“Science” can be somewhat of an offensive word to many evangelical Christians today. Especially when the science deals with the origin of species and seems to contradict the biblical account of creation. Their concern is understandable. If what we observe in the natural world contradicts what the word of God says, of course we should side with the infallible scriptures.
However, “Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins” seeks to “diffuse tensions by taking the inspiration and authority of the Bible seriously while respecting and honoring God’s revelation through creation.” A good portion of the beginning of this 700 page volume deals with interpretation and exegesis. Granted, many people will disagree with certain conclusions made, but the important principles of interpreting are present and explained in the opening chapter Principles and Methods of Biblical Interpretation. I think it is important to note this quote from point 1.2.3 “First, it is important to affirm that the truth of Scripture cannot be compromised. Truth is truth, and if we dilute scripture’s meaning to accommodate a scientific theory, we do the Bible a disservice.” So it would be wise to approach this book with an understanding that its authors are not simply trying to read their understanding of science onto the text. While a greater understanding of science has inspired many to reexamine what scripture might be saying does not necessarily mean that they are reading science into the Bible.
That being said, I am certainly cautious of the authors’ statements and assertions in various places. For example, in regards to the extent of the flood the ideas presented will make many fundamentalists uncomfortable. On page 242 there is a thought provoking list of logistic problems for believing in a global flood such as the rate of receding floodwaters, the dove flying at such high elevations, the amount of fresh water and other supplies needed for survival on the ark, etc. all of which are much more elegantly laid out in the book. The author of this portion does note that advocates for a global flood have formulated responses to some of the objections. Regardless of my personal view, I found this portion to be challenging and inspiring of deeper study.
Unfortunately, I do not have much background in science and it has been a while since I took any formal classes on the topic, so I cannot really interact with a lot of the science of the book. However, at the end of each section is a chapter which focuses on the section in Christian perspective. These chapters I enjoyed the most, though there is scripture discussed throughout and many theological implications for the scientific explanations.
There are small sections interspersed throughout titled “Going Further” which explore interesting facts and how things work. Similar to this are the “Brief Biographies” of significant Christians who have contributed in some way to science such as Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Adam Sedgwick, and Theodosius Dobzhansky.
The question on most evangelicals minds when they see the title of the book is likely to be about Darwinian evolution. Naturally there is a section on the origin of species and the diversity of life and another on human origins (both titled as such) but other topics are also addressed such as cosmic origins and geologic history, which was surprisingly fascinating to me.
There are 5 contributing authors. The back of the book lists their names as well as their qualifications which I’ll copy here:
Robert C. Bishop (PhD, University of Texas) is associate professor of physics and philosophy and the John and Madeleine McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science.
Larry L. Funck (PhD, Lehigh University) is professor emeritus, having taught inorganic chemistry for over forty years.
Raymond J. Lewis (PhD, University of California, Santa Barbara) is associate professor of biology.
Stephen O. Moshier (PhD, Louisiana State University) is professor of geology and chair of the geology and environmental science department.
John H. Walton (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is professor of Old Testament.
Overall, I’d say I thoroughly enjoyed learning from this work, though I am cautious of some conclusions. “Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins” will most certainly cause young earth creationists and many evangelicals discomfort. Even so, I think this book is a wonderful resource for challenging what one believes and provoking deeper thought regarding scripture, creation and science in Christian perspective.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.