Aug 13

Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Edited by Norman C. Nevin ????

This is probably the last evolution book that I’m going to read and review for a while. This compilations of essays were written by British authors, mostly as a response to Denis Alexander, and British counterpart to USA’s Francis Collins in advocating theistic evolution. The book was recommended by World Magazine as a top read of the year, so it made sense to complete my evolution reads with this text. In all, I appreciated the mixture of a strong Biblical response with the provision of a scientific defense for creation. The scientific data was a rehash of much that I’ve read in the past and recently reviewed volumes. If I hadn’t grown weary of creation vs. evolution texts I’d probably have given it a higher recommendation. I agree with World that this is a superb summary defense for a Biblical approach to creation/evolution.

 

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Aug 13

Genesis 1-4

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Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, by C. John Collins ?????

This book offers a detailed analysis of the first four chapters in Genesis in an attempt to bring clarity to our understanding as to the events of creation and the first few years of man on earth. Collins certainly possesses the necessary credentials, having an advanced degree in the sciences from MIT, as well as further M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees in theology and linguistics. I have heard criticisms of Dr. Collins, mostly related to him having abandoned a Biblical approach to Genesis, and having caved in to the the god of Science. Thus, the reading of this text was done in a critical fashion. I have found that the exact opposite of his critics is true. Jack Collins is a breath of fresh air in conservative scholarship, neither giving in to modernist approaches to creation nor to traditional theories of creation. Instead, Collins maintains a prevailing stance of the preeminence of Scripture over science, and that is seen on each and every page of this text. True, he doesn’t subscribe to a 24-hour young earth interpretation of Genesis 1, yet, he offers substantial support to an old earth hypothesis that allows for a 6 day creation in God’s time.

The flow of the book is somewhat different from what I’m used to in that the sources, authorship, and purpose of Genesis is left to the end of the book, and for good reason for one reading the text from front to back cover. He initiates the book with his method of discourse analysis. He briefly explores the questions that Genesis is trying to answer. He then does a step-by-step analysis on a linguistic basis of the four pericopes of Genesis 1-4, interestingly and for good reason, including the Cain and Abel pericope and aftermath.

Collins concludes the book first with a discussion of source criticism, laying claim that even if one were to identify various sources, it doesn’t contribute to analysis of the book, since the book was masterfully compiled by Moses in a manner that leaves it as a unity rather than a fragmented mishmash. He then puts on his science background hat to explore the claims of Genesis in the light of modern science, but refuses to force science and Genesis into two separate realms. Thus the book concludes by showing how Genesis 1-4 establishes a very distinct Judeo-Christian world view.

My greatest appreciation for this book was that Collins always held a high view of Scripture, and never allowed science to preempt Scripture. Collins maintained a sense of humility toward questions that could not be answered in Genesis even in the light of the remainder of Scripture. Collins offers a forceful and cogent response to the source critics. Of particular note is the hypothesis that Gen. 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25 are two different creation stories that a redactor sloppily reassembled. Unfortunately, many “conservative” scholars have concurred with this hypothesis. Rather, Collins shows how Gen 2:4-25 was a masterful clarification of the sixth day of creation.

In all, this is one of the better books that I have read on the early Genesis pericopes, and I laud Collins for his perspicuity and insights over a controversial topic. This book is highly recommended to all who have a passing interest in the various debates regarding old and young earth creationism.

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Aug 13

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins

I have recently reviewed one of Jack Collin’s other books on Genesis 1-4. This text addresses a limited portion of that other book, focusing on a theological as well as scientific argument for the existence of a single pair of people forming the source and basis for the remainder of humanity.  There is a moderate amount of repetition between this book and the Genesis 1-4 text, and yet sufficient distinction to make both books worth reading. Collins seems to mostly be directing his arguments toward the new thinking of Theistic Evolution, and specifically countering arguments of the BioLogos forum that states that man evolved from hominids in the distant past, slowing acquiring their distinction as humans with a relationship to god. Briefly, Collins engages in an analysis of the key Adam and Eve texts throughout Scripture, and substantiates the importance of a single Adam and Eve character for the development of the whole of Christian theology. Throw out the traditional Adam and Eve and you result in a Christianity of a completely alien character to what we know. Thus, Adam and Eve must be more than theoretical or abstract constructs.

