Review – Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins

Bishop, R.C., Funck, L.L., Lewis, R.J., Moshier, S.O., and Walton, J.H, 2018, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 659 p.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins is authored by five professors from Wheaton College. Wheaton is an Evangelical institution with rigorous admissions standards, and therefore has a smarter-than-usual student body. These professors have been jointly teaching a class on origins (SCI 311) at Wheaton for a number of years, giving students an overview of both biblical and scientific aspects of origins.

The book is divided into seven sections:

  1. Getting Started on the Journey – Four chapters on biblical interpretation and the interaction between science and Christian faith. These chapters lay a foundation for the rest of the book, and introduce themes which permeate many of the scientific concepts that follow, such as the functional integrity and ministerial action of the creation.
  2. Cosmic Origins – Six chapters covering Genesis 1, the big bang model and fine tuning in the universe. The unit ends with a chapter on “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on the Origins of the Universe” (units 3–6 end with a similar chapter).
  3. Origin and Geologic History of Earth – Eight chapters covering the origin of the solar system, catastrophism and uniformitarianism; the interpretation of the flood account in Genesis, geologic time, and Earth history.
  4. Origin of Life on Earth – Five chapters covering abiogenesis (the origin of life), as well as theological perspectives on the topic.
  5. Origin of Species and the Diversity of Life – Five chapters on biological evolution.
  6. Human Origins – Four chapters on biblical and evolutionary perspectives on the origin of humanity.
  7. Concluding Postscript – One chapter: “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on New Creation, Creation Care, and Science Education.”

This book is not written as an unbiased overview of all the Christian perspectives on origins. In other words, it is not like the Four Views on ________ books (some of which are excellent) that are already available at Christian bookstores. Instead, the book is written from a perspective that accepts big-bang cosmology, standard old-Earth geology, and biological evolution as scientifically-valid ways of understanding God’s creation. In terms of biblical interpretation, the book is written from a perspective that views the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God, but which also places a strong interpretive emphasis on the worldviews present in the ancient world. If you have read any of John Walton’s Lost World books (Such as The Lost World of Genesis One), you will have an idea what to expect in the sections on biblical interpretation (though written more for a general audience than the Lost World books). The authors, therefore, fall within the broad credal orthodoxy of “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The authors accept Adam and Eve as historical persons, as well as Noah’s flood as a historical event, but interprets these less literally than either young-Earth creationists, or old-Earth creationists such as Hugh Ross.

The chapters which examine what the Bible says about origins topics (e.g. Chapter 13, The Genesis Flood, and Chapter 29, Human Origins: Genesis 2–3) are excellent. In fact, the examination of why Noah’s flood does not, according to Genesis 6–9, have to be what we would picture as a global deluge, is one of the best I have read. This book will provide its readers with a solid foundation not only for understanding the biblical and theological side of origins topics, but will give them greater confidence in the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God.

The section on geology is the longest part of the book, and consists of the following chapters:

  • Chapter 11 – Origin of the Earth and Solar System
  • Chapter 12 – Historical Roots of Geology: Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism
  • Chapter 13 – The Genesis Flood
  • Chapter 14 – The Rock Cycle and Timescales of Geologic Processes
  • Chapter 15 – Rocks of Ages: Measuring Geologic Time
  • Chapter 16 – Plate Tectonics: A Theory for How the Earth Works
  • Chapter 17 – Reading Earth’s History in Rocks and Fossils
  • Chapter 18 – Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Earth History

In this unit, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins does not cover the same breadth of material as a complete introductory textbook on physical or historical geology would, but what it does cover, it covers in some depth. For instance, Chapter 15 not only discusses radiometric dating in a general way, but introduces more advanced topics such as concordia and isochron dating that are not found in most introductory geology textbooks. Knowledge of these techniques provides readers with greater confidence that radiometric dating works, and usually works well.

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins offers an excellent overview of the biblical and scientific issues surrounding the origins of the universe, Earth, life, biological diversity, and human beings. It is well-written and accessible to non-scientists as well as scientists. It will be a reference work that I go to often for science topics I’m a little weaker on, as well as for biblical and theological arguments regarding origins. I recommend the book for:

  • Educators in Christian schools. This book would be a great teacher’s supplement to my Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.
  • Home-school parents.
  • Pastors and youth-group workers.
  • Anyone who is serious about Bible-science issues: young-Earth creationists (so they have a better understanding of the “other side”), old-Earth creationists, and evolutionary creationists
  • Christians in the sciences

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

I thank IVP Academic for giving me a review copy of this book.

