Each year, there are far more books published on science and faith topics than we at BioLogos could ever hope to cover. However, we do our best to highlight the best books, whether through reviews or interviews with the authors. (To see all of our book-related posts, click on the “books” tag above). Of these, a couple of books rose to the top of the pile. Here’s our incomplete and totally subjective list of books that impacted us the most in 2016 (most, but not all, were published this year).
I’ll start with my own favorites. The first is Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science by Mike McHargue, more commonly known as Science Mike. As I covered in my interview with the author, the book travels through Mike’s loss of faith and struggle to connect with God again. This is the perfect book for a person who wants to believe in God but is pathologically incapable of accepting easy answers. Mike is out to redeem doubt as a noble pursuit. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but the book made me think hard about what it really means to believe in God in a scientific age. Mike is totally uninterested in the tired categories of the past; he’s in the trailblazing business instead. I’m thrilled that Mike is one of the featured speakers for our March conference in Houston, TX.
My second favorite is Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science by Stacy Trasancos. I encountered Stacy through an interview someone forwarded to me. I was so blown away by the depth of her wisdom that I immediately emailed the link to a large group of friends and colleagues. Her book oozes with the same level of insight. Stacy has a unique way of taking a very complicated discussion and casting a genuinely fresh light on the subject that makes you go, “oh, wow, why didn’t I ever think about it like that before?” Particles of Faith lays out a new vision for how Christians can lead the cultural conversation about science and faith, rather than just defending a set of beliefs. The book is ostensibly meant for the Catholic conversation, but Christians of all traditions can (and should) benefit from it. For more, check out my interview with her last month.
Jim Stump’s picks:
Alister McGrath, Enriching our Vision of Reality: Theology and the Natural Sciences in Dialogue (SPCK, 2016). McGrath publishes a lot of books, so it didn't surprise me when I was in Oxford last month and saw a new one by him on the shelf at Blackwell's bookshop. I picked it up and had read through it by the time I got home. We have a recommended books page, and have always felt there should be a McGrath book on it, but we've never been too sure which one we should put there. I now think this is the one. It is a very nice explanation of his approach to science and theology, which he's been developing for a couple of decades now. The first three chapters are discussions of three important figures in his own life (Coulson, Torrance, and Polkinghorne); then he unpacks his view that theories are "ways of seeing." McGrath's quantity of output makes some people question its quality, but I think this book is very worthwhile reading for people interested in science and theology.
Malcolm Jeeves (editor), The Emergence of Personhood: A Quantum Leap? (Eerdmans, 2015). I've been reading a lot lately on the topic of human uniqueness. This book is a collection of essays that came out of an interdisciplinary workshop that attempted to answer the question, "How did personhood emerge?" For those familiar with the scientific literature on this topic, many of the names will be familiar (Tattersall, Renfrew, Ayala). But a strength of the book is that essays by these folks are set alongside essays by those from philosophy (Tim O'Connor) and theology (Anthony Thiselton and Alan Torrance). A weakness of the book is its lack of diversity. This is a common problem to many academic fields, but I'd suggest it is particularly acute when the topic is personhood.
Mike Beidler’s picks:
The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth: Can Noah's Flood Explain the Grand Canyon? by eds. Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson, Tim Helble, and Wayne Ranney. Contributions by Gregg Davidson, Joel Duff, David Elliott, Tim Helble, Carol Hill, Stephen Moshier, Wayne Ranney, Ralph Stearly, Bryan Tapp, Roger Wiens, and Ken Wolgemuth. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016) This is an absolutely gorgeous volume not only from a publishing standpoint, but from an apologetics perspective as well. As the contributors—comprised of both Christians and non-Christians alike—walk the reader, step by step, through the formation of the Grand Canyon, the reader can't help but obtain a basic knowledge of geological processes, radiometric dating, and paleontology. Although the book makes clear from the outset that the contributors share the belief that the earth is ancient (~4.6 billion years old) and that there is no possible way Noah's flood could have created the Grand Canyon as young-earth creationists commonly claim, the contributors are careful to treat young-earth creationists respectfully. They never once cast doubt on the validity of their target audience's faith. In fact, the editors' pastoral concern is quite evident by the careful manner by which they deconstruct special creationist arguments for a young earth and promote rethinking how to better synthesize the facts on (and under) the ground with biblical faith.
The Crossroads of Science and Faith: Astronomy Through a Christian Worldview by Susan Benecchi, Paula Gossard, and Gladys V. Kober. (Glimpse of His Splendor Publishing, 2015). Although I have not read the entire volume—it is, in fact, a textbook suitable for a college-level astronomy course—Part 1 stands apart from the rest and could, conceivably, stand on its own as a separate work worthy of publication. Part 1 introduces students to science-faith issues, helping them to discern metaphysical "worldview" from scientific "data.” It propels students toward a better understanding of what the scientific method entails and how faith differs from fact, all the while advocating a paradigm that successfully synthesizes scientific fact with students' (presumed) belief in God. This textbook does a phenomenal job of promoting the role of critical thinking in the successful analysis of facts and the recognition of fallacious argumentation (especially that used typically by either young-earth creationists or atheistic naturalists). Each chapter provides students with sample exercises designed to reinforce the textbook's material. Scattered throughout the entire volume are candid interviews from a plethora of well-respected astronomers who also share a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ as the Living Word of God and Creator of the cosmos. (For a sample chapter, visit this link) Crossroads is not only beautiful in look, but beautiful in intent, worthy of a place in every Christian's library.
Ted Davis’s pick:
James Stump, Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues. Books about religion and science are legion, but books as skillfully written as this one are uncommon. The research is impeccable, and the clarity of verbal and conceptual language commendable. The high standards of a respected academic publisher are fully met, but at the same time readers without much background in either science or religion ought to find it lucid and stimulating. I can’t think of a better candidate for a textbook in undergraduate courses, perhaps even for advanced high school students. Anyone who reads my columns will find this book accessible and stimulating: make time to read this one!
Casper Hesp’s picks:
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy by Michael Polanyi (1958). I read this one during my stay at L'Abri, Switzerland this year. It's really an old one and a tough read, but it impressed me. In this book, Polanyi expounded on how the personal nature of knowledge is an integral part of the sciences. Of course, that's an explicit rejection of scientism. It makes clear how important personal intimacy with subject matter is for real knowledge. Polanyi also found it necessary to include his perspective on "the Rise of Man,” as he calls it. I'm still not completely sure why this was part of the book, but you won't hear me complaining! As a Christian, Polanyi had no qualms with the evolutionary origin of mankind. However, he did strongly oppose formulations that exclude directionality in evolution. In his view, the overall course of evolution can be seen as a form of "maturation" towards personhood.
The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture by N.T. Wright (2005). In this book, N. T. Wright focuses on the storytelling aspects of the Scriptures in order to understand how they transmit God's authority. Authority becomes a far richer concept than simple "proof-texting" when it is placed in the context of God's overarching narrative. If you're an amazing storyteller, you make every sentence count. God invites us to take part in that ongoing story. Reading the Bible helps us to understand where we're going and which chapter we're at. [Editor’s Note: N.T Wright is also a speaker at our March conference!]