This series is done in conjunction with our BioLogos Book Club, which is discussing Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Deborah and Loren Haarsma. Each post will cover a chapter or two of the book, digging into the tough questions and connecting the questions to each author’s unique faith story. This week’s entry begins with a series foreword by Ted Davis, followed by a reflection drawn from chapters 1-2 written by Carol Acree Cavalier. The next blog post, covering chapters 3-4, will be on September 26.
Foreword by Ted Davis
One of my first columns for BioLogos recommended some books about the origins controversy that would be good starting points for many of our readers. The first title on my list was Origins, by Deborah B. Haarsma and her husband, Loren D. Haarsma. Keep in mind that I wrote several months before Deb was named president of BioLogos—I wasn’t angling for a pay raise. My enthusiasm for the book arises mainly from my experience as a teacher of Christianity and science, but also from my experience as a Christian believer and church member.
I started teaching about science and the Bible almost forty years ago, at a small Christian high school in Philadelphia. My lectures have changed considerably since then—partly because I now teach college students and partly because I then knew so little about it—and my courses go well beyond that important but narrower topic into many other aspects of Christianity and science. One thing, at least, has not changed at all, when it comes to my teaching: the need for a clear, simple but very thoughtful book about the various ways in which evangelicals have thought about origins, a book that I can put into the hands of my students with a realistic expectation that they will read it with appreciation and understand it fully. Of the many books that have been written about origins and the Bible, few are viable candidates for this role. In my opinion, the Haarsma book is at the top of the list. I’ve used it several times in three different classes at Messiah College. Many students have told me (outside of class when they don’t have to offer an opinion) that they like it and have learned much from it.
It’s not hard to see why. Although it’s published by the Christian Reformed Church, a Calvinist body, Christians from other traditions also find much food for thought here. Most Christians have heard many of the same things about origins, regardless of their church background. What they need most is a guide who can lead them through the confusing wilderness of ideas into a place of relative simplicity where they can reliably rest. You can’t do justice to the complexity of the issues if you start with simplicity, but you can reach simplicity on the other side of complexity by reading this book. The recommendations for further reading and the accompanying web site add high quality resources for those who want to go deeper.
But you don’t have to be a student to be in the same situation as my students. Although the Haarsma book is ideal for college classes, it’s no less ideal for church classes—or, for individual readers who just want someone to help them sort all of this out. It’s a book that can be read effectively in small doses or all at once, sentence by sentence or chapter by chapter. For many readers, new ideas will abound and old ones will be placed in a new light. And all of it is highly reliable, whether the topic is biology, astronomy, or biblical studies. Whether or not one agrees with their viewpoint, readers can expect fair presentations of other views and honest assessments of different opinions.
Reflection by Carol Acree Cavalier
Like many evangelicals, I was taught that “sola scriptura” is the only guide for understanding who God is and how to live in relationship with Christ. The Bible is all we need. But what I missed is that the Bible itself says the Creation, too, reveals God. I knew the verses telling that the heavens declare God’s handiwork, and that God’s power and nature are understood “through what has been made.” But I always thought of these primarily as declaring human smallness and accountability before God. What I didn’t see is that God invites us to examine “what has been made“ so that we can learn God’s ways of creating and sustaining the world. As with any great work of art or feat of engineering, we can study its parts to reconstruct the methods used to create it. Francis Bacon called Scripture and nature the “two books” written by God: we check our understanding of each by consulting the other. The idea of “God’s Word and God’s World,” as it is phrased in Ch. 1 of Origins, perfectly sums this up. God invites us to understand his power and nature through studying what has been made.
One person who tried to do this (and deserves more credit than he usually gets) is Archbishop James Ussher, who in 1650 famously calculated the date of creation as 4004 B.C. He’s even more famous for coming up with a startlingly specific date and a time of day for creation: the evening prior to October 23. He’s been both laughed at by many modern people for his exhaustive literalism and trusted by many young earth creationists for his careful scholarship. Recently I’ve seen some fellow homeschoolers refer to his date as authoritative, so I’ve thought a lot about him. What both camps usually overlook is that the beyond-Biblical nature of his answer came from using information, especially scientific knowledge, from outside the Bible. Ussher jumped right into the controversy then raging over whether the Sun revolved around the Earth or vice versa, and he came down squarely on the side of science (Galileo had died only 8 years before, and his work was still rejected by the Catholic Church). Ussher embraced the new science without fear. After deducing that creation had to happen in the autumn when tree fruit would be ripe, he used astronomical tables to find the autumn equinox, the day when the Earth’s orbit around the Sun would create a perfect balance between darkness and light. Although Ussher made interpretive guesses and lacked crucial undiscovered information, he used up-to-date research, and he expected God’s World and God’s Word to illuminate each other.I think he was doing what I’m trying to do: use the best information available to take both the Bible and the Creation seriously.
What about you? How do you see “God’s World” in relation to “God’s Word”?