 

Review – A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture

AReformedApproachToScienceAndScriptureA Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture is largely a summary of the insights of the late theologian R.C. Sproul on the topic of the relationship between science and Christian faith. The author is Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Florida, and the book is available as a free Kindle book. Don’t let the zero-dollar price tag fool you; this is a great little e-book.

It is common for young-Earth creationists to ask something like, “Are you going to believe God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science?” There are many ways that an old-Earth Christian could respond to this false distinction between science and Christian faith. I usually respond by saying that I believe that all truth is God’s truth, and that if there appears to be a conflict between the Bible and science, then either we misunderstand God’s Word, God’s world, or both.

R.C. Sproul basically said the same thing, and much more, as Mathison outlines in this book. Much of the book focuses on the topic of the age of the Earth, but it touches on other science and faith issues as well. The book has seven chapters, which I will summarize:

Chapter 1 – All Truth is God’s Truth

It is common for postmodernists to question the concept of truth, but unfortunately, it is also common for Bible-believing Christians to do the same.  These otherwise theologically-orthodox Christians fear that if we consider God’s revelation in creation to be infallible or authoritative, that this will somehow detract from the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Mathison points to the teachings not only of Sproul, but of Augustine, Calvin, and Bavinck to show that “all truth is God’s truth” is an idea that is consistent both with the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and Reformed theology in general.

Chapter 2 – General and Special Revelation

Mathison distinguishes general revelation, which is available to all, and special revelation, such as the Bible, which points us to God’s work of salvation. Because God is truthful in everything he does, Mathison reminds us that “God’s revelation in creation is equally as infallible as His revelation in Scripture, because in both cases, it is God who is doing the revealing, and God is always infallible.”

Chapter 3 – Interpreting General and Special Revelation

We should not approach perceived conflicts between science and the Bible as “God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible science,” but in light of fallible human interpretations of both God’s infallible Word and God’s infallible creation. It is clear that fallible humans have misinterpreted both. Mathison explores this by reviewing the geocentrism vs. heliocentrism controversy of the 1500s and 1600s.

Chapter 4 – Luther, Calvin, and Copernicus

Both Luther and Calvin viewed Copernicus’s heliocentrism as heretical. This chapter takes a closer look at the Copernican Revolution, and what we now recognize to be faulty biblical hermeneutics by the reformers.

Chapter 5 – Earthly Things and Heavenly Things

In this chapter, the author takes a closer look at how the fall into sin affected human reasoning. Human reasoning is affected by sin, but it is not totally ruined. This is especially true in regards to general revelation. Unbelievers will get some things wrong in their understanding of the creation, but this is true for believers as well, and is also true of believers when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Chapter 6 – When Science and Scripture Conflict

Sproul stated that if he is sure he correctly understands the Scripture, and if Scripture and science seem to conflict, that he would “stand with the Word of God a hundred times out of a hundred.” I agree with this statement. In most situations, we must be willing to take a closer look at both our scientific and Biblical interpretations. One key is to discern what Scripture actually teaches, and the failure to do this is where many science-faith conflicts come from. Mathison states that “Christians have absolutely nothing to fear ultimately from scientific research.”

Chapter 7 – The Age of the Universe and Genesis 1

Sproul, who leaned towards a young-Earth, stated that “the Bible does not give us a date of creation.” In light of this, Mathison warns us against creating false dilemmas in discussions about origins. As an example, Mathison writes, “I have also encountered Christians who have argued that any believer who is convinced that the universe is billions of years old should abandon Christianity because it would mean that the Bible is not true.” This false dichotomy is, unfortunately, common in the young-Earth movement, and it is very harmful both for discipleship and evangelism. When we teach our youth that if the Earth is millions of years old the Bible is a lie, we set them up for a fall. If we present this false dichotomy in evangelism to scientists or the scientifically-literate public, we place an unnecessary obstacle to Christian faith.

