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.
Don’t want a fight unkleE but what 5 dating methods did he use to date the earth? And could you explain a bit more about how teeth evolution is evidence consistent with evolution?
Hi Chaz, I appreciate and share the sentiment not to want a fight.
Correction: there were 4 dating methods, not 5. I think I wrongly included a page heading in with my count of sub-headings, sorry – I will correct the text. His 4 dating methods are:
1. Layers deposited on earth (yearly accumulations at the bottom of lakes, coral reefs, polar ice sheets).
2. Time markers and radiometric dating (Potassium-argon in volcanic ash, uranium-lead).
3. Geological column and Timetable (sequence of fossils).
4. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
The shape and location of teeth change over time, and the pattern found in fossils (i) match the predictions of evolution and don’t match the predictions of young earth creationism and (ii) demonstrate transitions between species (e.g. reptile to mammal, land animals to whales, etc).
His dating claims aren’t anything new (see here for magnetic reversals: http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/HydroplateOverview3.html) so he seems to be a uniformitarian of sorts. His teeth thesis seems to be a case of assuming the conclusion by not questioning the fossil dating.
UnkleE, I think this is a relevant observation by Chaz. Does Lamoureux discuss the dating, too, or refer to sources that cover dating (I consider that a reasonable substitute – it is unreasonable to demand a treatment of any detail in such a book)? Otherwise it will never convince YECs.
ChazIng, may I ask you what do you think of the idea that our timelike dimension “developed” from a fourth spatial dimension?
Hi IN, Chaz and I already agreed that we had already discussed this stuff without any progress and neither of us wanted a fight, so I don’t think the matter is worth pursuing. Lamoureux gives references (as you’d expect from an academic), and says that most of what he says is in standard geology textbooks.
Hi ignorantianescia, it is commonly thought that we exist in a 4D universe though I would say 5 (by adding velocity). It is possible that our cosmos is a derivative of another more complex one (beware, I am not a cosmologist). However, I am not so certain that this is biblically possible. It may be that we are simply unable to perceive this additional dimension because our spiritual eyes (the eyes for that extra dimension) have been closed when our soulish eyes were opened (Gen 3:7). Additionally, some posit that we are like fish in water, i.e. not able to perceive another dimension because of familiarity (and inherent limitations) with our ‘reality’.
Yes, but then his thesis is not based on experimental data but soft interpretative geological data which could be flawed. This is why Ken Ham carps incessantly about historical (interpretative) vs observational (experimental) science divide. He is quite correct at least on this point which is why I said that Lamoureux seems to be assuming the conclusion.
The sentiment is understandable but the quest for truth (as elegant and/or monstrous as that might be), should be the focus. Most people will not be convinced of anything regardless of what evidence is presented.