Christianity and Science

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Book Review: “Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation” by Gavin Ortlund

Augustine looms large over the course of church history, and he’s frequently enlisted by people on various–and sometimes contradictory–sides of theological debates. Gavin Ortlund, in Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation, seeks to show that Augustine’s doctrine of creation has much to teach us to this day about not just the theological underpinnings of a doctrine of creation but also humility in conclusions.

The first question to ask, though, is whether Augustine should be relevant to today’s debates over the doctrine of creation. Often, Christians today (at least in the United States) focus on heated discussions about evolution, death before the Fall, the historicity of Adam, and related issues. Much of the discussion is about science–or what counts as science. What can Augustine have to say to such debates, when he predated them by 1500 years? In one stirring account, Ortlund answers the question:

Imagine a young man in his late teen years. He has recently moved to the city to go to school. In the course of his study, he becomes convinced that the Genesis creation account is inconsistent with the most sophisticated intellectual trends of the day. He rejects the Christian faith in which he was raised, giving his twenties to youthful sins and worldly ambition.

Eventually, he encounters CHristians who hold to a different interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, and his intellectual critique of Christianity is undermined. He enters into a time of indecision and deep angst. His mother continues to pray for him. Finally, after much personal struggle, he has a dramatic conversion experience.

This is the testimony of St. Augustine…

Ortlund, 1

It’s a powerful introduction to the rest of the book, because as one reads it, it’s clear that it’s talking about a modern youth in college, learning about geology or evolution in depth for the first time. In fact, it’s Augustine, whose story parallels that of many today. His own struggles can help illumine some of the most controversial topics today.

Perhaps the greatest contribution Augustine brings, though, is a deep sense of humility regarding the creation account. Augustine certainly had strong opinions about how it could be read, but he also realized he could be wrong. Ortlund notes that Augustine emphasized the need to “patiently endure different (orthodox) views” and quotes Augustine’s warnings against presumptuousness of assuming one is correct and obviously so (91-92). Indeed, Augustine goes on to argue that “mischievous arguments” made about the meaning of the sacred text regarding Creation goes against the very purpose of their writing, namely, to produce charity in us (92-93). While he notes that there are some certainties regarding the creation texts, he also puts some of the most hotly disputed topics of our day into the “uncertain” category. For example, the meaning of the days in the Genesis text is one thing that he sees as uncertain, and it is clear that no one can rightly charge Augustine with allegedly giving in to some kind of “evolutionary viewpoint” as Christians who note the same today are often charged with (93-94).

Augustine’s patience and humility arises, in part, from a kind of pastoral concern for certainty (or lack thereof) regarding articles of faith. Ortlund writes, “Augustine can be open to uncertainty because he regards the purpose of theological inquiry to be godliness… we do not always know in advance what will lead to godliness, and so there should be an openness and humility in the posture with which we inquire about the doctrine of creation… Augustine[‘s] patien[ce]…. is [due to] his concern for the spiritual consequences of particularly interpretations. Thus, in the Confessions, he asks, ‘How can it harm me that it should be possible to interpret these words in several ways, all of which may yet prove to be true?'” (97, emphasis his).

The doctrine of creation itself is one Augustine wrote much upon and some of it helps highlight forgotten aspects of the doctrine in our own time. Whether it’s a concern for divine priority in creation (28ff) or Trinitarian agency (43ff); whether it’s the place of angels in creation (as the light of creation? see 125-128) or the importance of temporal beauty (154ff), Augustine’s insights will surprise readers at times while also directing potential further studies into the doctrine of creation.

Augustine also had points that are relevant to some of today’s hotly debated topics, though. For example, the question of animal death looms large in our own time due to charges about death before the fall and evolution, but Augustine, over a thousand years before Darwin, saw the death of Adam and Eve as something they “contracted” from the world that was already present in animals (154). This leaves open the possibility of animal and even pre-human death before the fall, so long as one is willing to have some sort of specially created or even made immortal human pair to have as an originating couple. Again, Augustine could not have been influenced by our modern science, so his insights into possibilities related to this and other topics allow us to glean a kind of unbiased view of the breadth of orthodox options in the modern creation debate.

Ortlund turns to questions of the Fall and evolution as well, noting that Augustine’s theology, while not developed to accommodate biological evolution, could certainly be developed in that direction. For example, Augustine argued that Adam and Eve held a “conditional immortality” that was, in part, granted through the tree of life (209).

Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation is a work that can change the tone of the modern debates over creation. By asking an ancient interpreter not to weigh in on modern debates, but instead to speak to the doctrine of creation and then asking that doctrine some of the modern questions, Ortlund has presented a fascinating case for carefully reading and interacting with the text. I very highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Christianity and science, historical theology, or theological retrieval.

