across years. The oldest living trees have 5000 years recorded, and fossilized trees can be compared to living trees to extend that record back further, with the oldest reliable comparison yielding 14,000 years. Young earth objections to tree rings typically center around the notion that multiple rings form in single years.

Carbon-14 Dating

Wolgemuth and Davidson write that, in regards to Carbon-14 dating:

The primary requirements for determining age are (1) a constant radioactive decay rate, (2) knowledge of the original carbon-14 content, and (3) quantification of any old carbon that may have been incorporated into the specimen.

Standard young earth objections are leveled at each of these three requirements. However, it is rarely (if ever–though I’m sure someone does, somewhere) disputed that certain dates are yielded when Carbon-14 testing is done. Thus, it is the young earth objections to the three requirements where they rest their case. These objections are often that we cannot know whether the radioactive decay rate changed in the past; (less typically) that the original carbon-14 content is in question; and that the samples are somehow contaminated. Now, Wolgemuth and Davidson do clearly state that scientists must account for some known factors that can vary how quickly Carbon-14 is formed. But these can be accounted for and allow scientists to get fairly accurate data on dating samples.

Image source: http://www.suigetsu.org/varves.html Used under fair use. Accessed January 2019

Varves

Probably the least familiar of these dating methods to anyone with a passing interest in the age of the earth is varves. These are sets of alternating layers formed by sediment on the floor of bodies of water due to a number of factors. With Lake Suigetsu in mind, the method of dating involved is a measurement of algae blooms via examination of the varves. At this lake, cores have yielded dependable rates that allow dates traced back to around 150,000 years.

Independent Methods, Same Results

Where this gets interesting, and where young earth creationists ought to take note, is that while it is somewhat easy to discount individual pieces of evidence based on independent objections, it is much more difficult to do so when these allegedly faulty dating systems yield the same dates.

Carbon-14 dating methods allow scientists to make predictions for how much Carbon-14 ought to be present in a sample before testing the sample. Thus, scientists can use these predictions to chart what the expected Carbon-14 content of tree rings or varves will be. The article has just such a chart, yielding a very narrow range of expectations regarding Carbon-14 content with the age of the sample. They can then take tree rings, going with the conventional assumption that the rings indicate years, and sample them for Carbon-14 to see if they match the expectations of carbon dating. What is remarkable (visually, especially, again, see the article) is that these expected ranges correspond exactly to the samples taken of tree rings. This means that a tree ring yielding an age of 14,000 years due to the number of rings also yields an age of 14,000 years when sampled for Carbon-14. But these dating methods are completely independent. The Carbon-14 date doesn’t rely at all on the number of rings in a tree, nor is reverse true.

Wolgemuth and Davidson then show the expectations from a young earth model with explanations of tree rings. For example, the expectation of multiple rings per year is tested and falls well outside the predictions of the Carbon-14 dating. This is important, because it means that the conventional assumptions about testing dates align together independent dating systems while young earth predictions yield wildly dissimilar results. These results are presented in the paper.

Scientists go further, though, and can line these evidences up with varves of Lake Suigetsu. Here, there is some technical data about how scientists can determine when significant events happened in the lake, such as extreme algae blooms or additional brackish water, but the core of the point is that when these factors are accounted for, a predictive range for Carbon-14 can again be made and set alongside the age estimate based upon the varve samples. Once again, when aligned, there is remarkable correspondence between Carbon-14 expectations and the actual measurements set alongside the varve-counting method of dating. Additionally, note Wolgemuth and Davidson, there is a steady decline backwards in the amount of Carbon-14 present, showing not a wildly erratic decay rate but rather a steady and predictable rate as one goes deeper into the sediment of Lake Suigetsu. These predictions falsify a young earth account, in part, because the young earth model “expects… massive sediment deposits during the flood year…” in addition to other expectations of many flood models for a young earth.

Next, Wolgemuth and Davidson turn to combining all of these lines of evidence together, demonstrating that the period of overlap where we can measure tree rings, varves, and Carbon-14 yields a graph just as predicted by conventional expectations, and that varves and Carbon-14 can be plotted much farther (due to their availability and the lack of reliable tree ring data older than 14,000 years), showing a constant alignment of these independent forms of evidence.

