Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Adam Quest, by Tim Stafford

Tim Stafford.  The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held On to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins.  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2013.

The Adam Quest profiles scientists who believe in Christianity and have wrestled with such issues as the creation stories in Genesis 1-2, the age of the earth, and the theory of evolution.  It features Young Earth creationists, Intelligent Design creationists who believe that the earth is old yet maintain that evolution is inadequate to explain life as it is, and Evolutionary creationists who hold that God used evolution in creating life.  The eleven scientists profiled in this book include Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, Georgia Purdom, Michael Behe, Fazale Rana, Mary Schweitzer, Darrel Falk, Ard Louis, Denis Alexander, Simon Conway Morris, and John Polkinghorne.  The book also provides some background information about other key figures in discussions about science and Christian faith: Berkley Law professor (emeritus) Phillip Johnson, Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project, and old-earth creationist Hugh Ross.

With the exception of Phillip Johnson, the thinkers featured in this book are scientists, with degrees in science from reputable universities.  Some of them are quite renowned: I think of Mary Schweitzer, who found remnants of red blood cells in the fossils of dinosaurs.  All of them are people of science and of Christian faith.  The book is about their scientific and academic journeys, and also their faith journeys.  Not only do these scientists seek to make sense of their faith in light of their scientific insight and their scientific insight in light of their faith, but they also search for a place to belong.  In a sense, they are outsiders.  Some of the Young Earth creationists in this book are dissatisfied with what prominent Young Earth creationists have proclaimed in public; at least one of the advocates of Intelligent Design disagrees with attempts to teach Intelligent Design alongside evolution in public schools; and those who disagree with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 struggle to find an accepting faith community.  Some of them actually find a supportive religious community in conservative congregations that disagree with their stance on science and the interpretation of Genesis 1.

This book was an enjoyable and informative read for me, and I liked getting to know these scientists as people.  If there was one profile that I liked the most, it was that of Young Earth creationist Kurt Wise.  I myself am not a Young Earth creationist, but I could identify with Wise’s introversion and conversion to Christianity.

An issue that came up throughout the book—-in some way, shape, or form—-was the God of the gaps: attempting to bolster belief in God’s existence by appeal to things that science does not know (i.e., science does not know how life began, so why not believe that God created life?).  Many of the scientists in this book distanced themselves from a God-of-the-gaps approach.  Even some of the Young Earth creationists said that they preferred not to focus on poking holes in evolution, but rather to come up with explanatory models for why things are as they are.  But it seemed to me that many of the scientists in the book could not get away from a God-of-the-Gaps outlook, for they talked about the inadequacies of science, as if they were looking to such inadequacies as a reason to believe in God.  There were some scientists who did not take this approach, however: one said that the universe is beautiful, even if complexity could have come about through natural means; another wondered why organization coming through natural means would preclude the existence of God.

One quote in the book that particularly resonated with me was of scientist Ard Louis, on page 150: “The evolution-creation debate gets tense because there is a fear of knocking down the foundations of faith.  This is the way creationists argue, that the whole thing will collapse if you mess with your interpretation of Genesis.  I don’t find that so worrying.  Charismatics find it easier to explore different ideas.  They take the Bible very seriously, but they know that God is real.”  I would bet that there are a number of charismatic Christians who are Young Earth creationists, and yet I like the picture that Louis is painting: why worry about new ideas, if you know from experience that God is real?

I have two criticisms of the book.  First of all, I wish that it had more of a systematic assessment of the scientific claims that were being propounded by the featured scientists.  The book had some of that: a Young Earth creationist initially believed that there were human tracks inside of dinosaur tracks, yet later concluded that he was mistaken; a scientist explains his or her disenchantment with Intelligent Design; etc.  But there were times when I was reading an idea that a scientist in the book was explaining, and I was wondering: “Is there something to this idea, or are there weaknesses to it?”  The book would have been better had it gotten more deeply into that.  Second, I wish that the book discussed biblical hermeneutics a bit more.  It did feature scientists who claimed that their interpretation of Genesis 1 was not exactly literal, but I would have liked for the book to have had more about people’s justifications of their interpretative approaches to the Bible, especially if those approaches were non-literal.  Tim Stafford in the conclusion to the book mentioned developments within biblical scholarship, but the book would have been better had it provided more meat about this issue.

Overall, though, the book was a worthwhile read.  Click here for Thomas Nelson’s page about this book.
Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the Booksneeze.com book review bloggers program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

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