5 New Books on Science and Christianity
Summer reading ideas for those interested in thinking deeper about how science and Christian faith relate.
It is getting harder and harder to keep up with the literature on science and religion. I suppose that testifies to the growing interest in the subject, or at least to publishers’ beliefs that there is a growing interest! Either way, there is no lack of choices if you’re looking for something new to read this summer.
I’d like to think BioLogos is at least partly responsible for this bounty. There is a stack of new books sitting on my desk that we have had a hand in publishing. We are developing some online resources related to some of these, but given summer vacations and other projects, it might take some time for these to be finished. So for now we thought it might be worthwhile merely to draw your attention to a smattering of them (without any attempt to be comprehensive).
First is the latest addition to our ongoing series with Inter-Varsity Press (IVP) (BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity). It is called Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation, by Craig D. Allert. Craig is a professor of religious studies at Trinity Western University in British Columbia and has previously published A High View of Scripture? and Revelation, Truth, Canon, and Interpretation. This new book shows the breadth of interpretations of Genesis 1 that were parts of the conversation already in the first few centuries after Christ. Allert claims, “Much of our understanding of what the Bible teaches has come to us through the church fathers” (p. 15), but too often today the church fathers are only quote-mined as support for our interpretations. Early Christian Readings of Genesis One offers an opportunity for more productive engagement with the diversity of thought from the patristic period.
Another project BioLogos had a hand in producing is Finding Ourselves After Darwin: Conversations on the Image of God, Original Sin, and the Problem of Evil (Baker Academic). This is a collection of new essays put together by Stan Rosenberg, Michael Burdett, Michael Lloyd, and Benno Van Den Toren. They had a grant from BioLogos to host a lot of conversations on theological topics prompted by evolution. The book is the fruit of these conversations. When considering how to summarize the book in a paragraph for this post, I was surprised to find on the first page a paragraph summary I had already written! I got to see a pre-publication version of the book several months ago and was asked for my assessment. Here it is:
Too often reading books on science and religion by multiple authors feels like walking into a cramped room where everyone is shouting. This book feels more like entering a big open hall where there is room to breathe and room to think. It is not that anything goes—Christian theology has boundaries, what the contributors to this volume call “doctrines.” Doctrines such as the image of God, the universality of sin among humans, and the goodness of God have not been overturned by the science of evolution. But evolution has called into question certain ways of explaining those doctrines. The contributors to the book show that the Christian tradition has the resources to explore different ways of explaining these doctrines without leaving the building. They are to be commended for drawing us further into that space.
Denis Alexander was the long-time director of the Faraday Institute in Cambridge, and is a member of the BioLogos Advisory Council. His book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? has been a favorite of ours for his clear exposition of the science of evolution and his commitment to Christian theology. He has a new book: Is There Purpose in Biology? The Cost of Existence and the God of Love (published by Lion Hudson in the UK and Monarch in the US). He says in the introduction:
The question I wish to address in this book is this one: Is it necessarily the case, as these and other commentators [Dennett, Atkins, Dawkins, and Rosenberg] are suggesting, that biology in general, and the evolutionary process in particular, tells us that it has no purpose? (p.13)
He goes on to examine the different ways the word “purpose” is used, and argues that science itself is not up to the task of conclusively affirming or denying the metaphysical claim that our own existence is nothing but a lucky accident. Instead, all biology is done from within a worldview that includes extra-scientific commitment. This includes Christians, for whom the roots of biology in general, and evolution in particular, can find a home in a Christian understanding of creation. He concludes by noting that there are still theological challenges to evolution—especially the problem of evil, yet argues that the “costly price of existence is worth the price” (p. 17).
Our friends at the Colossian Forum have put together a new book of essays and excerpts called, All Things Hold Together in Christ: A Conversation on Faith, Science, and Virtue (Baker Academic). BioLogos didn’t help directly with this book, but we’ve had lots of interaction with the Colossian Forum, and I highlight it here because it brings a very different perspective to the work we’re engaged in. The book is edited by James K.A. Smith and Michael L. Gulker and goes far beyond the abstract topics typical of most science and faith discussions. The first two parts have very practically oriented essays under the headings “Creating a Community for the Conversation: Ecclesiology and Worship” and “Putting on Christ: Formation in Virtue.” How does this connect to science? Their claim is that cultural conflicts, like those between faith and science, should be “situated in the presence of God and amid the worship practices of his church.” And when we do that, these conflicts “can become gifts, a crucible by which Christ is formed in us” (p. viii). Parts 3 and 4 turn more toward science, with groups of essays called “Come Let us Reason Together: Tradition-Based Rationality” and “All Things Hold Together In Christ: Exploring God’s World.” For those of you who know the work of Jamie Smith, you won’t be surprised to find essays by Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, David Burrell, Rebecca DeYoung, and others. It is a stimulating collection, and we would all do well to see their point that our ultimate goal in science and faith discussions ought not be to win an argument, but to see Christ formed in us.
Finally, the last book is actually two new volumes edited by theologians Andrew Torrance and Tom McCall titled, Knowing Creation and Christ and the Created Order (Zondervan). Broadly speaking, the first volume is about the doctrine of creation, and the second about Christology. Each is composed of newly written essays that come at their topics from different disciplinary angles—appropriately designated by the subtitle which is common to both volumes: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy, and Science. You’ll find essays in these books by some people who have a formal relationship with BioLogos, like the following:
- John Walton, “Origins in Genesis: Claims of an Ancient Text in a Modern Scientific World”
- Denis Alexander, “Creation, Providence, and Evolution”
- J.B. Stump, “Explaining the Created Order: Scientific and Personal Images”
- Deb and Loren Haarsma, “Christ and the Cosmos: Christian Perspectives on Astronomical Discoveries”
The book also includes essays by many others who have written for us, like N.T. Wright, Ruth Bancewicz, James K.A. Smith, Mark Harris, and Tom McLeish. These volumes are rich in insights and ought to be required reading for anyone who takes seriously the task of working out the fundamentals of our faith in the world as we find it today.
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