Science and Faith are at a crossroads in today’s world. The new atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Stephen Hawking are pushing the conclusion that Science rules out Faith. No need to believe in a “God of the gaps” anymore. Everything can be explained by Science.
Christians can seem to corroborate this view by disputing the widely held claims of Science and clinging stubbornly to a young earth based on their interpretation of the first book of the Bible. Case in point. You either take Science, or you hold to your Faith.
Increasingly, evangelical Christians are moving away from an “anti-Science” approach (which itself largely stems from the 1961 book The Genesis Flood by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris), and embracing an “old-earth creationist” approach which has an affinity with evangelical positions held widely from the 18th through early 20th Centuries. Two of the most influential Christian organizations which respect Science and hold to an old earth, yet also stand against the new atheism and its denial of a Creator, are Reasons to Believe (RTB) and BioLogos.
The main difference between the two is RTB’s denial of evolution as the mechanism by which God created animals and man. Instead RTB believes in a series of special creative acts throughout Earth’s long history. BioLogos on the other hand, sees evolution as testament to God’s handiwork and not at all antithetical to a belief in human exceptionalism and humanity’s creation in the Image of God. Their approach is termed evolutionary creation.
Such is not a small difference, but over the past several years representatives from both of these organizations have met routinely to dialogue and better understand their respective positions. This book is one of the results of that ongoing interaction. The moderators for their meetings have been professors at a number of Southern Baptist institutions, who mostly represent a young earth approach. Each chapter in the book starts with one of the Southern Baptist moderators presenting the stage for that chapter’s topic and asking questions of both organizations.
Rather than being a typical “two views” book, the use of moderators keeps the tone gracious and the result is an introduction to the views of both organizations on a host of important topics related to the intersection of Science and Faith generally, and on the evidences for evolution in particular. Key topics covered include how each group explains natural evil and death predating “the Fall”, what range of options concerning Adam and Eve are viable positions for each group, what role does natural theology play, how does the Bible inform their scientific positions, how is the fossil evidence for evolution and particularly the hominids best explained, and how does genetics support each group’s position.
This book delivered a fantastic introduction to each organization and points the way forward for further research. It will introduce people to viable evangelical positions and raise questions and evidences that the reader may not have thought of before. It is a technical book, and there will be sections over the head of the average reader, but for the most part the moderators do a good job of keeping things grounded.
For those who hold to a young-earth, there is not much in this volume that directly addresses the evidences for an old-earth and why each organization holds to that understanding, even though one or two of the moderators seem to ask for some of this. Instead both groups agree and move on to the areas where they disagree. In a few of the chapters, there are points I would have raised for or against a given position that don’t arise. I am surprised, for instance, that the fusing of two chromosomes found in chimpanzees into a single chromosome found in humans is not brought up (as potential evidence for evolution to be dealt with) in the chapter on genetics. That being said, I learned a lot more about genetics than I had previously, and that illustrates the only real problem I have with this book: there is so much more that could be said in any of these chapters! But all things considered, the editors do a great job of including as much content as they do and still keeping the book readable.
Above all, this book does a great job illustrating how Christians can and should interaction on such issues. The gracious spirit and charitable dialogue found here should be an example for all of us as we think through how best to comprehend the data that Science continues to bring forth in light of the bedrock reality of the Authority of Scripture. This book goes along way toward lighting the way for those who seek to embrace both Science and Faith, and at the very least it advances the discussion in meaningful ways.
“This conversation is definitely worth listening to! The book is deeply satisfying, with knowledgeable and articulate advocates of differing positions expounding on areas of disagreement clearly as well as respectfully. At the same time, it is deeply unsatisfying, but in a good way: I found my own assumptions challenged, my horizons stretched. I think differently after reading it. An excellent job by all participants, moderators included.”
—C. John “Jack” Collins, professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis
“This Reasons to Believe and BioLogos conversation is highly commendable, and it’s important for a number of reasons. First, its tone is irenic, gracious, and humble. Second, its participants trust the Christian integrity of the other conversation partners. Third, it takes the authority of Scripture seriously as participants grapple with the implications of biblical interpretation in light of scientific discovery. Fourth, the Southern Baptist theologians serving as moderators are effective in guiding and focusing the conversation as they call for clarification and further elaboration from both sides. Finally, this conversation takes for granted the strong evidence for an ancient earth, allowing the discussion to push past the young-earth versus old-earth debate to far more pressing issues needing attention within the Christian community”
—Paul Copan, professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University, coeditor of The Dictionary of Christianity and Science
“Origins, particularly human origins, continues to be a controversial issue among evangelical Protestants. In Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?, the organizations BioLogos and Reasons to Believe model a respectful interchange of ideas in spite of their significant differences. The result is an intelligent and illuminating discussion of this crucial and timely topic.”
—Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College
This book was provided by IVP Academic. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a positive review.
About Book Briefs: Book Briefs are book notes, or short-form book reviews. They are my informed evaluation of a book, but stop short of being a full-length book review.