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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——

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: “Thinking About Evolution: 25 Questions Christians Want Answered” by Anjeanette Roberts, Fazale Rana, Sue Dykes, and Mark Perez

Reasons to Believe is a science-faith thinktank that operates from the perspective of Old Earth Creationism. Essentially, they hold that the earth and universe are billions of years old, but that God created progressively. Individual species or families were created by God ex nihilo at different points in time. Recently the organization published a book, Thinking About Evolution: 25 Questions Christians Want Answered that explores the evidence for evolution.

The book is written around 25 chapters corresponding to the eponymous questions. These questions are: “Does Evolution Explain Life on Earth?; Is Religious Belief the Only Reason to Question Evolution?; What’s Philosophy Got to Do With Evolution?; How Can We Keep Our Thinking Free from Fallacy?; Is Evolution Really a Problem for the Christian Faith?; What is Chemical Evolution?; Is Microevolution a Fact?; Does Microbial Evolution Prove Evolution is True>’ Is Natural Selection the Blind Force Driving Evolution?; Is There a Novelty Problem for Evolution?; What to Do with Teleology in Evolution? Can Evolutionary Processes Generate New Information?; Does Evolution Explain the Fossil Record?; What about the Genetic Similarity between Humans and Chimps?; Are the Hominin Fossils Evidence for Human Evolution?; Did Humans and Neanderthals Interbreed?; Did Neanderthals Create Art?; Can Evolutionary Processes Explain the Origin of Eukaryotic Cells?; Can Evolution Repeat Outcomes?; Can Evolutionary Co-option Explain the Irreducible Complexity of Biochemical Systems?; Has Evolution Refuted the Watchmaker Argument?; Is the Watchmaker Really Blind?; Is Junk DNA Evidence for Evolution?; Why Are We Progressive Creationists?; What if Big-E Evolution is True?

I wrote all these chapter titles out because it’s worth seeing that this is the content of the book. At a glance, readers interested in science-faith intersections probably have a number of assumptions about the answers to these questions, given the creationist background of Reasons to Believe. These assumptions may line up, but there are also sure to be some surprises mixed in there. For example, microevolution is most definitely affirmed as factual, but a significant amount of ink is spilled about trying to guarantee Neanderthals aren’t in any way associated with humans.

One thing that’s evident throughout the book is that there are numerous assumptions guiding the way evidence is interpreted by the authors. This is, of course, totally impossible to avoid. We all have assumptions that go into how we interpret anything. But some of these assumptions are put forward as almost obvious statements as though all Christians can or should agree. For example, in the chapter on “Is Evolution Really a Problem for the Christian Faith?” by Fazale Rana, he writes “Science should have no problem detecting a Creator’s handiwork–and even determining a Creator’s attributes,” (72). Prior to this remarkable statement, SETI is cited as an example of scientists attempting to find intelligence based on scientific assumptions. But of course, SETI and similar endeavors are predicated on the notion that intelligence wants to be discovered or that it is, in principle, discoverable. Yet many Christians may oppose this. For example, there is a lengthy tradition and numerous writings related to the hiddenness of God. Paul K. Moser, a philosopher, has written a few books on the topic of evidence for God only being available purposively (for example, The Elusive God). If, as Christian theology affirms, God is personal, then it seems quite possible that a person would have reasons to perhaps hide from or not be available for evidence in conventional means, especially given that person’s goals may be relational to humans rather than purely evidentiary. All of this is to say that certain assumptions made by the authors in this book are worth challenging. The very model that Reasons to Believe operates upon–a kind of strong concordism in which science will ultimately reveal God (or, minimally, unveil that the Bible is unchallenged by science, properly interpreted)–relies upon such assumptions. If they’re mistaken, significant questions about the inputs and outputs of the model would be raised.

The evidence for evolution is extremely strong. I don’t think the authors would seriously dispute that statement, given that they frankly acknowledge microevolution and microbial evolution. However, when confronted by this evidence, and the rather reasonable inference that one can move from small changes over large time to bigger changes, the authors shut down. For example, in the chapter on microbial evolution, Anjeanette Roberts writes, “But does microbial evolution involve production of totally novel protein products, cellular structures, cellular functions, metabolic pathways, or stepping stones to major transitions between kinds of organisms? …That’s highly debatable” (106). One might want to debate this, but the mere fact that just a sentence before, it had been acknowledged that microbial evolution does occur means that such “stepping stones” are in place. If we can observe microbial evolution in such small time spans, then given hundreds of millions of years, it seems to be little more than a lack of imagination to insist that such larger changes could not possibly occur. Of course, that’s not how strongly worded the objection is here. Throughout the book, the authors dance along this fine line of implying the evidence for evolution is highly contentious or questionable while also having to acknowledge that evolution just does occur.

