Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution

Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution. Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2007. 255 pages.

There is a second edition published in 2011 but I did not have access to it. I plan on reading later.

This is one of the best books I have read on the controversy of creationism and evolution. One can tell the authors favor an old earth interpretation and accept the basic scientific consensus on evolution but they are fair in describing the different viewpoints. Their discussion of Intellectual Design was friendly toward that view. Even young earth creationism was fairly represented by the authors. The goal of the authors is to present the different options available so students can make an intelligent decision on what to believe.

Deborah and Loren Haarsma narrates a fictional story of a student based on the experiences of many people. The college student's name is Jennifer. She grew up in a Christian home. She was encouraged by parents, friends, and leaders in her church to attend the local university. She was warned to beware of atheists and professors who would attack her faith. During her first semester she met a Christian professor at a "Christian student fellowship group." Professor Bensen was a "successful scientist studying disease-causing bacteria." Jennifer decided to register for a biology course with this professor. She was surprised one day in class when he lectured on evolution. She went to see him after the class. Professor Bensen "explained that a great deal of scientific evidence clearly supports evolution" (147). Jennifer was confused by this encounter. She faced a dilemma: was her church leaders or Professor Bensen right? This sounds like a common experience students face in biology courses in both Christian and public universities. The authors make a good point: "Jennifer's parents and teachers were rightly concerned about evolutionism, but they put Jennifer in a painful position by giving her only two options: young earth creationism or atheistic evolutionism. When students are forced to choose between these two, they may either turn away from a career in science or pursue science but turn away from God. A far better approach is to teach young people about a range of positions on evolution, giving them some options for how to keep their faith when they encounter the theory of evolution" (159). This is a very important point made by the authors. Too often Christian students are unprepared for the challenges they will face at the university. The authors successfully provides information on various positions on evolution.

Both authors grew up in Christian Reformed churches. They were taught mostly the young earth creationism position in their churches. Deborah earned a Ph.D at MIT doing research on galaxies and the expansion of the universe. Loren earned a Ph.D in physics at Harvard University. They are professors of Physics and astronomy at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The authors argue that there are more than two options in the introductory chapter. They state, "our goal is not to convince you that one particular opinion must be correct, but neither will we merely list a wide variety of opinions without doing any analysis" (9-10). The authors believe faith and reason, science and religion are compatible. The first chapter discusses the relationship between science and the Bible. The authors believe God is sovereign over both science and theology.

In chapter two the authors analyzes worldviews and science. They believe worldviews are necessary for science. The authors note that Christian and theological beliefs "about God and the natural world provide ample support and motivation for doing science and a basis for understanding why science is successful" (35). In the next chapter they discuss three different types of scientific investigations: experimental, observational, and historical. All three are necessary for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Chapter four discusses how science and theology are two methods of interpretation of God's world and God's word. The authors think that both worldviews and science influence each other.

Chapters six and seven speak on concordist interpretations and non-concordist interpretations. In these chapters they present geological evidence for the age of the earth. Concordist interpretations are Young Earth Interpretation, Gap interpretation, Day-Age interpretation, and Appearance of Age interpretation. Non-Concordist interpretations are Visionary day interpretation, Proclamation Day interpretation, Creation Poem interpretation, Kingdom-Covenant interpretation, and Ancient Near East Cosmology interpretation. The authors seems to favor a non-concordist interpretation. They think geological evidence argues for a old earth.

Chapters seven through nine seem to be the core of the book. Chapter nine argues for an old universe and the Big Bang. Chapter eight discusses five different definitions of evolution: "Micro Evolution," "Patterns of change over time," "Common Ancestry," Theories of Evolution," and "Evolutionism." The authors believe all Christians can stand together against evolutionism. They state, "When the theory of evolution is used to argue for atheistic beliefs, it is rightly called evolutionism" (153). The authors describes three broad groups of Christians and their position on evolution: Young Earth Creationists, Progressive Creationists, and Evolutionary Creationists. They seem to think the scientific evidence is stronger for the Progressive Creationists and Evolutionary Creationists. Chapter nine discusses the evidence for "plant and animal evolution." This evidence includes fossils, comparative anatomy, biogeography, genetic similarity, and genetic diversity.

