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.

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