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Christianity and Science

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“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.

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extended Critique of Individual Sections and Chapters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Reviews/Interactions (will update with more)

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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 5: Theistic Evolution and the New Testament

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

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

The New Testament and Theistic Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

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

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

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

The Old Testament and Theistic Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

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

SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 2: Science

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 scientific critique offered in the book.

Science

I admit I am by no means an expert in science and so do not feel adequate to fully interact with the scientific chapters in this book. Chapter topics include “Three Good Reasons… to reject Darwin’s Explanation of Life” by Douglas Axe, the problem of information for evolution, the problem(s) of mechanism(s) for evolution, the question of first life and its arising on earth, the problem of having front-end loaded design for evolution, DNA mutations being inadequate to explain evolution, embryology as a challenge to evolution, multiple chapters against universal common descent, arguments for unique human origin, and the way bias can lead investigations in science.

Again, it would not be possible to even give an overview of all of these chapters without several thousand more words, so I’ll just go over a few of the notes I took throughout the chapters.

Douglas Axe’s chapter includes a rather strange claim that is pretty central to his whole proposal. He has argued before about the plainness of design and our ability to detect it. He continues this argument in his chapter arguing for rejecting Darwinism. Yet one of his points is that things like clouds do not point clearly to design. Specifically, he states:

To the theist… nothing happens apart from God. But then, no theist came to that view by looking at clouds or craters [on the moon]. Such things are not at all inconsistent with God’s presence, but neither do they confront us with his presence. (90)

Such a statement is quite strange, because historically it seems pretty clear that such things do, in fact, point to God’s presence for many theists. Most notably, the Bible itself states rather clearly: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). It seems obvious from this passage that David, at least, felt that such things as clouds and the skies and the heavens—yes, perhaps even moon craters–declared the glory of God and the works of God’s hands. They are used as paradigms for showing the exact thing that Axe says they are not. But of course to admit that would be to undercut Axe’s whole point. After all, if the mundane things may actually point us to God and indeed confront us with God’s presence, then the whole objection to Darwinism based on it reducing life to “natural” causes itself falls apart.[3] 

Stephen C. Meyer’s chapter that argues having “Front-End Loaded” design makes no difference for theistic evolutionists and atheistic evolutionists has its own problems with grand claims. Meyer states:

Some theistic evolutionists affirm that God actively directs the evolutionary process by… directing seemingly random mutations toward particular biological endpoints… this view contradicts the (scientifically) orthodox neo-Darwinian view of the evoltionary process as a purely purposeless, unguided, and undirected mechanism… (218).

It is odd, though, for Meyer to insist that theistic evolutionists must have their directions of speculation or insight governed by atheistic perspectives (he specifically cites Richard Dawkins in favor of his assertion). Of course, the whole point of being a theistic evolutionist is that God exists and so saying God may be involved in the process is simply an outworking of that theism. To artificially limit theistic evolutionists to the thought process of Richard Dawkins is a bit absurd, and again hints that the way these authors are looking at TE may itself be problematic.

In the chapter entitled “Theistic Evolution and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Does it Work?” by Stephen C. Meyer, Ann K. Gauger, and Paul A. Nelson, the authors ask “Why insist on synthesizing Christian theology, or a biblical understanding of creation, with a scientifically failing theory of origins [read : evolution]?” (257). I can’t help but wonder at this total confidence. I continually try to learn more and read magazines like Smithsonian and Scientific American. I read manuscript-length science book when possible. Time and again, I find that there are new and continued confirmations of evolutionary theory in these magazines. Yes, the theory continues to change, but it also continues to find affirmation in discovery after discovery. Yet authors like those of this book continue to rely on the same quotes time and again to support their own assertions.[4] If it is true that evolution is truly a failing theory of origins, why is it that we don’t see the majority of scientists turning away from it? Sure, it is possible there is some massive conspiracy, but is that what we are being asked to believe?