For example, Sue Dykes makes it clear that she questions the existence of transitional forms, but then has to explain away the transitional forms that have been discovered in the fossil record (161ff). The reason to dismiss transitional forms appears to be that Dykes prefers to define transitional forms in the now-archaic way Darwin did as finding exacting step-by-step A-to-B lineages that we know for certain show the transition from A-Z. But this is not how evidence works. If we had the evidence to plays someone at the scene of a crime at the time in which it occurred with the weapon and intent to commit murder, someone coming along and saying “Ah ha! You cannot tell me the exact sequence in which the victim was stabbed!” wouldn’t be a compelling reason to question the suspect’s guilt. The sequence is there, though the order may be hotly contested. Examples Dykes investigates include whale evolution, which is quite frankly a compelling series of transitional fossils. Why are they questioned, then? Because there is the occasional discovery that may perhaps have a fossil dated differently or one form showing up earlier than expected! But that doesn’t really undermine the sequence any more than having one’s ancestor (grandparent, say) still alive today would mean one could not have been born yet. On a total-species level, it would be surprising to see entire species that were successful and ubiquitous enough for there to have actually been preserved fossils of them just dying off the exact moment a somewhat more adapted creature came along. Moreover, it is difficult for me to take seriously the questioning of transitional fossils when so many striking examples have been found. Not just the ones that exist in the public’s memory writ large, but also numerous amazing examples, like turtles, having “halfway” point type fossils. I wrote about some of these elsewhere. Again, do we have every one of the presumably hundreds of species preserved to get from point A-to-Z? No. But missing C, D, F, G, H, and I hardly precludes calling B, E, J, and M transitional forms.

The authors occasionally fall into the unfortunate position of implying that because scientists have updated predictions and models due to changing evidence, we can question the core idea. Sue Dykes writes about Hominin fossils, “It seems that the more we dsicover and the more we test, the more frustrated paleontologists become. New discoveries regularly undermine the ideal of a clear, single evolving lineage leading to modern humankind” (177). Well yes, because I doubt there are any paleontologists who actually that that “ideal” is attainable in actuality. Evolution is messy. It doesn’t produce simple chains. There are offshoots, branches that break off, never to come back, divergence, convergence, and more. Simply having a ton of fossils that fit to show evolution is occurring and not being able to find an “ideal” lineage doesn’t undermine the evidence for evolution. The stunning number of fossils and traits that can be found amongst them instead shows the compelling notion of evolution over time.

I was also surprised to see Fazale Rana seem to argue that evolutionary biologists would think that if we turned back the clock, evolution would just repeat results (225). I believe it was in Dawkins’s work that I read (reading it as a skeptic of evolution, more than a decade ago) that evolution would do the exact opposite. The metaphor was a videotape: if we rolled back the tape, the movie evolution would play would be completely different, because the forces acting upon nature that drive evolution couldn’t possibly be replicated. This seems to undermine the whole chapter in which Rana makes this statement about replicating results. Convergent evolution doesn’t really seem to be evidence against evolution, either, which is the somewhat confusing point that may be alluded to in this chapter (“Can Evolution Repeat Outcomes?”). Instead, Rana argues convergence points to progressive creationism due to shared features. But this was not established in the text, and the point Rana made about rewinding the clock seems to me to be mistaken.

A few chapters hint at more difficult problems for evolution. The question of irreducible complexity was compelling to me for quite a while, but though the authors here make the case, it still seems that co-option is but one of the several possible ways evolution could account for seemingly irreducible complexity. As has been pointed out by others much more in the know than I, irreducible complexity itself is something of a construct. For example, it may be the case that taking out a part of the eye that allows us to focus upon something would make the eye unable to function as an eye, but it would hardly make it useless. The mere ability to sense light/dark would be extremely advantageous on a number of levels. Another problem that is raised in the book is the question of generating information. I myself have become pretty skeptical of this argument, though, because it seems something of a category error. Yes, there is a strong metaphorical connection between human written language and the “language” of DNA, but to equate them to the point that is required for introducing intelligent design into the process is a stretch at best. Rana makes his case by pointing to the stunning improbability of randomly producing a functional cytochrome (153), but the very nature of evolution makes this nonsensical. Evolution isn’t randomly generating series of DNA strands in order to, hopefully, come up with a functional and beneficial protein. Instead, it is operating upon existing, functional (and even deleterious or non-functional) features. Simply stating blind probabilities is to massively overstate the range of actual possibility.

The concluding chapter is perhaps the best chapter of its kind I’ve read in any creationist literature anywhere. Anjeanette Roberts writes, “there are many faithful Christians today who confess Christ as Lord, hold the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, and believe in real miraculous events… while also holding that God used the initial conditions he established at the creation along with evolutionary processes to accomplish his purposes for life’s biological history on Earth” (282).