Young Earth Creationism is covered in the chapter on Concordist interpretations. The authors analyzes Intelligent Design in chapter ten. Intelligent Design is interpreted positively in this chapter, though the authors do not completely agree with this position. They disagree with how it has become a political issue. They focus on two arguments of Intelligent Design: fine tuning and biological complexity. They seem to completely agree with the arguments for fine tuning. The authors state, "Most Christians agree that although fine-tuning doesn't prove that God exists, the best explanation for fine-tuning is that God designed the universe" (183). In contrast, they think it is possible for evolution to explain biological complexity. The authors conclude that "both evolution and intelligent design could be true" (188).

Chapters eleven and twelve are probably the most controversial chapters because they discuss human origins. The authors list many options on human origins and they say they are not completely satisfied by any. The authors do a good job in presenting the many competing options on human origins. They list five different positions on Adam and Eve: "recent ancestors, recent representatives, pair of ancient ancestors, group of ancient representatives, and symbolic." The authors show how each option has its problems. They insist that the subject of human origins is still undecided among Christian scientists. The authors provide good guidance in leading the reader through the different "scenarios."

Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution is an excellent introductory text on the range of options that a Christian can take. They do a good job in fairly representing the views of Young Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, Progressive Creationism, and Evolutionary Creationists. The authors hold strong views of the Bible's authority. They believe God is soverign over science and theology. They also believe that God is the author of all truth, whether it is found in science or the Bible. This book is highly recommended for those interested in the topic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, V.1. Ignatius Press, 1986.

This is probably my favorite book by G. K. Chesterton. If you can read only one book by Chesterton, this should be it. Orthodoxy is in some sense a book of apologetics but not the type of apologetics' book typically read. Not many books on apologetics defends fairies and fairyland. In some sense this book is a defense of Christian humanism. Chesterton influenced both C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. The readers can see many of the truths Lewis drew from Chesterton in this book. For example, the date we live does not determine if miracles are believable. Chesterton states, "An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. . . . What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or century" (278).

Orthodoxy is Chesterton's statement of what he believes. He writes, "I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me" (211). Chesterton argues against the idea that Christianity or orthodoxy is boring. He thinks it is the great adventure. He believes it fulfills the need for the "life of practical romance." It contains both "something strange and something secure." Chesterton argues that the gigantic secret of Christianity is joy. He writes, "Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian" (365). Chesterton thinks Christianity fulfills the best of paganism: "The unpopular parts of Christianity turn out to when examined to be the very props of the people. The outer ring of Christianity is a rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests; but inside that inhuman guard you will find the old human life dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom"(362).

Chesterton, although he identifies himself as a rationalist argues for the importance of mystery, mysticism, and paradox. Chesterton states, "Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health" (230). He believes in the compatibility of faith and reason. Chesterton writes, "It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality" (236). Chesterton argues that the poets makes us sane: "Poetry is sane because it floats in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. . . . The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head" (220).

Chesterton was a defender of democracy, the common man, and common sense. He says the most important things must be decided by the ordinary man. Hi definition and defense of tradition is excellent: "Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death" (251).

Orthodoxy is a great read. It introduces to the romance of orthodoxy. We find out that it is not orthodoxy is boring. Instead, heresy is what truly is boring. Christianity is the fulfillment of the great hopes of paganism. Joy, not sour faces, is the true secret of the Christian life. Christianity teaches the goodness of the world and we are to praise our creator by rejoicing in it.

Will Campbell

Will Campbell died on June 3, 2013. Campbell was an active participant in the civil rights movement, Baptist preacher, and author. He described himself as a "bootleg preacher." Campbell "helped escort nine African-American students through mobs opposed to the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas." Campbell very early became a preacher without a church because of his involvement with integration. He was a friend of country singers and even toured with them as their chaplain.

Campbell was born in Amite County, Miss. I think his home was near to Jerry Clower, a famous Christian comedian. He was educated at Wake Forest University and Yale Divinity School. He was a pastor for a short time in Louisiana before he decided that God was calling him to a different ministry. Campbell said, "Either the steeples weren't ready for me or I wasn't ready for the steeples." He took a job as director of religious life at the university of Mississippi but stayed only for two years because "his support for racial integration drew hostility." He later worked for the National Council of Churches. He left the NCC in 1963 to become the Director of the Committee of Southern Churchmen. He would later move to Nashville where he spent the rest of his days on a small farm.