Finally, in a chapter arguing against human evolution by Casey Luskin entitled “Missing Transitions: Human Origins and the Fossil Record,” I found a number of problems. The first is that Luskin’s chapter often focused on works focused towards lay people in the reporting on fossils, apparently trying to show how sensationalized new discoveries are. But having excitement over new fossil discoveries–and having sometimes inaccurate reporting–does not somehow discredit those same fossil finds. Another difficulty is one I have seen time and again in creationist and ID literature, namely that they argue that because there is not an exact, agreed upon sequence of A-B-C…Z, there must be no sequence. But of course, that doesn’t follow whatsoever. It may be that the sequences is not A-B-C…. but rather A-C-B….Z, but that hardly means there is no sequence with start and endpoints. This is a problem I have observed time and again, and an argument I found pretty compelling for many years until I began to research more and more of the literature. Simply having disagreement about the order of transitional forms does not entail that there are no transitional forms. Yet Luskin makes exactly this kind of argument on pages 444ff. Indeed, he makes it explicit in his conclusion, after quoting a pair of paleontologists to the tune of saying that the sequence of human ancestors is unknown, Luskin confidently asserts “With the fossil evidence for human evolution so weak, why should our theistic evolutionist brothers and sisters insist that the church must adopt their viewpoint?” (473). That is a major non sequitor. Imagine a defense attorney on a murder case arguing that because the prosecution could not precisely put a serial killer’s victims in order of when they were killed, it followed that there were no murders or that there was no sequence. Of course, anyone paying attention would be shocked at this seeming confusion. But that is what Luskin and others are expecting readers to accept as evidence against TE, saying simply that because there is disagreement of sequence, there can be no sequence.

[3] Indeed, the earliest days of theistic evolutionists had advocates making this exact point. George Frederick Wright, for example, argued that just as it is not problematic to acknowledge the movements of the planet are due to natural causes, it would not be problematic to see life’s development as the same. See my post on Wright’s theology.

[4] Multiple sources cited are older than 20 years. Time and again, people familiar with Intelligent Design will find themselves reading the same quotes from the same authors. Of course, if someone is right, the age of what they wrote or the fact that it gets quoted multiple times is hardly a problem. But I am left wondering why we can’t hear about more recent publications showing how disastrous evolution is or more dissenters from evolution. Instead, disagreement about details is often taken to be the same as showing evolution is wrong or that evolution is in crisis.

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.

 

Theistic Evolution: The Charge of Deism- An answer from George Frederick Wright

A portrait of George Frederick Wright, attribution: By Unknown – http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~rocky/oh_biographies/wright.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=930553

George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to hold the position now known as “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creation.” He was also an incredibly thought-provoking author, having written numerous books on the subject of science and faith. In his Studies in Science and Religion (1882), he addresses a wide variety of issues related to science and Christianity. One of these was the idea that Christians affirming evolution may as well be deists.

One immediate difficulty with this notion, of course, is that no deist would affirm that God became incarnate and brought about the salvation of all humanity. But the charge is still leveled to this day: those Christians who affirm evolution are deists. Wright’s own answer to this charge took a different direction. Instead of pointing out the fact that theistic evolutionists/evolutionary creationists (terms not yet coined in his day, to my knowledge) affirm any number of doctrinal beliefs that exclude deism, Wright argued that evolution itself, understood holistically, would allow for the affirmation of things like final ends in nature. Thus, because final ends would mean telos or purpose in nature, the charge of deism must be mistaken. Moreover,  any number of things can be affirmed as having natural causes without entailing deism. Wright argued that speciation could be included among these things.