The authors state the decisiveness of this data and its implications for models of the age of the earth quite well:

we have two options. Option 1 is that God gave us amazing tools to test and verify that carbon-14 decay rates have not changed and sediments in Lake Suigetsu have been accumulating for more than 50,000 years. Option 2 is that God precisely manipulated multiple independent phenomena—tree ring growth, atmospheric carbon-14 production, and sediment couplet formation—to mimic conventional expectations.

More Methods of Dating

Wolgemuth and Davidson don’t leave the evidence there, however, because more methods of dating can converge on Lake Suigetsu, allowing for additional independent dating. Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash in the Lake yields a radiometric test that corresponds to Carbon-14 dating and tree ring data.

They note that most young earth creationists don’t object when Carbon-14 dating is used on things that corroborate biblical materials, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet when one puts the data point for the Dead Sea Scrolls alongside the tree ring carbon data, we find that there is, again, alignment between the Carbon-14 dating for the tree rings, the actual counting of the tree rings, and the age of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would mean that some form of manipulation of dating systems would have to yield the correct date for the Dead Sea Scrolls but incorrect dates by counting tree rings and Carbon-14 despite the fact that these align perfectly with the data for the Dead Sea Scrolls. And with this latter data, again, Argon-Argon dating with radiometric dating can be incorporated to show yet another independent method of dating.

Conclusion

Young earth creationists have not dealt with the fact that it is not just independent methods of dating that yield similar dates but rather that these independent methods correspond with each other and back each other up. On a young earth reading of the evidence, there is no explanation for why the allegedly mistaken methods of counting tree rings, varves, measuring Carbon-14 dating, and Argon-Argon dating from volcanic ash should all correspond with the same dates. After all, each of these is taken to be independently mistaken for different reasons and at different rates. But if that’s true, then the observed data should be completely different from what it actually is. Additionally, the alleged accuracy for dating things in biblical archaeology is generally conceded by young earth creationists, and this dating for biblical artifacts also corresponds to other dating methods. Thus, the accurate date of the Dead Sea Scrolls corresponds with the allegedly inaccurate methods of tree ring counting, varve counting, and radiometric dating. What possible reason could there be for this to be the case? Going back to the words of Wolgemuth and Davidson, the most reasonable explanation is that God has given us the tools to study creation, and that these tools give us an accurate record of earth’s history.

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!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

What is the relationship between Christianity and science?- An Overview of 4 Views– How should the Christian faith interact with science? Do they interact at all? I survey 4 major views on these and other questions.

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.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 11-13

After a 5 year hiatus, I decided to continue my look at David Montgomery’s work, The Rocks Don’t Lie. For a refresher, the book is from the perspective of a geologist as he looks at Noah’s flood in light of geology, but he also includes material on contemporary accounts and some reflections on faith.

Chapters 11-13

The stark impact of catastrophic events on our planet’s past is clear in the geologic record. Montgomery uses his own experience as a geologist and the history of geology to show how catastrophism is part of modern geology, despite young earth creationists often claiming modern geology only appeals to uniformitarianism. Geologists began integrating catastrophe and uniformity almost from the beginning, as challenges to Lyell’s strictest uniformitarianism emerged from geologic evidence. Thus, far from what is too often portrayed as an either/or situation, geology truly is both/and when it comes to the two streams of evidence.

It is even possible that one such catastrophic event led to the stories of the flood as found in the Ancient Near East, including in the Bible. Glacial events led to massive buildups of water, and as the ice would melt in front of that water, it would release huge torrents that could carve canyons and flood enter massive regions quickly. Clear evidence of this having happened through ice dam failures is seen in both North America and Eurasia (210ff). One such massive event helped fill Hudson bay and the Great Lakes. It is possible that a similar event occurred with the Black Sea that could have led to so many stories in the region about massive floods. Yet creationists are unwilling to accept this evidence. Montgomery writes:

There was a time when both geologists and conservative Christians would have interpreted the evidence of a catastrophic Black Sea flood as proof of Noah’s Flood and confirmation of the historical veracity of Genesis. But times have changed. Now geologists present evidence in support of Noah’s Flood, and creationists hold out for belief in a global flood for which no evidence can be found (223).

In Chapter 12, Montgomery explores reasons why some Christians reject so much compelling evidence for a truly ancient earth and the lack of a global flood. One of the primary reasons, he thinks, is due to a belief that such evidence undercuts the truth of the Bible. He notes the impact of Whitcomb and Morris and their book The Genesis Flood upon this movement. It continues to have immense impact despite being rejected by geologists–including Christians–as clearly mistaken. The attacks upon conventional geology fall short of the truth and often show basic misunderstandings of geology. Christian geologists have continued to push back against this “flood geology,” yet it persists in some corners.