Three appendices at the end of the book were of great value to read in addition to the main text, and thus must not be skipped. The first dealt with a discussion of other ancient creation and flood texts that archeologists have made available to us. The second demonstrates Collin’s mind in reviewing James Barr, showing Collin’s ability to glean valuable insights from a writer that tends to lace his writings with what might be called theological rubbish. The third appendix is a brief discussion of timing in Genesis.

This is a short book to read, and can be handled by the usual person in several long evenings. The insights from this book offer valuable arguments against much of the trends in theistic evolution, as well as theological discussions that must be the thinking of all orthodox Christians. I would advise that Collin’s other text Genesis 1-4 be read before this text, and hopefully someday he merges the two texts into one tome.

 

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Jul 25

God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards ????

This text is written by a number of scholars at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, WA from an Intelligent Design perspective to counter the theistic evolution movement. Surprisingly many evangelical theologians and pastors have given their imprimatur to the theistic evolution movement, including Bruce Waltke, Philip Yancey, Os Guinness, Robert Schuler (?), Tim Keller, and Mark Noll to name a few. The theistic evolution movement argues that their stance is consistent with an orthodox reading of Scripture held in an inerrant fashion. This book seeks to establish that theistic evolution falls out of the traditional Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish beliefs.

The first emphasizes the importance of correct thinking on evolution. Richards  and West argue that errors in thinking on evolution has led to such heresies as gnosticism and deistic views of God. Richards identifies prominent Christian leaders like Tim Keller, who seem entirely inconsistent and poorly thought out on his evolution beliefs. Ultimately, the bioLogos movement tends to destroy more theological truths, including a rigorous view of the fall, and a denial that God is present and active in this world. Collin’s efforts to make evolution compatible with a strict view of Scripture has not engendered acceptance of the atheistic evolutionist crowd, primarily because evolution is much more than a scientific theory, but rather a complete belief system about the universe. Luskin spends a chapter detailing why theistic evolution will never appease the atheists in the crowd. Of greatest perplexity is Francis Collins’ strong reaction against the Intelligent Design movement. Attempts at reconciling science and religion had led to the proposal of differing spheres of influence (NOMA), which again reflects confused thinking since science and religion regularly overlap, whether one is a theist or an atheist. Demski investigates the claim that theistic evolution gets God “off the hook” for creating evil, yet argues that is does nothing of the sort, since God remains directly or indirectly “responsible” for evil. Witt then focuses directly on Collins’s position, focusing on his anti-ID stance. In the process, Collins must maintain that the so-called imperfections of nature attest to an imperfect or clumsy God who can’t get things right the first time around (as though theistic evolution solves the problem!). Wells feels that Collins prematurely caved into his atheistic buddies in the science world, but seriously compromised himself in the process by not promoting the notion of a God as immediate creator of the universe. Richards details the belief system of Howard Van Till, showing how Van Till suggested a mechanism built into the system from the beginning by God  which would lead to the tendency toward the evolution of life, called the “robust formational economy principle”. To me, this sound much like an anthropic-teleological principle, with the entire system bent toward the non-random formation of humans. Yet, Richards argues that this is not how we see nature to be, and forms very shaky theological grounds. In the end, Van Till offers more confusion than direction. Van Till himself has since abandoned an orthodox view of God, even being rejected by the now quite liberal Calvin College. Meyer summarizes by suggesting the theistic evolution fails to solve any of the questions that they attempt to solve, i.e, why nature doesn’t seem to have a perfect construction, as defined by our current concept of what an ideal, perfect world (or biological organism) would look like.