Regarding the latter point, Wright argued that:

The theologian stands in no more need of miracles for the production of species than he does for that of the planets and their movements. Direct providential interposition is not for the irrational creation, but for the rational. So we may divest ourselves of theological prepossessions of any kind in reference to the material machinery by which the diversity of animal and vegetable life has been produced. (In my Kindle version, location 1173)

Wright’s point bears some elaborating. His argument is that theologians do not need to appeal to special divine activity in regards to things like the motions of planetary bodies. These types of things, he refers to as “irrational creation.” Planets, asteroids, dirt, etc. are all “irrational” in that they have no rational self. Indeed, part of his argument is that it would not make much sense to posit divine activity for all of these movements, because they would merely show that God has chosen to do everything voluntaristically or on God’s own rather than using things like natural laws. Thus far, his argument is rather uncontroversial. Very few people continue to argue that the planets’ movement, the water cycle, and the like are all, without any mediation, direct acts of God. The controversy is found, instead, in Wright’s adding the “diversity of animal and vegetable life” in among the things which need not have appeal to divine action.

Thus, for Wright, speciation is itself one of the natural processes that goes on in our universe without God’s special intervention. Of course, this is by no means an uncontroversial claim, but it must, at least, make one think about consistency of the application of these notions. Wright is surely correct to say that the movement of the cosmos need not appeal to God’s direct intervention in order to explain it. If that’s the case, then could it not be the case that other things in nature may be of the same type? Wright argues yes.

Moreover, Wright confronts one of the primary reasons for the charge of Deism. He argues evolution does not take away the possibility of final ends in nature:

The real final cause of any contrivance in nature is the sum of all the uses to which it is ever to be put. Any use to which a contrivance in nature is put, we may be sure formed a part of the Creator’s purpose in causing it to be. An element in making up the final cause of the existence of a particular tree, for example, is the good the birds get out of it in building their nests in its branches. But the birds would be very far from the truth were they to regard that good as exhausting the purposes for which the tree exists. (Kindle Location 266)

Here Wright makes what is perhaps the most important point in regards to the charge of Deism against those Christians who also affirm evolution. Though his point regarding speciation as one of the natural causes would be up for much debate, the point he’s making here seems to be one that Christians of all other persuasions would also affirm. After all, if one wanted to strip away Wright’s point, one would have to deny that individual plants or animals have no final causes in them. Such a denial would mean that one takes all telos out of nature; there would be no divine guidance or purpose in any natural process or the lives of creatures and plants. Such a denial would, in fact, be deism. So no Christian is going to want to deny Wright’s point here. But Wright’s point would apply to all life were it to have evolved as well. Simply having something come to its current form by means of evolution rather than special creation does not strip final cause away from it. And because the Christian who is affirming evolution also affirms final causation, divine interaction in nature remains even on an evolutionary perspective.

The briefest examination of Wright that we’ve put forward here could be expanded in looking at his many other works. But the point that we’ve made ought to carry. Evolution does not, in and of itself, remove the possibility of telos or final ends in nature. Because of that, theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, as many prefer the terminology now) are not deists. Wright’s other, more controversial, point is that evolution ought to be seen in the same light as the movement of planets and other heavenly bodies. Again, this is not to take away final ends or purpose in creation. Wright’s point was that even though we have natural explanations for the movements of heavenly bodies, we still observe final ends in those same movements. He extends that point to speciation, which will surely be controversial, but has precedent in Christian theology.

What is most interesting about all of this is that Wright was writing about this as one of the earliest thinkers on Christianity and evolution. Those who continue to spread the controversy about Christianity and evolution ought to listen to those who first thought on the topic. The wisdom we find there is often startling, and certainly illuminating.

Source

George Frederick Wright, Studies in Science and Religion (1882).

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.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

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 Dictionary of Christianity and Science: The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science”

Christianity and science has been a subject of the utmost interest in my mind ever since I began to seriously study anything. I’ve been reading seriously on the topic for almost a decade now, and so when I saw that Zondervan was releasing The Dictionary of Christianity and Science, I could not help but be excited. Reviewing a dictionary, however, I have come to discover, is a difficult task. How exactly does one go about rating such a massive work? In preparation for this review, I read the dictionary from cover-to-cover, even looking through the contributors.

