Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Write-Up: Coming to Peace with Science, by Darrel R. Falk

Darrel R. Falk.  Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology.  Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

I would like to thank InterVarsity Press for sending me a review copy of this book.  Click here to see InterVarsity’s page about it.

Darrel Falk is a professor of biology, and he is also an evangelical Christian.  This book contains his reflections about his own attempts to bridge those two worlds, and it promotes tolerance within the church towards different views on origins.

I would like to make three points about this book.

First of all, the book has a lot about science.  The book is especially helpful in that it clearly explains how we can know that the earth is old and that evolution has occurred, and it presents lucid answers to young earth creationist objections.  On dating methods, fossils, and the second law of thermodynamics, Falk’s presentation is excellent.  I found chapters 5-6 to be rather difficult, however.  His overall point in chapter 5 was that animals around the world have a common descent yet have features that fit their environments, and Falk argues that evolution is more consistent with the evidence on this than the view that God performed a special creation of all species, or that the species evolved from a set number of “kinds” that God created.  Chapter 6 was about genetics.  Falk was making important points in these chapters, but I was getting lost in the details of some of Falk’s discussions, and I think that he should have organized them better, especially for us non-scientists.

Second, the book is about Falk’s personal spiritual journey.  Falk says that, earlier in his Christian walk, he was afraid to learn about biology because he feared that doing so would undermine his faith.  This may puzzle some people, who might ask: if he was so sure that Christianity is true, why would he have feared learning new things?  But, on some level, I can actually understand where his younger self was coming from: Falk wanted to grow as a Christian, and he did not desire any discordance or confusion in his worldview.  Fortunately for himself and others, he chose to wrestle with hard questions, and to write his thoughts in this book.  Another story Falk told that I appreciated was about how he decided to start going back to church so that his children could have the same positive church experiences that he had growing up.  He was initially reluctant to attend church because he did not know if people at a conservative church would accept him, a scientist with views that challenge young-earth creationism.

Third, the book contains Falk’s reflections about theology and the Bible.  On the one hand, Falk tends to treat Genesis 1 as figurative, one reason being that he believes that the science contradicts a literal interpretation.  Atheism does not appear to be on the table for Falk because he genuinely believes that he has had a spiritual experience, and so he maintains that the Bible is true in some way, even if it is not always literal.  Falk appeals to the existence of figurative language in the Bible and also the views of Augustine, John Wesley, and John Calvin.  On the other hand, Falk seems to maintain that Genesis 1, on some level, communicates what actually happened.  He notes, for example, that God in Genesis 1 “lets” things happen, which is quite different from God taking an active, micromanaging role in creation, and is consistent with letting nature take its course in the development of plants and animals, with God’s involvement (somehow).  I did not think that Falk’s theological reflections were always consistent, yet I respected what he had to say as a pilgrim trying to make sense of science and religion.  I also appreciated some of the passages that Falk quoted near the end of his book: C.S. Lewis’ statement that the layperson with a literal view of God and a process theologian essentially worship the same God, and conservative Christian James Orr’s statement that, even if Genesis 1-3 are not literally true, the fact is that there is sin in our world, and we need to be healed.

Falk’s book was an enjoyable, albeit a sometimes daunting, read.

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