Later, she writes, “After all, it is not one’s view of origins that determines a person’s Christian status” (ibid). Then, she writes this great counterfactual: “If at some point in the future, the scientific evidence shows that evolutionary mechanisms are the mechanisms of god’s creation, then interpretive models… will fill a needed space in biblical Christian thought,” (283). Though not fully stating it, it is clear the implications here are that Roberts, and presumably other RTB scholars, are acknowledging that if evidence existed to convince them evolution were true, they would utilize some of the models for reconciling that with biblical truth that they already see as viable. This is an extraordinarily honest position, particularly for a creationist organization. Too often, people accuse creationists of being liars and/or deceivers, obfuscating truth. I have noted numerous points of disagreement with the book in my own review here. But let it be said that I think that RTB has done extremely valuable work, and that they’ll continue to do so. I can’t help but admire the integrity and honesty of their scholars, and am honored to work alongside them for God’s Kingdom.

Thinking About Evolution will give readers a solid base for understanding the most prominent old earth creationist perspective. While I think that the case it builds against evolution is lacking, I appreciate the candor, the integrity, and the genuine searching for truth the authors are pursuing. Readers interested in the intersection of Christianity and science will appreciate this 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: “The Genealogical Adam and Eve” by S. Joshua Swamidass

There is little doubt that an enormous amount of ink has been spilled over the question of the historicity of Adam and Eve given an evolutionary account. Often, the charge against theistic evolutionists is that they cannot or do not affirm what is thought to be required of biblical theology related to Adam and Eve. At other times, appeal to Adam and Eve is looked down upon as a quaint, outdated, and clearly mistaken view. Into that fray steps S. Joshua Swamidass with the book The Genealogical Adam & Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry. Swamidass argues that there is a way past these seemingly endless debates.

The genealogical hypothesis is central to Swamidass’s argument. Swamidass’s thesis is genealogical, not genetic. Genetics can be used to provide a “tunnel vision” for ancestry (31), but genealogical ancestry is a broader, common language way of looking at ancestry. The hypothesis has 6 main components: 1. Adam and Eve lived recently in the Middle East; 2. they are the genealogical ancestors of everyone (specifically by AD 1); 3. They are specially, or de novo created; 4. interbreeding occurred between the lineage of Adam and Eve and others; 5. no additional miracles apart from special creation of Adam and Eve are allowed (for the purpose of the hypothesis); 6. assume two findings of evolutionary science: human descent common with the great apes and that the size of the human population never dipped to a single couple (p. 26-27).

Swamidass argues that rather than looking at trying to tie all humans together genetically, we may be able to do so genealogically. Once one traces ancestry back by a certain number of generations, one will effectively have so many ancestors that the number would exceed the number of humans who were alive at the time. That’s an absurd conclusion, of course, but it doesn’t account for the way that family trees intermingle and mesh together in many different ways. Nevertheless, due to the exponential way that tracing one’s family history back, Swamidass argues that it’s likely that we can argue that all humans have common ancestors as recently as several thousand years ago.

Swamidass takes this extrapolation and notes that because of this, one can affirm most of the major tenets of traditional Christian belief regarding Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve could have been specially created–science cannot test for this either way–a few thousand years ago, and still be the common ancestors of all living humans. What his thesis does have, of course, is humans outside the garden. But Swamidass notes that even traditional readings of the text have struggled with that due to questions of who Adam and Eve’s children married, or who Cain was afraid of, etc.

One could easily see how Swamidass’s hypothesis could be tweaked in different ways depending upon one’s own conclusions about the data or theological presuppositions. Some theistic evolutionists would likely dispute thesis 3, while creationists would dispute several theses. But what Swamidass has done is effectively offered a possible solution to the many, many science-faith controversies related to Adam and Eve. One can, on Swamidass’s thesis, affirm both the findings of evolutionary biology as well as virtually every aspect of the traditional view of Adam and Eve. The extraordinary import of this should not be understated: Swamidass has offered a defense of a hypothesis that virtually anyone who has written on the topic will need to contend with.

The Genealogical Adam & Eve is sure to be a controversial book. Yet hopefully, within that controversy, there can be a discussion of coming to agreement on specific doctrinal topics, and a broadening of areas where unity can be found. Swamidass has done serious, scholarly work here that anyone who wants to deal with the topic of Adam and Eve will need to address.

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: “A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture” by Carol Hill

There are many textbooks out there purporting to put forward the best view of science from a Christian standpoint, but most come from a young earth creationist point of view. Carol Hill, with A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture, provides an alternative that unites mainstream science with thoughtful reading of the biblical text. But the book is more than one might think if one gets the impression of a dry textbook from this description–it’s an introduction to how Christians can think about numerous science-faith topics, a survey of competing literature, and an analysis of various views of science and faith.