The book is filled with lengthy entries on many questions related to Christianity and science. Several of the most controversial questions (evolution, Adam and Eve, and the length of creation days are just a few examples) receive multiple viewpoint answers. Entries on controversial figures or institutions are written by those who are sympathetic to their viewpoint. Apart from these hot-button issues, many wider topics are addressed. Quantum mechanics, bioethics, and life are examples of these broad topics. Their inclusion is vastly important because it helps to define the parameters of the more controversial topics, and they also serve as a springboard for discussion of other topics. The book can act as a kind of one-stop shop for some of these important, broad topics, providing definitions and overviews that will be acceptable to almost anyone engaged in discussion. This is important, because these entries are non-partisan and while some may quibble about individual details, they provide a way forward in discussion.

Other topics that are given significant space include historical and modern authors (more on this below) as well as more specific concerns like “the singularity” and “string theory.” These again provide extremely important overview and background for deeper discussions on both science and Christianity. I must emphasize the excellent nature of each entry. Though I disagree vehemently with some of the entries (and one of the young earth entries even uses the silly “were you there?” type of argument regarding the age of  the earth), I found that overall the entries were each valuable reading, even as one who has read extensively in this area. The bibliographic references provided after every entry were also superb

I think my only major complaint with the work is that it seems to come up short in its coverage of historically important persons. Realistically, no single book or even multi-volume work could adequately meet this need, but I think at least a few more historical figures should have been mentioned. Yes, several of the most important historical figures are present, but even some major thinkers are left out. I can’t claim to have read comprehensively in this area, but some authors I see cited again and again in contemporary literature are unmentioned. George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) is one major example. Wright wrote several works specifically on the topic of Christianity and science and was one of the earliest and most engaging theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, depending on your preferred terminology). Though Wright may not be so frequently cited today, he was a rather important figure in his own time, and one who could stand much thoughtful inquiry today. Another, more glaring omission is that of John Ray (1627-1705). Ray was one of the earliest geologists and was instrumental in the arguments over whether fossils were truly vestiges of things long dead or merely tricks of the earth. Moreover, his books are consistently filled with theology and intriguing, if outdated, reflections on Christianity and science. To be fair, I should also note that the coverage of modern authors is fairly comprehensive, and I ran into every major player I could think of who has written extensively on science-Christianity issues.

The Dictionary of Christianity and Science is an excellent work–one which certainly deserves its place on the shelf of any interested in this important intersection of faith and science. Though I wish it had more entries on historical figures, it remains an interesting read with many meaty entries well-worth taking the time to digest fully. It comes highly recommended.

The Good 

+Meaty entries full of valuable references
+Provides broad perspectives on numerous topics
+Articles from major thinkers as well as specialists across the respective fields
+Many topics, variety of issues covered

The Bad

-A bit light on content regarding historical controversies

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!

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.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

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.

 

 

Naturalism and the Sublime in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”

To be sublime is to be “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe” according to Oxford Dictionaries. As Alan Gregory has argued in Science Fiction Theology, scientific (or sometimes nearly magical) sublime frequently replaces transcendent reality in science fiction. I believe this can just as easily be noted within science writing as well. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a prime example of this subversion of the transcendent by explicitly naturalistic sublime.

Tyson fills his book with language of the sublime. Simply looking at the table of contents shows how he has worked to replace religious themes with his own naturalistic paradigm. Chapter titles include “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” a reference to the popular biography of Christ of the same title; “On Earth as in the Heavens,” a play on the line from the Lord’s Prayer; and “Let There Be Light,” the opening line of the creation account in the Bible. These titles intentionally play on the transcendent themes from which they are are derived.

The naturalistic sublime continues in the opening chapter, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which echoes Genesis with its opening:

In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago… (17)

These words spur a narrative of the universe from a purely naturalistic perspective. Of course, Tyson is not content to merely echo religious language; he must also make explicit that his naturalistic sublime is intentionally replacing God.