The remaining chapters are the Catholic and Jewish argument against theistic evolution. For the Catholic, much discussion related to medieval concepts of nomism vs. realism, Aristotelian thinking in the mind of Thomas Aquinas, and the formal positions of the Catholic church. For the Jewish crowd, discussion of great minds such as Maimonides and traditional Jewish thought through the ages was details. Klinghoffer suggested that while the preponderance of Jews, whether reformed or orthodox,  have blindly accepted evolution as an explanation for the world without conflict with the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent thinking, this is a result of very poor thinking as to traditional Jewish belief systems.

In all, this book is a superb tour de force contra the theistic evolution crowd. It avoids the young earth/old earth controversy and focuses entirely on the problem Christians assuming that science must speak first, followed by us conforming our theological beliefs to science. To this end, I fear that many conservative theologians are gravely in error subscribing to theistic evolution. It leaves me wondering how my own denomination (the PCA) could close a blind eye to Tim Keller (perhaps because he has a large successful church) while forming a witch-hunt in a minor theological dispute with Peter Leithart.

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Jul 24

The Myth of Junk DNA, by Jonathan Wells ?????

The issue of Junk DNA has arisen from the claims that theistic evolutionists make arguing that the presence of “junk” DNA is proof that the genome was formed to a large extent from random events. Junk DNA refers to DNA in the genome that does not seem to encode any sort of protein. It is well known that the preponderance of our genome consists of “junk” DNA, and for the most part, its function is not well described. Oddly, the amount of “junk” DNA seems to vary among species, and particular attention is made to the presence of unusually high quantities of “junk” DNA in the onion genome. Wells effectively counters the limpid arguments of such scholars as Francis Collins in noting many discoveries that have shown “junk” DNA to play a role in the genome. First, he shows that much non-protein-coding DNA is still transcribed, and plays vital roles in gene regulatory events, oftentimes during embryologic development. Secondly, he shows how introns (also identified as “junk” DNA) play a significant role in post-transcriptional regulatory events. So-called pseudogenes (genes which are active in some species but “defective” in others) oftentimes also are transcribed and involved in regulatory events. Further chapters detail how other aspects of non-protein-coding DNA are useful in sundry aspects of cell division and growth, such as the necessity of this “junk” DNA to permit centromere function. Wells makes no claim to fully understand the functions of the entirety of the genome, but insists that it is arrogant to ascribe an absence of utility for biological entities whose usefulness is not yet understood. He more than capably destroys the idea that junk DNA is an argument for theistic evolution and against intelligent design.

I took a class in graduate school in 1986 that was in the department of molecular biology and whose subject was pre- and post-transcriptional genomic regulation. Already, much evidence was known that seemed to be dismantling a strict Watson-Crick schema of protein production. Though much of the class was a little over my head in terms of research details, the basic concept of a much greater complex schema of cell regulatory events was already clear. Proteins, chromatin, large and small RNA elements all seemed to play a confusing role in turning genes on and off, in determining what would be translated, and what would be stable versus transitory mRNA elements. This book shows that our knowledge of gene regulatory events has creeped forward a touch. We are still left with an enormous vacuum of understanding as to how the cell truly regulates itself throughout its lifetime. Evolutionists, regardless of whether they are of the theistic vs. atheistic variety, glibly fill in the missing facts with the assumption that science will ultimately answer everything. In reality, they are creating a belief system which I call science-of-the-gaps, which is far more perverse than the God-of-the-gaps accusation directed toward creationists or intelligent design adherents. Creationists of all stripes will admit that science may offer some explanations of the large voids in our knowledge, and that doesn’t do violence to the creationist stance. Evolutionists would never concede that much of their gaps will always remain gaps, since their theory cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of the world as we see it. Their arguments are not won by the force of reason but by the force of arrogant proclamation. I commend Wells for offering solid reason to admit that there is much to yet learn about the genomic structure. Being head of the NIH does not confer Collins the role of science-Pope who can speak ex cathedra for God in matters of evolution, and this book skillfully demonstrates a lacuna in Collins’ thinking.

 

 

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