The book is divided into 10 chapters, beginning with a chapter that defines the notion of a “worldview approach” to science and Christianity. A worldview approach is a holistic look at how to approach the Bible, scripture, and more–allowing one to integrate insights from various positions into one coherent whole. Hill outlines the basic premise of the worldview approach as: “the Bible in its original context records historical events if considered from the worldview of the biblical authors who wrote it” (12-13). This is important: it allows Hill to affirm historicity of the biblical account while not settling for simplistic answers in interpretation.

The second through fourth chapter deal with the Six Days of Creation, the Garden of Eden, and the book of Numbers/Chronologies of Genesis respectively. The chapter on the Garden of Eden is of particular interest because Hill both makes a strong argument for a real, true to life location for the Garden of Eden while also noting that the Flood Geology that young earth creationists so often espouse cannot account for the actual location of the Garden. The ages of the patriarchs is also a notable section as Hill notes the numbers being used in specifically theological and analogical ways by the author.

Chapters 5-7 deal with Noah’s Flood from a number of points, and it is an extremely helpful section both for analyzing the young earth creationist/flood geology account and for noting the language of the Bible and the local nature of the Flood. Hill, once again, sides with seeing the Flood as historical (as she sees the Garden of Eden as a historical possibility) while also noting the real difficulties with a literalistic reading. A number of interesting points related to Mount Ararat and the attempts to locate the actual Ark are made here, as well. The analysis is keen, showing difficulties with various theories, while also showing the misguided nature of such attempts to find the Ark. Hill argues for a local flood, but does so both from the text and geology, offering a holistic approach to the question.

Chapter 8 considers evolution and genetics, noting the attempts by some to turn the word “kind” in the Bible into something that would allow for immense speciation after the Flood. Hill also notes some of the apparent problems with evolutionary theory, while also showing the evidence for evolution and how powerful that evidence is. Chapter 9 considers Adam and Eve. The question of people outside the Garden is not a problem for Hill’s “Worldview Approach” because she argues that the purpose of the authors was to write the story of God’s interaction with their ancestors and not to write the story of everybody everywhere at all times (151). Chapter 10 presents Hill’s view in short, “Putting it All Together” to present it to readers. Here, Hill outlines the entirety of her position, bringing together everything from the previous chapters.

I should note that the book is richly printed with color photography throughout. Like The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth, this book uses the illustrations both for beauty and for specific points. The beauty of the book should not be understated, and the color photography helps it function as intended: a text that can be used to explore Christianity and science.

A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture is an invaluable text that presents, in readable form, a fairly comprehensive (though compact) view of Christianity related to some of the biggest questions that arise when considering science. 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.

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” – The Ark Encounter Examined

The Ark Encounter is a controversial attempt to create a monument to what one group of people sees as biblical truth. “We Believe in Dinosaurs” documents the making of the Ark, both before and after, through several different lenses–a creationist working on the project, a geologist opposing it, an atheist protesting it, a woman who speaks in defense of creationism, a business owner hoping it will revitalize the town, a pastor who sees it as too closely uniting church and state, and a young Christian man who’s changed his mind. Recently, I had the chance to watch the documentary on PBS. It’s also available on Amazon.

One thing that makes the documentary so fascinating is that range of voices and perspectives it presents. Doug Henderson is the lead project designer at the Creation Museum and in the documentary he helped design the exhibits and leads a team making animals to go on the Ark, among other things. He’s a fully convinced Young Earth Creationist who believes the world is about 6,000 years old and that a global flood can account for the geologic record of our planet. He admits to having some doubts in the past, but that he resolved those doubts through a firm reliance on what he sees as the correct way to interpret the Bible. One of the most poignant moments of the documentary has him appealing to the camera with the notion that “I’m not crazy” and that he’s just as normal as anyone else, he just believes the Earth is young. It’s a rare, emotionally vivid moment in creation-evolution debates where the facade of certainty is stripped away and, as a viewer, one can witness that these are real people with real concerns. It’s powerful.

David Macmillan used to be a young earth creationist, and even donated enough to have his name on the wall at the Creation Museum. His own journey led him to question the truth of young earth creationism and he points out that it was a questioning of the rigidity of interpretation as well as scientific findings that caused him to change his view. As a viewer, he related to me quite a bit because his journey is very similar to my own.

Dan Phelps is a geologist who thinks the Ark Encounter is anti-science and has done the work to demonstrate it. But he rose to prominence in opposition to the project not because of geological disputes but due to his taking issue with tax dollars being used to supplement the building of the Ark. What was most alarming to him was that the Ark Encounter’s job applications at every level, whether project leader or janitor, required strict adherence to the full statement of faith of Answers in Genesis. This meant not only that atheists need not apply, as his op-ed got titled, but also that no Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and even many, many Christians need apply either. To have this kind of hiring policy while also getting government money was alarming, and the documentary follows the fight against this government funding. Ultimately, this battle was lost and the Ark Encounter received grants and other aid from both state and local governments, despite claims both that the Ark is an evangelistic tool and the strict hiring practices.