The naturalistic sublime effectively turns the universe–the cosmos–into its god. It glories in the beauty of the universe as the telos in itself. Tyson’s language of the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and echoing of the Genesis account with the replacement of God’s activity with purely naturalistic explanation is one example of this. Ignoring that many, many, many Christians agree that his “Greatest Story” is the way that the universe was created, Tyson creates his own narrative of the naturalistic sublime. It becomes most explicit in the closing chapter, which we quote at some length:

The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge… its attributes are clear:
The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it is… for everyone.,,
The cosmic perspective is humble.
The cosmic perspective is spiritual–even redemptive–but not religious…
The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae, but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.
The cosmic perspective [gives an]… indication that perhaps flag-waving and space exploration do not mix.
The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth, but also valeus our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself. (205-207)

Thus, Tyson makes quite explicit his idea of the naturalistic sublime. It is scientific–by which he means naturalistic–and for all. Eschewing such petty things as definitions or clarity of terms, Tyson allows for spirituality and, generously, an amorphous and undefined notion of rdemption, but not religion in his cosmic sublime. The kinship of all with all is offered as a kind of final, ultimate sublime for all to finally be one (apparently Tyson forgot this idea had already existed in many of those “religions” he rejects, including his clear primary target, Christianity: 1 Corinthians 15:28, for example).

But Tyson is not content to merely offer this vision of cosmic, naturalistic sublime to his readers. He closes with a commandment: to ponder these cosmic truths “At least once a week, if not once a day…” so that we may wonder at the way new discoveries may “transform life on Earth” (207).

When Tyson confronts the Big Questions like how the universe’s beginning may itself have begun, he simply punts the question in typical naturalistic fashion:

…some religious people assert, with a tinge of righteousness, that something must have started it all: a force greater than all others…. that something is, of course, God.
But what if the universe was always there, in a state or condition we have yet to identify…? Or what if the universe just popped into existence from nothing? Or what if everything we know and love were just a computer simulation rendered for entertainment by a superintelligent species?
These philosophically fun ideas usually satisfy nobody. Nonetheless, they remind us that ignorance is the natural state of mind for a research scientist… What we do know, and what we can assert without further hesitation, is that the universe had a beginning. (32-33)

Tyson’s tone is itself an intriguing study in deep irony. Even as he references those silly religious people who assert that God must have created the universe, he throws a dig out there about their self-righteousness. But just as he’s doing that, he turns around to, himself with no small amount of righteous-pride, assert his ignorance of the universe. He throws out a number of answers that he calls “philosophically fun” and then shrugs his shoulders. His own pride–his sublime–is found in the not-knowing. Though we know, according to Tyson, that the universe had a beginning, we should satisfy ourselves with ignorance and just ask “what if?” questions to pass the time.

Tyson’s universe is itself the means, end, and glory. It is the non-transcendent, naturalistic sublime. As we’ve shown above, the universe itself is what replaces the transcendent for Tyson. Devotional rites are proposed. Religious language is wholly appropriate, in Tyson’s world, to use for the universe. It is the Greatest Story; It is the Beginning; It is the Light; Its Will must be done, despite our ignorance of it. It is the naturalistic sublime’s only hope. God help us.

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SDG.

——

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

Book Review: “The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth- Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” Edited by Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney

gcmaeThe Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is one of the best analyses of young earth creationism on the market. In this beautifully illustrated text, the Grand Canyon is used as a test site to analyze Flood Geology, the notion that Noah’s Flood radically shaped the face of the Earth and can account for much of the sedimentary layers we observe. The Grand Canyon is an especially appropriate test case because there are young earth creationist (hereafter YEC) books published on the Canyon, and many YEC works reference the Grand Canyon in explanations of their theories.

