Last year I posted about how christians are gradually becoming more accepting of the theory of evolution.
As part of that post, I reviewed the work of Denis Lamoureux, Associate Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Alberta in Canada, based on some online slideshow teachings he has produced.
I have now read his book on the same subject. What’s it like?
More of the same
I really appreciated Denis’ online teaching – it was clear and thoughtful, and he came across as a likeable person. The book has the same qualities and covers much the same territory, only in significantly more detail.
The main themes of the book are:
- the necessity for christians to read both of God’s books – the book of God’s words (Bible) and the book of God’s works (science), and
- the Bible contains spiritual truths written in the language, culture and ‘science’ of the day – and therefore not in accordance with the science we know today.
A clever and knowledgable approach
Denis knows that what he writes about evolution will be difficult for many christians, especially in the US where young earth creationism is strongest, so he approaches the topic cleverly and with expertise (he has PhDs in both Old Testament theology and evolutionary science).
It’s not an either-or choice
He begins his argument by defining 5 different approaches to human origins, to show that it isn’t a black and white choice between Godless evolution and Godly 6-day creationism. He calls his choice “evolutionary creation”, which he regards as a more accurate term than “theistic evolution”.
What the Bible says
Before he begins to look at the science, he examines the Old Testament, and shows that:
- the language of Genesis reflects an ancient cosmology based on a three-tiered universe;
- the two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 & 2 differ in some significant details, because they had different perspectives (one cosmic, the other personal) and different purposes.
Thus he establishes his basis from the Biblical text itself, making it more difficult for those who disagree to write him off as ‘unbiblical’.
The evidence of science
Then he looks at the science, making the following points:
- The fossil evidence fits the predictions of evolution, not young earth creation. Here and elsewhere he illustrates some of the science with the evolution of teeth – not surprising since he also has a PhD in dentistry and his PhD in biology examined the evolution of teeth.
- The age of the earth, estimated by 4 different methods, is much older than young earth creationism requires. Most fascinating to me is the evidence from the mid Atlantic where two tectonic plates are moving apart and molten rock continues to fill the gap – and the magnetic polarity of the rock shows change over time.
- The evidence of transitional fossils points to evolution rather than de novo creation – four different examples are given.
Difficult questions raised
Lamoureux addresses the obvious difficulties with his ‘evolutionary creation’ approach – the image of God in humans, original sin, the sin-death problem and why did God choose evolution as his means of creation? I have long thought that original sin, as understood by many christians, was a quite unjustified doctrine, and I am pleased to see that Lamoureux comes to a similar conclusion.
He points out that coming to belief in evolution (after years as a creationist) has not weakened his faith, caused to him love Jesus less or caused him to read and value the Bible any less. This is obvious from the book and the online talks – I think of all ‘intellectuals’ or academics I have read in the last few years, Lamoureux is probably the most clearly devoted to Jesus.
Strengths and weaknesses
I have already alluded to some of the book’s strengths – easy readability, well-explained ideas, authoritative expertise, sensitive treatment of issues some christians may find difficult, and an approach which establishes his main points from the Bible before he addresses the science. The reader gets good information quickly, making the book well worth reading.
However I found it sometimes a little repetitive, as Lamoureux kept reinforcing his points, and I was a little put off by his insistence that while Genesis used ancient science (cosmology, biology and anthropology) it taught spiritual truths inerrantly. I suppose he felt this was a necessary emphasis for sceptical christian readers, but it makes me wonder:
- What he would say about the problems of the historicity and morality of some of Old Testament history? Peter Enns leaves me thinking that the Old Testament writers and compilers also used ancient concepts of historiography, but I wonder if Denis would be happy with that?
- I think the development in the Old Testament from non-literal story to historical accounts may be more gradual and take longer than he seems to allow – this was CS Lewis’ view too.
- And it isn’t always easy to identify and separate message (the ‘inerrant’ spiritual truths) and incident (the incidental details of science and local culture), as he admits.
But these are relatively minor criticisms. If you are at all interested in evolution vs creationism, this book is well worth a read.
- Buy the book at Amazon.
- Denis Lamoureux web page at Univeristy of Alberta
- Denis Lamoureux’s personal story of a journey from unbelief to faith and from 6-day creationist to evolutionary creationist in PDF and slideshow form.
- Slideshows: I love Jesus and I accept evolution and Beyond the evolution and creation debate.