Campbell has written many books which I have enjoyed. My favorite book is probably, Brother to a Dragonfly. The book is autobiographical describing his relationship to his brother. It was nominated for the National Book Award. It is a great book. It describes how his brother got hooked on pain killers and the struggle to get off of them. My second favorite book is Glad River. This book is fiction. It is the story of three men and their journey to baptism. A third book I would recommend is Cecilia"s Sin. It is a fictional story of the Anabaptists and how they endured persecution and death. Another good book by Campbell is The Covention: A Parable, a fictional portrayal of the moderate-fundamentalist controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Will D. Campbell was a unique individual. He became a preacher at a young age. He continued to be a preacher without a church most of his life. The major theme in his life was grace. He believed God's grace was offered to all people. It didn't matter their race, gender, past, or any other barrier that would prevent them from accepting the gospel. He believed that the ground is level at the cross. We are all God's children through the blood of Christ.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Evolution and Christian Faith

Joan Roughgarden, Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist. Island Press, 2006. 155 pages. ISBN: 1597260983.

Joan Roughgarden, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University since 1972. She is also an active Christian in the Episcopal Church. The author lists her reasons for writing the book: "First, I want to provide a short and succinct statement of what evolutionary biology is, what it says and what it doesn't say. . . Second, I want to discuss what the Bible actually says, for the Bible too is often misrepresented. Third, I want to investigate the relationship between evolutionary biology and the Bible. . . " (5). The author hopes to show in this book how evolution and the Christian faith are compatible.

Topics discussed in this book are science and religion, the evidence for evolution, biblical interpretation, "Intellectual Design," "gender and sexuality," and future directions of evolution. In chapter one Roughgarden argues for a "single tree of life." In chapter two she argues that "the second fact of evolution is that species change" (24). In chapter three Roughgarden discusses interpreting Genesis literally and evolution. She notes, "For me the position that God created the world, and continues to crate it, through natural processes is not a compromise" (35). She is responding to critics who say if you do not interpret Genesis literally, you are compromising the Christian faith. She describes how changes occur in the next chapter. The author uses natural breeding to help explain how changes happen. "Random mutation" is analysed in chapter six. The next chapter wonders if evolution has a direction. She states, "evolutionary biologists are not of one mind that evolution is directionless, and some, including me, think it does usually have a direction of progressive adaptation to environmental conditions" (52). In chapter nine she describes some of the limits of evolutionary biology. The author disagrees with certain individuals in the Intellectual Design movement. She thinks "neo-Darwinism can account for complex structures" (89).

Roughgarden does not think there needs to be any conflict between science and religion. She seems to be a little hard on participants in the intelligent design movement. She is stronger when she is dealing with evidence of science than when she is discussing Biblical and theological issues. The author's motives are right. She wants to educate the public on the compatibility of religion and science.

Nearing Home by Billy Graham

Billy Graham, Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. Thomas Nelson, 2011. 182 pages.

Billy Graham is known as a world-famous author, preacher, and evangelist. He is now over ninety-two years old. He never thought he would live this long. Now that he has stepped down from an active ministry around the world, he has had much time to reflect on his life and old age. Graham says that "old age is not for sissies." Graham lost his wife in 2007. This book is not just for old people. Graham states, "This book, isn't written just for old people. It is written for people at every stage of life. . . The best way to meet the challenges of old age is to prepare for them now, before they arrive.

There is much wisdom in that statement. Old age is not the time to prepare for the journey's end. This agrees with what Cicero wrote in his excellent essay, "Old Age." Nearing Home is an excellent book not only teaching how to prepare for old age but how to live for God now. I found the book applicable to my life now even though I am not near old age.

Billy Graham has been a faithful servant to God for many years. He believes that older people can continue being useful for God even in old age. He provides much wisdom on handling the difficulties of old age. In addition, he provides much encouragement for followers of Christ in every stage of life.

In chapter one Graham speaks of "aging gracefully." He shares examples of biblical characters who were used by God in old age. For example, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, and others served God faithfully when they were older. Though we might retire from a job, Graham counsels us not to "retire from life" in chapter two. Graham notes, "Retirement should not put us on the shelf. We should use this time in our lives to rest from our labors but lift up others who are carrying heavy loads" (28). Ben Witherington says retirement is not mentioned in the Bible. We do not retire from serving God.

Nearing Home is a well-written book. Christians can learn much wisdom from Christians who have followed the Lord for many years. I recommend this book to both the young and the old. Wveryone who reads this book will be encouraged to follow Christ faithfully.