One of the most alarming parts of the film is found when Jim Helten, President of the Tri-State Freethinkers (an atheist organization) who raised money to make billboards slamming the Ark Encounter and Creation museum as the “Genocide and Incest” museum is interviewed for the radio. What’s alarming about this is the way the Christian reacts to the atheist in this encounter. Jim alleges that the Ark implies incest and genocide because the flood kills everyone not on the ark, whether innocent or not, and then that the world has to get repopulated through incest because only Noah’s family was on the Ark. One can debate the nuance (or lack thereof) of Jim’s interpretation, but the Christian on the other end of the line turns around and immediately consigns Jim to hell. He says he’ll pray for Jim to not be in hell, but finally becomes unhinged and says “and there’ll be a million serpents biting your legs for eternity” as though that’s a reasonable response to Jim’s charges and his efforts to put up somewhat inflammatory billboards. Jim points out that he’s being threatened with eternal torture for asking for evidence. It’s another one of the moments that the documentary does so well of creating times to think and reflect and wonder. How is it possible that an ostensibly Christian person would think such a response was justified–and where did the line about the serpents come from?

A major aspect of the documentary is showing the Ark Encounter’s impact on the local community. It’s not clear what explicit promises were made, but it is clear that the people of Williamstown, Kentucky were given the impression that the Ark Encounter would bring a business boom to their community and help revitalize a downtown that Jamie Baker, interviewed in the documentary, said was so slow at times you could almost see tumbleweeds. The documentary covers several aspects of this hope, showing one group singing a song about their excitement related to the Ark Encounter. Just a few years later, that same place is a vacant facade, to go along with all the other places for sale or rent in a downtown that hasn’t been helped at all. One person in the documentary said they were promised shuttles would bring people into town to eat and shop, but that they only rarely see even a car driving through.

It is not clear, again, what promises were made to the people of Williamstown, but whatever hopes were raised have since, apparently, been crushed. The Ark Encounter isn’t helping the community in a monetary way so far as one can tell from the documentary. This, despite the city selling 78 acres of land to the Ark Encounter for $1 and giving them $175,000. This may not seem like a big problem–businesses make promises and bully people into helping them turn a profit all the time. But the Ark Encounter is an ostensibly Christian exhibit! Its staff has to subscribe to a strict statement of faith. One would expect integrity and openness from such people, not attacks on people who question their practices and attempts to block or obfuscate information related to their exhibit.

“We Believe in Dinosaurs” is a fascinating, challenging watch. It presents many sides, both sympathetic and not, related to the Ark Encounter. I haven’t even gone over several other people who show up in the documentary, and there’s much more there. I highly recommend it to anyone, given its broad range of interests from religious freedom, church and state issues, questions about science and faith, and more.

Links

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.

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!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and 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.

“Darwin Devolves” – Behe’s Rewriting of Evolution: A Critique from a Christian

Michale Behe’s latest book, Darwin Devolves, purports to demonstrate that a major challenge to evolution is that rather than producing new functions, the demonstrable changes that we can see in experimental science is due to “devolution” or loss-of-function in genes. Behe bases this, in part, on his “First Rule”: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution… Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain” (185). (It’s stated somewhat differently on the first page of the book: “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution: Break or blunt any functional gene whose loss would increase the number of a species offspring” – emphasis his.)

I am sympathetic to Behe’s project. As a Christian, I would prefer there to be testable, obvious proof that God exists, and Intelligent Design theory purports to be that for at least some kind of cosmic “intelligence.” On the flip side, I am also wary, because I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words that “a god who could be proved by us would be an idol” (DBWE 11, 260). I’m not convinced that God works in such a way as to leave tantalizing fingerprints all over everything for us to find. God is personal and we relate to God in a personal way, not in an abstract way that can remain impersonal or without challenge. For most of my life, I was a young earth creationist, and then spent several years studying apologetics and advocating ID theory. Since then, I’ve become much more skeptical of ID theories, and Behe’s book illustrates several of the reasons why.

Selection Effect

One of the biggest difficulties I have with Behe’s book here, as well as with ID in general, is that there is, of necessity, a selection effect happening in the examples used. That is, the human author making the argument must be selecting examples rather than showing the whole range of life and applying their theory to it (to do the latter would be prohibitively time-consuming and likely impossible). But because there is such human agency in selecting the examples, the tendency towards selecting those examples which most easily support one’s theory is at least possibly in play.