In the final chapter, entitled “The Nature of Faith,” Montgomery reflects upon his own journey. He came in with a clear goal of refuting creationist claims wholesale, but as he explored evidence for major local floods as well as reading Christians on the topic, his view of the nature of faith changed. He notes that he sees science and faith not as enemies but “as an awkward egalitarian waltz” (247). Montgomery, though not (to my knowledge) a Christian, suggests that Christianity has much to offer and has done some work for science as well as against it. He argues that one thing needed is “a historically informed understanding of how people read and interpreted sacred texts in the past” (249) so that we can form a better picture of the past. Similarly, “Genesis 1 remains powerful and relevant today if read as a symbolic polemic intended for early monotheists rather than as a Bronze Age scientific treatise” (251). Too often, “We will only look for evidence that confirms our beliefs” rather than challenging ourselves and keeping our minds open (253). Though religion cannot answer every scientific question, neither can science make religion an illusion (255).

I found Montgomery’s final chapter, in particular, extremely helpful. It’s the kind of outsider perspective that is truly constructive and helpful. It makes me wonder how his own outlook may have changed in the 6 years since the publication of this book. He is articulate and fair. Indeed, his suggestions for people of faith ought to be well-taken, alongside his critiques of skeptical perspectives. The idea that faith is a sickness or illusion is too prominent today, but people of faith also need to acknowledge that some of that stems from a denial of clear evidence. If we set our faith on things that are clearly wrong (for example, young earth creationism), it discredits our faith.

 

Links 

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1– Montgomery surveys the intent of the book and how his own investigation of the flood led him to some surprising results. He expected a straightforward refutation of creationism, but found the interplay with science and faith to be more complex than he thought.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 2-3– First, Montgomery gives a survey of the basics of geology. Then he notes some serious problems with young earth paradigms related to the Grand Canyon and fossils in the Americas as well as on mountains.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapter 4– Montgomery surveys a number of early flood geological theories and shows how theological interpretations continued to change as evidence was discovered through time.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 5-7– A brief early history of the study of geology and paleontology is provided, and early theories about the flood begin to form alongside them.

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.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 8-10

After a 5 year hiatus, I decided to continue my look at David Montgomery’s work, The Rocks Don’t Lie. For a refresher, the book is from the perspective of a geologist as he looks at Noah’s flood in light of geology, but he also includes material on contemporary accounts and some reflections on faith.

Chapters 8-10

There is no question that there are flood stories across many times and cultures. Indeed, some young earth creationists cite this as the single best evidence for a global flood. What is most interesting, however, is the total similarity between some earlier flood stories from the same Ancient Near Eastern time and place as what the Noahic deluge story would later originate. Montgomery surveys this early history, noting the amazing discovery of more ancient flood myths in Sumerian writings. At least 3 different flood stories were discovered in these ancient fragments, and they yielded many similarities with the biblical flood account (153ff). Alongside discoveries like this, the rise of deism threatened Christianity and led to some reactionary responses to both the discoveries and the age. On the other hand, many Christian theologians moved to see Genesis as “a synopsized or allegrical explanation of how the world came to be rather than a comprehensive history of everything that ever existed” (167).

Other issues with the Genesis flood account as history began to be realized by other Christian theologians. The question of how to fit all the animals on the ark became a major issue (169). Some began to abandon both the idea of a local flood as well as the idea of a global flood, seeing the story as a theological point rather than literal history, though the idea failed to gain much steam (170). Another response was more reactionary and came with it the rejection of much of the evidence against a global flood–the birth of the creationist movement.

Montgomery interacts with modern creationism by pointing to the Creation Museum from Answers in Genesis, noting how much of the alleged evidence presented there is in stark contrast to what we can learn from geology now. After a brief look at the museum, he looks at the history of modern creationism, noting, as many others have, its roots in Seventh Day Adventism and reactionary fundamentalism. Time and again in the history of creationism, Montgomery notes how science has been misrepresented or ignored. For example, he uses a graph showing radiocarbon dating and its correlation with known samples, demonstrating the reliability of the method for certain ages (192-193).

