Review of Earth Science textbook in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

earthscienceThere have been a number of positive reviews of my Earth Science textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, published by Novare Science and Math. One of the most comprehensive reviews is in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 69, Number 2, June 2017, pp. 111-113). The review was written by a middle school science teacher, who like me, had been forced to use secular textbooks in a Christian school because of the lack of credible options. Here are some highlights:

“The text is very readable, and it includes appropriate graphics to illustrate concepts and provide examples. Nelstead’s warm voice present in the text suggests a caring teacher behind the writing rather than the cold prose typical in many science textbooks.”

“Nelstead is clear throughout the text that he loves scripture and holds the perspective that the Bible reveals God as the caring, sovereign Creator. He emphasizes the perspective in this text as one that accepts “the strong evidence for an old universe” (p. xvi). However, Nelstead also encourages Christian educators to put the issues of the age-of-the-Earth debate behind them, stating, “Since Scripture and creation both come from the same God, they cannot be in conflict. And when both are rightly understood, they won’t be” (p. xvi). I recognize that not all Christian educators will agree with this perspective. However, many Christian educators teach with secular texts that embody a very different worldview than that of the teacher. The fact that Nelstead is upfront about his beliefs and how they influence the writing of the book is encouraging, and a model that Christian educators might follow.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this text, and I believe Christians teaching science will find it a valuable resource. It may prove to be an excellent textbook choice for an earth science course for students in grades 7–9, and I would recommend that science teachers in Christian schools examine it for themselves for possible adoption. Christians involved in teaching science at other grade levels or in different types of schools would also benefit from this text as a resource to keep on the shelf. I believe that anyone interested in a thoughtful elaboration of Earth science that holds a biblical perspective as integral to that study would benefit from reading this book.”

Novare’s Earth Science is the textbook some Christian educators have been waiting for for decades. Buy it directly from Novare rather than from Amazon, which is over-priced.

Animal ethics and clear consciences

“In Praise of Self-Deprecation” – Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the black panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.

The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.

The killer whale’s heart weighs one hundred kilos
but in other respects it is light.

There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.

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Wislawa Szymborska (1923 – 2012) Poland
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996

Quoted from p. 125 of Osborn, Ronald E., 2014, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, IVP Academic

Attempting to respond to hostility with grace

I get called all sorts of names by some of my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ: Liar, Compromiser, Rabid Theistic Evolutionist, So-Called Christian. I am accused of listening to the hissing of the serpent, of following Baal rather than Yahweh, and of denying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am sorry that my old-Earth beliefs bring up such anger. I am seeking to do my best to understand God’s Word and God’s world, and to communicate in love. I am certain that I fall short in all three of these efforts.

Here’s an applicable article from The Gospel Coalition: “10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents.” I will highlight a few items:

1. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). — May I not be more zealous for my agenda than for God’s glory and the building up of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

2. Because we are sinners too. — I am certainly a sinner, and at times love the argument more than I love my brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me.

6. You aren’t the issue; God’s glory is. — I don’t have to win. I don’t have to defend myself. I do have to submit to God and love my neighbor.

7. A humble response to attacks will motivate church members to join you. — I could bulldoze the typical young-Earth creationist who comments on the Facebook pages of young-Earth organizations. What will be accomplished if I do so?

8. Your enemies may be right… about something. — There are young-Earth arguments that I do not fully know how to answer. There are old-Earth arguments that I might get wrong. My young-Earth brothers and sisters have valid insights into the Scriptures. I might be getting some things wrong about what the Bible says about God’s creation.

9. Humility will adorn the gospel for outsiders to see. — I try to make it clear that I consider myself to be on the same side as my young-Earth brothers and sisters in Christ. I find myself defending people like Ken Ham from charges of heresy (Ken Ham is not a heretic). The unity we have in Christ far outweighs those things that divide us.

I am sure there are things from numbers 3, 4, 5, and 10 in the Gospel  Coalition article that would also apply to me as I interact with those who disagree with me.

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.

GeoScriptures – Psalm 133:1 – Deep unity in Christ despite our disagreements

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!” – Psalm 133:1 (ESV)

There is only one church on Earth, and it is composed of those who, by God’s grace, have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We put different labels on ourselves, such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Nondenominational, Roman Catholic, and so forth, but deep down there is a fundamental unity in the body of Christ. I have experienced this in interdenominational Bible studies and in one-on-one fellowship, and I hope you have as well.

Tragically, this unity is often obscured by the important doctrines and practices that divide us. One of these divisive points in the church today is the doctrine of creation. The Biblical teachings on creation are multifaceted, and include much more than the age of the universe and the origin of the diversity of life. It is fine that people have strong convictions regarding these things—just as I do—but many forget to be “speaking the truth in love.” As hard as I try, I at times also fail to speak the truth in love as I wrestle with these issues and interact with others.

Abusive speech comes from both sides in age-of-the-Earth debates. Many on the young-Earth side consider old-Earth Christians to be “compromisers” at best and not Christians at all at the worse. I have been accused many times of calling Jesus a liar because of my old-Earth views, and of being a tool of the devil.

Nastiness comes from the old-Earth Christian side as well, with some accusing young-Earth creationists of being imbeciles. Young-Earth creationists are not imbeciles; they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. In one of the old-Earth online discussion groups I participate in, I find myself periodically defending Ken Ham against charges of heresy. I disagree with Ken Ham, both in terms of his young-Earth views and his tone (most of the time), but he is no heretic. He holds to all of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, just as I do, and insists that one does not have to be a young-Earth creationist in order to be a real Christian.