In Darwin Devolves, selections of which evidence is discussed appears to be a large part of the weight of the argument. Evidence is mustered from polar bears and the deleterious way they acquired (perhaps not the term Behe would use) “white” fur, from laboratory experiments with bacteria and fruit flies, and from the (in)famous Darwin’s Finches. In each case, it is shown (I believe demonstrated–though I admit I’m not an expert so it is possible that this is wrong) that the “evolution” of certain features (eg. different forms of beak, see p. 143ff) is not new information or beneficial mutations but rather mutations or deletions genetically that are acting on existing DNA in ways that Behe calls “devolutions” rather than evolution.

Though it seems contentious to change the terminology of genetic reshuffling/deleting on existing information to “devolution” when it seems most assuredly an example of evolution (if not, necessarily, fitting within Behe’s specific definition(s)–more on that below), assuming Behe is right here, it would be a fascinating argument if it carried the day. But Behe must demonstrate, for his argument to work and for evolution (again, his usage) to fail, that such deletions/reshuffling is the case in every single instance of purported evolution. That would be a monumental task (and likely impossible), but one way to approach it would be to broaden the selection of data and to take on some of the most powerful evidences of evolution. But here we see the selection of Behe appears to be quite artificial. In addition to the selection effect, Behe fails to note that the very thing he’s arguing shows the failure of evolution as a theory (loss-of-function, etc.) in a lab experiment for E. Coli are, in fact, an expected outcome for such a lab experiment, and the evidence for genuinely new information is dismissed.

Additionally, given Behe’s language about loss-of-function and his “first rule,” readers would be right to expect that the data would support loss-of-function as the predominant, if not the only, means by which scientists have been able to mention what they call evolution. But that is demonstrably not the case. Rice and Lang note:

In humans only ∼3.5% of exonic and splice site variants (57,137 out of 1,639,223) are putatively loss‐of‐function (Saleheen et al. 2017), and a survey of 42 yeast strains found that only 242 of the nearly 6000 genes contain putative loss‐of‐function variants (Bergström et al. 2014). 

Gregory Lang and Amber Rice ” Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/evo.13710

Behe’s challenge to evolution doesn’t mention these and other related facts. The selection effect is operating strongly here, and it is selecting out those aspects of the data that do not match the theory.

Misrepresentations and Language

Throughout the book, there were difficulties with Behe’s use of terminology and misrepresentations of arguments. The definition of “evolution,” for example, seems malleable to fit Behe’s needs. He begins by noting that Darwin’s own theory couldn’t account for genetic data (Darwin didn’t know about it) and so had to be modified. But as more modifications to the theory happen, Behe seems to take that as evidence that evolution is, minimally, in crisis. Chapter 4 is dedicated to the various ways scientists have modified the theory of evolution, according to Behe–in order to “shoehorn” various discoveries into it. But one would hardly discredit the theory of gravity due to the fact that it has been modified to account for more modern discoveries. Would Behe use the same charged language that we have “shoehorned” in modern science to the theory of gravity in order to discred it? Doubtful.

Additionally, Behe is quick to dismiss evolution and evidence for it as useless or baseless. For example, across pages 22-24 he notes various examples that have been said to have evolved and then asserts that deleting the word “evolved” doesn’t change the information in the sentence. For example, “Birds like the silky flycatcher… that are mistletoe specialists have evolved a ‘wiggle dance.'” Behe then asserts that no information is lost if one just says the birds “have a wiggle dance.” But this seems to be clearly untrue, for the claim that the birds “evolved” a wiggle dance would include in it inherited traits, genes, and behaviors, where as merely “having” a dance does not. Even if one is anti-evolution, the claim that deleting the word “evolved” from sentences like that doesn’t delete information seems puzzling.

Behe is also keen to discredit natural selection. On 99-100 he offers an example that he alleges proves that increased DNA is not due to selection but rather entirely to the amorphous term called “luck.” But renaming selection “luck” doesn’t really undermine the fact that Behe doesn’t seem to have an answer for how DNA increases within his “First Rule” system. Indeed, across these pages, he actually attributes the formation of DNA increase to environmental factors and having the increased DNA continue due to isolation. But that is exactly what evolutionary theory suggests–when populations are isolated, there is the chance for selection to operate differently one one group than on another. Behe saying this is “serendipity” or “luck” seems clear obfuscation on his part–avoidance of the fact that it is exactly due to factors alleged by evolution to drive natural selection that has led to increase in DNA.