These chapters once again show the range of Montgomery’s book and the importance of looking into many different angles of investigating the flood and other biblical accounts. It isn’t enough to just do what so many creationists insist upon and just read the accounts at a surface level, importing our own assumptions about what the text should mean and say as we go. The fact that many flood stories predate the biblical story and share details must lead one to account for that in their worldview. Similarly, a reactionary approach will not do.

Links

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1– Montgomery surveys the intent of the book and how his own investigation of the flood led him to some surprising results. He expected a straightforward refutation of creationism, but found the interplay with science and faith to be more complex than he thought.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 2-3– First, Montgomery gives a survey of the basics of geology. Then he notes some serious problems with young earth paradigms related to the Grand Canyon and fossils in the Americas as well as on mountains.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapter 4– Montgomery surveys a number of early flood geological theories and shows how theological interpretations continued to change as evidence was discovered through time.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 5-7– A brief early history of the study of geology and paleontology is provided, and early theories about the flood begin to form alongside them.

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.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 5-7

After a 5 year hiatus, I decided to continue my look at David Montgomery’s work, The Rocks Don’t Lie. For a refresher, the book is from the perspective of a geologist as he looks at Noah’s flood in light of geology, but he also includes material on contemporary accounts and some reflections on faith.

Chapters 5-7

Montgomery goes over what is little-known history (to the general public): the debate over what fossils even were in early paleontology and geology. For some time, geologists debated whether fossils were truly vestiges of the ancient past or not. Some did recognize them as dead life forms, but wantonly miscategorized them. An example Montgomery visits is the identification of Homo diluvii, alleged to be a fossil of someone who died in the Noahic flood, but which is in fact simply a large amphibian. Thus, faith and science interacted in ways which led to mutual learning, with geologists often interpreting finds through their faith (often leading to errors), but then correcting the mistakes and examining interpretations of Scripture.

Geologists continued to find evidence that the Earth was much more ancient than had been previously thought. The concept of geologic time itself evolved over time, but not due to the theory of evolution as young earth creationists so often assert. Rather, geological finds continued to stretch the limits of time and change on the planet. Bishop Ussher’s chronology was neither the first nor last, and was based upon faulty assumptions that continue to be challenged both inside and outside the church.

One of the constant refrains of young earth creationists is the notion that they hold to catastrophism related to the history of the planet, while mainstream geologists rely upon uniformitarianism. But Montgomery demonstrates that this is a false dichotomy. It is one that, historically, was a true battle as evidence initially seemed to refute catastrophism and then showed that catastrophes did indeed form major events in the geologic record. Thus, geology today continues to take both catastrophe and uniformity into account. The young earth view of either/or is deeply mistaken and stuck in historical, rather than modern, understandings of science. Indeed, it was Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) who first developed a synthesis of the theories, though he favored catastrophic understandings due to his own discoveries. Cuvier died more than 20 years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and so can hardly be charged with changing his geological views due to evolutionary theory. Once again, young earth arguments fail to hold up to the challenge of history and science.

Cuvier’s theory allowing for a sequence of catastrophes was, on his own part, allowed to include the biblical flood. Montgomery continues to survey the changing views on the Deluge and William Buckland contributed both to this theorizing and the expansion of the age of the earth through his own studies. Buckland, however, ultimately discovered that fossils could not all be attributed to a single flood event or the biblical flood. Nevertheless, as a Christian, he felt “Secure as ever in his faith in both nature and the Bible” (129). Lyell’s own study of geology once again expanded the lengths of times required for the shaping of our planet. It didn’t take long, however, for people to push back against this theorizing, and William Cockburn helped champion some of the earliest of what would become young earth theories. He did so mostly by dismissing evidence rather than directly engaging with it (137-138).

Links

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Preface and Chapter 1– Montgomery surveys the intent of the book and how his own investigation of the flood led him to some surprising results. He expected a straightforward refutation of creationism, but found the interplay with science and faith to be more complex than he thought.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapters 2-3– First, Montgomery gives a survey of the basics of geology. Then he notes some serious problems with young earth paradigms related to the Grand Canyon and fossils in the Americas as well as on mountains.

“The Rocks Don’t Lie” by David Montgomery: Chapter 4– Montgomery surveys a number of early flood geological theories and shows how theological interpretations continued to change as evidence was discovered through time.

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” 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.

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.

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