Being that I get a fair amount of abuse for being an old-Earth Christian, I would like to draw attention to two young-Earth creationists I have recently interacted with, both of whom have demonstrated the love and unity that we have in Christ. These men shine like stars in the darkness.

Jay Wile

The first of these is Jay Wile. Jay, who has a PhD in nuclear chemistry, is well-known in the Christian science education world (especially in the home school movement) as the original author of the grades 7-12 Apologia textbooks, such as Exploring Creation with Chemistry. More recently, Jay has written a series of elementary-level textbooks, organized historically rather than topically. Jay blogs about science and science education at Proslogion.

I have listed Jay’s blog here at The GeoChristian under “The Best of Young-Earth Creationism.” Jay is intelligent and articulate, and is able to write thoughtfully about a range of scientific and educational topics. Jay is also candid, willing to disagree with fellow young-Earth creationists at times (and drawing criticism for doing so).

Jay is also a nice guy. Jay and I have had dialogues on his blog over the past several years on topics ranging from the La Brea tar pits to radioisotope dating. Sometimes I win (at least I think so), and sometimes I don’t. We have also had some correspondence outside of social media. In February, Jay and I had the chance to visit face-to-face at the Great Homeschool Convention in Fort Worth, where we were both speaking and promoting our textbooks. We had several opportunities to visit on the convention floor, and also to share a meal together. We talked a little bit about origins, but spent more time together in getting to know each other and talking about other topics. This is exactly how it should be between brothers in Christ who are on different sides of the age-of-the-Earth fence.

Mark Amenrud

Mark Amenrud is a Bible instructor at Montana Bible College, a school that is committed to young-Earth creationism. Mark is also a speaker for Montana Origins Research Effort, the state’s leading YEC organization. I first met Mark in the early 1980s, when he was the music director at Grace Bible Church in Bozeman while I was an undergraduate student at Montana State University. I remember him but he has no reason to remember me from that time.

I visited with Mark again at a creation conference in Bozeman in 2016. Mark recently invited me to speak in his “Science and Origins” class at Montana Bible College. I spoke last week for an hour and a half on the topic of “Why I am an old-Earth Christian.” The students were well-prepared and respectful. Even more, Mark was a gracious host, and I thoroughly enjoyed my interaction with both Mark and the students. Once again, this is exactly how it should be in the body of Christ.

I am thankful to God for brothers in Christ (and sisters in Christ, such as women in Mark’s class) who hold firmly to the Word of God, and who demonstrate the love and unity that are required of us in the body of Christ.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES

I believe in the Reformation view of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. A person is not saved, however, by believing this doctrine, but by faith in Jesus Christ. John 3:16 does not say, “whoever believes in the Reformation doctrine of justification” but “whoever believes in him.” One flip side of this doctrine is that not everyone who is a member of a church is automatically a Christian.

Another important, and divisive, facet of the doctrine of creation is environmental stewardship.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15 ESV

I view any name-calling in origins debates to be the equivalent of calling someone “Raca.” See Matthew 5:22.

Ken Ham and I agree on the gospel.

Using Google Earth for Earth Science Education

I am creating a series of Google Earth labs to use with my middle school Earth Science textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home. For the most part, these labs could be used with other textbooks as well, though I do occasionally refer to figures or pages in my textbook.

ge_horn

At this stage, I would love feedback on the labs. The feedback could be in regard to the simple Google Earth interface I am using, which involves navigating from placemark to placemark, or it could be in regard to the actual content of the lab.

The first three labs (alpine glaciers, streams, volcanoes) can be downloaded from here:

earthscience_googleearthlabs

This is a .zip folder, which can be extracted (on a PC) by downloading it then right-clicking on it and selecting “Extract All…” The extracted file will be named earthscience_googleearthlabs.kmz. Double-click on this file to open Google Earth (if you have Google Earth installed on your computer).

Most of these exercises have three parts:

  1. I take the students on a tour, which they do by double clicking on links in the Places pane of Google Earth. In this part, students will be reviewing what they have read in the textbook about various landforms.
  2. In the second part of the lab, I will again take students from placemark to placemark, but this time they will name the landform and sometimes answer a question.
  3. In the third part, I will take the students to a location, and have them create placemarks for various landforms.

Most of the labs are designed to be completed in about an hour.

Thanks!

1970s climatology textbook and global warming

How things have changed. My first exposure to the science of climatology was in 1980, when I took an upper-division Physical Climatology course at the University of Utah. I still have the textbook: Smith, 1975, Principles of Applied Climatology.

The picture is a scan showing just about everything the book said about CO2 and climate change.

A few thoughts:

1. Climatologists in the 1970s predicted that atmospheric CO2 would increase to 418–450 ppm by 2010 [the atmosphere just hit 400 ppm this past few months], and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 by sometime in the 21st century.

2. Climatologists in the 1970s predicted global warming of 2° to 3°C in the 21st century because of this increase of atmospheric CO2.

3. There was no discussion in the textbook about the implications of a global 2° to 3°C temperature increase.

4. I didn’t make any marks or notes in the section, so it didn’t make too much of an impression on me at the time.

climatology_textbook

Grace and Peace

©Kevin Nelstead/The GeoChristian