It is significant that R.C. Sproul leaned towards the young-Earth interpretation of Genesis, yet was able ultimately to say “I don’t know.” Sproul maintained a charitable relationship with those he disagreed with, which is a loving, Christ-following example for those on all sides of the origins debates within the Church.

The book is available in Kindle format from Amazon.

Grace and Peace

Copyright © 2018 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

 

 

Six Books to Understand Genesis — Old-Earth Edition

6books

The web site of the young-Earth creationist documentary Is Genesis History has listed “Six Books to Understand Genesis,” all written from a young-Earth perspective. As a counterweight, here are six old-Earth books written by highly-qualified, Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming, theologically-conservative scholars. As old-Earth Christians, these academics believe in the truthfulness of Scripture just as much as any young-Earth creationist. The issue of the age of the Earth is certainly one of biblical interpretation, not of biblical authority.

Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary by C. John Collins. This mid-level introduction includes an outline of the analogical-days interpretation of Genesis 1.

Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John Lennox. This is the book on the interpretation of Genesis that I recommend most often, because it is very good, and because it is short.

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J Daryl Charles. This gives a rather detailed introduction to various young-Earth and old-Earth interpretations. This is better and deeper than most of the “Three views on ______” books on the market.

The ESV Study Bible. If someone believes that only “liberals” accept an ancient Earth, point them to this scholarly masterpiece. The notes on Genesis don’t “take sides” on the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood, but it is clear that the scholars don’t believe that Christians must accept the young-Earth interpretation.

The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley. This book gives a good summary of the historical development of the concept of an ancient Earth, and gives numerous reasons why young-Earth arguments about geologic time and flood geology simply do not work in the real world of geology.

The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? edited by Carol Hill and others. Most of the contributors to this volume are Christians; a few of them are not. Young-Earth creationists love to point to the Grand Canyon as something that only could have formed by catastrophism. The authors of this beautifully-illustrated book show why, once again, young-Earth flood geology simply does not work.

Four out of my six recommendations look more at the biblical and theological side of the debate rather than the scientific side. It is my conviction that the Bible is at the heart of the matter; most young-Earth creationists will not listen to what we have to say about science until they become at least a little bit open to the biblical case for an old Earth. The two remaining books, reflecting my own background in geology, provide devastating critiques of young-Earth geological arguments.

Young-Earth creationism is not biblically necessary, nor is it scientifically credible. To insist otherwise does harm in terms of Christian discipleship, apologetics, and evangelism.

Grace and Peace

Book Review – Dictionary of Christianity and Science

DictionaryMy ignorance will always exceed my knowledge. This is true even in subjects in which I have a considerable level of expertise. I have been studying various science-faith topics for more than three decades, and have substantial depth of knowledge in some areas. Over the years, I have focused most intensely on the relationship between geology and Christianity (including the arguments of the young-Earth creationists), somewhat on the topics of biological evolution and environmental ethics, and hardly at all on some other important science-faith issues. I would not, for instance, be able to write authoritatively about how cognitive science, string theory, or recent advances in human genetics relate to Christian apologetics. I have a few hundred books in my personal library, but don’t have a collection—and am not sure I would even want one—that covers all of the issues that are raised in the dialog between Christianity and Science.

As a science writer and science apologist, however, I need to at least be conversant in a range of topics outside of my core areas. A new, useful resource is Dictionary of Christianity and Science, published by Zondervan. This 691-page volume has over 400 articles of various lengths, written by over 100 contributors.

Christians do not always agree, of course, on how science and Christianity properly relate. The Dictionary has a number of multiple-view discussions, with separate articles written by authors from diverging perspectives. For instance, the two “Adam and Eve” articles are written from a “First-Couple View” (by young-Earth Bible scholar Todd Beale) and a “Representative-Couple View” (by old-Earth theologian Trempor Longman III). Some examples of topics that have multiple articles are:

  • Adam and Eve
  • Age of the Universe and Earth
  • Climate Change
  • Days of Creation
  • Fossil Record
  • Genesis Flood (four articles)
  • Genesis, Interpretations of Chapters 1 and 2
  • Hominid Fossils
  • Human Evolution

Some controversial topics are covered by only one article. When the subject relates to the age of the Earth or universe, these single articles are written from an old-Earth perspective. Examples include the articles on dinosaurs (Stephen Moshier), the Cambrian explosion (Darrel Falk), the big bang (Hugh Ross), and radiometric dating (Ken Wolgemuth). This approach is consistent with the fact that most leading Christian apologists do not use young-Earth arguments in defense of the faith. Articles written about controversial Christian individuals or organizations are generally written by a “friendly” author, such as the articles on Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham written by Marcus Ross, himself a young-Earth creationist, and the article on The Biologos Foundation penned by Deborah Haarsma, who is the president of Biologos.