Perhaps the part of the book is Behe’s charge that evolution must produce entirely new lifeforms, including new phyla, given enough time. In looking at Darwin’s finches, he argues that the changes among them is incredibly tiny, given the amount of time they’ve had as an isolated population. he asserts that it is “very unlikely” that an environmental factor is limiting their evolution (155) and goes on to ask whether 2 million years in isolation is too little time for evolution to make major changes. After noting that “profoundly different animal phyla… arose during the Cambrian explosion… in only about ten million years” (ibid), along with some other swift evolution, he incredibly states: “Surely we should expect at least one crummy new phylum, class, or order to be conjured by Darwin’s vaunted mechanism in the time the finches have been on the Galapagos. But no, nothing” (ibid). Behe’s claim is, frankly, absurd. I don’t know of any evolutionary biologist who suggests that entirely new phyla are a necessary outcome of long-term isolation. Additionally, to compare the emergence of phyla during the Cambrian–before life had even begun to walk the land–to the state of the islands is disingenuous to the highest degree. Remarkably, Behe does nothing to acknowledge the extreme differences between the examples he cited and the state of the islands; instead, he writes, “A surprising but compelling conclusion is that Darwin’s mechanism has been wildly overrated–it is incapable of producing much biological change at all” (ibid). There is can be no doubt that this strong conclusion is in no way demonstrated by the fact that finches didn’t transform into new phyla, but Behe draws these kind of strong conclusions from minimal data throughout the book.

Conclusion

Darwin Devolves is tantalizing in theory, but in practice it does not prove what it sets out to prove. It would be nice, as the dust jacket states, to come to the point where “It’s time to acknowledge the conclusion that only an intelligent mind could have designed life.” But with all those weighted terms comes a burden of proof that is not met in the text. I have no doubt that an intelligent mind–God–brought forth life, but I remain unconvinced that God did so in a way that required direct intervention throughout the process.

Links

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.

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!

Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and 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.

Dinosaur Eggs: A serious problem for a young earth flood scenario

Young Earth Creationism is usually paired with some form of flood geology–the notion that Noah’s flood was a global disaster which can account for most, if not all, of the fossil record and stratification of rocks. There are many problems with such a scenario, but for now I want to focus on one: dinosaur eggs.

The Problem Stated

Abstractly, dinosaur eggs aren’t really a problem: they could have been washed away in a global flood or rapidly covered by sediment, thus burying them and having them ready to begin fossilization. Problem solved, right?

As usual, though, the fossil record doesn’t align with such a simple explanation. I was reading Giants of the Lost World, a book by Donald R. Prothero about the history of several huge species that once inhabited South America, and came upon an intriguing passage about a specific find of dinosaur eggs. This find is called, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “Auca Mahuevo” (to make a reference to contracting the spanish words for “more eggs”). Situated in a region called Auca Mahuida in Argentina near an extinct volcano, the site has revealed an abundance of fossilized dinosaur eggs, including several spectacular finds in which the embryo can be seen inside the egg.

The fossil site is one in which clutches of eggs–between 15-34 eggs in each–were laid in clumps that suggest sauropod nesting sites. There were few crushed eggs, which “suggest[ed] that the site had been protected by the mothers guarding the perimeter but not walking among the eggs once they had been laid…” (33). But here’s where it gets especially interesting for the topic at hand:

The remarkable preservation of the eggs was due to the fact that large flash floods had buried the eggs–and had done so many times, because there were multiple egg layers in the rocks, covering a total thickness of 25 meters (75 ft). (33)

To say that this offers an enormous problem for a global flood scenario as the explanation for all of these eggs is an understatement. This site is evidence that there were multiple periods in which a group of sauropods came to an area, nested, laid eggs, some flash flood occurred that buried them in mud or other sediment, and then the sauropods laid more eggs at a later time in the same area, only to have it happen again. The young earth creationist scenario insists that rapid flooding is required for fossilization, and that is what occurred here, but it occurred at several distinct times, in layers upon layers of eggs.

Possible Young Earth Explanations and More Problems

One possible counter to this is for the young earth creationist (YEC) to assert that these eggs were simply all jumbled together from a single or several sites in the chaos of the flood waters, tossed with mud and left to fossilize. But the lack of crushed eggs, uniformity of species, and organization of the nests all work against such a scenario. If the flood was as turbulent as many flood geology scenarios suggest, how would the eggs have ended up in nests at all? Indeed, if the explanation is that they got jumbled together in the wet silt of the floodwaters, how could the structures of the nests have been preserved on multiple layers? And again, if these eggs just happened to get tossed together, why aren’t they cracked or smashed–how do they still have embryos inside?

Some young earth scenarios include dinosaurs fleeing the rising flood waters only to finally stop to lay eggs in a rush, only to flee on. But this site does not allow for such an explanation, as it shows multiple distinct nesting periods that were covered up over time. The YEC may counter by saying that multiple different dinosaurs fled past the area and just happened to lay their eggs on this site after mud and rain had covered the previous nests, but this doesn’t account for the lack of trampled eggs and the care in which they were organized, as above, suggesting a perimeter being guarded by parents.

Conclusion

Fossil beds like this present an enormous problem for a young earth creationist scenario that relies on the flood to explain the fossil evidence. Time and again, those scenarios fail to account for the actual findings in the field and amount to nothing more than implausible scenarios requiring miracles unrecorded in the Bible to have occurred.

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.

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.

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.

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SDG.

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