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Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Perspectives on an Evolving Creation: A Review of Keith Miller's collection of essays

For most evangelicals wanting a friendly introduction to evolution from an evangelical perspective, one of the books I reviewed yesterday is adequate. However, I suspect that many readers grappling with both the science and the faith implications of biological evolution will need much more. I highly recommend Perspectives on an Evolving Creation edited by Keith Miller. This is collection of more than 20 essays written by primarily evangelical specialists including cosmologists, biologists, biochemists, anthropologists, geologists, historians, theologians, philosophers, and psychologists.

The entire second section (chapters 6-13) on the scientific evidence and theory is particularly good. Chapter 6 surveys the evidence for an ancient universe; Chapter 7 for an ancient earth. Chapter 8 reviews the evidence in the fossil record for common descent. This is of particular interest to evangelicals who have been repeatedly told that there "are no transitional fossils". Chapter 9 deals with the fact that most body forms appear "instantaneously" in the fossil record during the Cambrian epoch around 500 million years ago. Some anti-evolutionists have interpreted this “Cambrian Explosion” as evidence for special creation rather than continuous, gradual creation.. Chapters 10 and 11 deal specifically with the evidence for human evolution, while chapter 12 surveys the evidence for evolution from biochemistry. Chapter 13 is a direct rebuttal of Intelligent Design proponents who claim that the random, chance mechanisms of Darwinian evolution could not have resulted in earths amazingly complex organisms.

I found three essays in the third section on "Theological Implications" particularly helpful. In Chapter 14 Howard Van Til considers the implications of a universe that is capable of "creating itself". He argues that this in no way implies atheism and refers to it as a "Generously Gifted Creation". In Chapter 16 George Murphy examines the implications of evolution in the light of the crucified incarnate God. Finally, in chapter 20, Robin Collins proposes how evolution can be reconciled with the doctrine of Original Sin. (Frankly, this is an issue with which I still struggle).

Chapter 5 may be the best of the book. In "Does Science Exclude God? Natural Law, Chance, Miracles and Scientific practice" Loren Haarsma tackles some of the toughest questions regarding the interaction between evolutionary evidence and faith. He demonstrates that "Chance" in evolution is not an alternative explanation for God, that science (and evolution) is not intrinsically atheistic, that science does not exclude miracles, and that scientific explanations do not imply the absence of divine action. And he does it while writing one of the most readable, accessible chapters in the book.

Minor disappointment with the book: There was no index at all. Even books targeted to the general reader (eg. Falk & Collins books reviewed yesterday) have at least short indexes. Not sure why this more academic volume does not. Also, I would definitely have liked to see a bibliography or at least a "recommended further reading list".

In summary: There are very, very few books published that cover the intellectual ground like "Perspectives on an Evolving Creation". When you have a very limited choice, its fortunate when one of those choices is so good. I heartily recommend it.


ben said...

I appreciated and benefited from this book very much myself, Steve. Thanks for an excellent resource in this site, and your eBooks. I continue to wrestle with the implications of theistic evolution on many levels - Ben DeVries (Not One Sparrow, a Christian voice for animals)

Steve Martin said...

Hi Ben,
Welcome to the wrestling club. And thanks.

Daniel O said...

Hi Steve,

"Welcome to the wrestling club"

That is soooo true........ : )