I will never be an expert on string theory, the Chinese room argument, or Bayes’ theorem, but as one who writes about science and Christian faith, I should at least know the basics on a breadth of issues. I recommend Dictionary of Christianity and Science for students who are new to the controversies that surround the relationship between Christian faith and science, as well as to science-faith veterans who need to keep abreast on a wide range of science-faith topics.

I would like to thank Zondervan for providing me with a preprint of the first 130 pages, and then a complimentary copy of the complete book. Dictionary of Christianity and Science will be available for sale on April 25th.

Book recommendations

I’m doing a little house cleaning on The GeoChristian. I’ve updated the “Book Recommendations” section on the sidebar, and here they are:

book_esvsb The ESV Study Bible is the most comprehensive, theologically conservative study Bible on the market. Whether you are looking for historical backgrounds, maps, various viewpoints, commentary, or help with difficult passages, the ESV Study Bible is an excellent tool.

The ESV Study Bible offers a balanced view on origins issues, such as the age of the Earth or the extent of Noah’s flood. As such, this would be an excellent gift to give to your young-Earth creationist friend or family member. More than any other book, this one might help them to see that one can be a faithful Christian without being committed to the bad science and questionable Biblical interpretations of the young-Earth creationist movement.

Amazon — available in many editions, ranging from a paperback for $19, to various leather-bound editions costing as much as $230.

Crossway — buy direct from the publisher and they get a larger slice of the pie.

 book_reasonforgod  The Reason for God by Timothy Keller is the best book on apologetics (defense of the Christian faith) available for a general audience today. Some have said that The Reason for God is the 21st century’s equivalent of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. That might be true.

Like most leading Christian apologists, whether at the popular or higher levels, Keller does not include young-Earth creationism as part of his message. Why not? Because Keller recognizes that YEC is neither Biblically necessary nor scientifically feasible.

Amazon

 book_genesis1-4  Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, by C. John Collins.An excellent commentary on the opening chapters of Genesis by a respected Old Testament scholar who holds to Biblical inerrancy. Collins is a leading advocate of the “analogical days” interpretation of Genesis 1. This book might be a difficult read for some, but most should be able to grasp the concepts with some work. Knowledge of Hebrew is not required.

I wish he would write a commentary extending this work through Genesis 11.

Amazon

 book_7days  Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, by John Lennox, is a short book but is packed with good stuff. This is the book I would give to someone who wants an overview of origins issues and how they relate to the Bible.

Amazon

 book_rocks  The Bible, Rocks and Time, by Davis Young and Ralph Stearley, gives an overview of the historical development of Christian views on geology and time, and an in depth look at why geologists (including most Christian geologists) believe the Earth is billions of years old.

Amazon

 book_pollution Pollution and the Death of Man may be Francis Schaeffer’s most neglected work. Evangelicals love his other books, but have ignored Schaeffer’s warning that the ecological problems facing our society are real, and that Christians have been and continue to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. But he also makes a strong case that Christian theology can provide a stronger foundation for care for our environment than either pantheism or secularism.

If you read only one book on why Christians should care about nature, this should be it. I have written a review here.

Amazon

 book_beauty1 For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Prediger-Bouma provides a comprehensive “Christian vision for creation care.” Rather than being a book on “how to be green,” this book faces a number of Biblical and theological problems head on, laying a strong Biblical foundation for creation care.

I have written a summary of the first edition of the book here.

Amazon

 book_generousjustice I’ve read a number of books on “social justice” (because I want a world where the poor, widows, orphans, and immigrants matter), but Generous Justice by Timothy Keller is the best by far. It calls us to serve, but doesn’t confuse serving with the gospel. It has plenty to make both political conservatives and liberals uncomfortable.

Amazon

Grace and Peace