Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.
"Controversies over evolution excite every bit as much passion early in the 21st century as they have ever done." So say Mark Noll and David Livingston and so say we all! We have plenty of experience of the issue of origins--biblical and scientific--causing an uproar among believers in Jesus. This is a book that I would call "state of the art" in this controversy. The editor, Keith Miller, a geologist, has been deeply engaged in this struggle much of his life. Here he has recruited contributors to the discussion from all the relevant sciences, from history and from theology. Most are ASA members. True, there are no young earth creationists or "ID" (intelligent design) perspectives, but it is an argument encompassing the best thoughts from the perspective of what the book's title suggests: "evolving creation."
The contributors range from astronomers through biochemists, biologists, paleontologists, environmental scientists, historians, geologists, theologians, and psychologists. Indeed, I would say that whatever questions you have had about the origins issue in terms of science-biblical interface have been addressed here. I must confess some of the answers strike me as very speculative, and with some I personally disagree, but I believe they are bravely facing every issue you could think of raising. It covers the whole of Genesis 1-11, but primarily the creation of the universe, of life on earth, and of human beings in the first relationships with God.
Some of this is quite consonant with a volume of biblical studies on Genesis 1-11 by Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (InterVarsity Press, 1984), but Perspectives on Evolving Creation is mostly from a perspective of science, very technical in some places, full of good illustrations and tables and references. This book would make an ideal text for a semester or year-long course at the university level. A beautiful feature is that interspersed between the chapters are brief devotionals offered by the various writers of the chapters, many of them focusing on the Psalms but with works of art, photographs, and other opportunities for the eye (as well as the words for the brain), giving us an invitation to lift our hearts and minds to God in the context of what we read.
Here follow some quotes to whet your appetite. From the excellent biblical, theological study of the first chapters of Genesis, this from Conrad Hyers:
When we examine the Genesis account of origins in its own terms and its own historical context, it becomes apparent that we have something that is considerably different from that of the natural sciences. It has a theological agenda aimed at affirming a monotheistic reading of the cosmos and rejecting the prevailing polytheistic reading. None of its phrasing or organization or use of numbers corresponds to the methods and materials of the natural sciences. This does not imply that Genesis is to be seen as unscientific or antiscientific or even prescientific, as if superseded by better methods of understanding the world. The materials of Genesis 1 are nonscientific; they offer a different kind of map of the universe and our place within it (p. 32).
In his chapter, Loren Haarsma comments on the discussions over "methodological naturalism" and has this to say on the general principles:
Is it possible to scientifically prove that God superseded natural laws in a particular event? Or does science rule out any possibility of such things? A practical understanding of what science can and cannot do should warn us against either extreme. Scientists seek to understand puzzling events and puzzling processes. When faced with a particular puzzling event, science can neither prove nor disprove that natural laws were superseded. What can science do? Science tries to build a quantitative, empirical model of the event using its understanding of natural laws plus information about the physical conditions before, during, and after the event (p. 84).
The following interesting footnote responds to some of the comments of the Intelligent Design movement writers. Terry Gray and co-chapter writer Loren Haarsma comment:
... Whatever might be said, good or bad, about the scientific and theological arguments of Intelligent Design theory, we are troubled by the appropriation of the word "design" to exclude evolution. Intelligent Design theory, the way it is typically presented, seems to offer the following choice: either modern life forms evolved or they were designed. That is a false choice. Christian theology says that modern life forms were definitely designed by God, whether God used ordinary evolution or superseded it" (p. 289, Footnote 2).
The book concludes with two chapters dealing with evolution and original sin and with evolution, cognitive neuroscience, and the soul. In order to be well informed, I recommend that you read this book, pass it on to others, and prayerfully and thoughtfully interact with the many references and arguments contained in it to shape your own perspectives on this issue.
Reviewed by Terry Morrison, Director Emeritus, InterVarsity Faculty Ministry, PO Box 7895, Madison, WI 53707-7895.