Matthew Nelson Hill

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Book Review: “Embracing Evolution: How Understanding Science Can Strengthen Your Christian Life” by Matthew Nelson Hill

Embracing Evolution by Matthew Nelson Hill is a surprising and engaging book about Christianity and science. Hill is also the author of Evolution and Holiness (my review here), another novel book that looked at how evolutionary science could inform specifically Wesleyan notions of holiness and perfection. Here, Hill calls Christians to come to understand that, far from being something that undermines Christianity, evolution can provide a fruitful grounds for exploration of the Christian life.

The intriguing premise of Embracing Evolution means that as a reader, I was hoping it would provide even more exploration of that premise–that evolution can be grounds for exploring the Christian life. I was somewhat surprised to then see several chapters dedicated to showing the basics of reading the Bible and understanding the science of evolution and its relation to theology. These are good chapters to introduce readers who may not have considered this intersection in a positive light before, or who need some background on evolution to understand its potential applications. 

The rubber does finally meet the road in the final three chapters of this pithy book, as Hill explores how evolution can inform various aspects of Christian living. The first thing Hill points out is that acknowledging evolutionary heritage gives us knowledge which allows us to bring about change. Genetic lineage can help trace disease as well as potential mental illness, and this can help us care for our bodies. Additionally, instincts to eat certain kinds of food at all times have been outpaced by the changes we have made in the way we live. Because we have access to agriculture and (generally) more than just meat, humans have outpaced the rate at which built-in instincts with the brain can operate. This means that we need to shape behavior to work against various temptations which may entrap us. But, as Hill writes, evolutionary heritage isn’t just baggage, it can also bring about avenues for hope. We can work to “overcome [our] genes and live holy lives” (113, emphasis his). Here, Hill advocates again a Wesleyan approach that sees the Holy Spirit’s action and human free will working together to live holiness, as God works within creation (114-115). 

Embracing Evolution is an intriguing book full of new avenues for exploration. Readers interested in finding out how Christianity might be positively impacted by evolutionary theory–particularly if they favor a Wesleyan theology–will see this as a must-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

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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.

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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: “Evolution and Holiness: Sociobiology, Altruism, and the Quest for Wesleyan Perfection” by Matthew Nelson Hill

eh-hillMatthew Nelson Hill’s book, Evolution and Holiness might cause a great number of double-takes when it comes to the subject matter revealed in the subtitle: Sociobiology, Altruism, and the Quest for Wesleyan Perfection. Indeed, this is one of the more unique studies I have read.

Hill’s thesis is essentially that, granting the truth of human evolution, it is still possible to maintain the highest possible levels of belief in sanctification and holiness. To support this thesis, he examines the Wesleyan concept of holiness, which is essentially that humans can be made perfect in this life. He argues that, if evolution and Wesleyan holiness are not incompatible, then effectively any view of sanctification can be compatible with evolution. The reason for this conclusion is that Wesleyan holiness is largely agreed upon as the most stringent type of holiness, and so if it can past the test put forward by human evolution, other views ought to be able to as well.

Now that we have looked at the thesis of the book, it is important to take a step back. Hill is not concerned here with whether evolution is true, though it seems that he certainly would say it is. His concern is, instead, to see how this might impact the specific doctrine of sanctification. Thus, the book is not a critical analysis of either evolution or Wesleyan holiness (or any other variety). Instead, it is put forward as a defense of their compatibility.

Hill analyzes various theories of evolutionary psychology and the notion that we have “selfish genes” which determine our behavior. Though he offers a few critiques of these theories, his main aim is to see whether the truths of Christianity might overcome the deterministic aspects of these ideas. The filter through which these questions are analyzed is the concept of altruism. Hill argues that naturalistic evolutionary accounts cannot fully explain human altruism. Various proposed naturalistic mechanisms are examined and found wanting, though Hill admits they may offer partial explanations. Ultimately, however, Hill argues that Christianity offers a way around the alleged determinism of our behavior by genes. The power of the Holy Spirit may enable us to overcome the “selfishness” of our genetic lineage and the evolutionary struggle in order to seek to live holy lives. Christianity therefore offers a superior explanation of altruism, even within the strictures of evolutionary theory.

One difficulty throughout the book is the number of assumptions made that will be unpalatable or even irrational to readers. At one point (123-124), Hill simply states that mind is the product of the brain without any argument. He cites in a footnotes Daniel Dennett’s work, but that seems a weak reason to think that such an assumption is worth carrying on, particularly in light of powerful, convincing reasons to think that the mind not only is not but cannot be merely the workings of the brain. Of course, Hill may simply be making this assumption (one he seems to agree with) without argument because the stated purpose of the book basically grants the whole narrative of evolution, which most often includes some form of denial of substance (or other) dualism. Another place this happens is when Hill refers to a number of arguments from natural theology and apologetics as “God of the gaps” type arguments. He doesn’t specifically cite any argument, but it seems odd for him to throw out that phrase without singling out any specific argument as an instance of the type.

Evolution and Holiness is a book that stands unique in my reading experience. It meshes ideas that seem completely disparate into a coherent whole and challenges assumptions we might make regarding these differing ideas. Readers looking for critical interaction with these ideas will have to look elsewhere. Hill offers a synthesis, not a critique. Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, I suspect they will find the book an interesting read.

The Good

+Unique topic exposes readers to many new ideas
+Deep look at central theses

The Bad

-Assumes without argument many unconnected points

Source

Matthew Nelson Hill, Evolution and Holiness (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 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!

Made Perfect in this Life?- A Lutheran reflection on Methodist sanctification– I analyze the notion of Wesleyan perfection from a Lutheran perspective.

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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