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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A wonderful book about origins

I'm out-of-country right now and have been blessed with many hours to read books I would otherwise have been hard-pressed to get around to.

Among those I've been reading, I just finished Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, & Evolution by Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma and Beyond the Firmament by Gordon J. Glover.

I am so grateful for my correspondent (I can't remember his name at the moment) who told me about them. They have satisfied me in several ways that no books having to do with origins have satisfied me . . . in quite some time.

I was impressed with David Snoke's A Biblical Case for an Old Earth when I read it a couple of years ago. I sensed he attempted to handle much of the biblical text with care and integrity. But when all was said and done, it seemed pretty obvious to me that he was permitting his "science" to push his "exegesis" into some rather "interesting" corners I doubted the original human authors--much less God Himself--would have intended the text to go.

But now come the Haarsmas and Glover.

I read the Haarsmas' book first. I appreciated their even-handed summary of the amazing diversity of approaches to origins taken by Christians of all different stripes. Beyond that, they provide a number of useful analogies and forced me to think new thoughts I had never considered before. One example, from the book's Introduction:
What causes the rain? Most of us were taught how water evaporates from the ground level, rises to where the air is cooler, and condenses into water droplets that form clouds. We learned how cold fronts and warm fronts and low pressure systems bring rain. When we watch meteorologists on television, we hear that scientists now use sophisticated computer models to help them understand and predict the weather a few days in advance. Their ability to understand meteorology is especially important for farmers, airline pilots, military personnel, and coastal residents. Every year, scientists develop increasingly accurate computer models of the weather.

Now imagine that debates arise about what should be taught in schools about the weather. Imagine that prominent scientists write popular books about meteorology that state, "From our scientific understanding of the causes of wind and rain, it is clear that no divine being controls the weather." Imagine that a professional organization of science teachers writes a set of guidelines that state, "Students must learn that all weather phenomena follow from natural causes; weather is unguided and no divine action is involved."

Meanwhile, other people insist that these scientific explanations of rain and wind must be wrong because the Bible clearly teaches that God governs the weather.1 These people write books and give public speeches saying, "Atheists have invented their godless theories about evaporation and condensation. But we can prove that their so-called scientific theories are false and that the Bible is true." They go to churches and teach, "If you believe what these scientists are saying about the causes of wind and rain, then you've abandoned belief in the Bible." They petition school boards and courts to require that science classrooms also teach their "storehouses" theory of the weather as an alternative explanation to evaporation andcondensation. . . .

Fortunately, we don't have such debates about what causes the weather. The majority of Christians say that when it comes to the weather, both science and the Bible are correct. God governs the weather, usually through the scientifically understandable processes of evaporation and condensation. And the majority of atheists today would also agree that having a scientific explanation for the weather, by itself, neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. So there are no court battles about what science classrooms should teach about the weather.

Debates about creation, design, and evolution have some similarities to the above example. . . .
--pp. 8-9
Except, say the Haarsmas, the creation-evolution-design debates are more complex.

Indeed, they say the purpose of their book is "to lay out a wider variety of options [than the two options of young-earth creationism v. old-earth evolutionism] and to examine what both the Bible and the natural world can teach us about these options." They seek to "explore in depth the issues of origins and consider where [evangelical] Christians generally agree with each other and areas where [evangelical] Christians disagree.

"Our goal," they say,
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. We will
  • summarize what we believe God's Word teaches about origins when it is studied using sound principles of interpretation.
  • summarize what we believe God's world can reliably reveal about origins when it is studied using sound scientific methods.
  • distinguish between scientific theories that are well-established and have a great deal of data supporting them and scientific theories that are more tentative and speculative.
  • look at the range of opinions that Christians hold about origins and discuss some of the pros and cons of each in light of what we can learn from God's Word and God's world.
--pp. 9-10
As I read their chapter summaries (pp. 10-11), I thought they just might be right: they would dramatically expand my horizons. I mean, when was the last time you read a popular-level book that set out to "consider God's governance in four areas: explainable natural events, unexplainable natural events, supernatural miracles, and random events" . . . much less "four concordist interpretations of Genesis 1 . . . [and] five non-concordist interpretations of Genesis 1 and then [discuss] all of these interpretations in light of [fundamental conservative] principles of biblical interpretation"?

I was blown away. Not merely by the summary (frankly, I didn't know what "concordist" and "non-concordist" even mean--so the fact that they could suggest there are nine clearly distinguishable interpretations of Genesis 1 . . . let alone that four are concordist and five are non-concordist: well, that impressed me!). But, far more, I was impressed by the Haarsmas' actual performance.

By the end of the book, I think you can tell, pretty clearly, "where they are coming from." But I don't know if I have ever read such an even-handed presentation of such a wide variety of perspectives on any subject.

I look forward to pushing Sonlight Curriculum to carry this book!

1 The Haarsmas note: "Many Bible passages proclaim that God causes rain and drought (see Deut. 11:14-17; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Job 5:10; 37:6; Jer. 14:22). Writers of Deuteronomy, the Psalms, and Jeremiah refer specifically to storehouses of rain and snow (see Deut. 28:12, 24; Ps. 135:7; Jer. 10:13)."