Part 1 outlines two views of the Grand Canyon: that of flood geology, in which the vast majority of the Canyon’s sediment was laid down during Noah’s Flood; and that of conventional geology, in which long time periods and observable, repeated processes can account for the Canyon. This part includes chapters contrasting the time frames of flood geology and conventional geology, showing the massive difference between the two views conclusions about how the Canyon formed. Part 2 is entitled “How Geology Works” and covers things like sedimentary rocks, plate tectonics, and time measurements. Part 3 looks at fossils and what they tell us about the age of the Grand Canyon. Part 4 surveys how the Grand Canyon was carved. Part 4 gives a verdict on flood geology from the evidence provided.

The authors provide an introduction to geology generally speaking, and then focus what is covered onto the Grand Canyon. Throughout the whole book, the Grand Canyon serves as the testing ground for what modern geology teaches about the Earth. Then, it is contrasted with what YECs claim about the age of the earth and the processes that formed it. Time and again, this shows that YEC claims are found wanting. The chapters on fossils are particularly telling in this regard.

For example, Joel Duff demonstrates, in “Tiny Plants – Big Impact: Pollen, Spores, and Plant Fossils” that there are entire, massive chunks of sediment without any pollen or plant spores contained therein. And these layers aren’t just randomly distributed; they’re in the oldest layers of the rock, such that it demonstrates what conventional scientists have claimed, that there simply were no pollinating plants long ago. But if flood geology is to be believed, these sediments were laid down during Noah’s Flood, which would have entailed all kinds of mixing of dead plants and animals as the surface of the Earth was radically changed. How then, are there thousands of feet of sediment without any pollen? How did microscopic plant matter manage to get sifted out in such a clear distinction from other layers? This is the kind of in-depth look at the specifics of flood geology that abound everywhere in the book. YEC arguments are subjected time and again to direct refutation like this, making the book invaluable.

The book is also valuable simply as an introduction to geology as well as some biology and other sciences. I learned an extraordinary amount from the book, and I feel fairly confident that I had a working knowledge of geology. In other words, the book is not simply a refutation of flood geology in the Grand Canyon, it can also serve as a valuable introduction to several related topics.

I would be remiss if I did not call out the beauty of the book. There are breathtaking full-color photographs of the Grand Canyon throughout the book, accompanied by numerous graphs and charts. But these illustrations do more than just look pretty, they are almost always explicitly tied into the text in meaningful ways. I found myself thoroughly poring over each and every one, whether I was looking for the division between layers of rock in a photograph or flipping back to a chart repeatedly as I came to understand it better. These illustrations are perhaps made more impressive by the modest price of the book ($26.99 regular price on Amazon). Simply put, you can’t get books with this much information and as beautifully put together as this for that price, yet here it is.

There are only two minor points I’d like to mention as negatives, but they are closer to nitpicking than anything else. First, although the introductory chapters (and a few other places) note that the young earth creationist arguments about the Grand Canyon are scientific and expressly stated as being testable, I suspect many YECs will respond to the book by appealing to some presuppositional theological perspective. Though this would be a mistaken response, it would have helped the book to perhaps include one chapter showing how the YEC claims about the Canyon are inherently scientific and can be tested without a specific theological narrative. Again, this point is made, I just think it could have been elaborated a bit more. Second, there was the briefest mention of one of the most popular arguments for Intelligent Design, that of the Cambrian explosion. The mention was so short that it is difficult to see what the authors were intending.

I have read dozens, perhaps hundreds of books on the debate over science and religion. That said, The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is a remarkable achievement. It provides some of the most thorough, in-depth analysis of young earth creationist reasoning that is available to date. It is beautifully illustrated with photos and charts that are directly related to the text, and it is reasonably priced. If you’re looking for analysis of flood geology from a scientific perspective, this book gives you the perfect test scenario. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Good

+Huge amount of information from geology to biology
+On-point analysis of flood geology
+Helpful charts and graphs
+Stunning photographs throughout linked to the text
+Features women’s voices
+Direct engagement with prominent YEC writings
+Reasonable price

The Bad

-Perhaps too light on the theological side
-Only the briefest engagement with ID

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

Source

The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth (Kregel, 2016).

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!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, 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.

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