May 2022

Blood and Thunder

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides ★★★★

Hampton Sides masterfully assembles a picture of Kit Carson that is worth remembering. This book is the story of the life and times of Kit Carson. Carson was a short, not terribly muscular man, illiterate, yet succeeded in becoming a legend in his time. Many contemporary books about Carson were fiction paintings a super-human person, exactly what he was not. Yet, Kit Carson was a man most deserving of the highest honor. He left home at a young age, not wishing to be bound by an apprenticeship. He became a trapper in the wild west, where he learned various Indian languages as well as French and Spanish. His trapping experience and Indian language fluency allowed Carson to eventually serve as a mountain guide. He was greatly responsible for blazing the Oregon Trail. He also guided military missions in California and was as responsible as anybody in helping California gain freedom from Mexico. Numerous were his touches with death throughout his life. Kit Carson fought tirelessly to defend the Indian from thoughtless military action, though he served as a military guide to put down Indian misdeeds, eventually even acting as an Army colonel to quell Indian rebellions. Sides is fair in his treatment of the Indian nations, neither idolizing them or turning them into heroic innocent savages, nor of picturing them as subhuman beasts. Kit Carson seemed to show better balance than most regarding public policy toward Indian affairs.

This book is a riveting story of Kit Carson, a most amazing person. It is also the story of the US siege and conquering of the Southwest United States. Untold by Sides were the many eventual battles that would be fought to finally subdue the Indian tribes. Carson interacted with many other well-known characters, including Presidents Polk, Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant, as well as Fremont, Kerny, Sheridan and Sherman. He was well known (and often friends) of many of the great Indian chiefs at the time. Based out of his home in Taos, New Mexico, Carson seemed to be called away for duty more often than he was able to stay home. He had eventually fathered six children and adopted Indian kids. Sadly, both his wife and he died within a month apart, leaving penniless orphans to the care of distant relatives. Side stories in this book included glimpses into the Mexican campaigns, the western aspect of the Civil War, the numerous pre-civil-war Indian battles, the American conquest of California, most of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the numerous attempts to find something useful to do with the land of New Mexico. This book was a delightful reading experience, though the interweaving stories often left the reading to be a little choppy. I’m not sure what Hampton Sides could have done to prevent that. If you hold an interest in American history, then this is a fair, even-handed recounting of the Wild Southwest and Kit Carson.

Theistic Evolution

Theistic Evolution; A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, Edited by Moreland, Meyer, Shaw, Gauger, and Grudem ★★★★★

This book sat on my shelves for a number of months before I was able to read it, and even then, I interrupted the reading of this book in order to complete other books that needed my attention. It’s a thick text, and cannot be speed-read. Thus, there was a challenge of time in making it through the book while being able to savor its pages. There were many days on the back porch of our house (which was most conducive to reading) that afforded me the luxury of devouring this text.

This text is an expansive though not exhaustive compendium of a current intelligent design response to theistic evolution. There is no major “new” material. The essays represent a collection of some of the best thinking rebutting theistic evolution. Yet, the papers are well organized in order to offer a smooth flow of material for the reader who chooses to read the book from cover to cover. That is what I chose to do. The book, as the title suggests, breaks up the issues into the scientific critique, the philosophical critique, and then the theological critique of theistic evolution. I am not going to explain theistic evolution; if the reader of this book review doesn’t know the basic tenants of theistic evolution, then the best starting point would be to purchase this text and read it.

The scientific critique of theistic evolution is no different than the critique of atheistic evolution. To that end, there are a plethora of texts, including (some of the best texts) written by authors of this section, notably Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells, and others. There is no “bad” chapter in this section. There are more recent texts that have been published that would provide better source material for debate. Honestly, speaking as a scientist myself, I find this section personally supererogatory though essential in the public square. It is a bit of wonder that the “theory” of evolution as it is taught could be found so strongly believed by people who consider themselves the cream of human erudition. I would find the origin of life coming from little green men from the planet Xylon more believable than that of Darwin’s ramblings. Chapter 17 by Christopher Shaw “Pressure to Conform Leads to Bias in Science” particularly hit home to me, and was a real gem. One of my professors in graduate school had a sign over his desk that stated “The object of research was to get a grant”. Most laboratories operate to a large degree under that motto, since the cost of doing research is astronomical and it is impossible to have independent laboratories. Either the government or wealthy pharmaceutical firms are funding these ventures. Funding demands compliance with prevailing norms, which is precisely what Shaw is referring to in chapter 17.

The philosophical section is necessary since the philosophy of science itself is at stake. When science has lost its moorings, any craziness could be presented as “gospel” truth, and we are witnessing precisely that fact. This section also shifts toward specifically addressing the issue of theistic evolution. Essentially, science has forced out any explanation of our observable world outside of methodological naturalism, i.e, if you can’t see it, smell it, hear it, feel it, or detect it on some sort of instrument, there is no reason to believe that it is an explanation. Yet, evolution is mostly a retelling of a “historical” event, which by definition falls outside of the realm of science. Collins’ chapter is a gem in detailing how we think about God’s action in the world. This chapter is a brief summary of several books that he has written on the topic (all of which are excellent reading material), helping us to think of God in very active terms in this universe. It is just another way of saying that we are not deistic in our belief in God. It is strange that the theistic evolutionist has God active in the very first stages of the creation of the universe (setting preliminary conditions that necessitate the evolution of man), then disappearing during the development of life as we know it, and finally reemerging as a God that interacts with man; the theistic evolutionist truly has created a god in the image of man. Also worthy of special mention was Colin Reeves’s chapter on the interaction of science with Scripture; salient points about the realms of science and theology were most apropos. Other chapters on the problem (or pseudo-problem) of natural evil, and that of the development of moral conscience, remain issues explained by Scripture but left wanting by the theistic evolutionist. Finally, West removes any doubt that CS Lewis was a theistic evolutionist, as his writings remove any thought that he truly held to a belief in evolution.

The theological critique of theistic evolution should never need to be if the Scriptures were held to be the divinely inspired word of God. The inerrancy of Scripture is fundamental to the Christian faith and especially among those who label themselves evangelical Christians. Yet, we see that evangelicals will sadly call themselves theistic evolutionists. Grudem details twelve Biblical doctrines that are violated with theistic evolution, and Currid (with the Old Testament) and Waters (with the New Testament) quote and expound on the critical Scriptural texts to defend against evolutionary beliefs. I believe their arguments to be sound. Allison then proceeds to show how evolution was addressed in church history; though Allison is a great church historian, this chapter is a touch weak in expressing the diversity of thought in church history. As a simple example, Augustine suggested the possibility of an old-earth style of creation, but this was ignored in Allison’s discussion of Augustine’s thoughts on creation. Finally, a discussion of BB Warfield and his reluctance to accept anything but a most limited definition of evolution was discussed.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is definitely not a book that everybody should read. It is encyclopedic, yet individual topics all deserve more exploration by the interested reader. There are gems scattered throughout this book. It is a book that needed to be written, and for select folk would serve as an aide in knowing how to answer the Christian who claims that evolution as a blind unguided force in the development of man is true.

Within a month, Lord willing, I will be back on the Pacific Crest trail, and crossing Carson Pass in California. Kit Carson, an illiterate mountain man, has many geographical features named after him, including the capital of the state in which I currently live. I will be reading a biography of this most interesting man in the weeks to come, and hopefully have a book review available before I hit the trail. Carson’s biography will also provide me with a little lighter reading material, though it is already generating much intrigue and thought. Until then, до свида́ния!