One constant issue addressed within the scientific and philosophical communities has been the subject of origins. How did we get here? When did we get here? Why are we here? From the man on the street to the published scholar, mankind has been trying to answer these questions and more as it pertains to the origins of life. When it comes to answering these questions you will not doubt find a myriad of answers even within the same belief systems such as atheism and theism. The task of sifting through all of the data and answers can be overwhelming and indeed it is.
While there are many books on the subject of origins it is hard for the average reader to take the time to read them all, let alone understand what they are reading. What would be most beneficial is to have a book that lays each view side by side objectively as possible. With this goal in mind Gerald Rau has written Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything by IVP. Rau has degrees in science and theology, was a teacher at Wheaton College and is the founder and chief editor at Professional English International, Inc. in Taiwan where he currently works. Rau has produced a book that is aimed at high school and college age students but can be beneficial for adults as well.
Worldviews Influence Science?
One of the unfortunate things that are wrongly purported within the scientific world is that one’s worldview or philosophical views do not and should not have any bearing on one’s science. But this is to confuse the difference between evidence and interpretation. Naturally the questions arises, “How can we all see the same evidence and yet come to completely different opinions as to its meaning?” Thus, Rau’s thesis enters in:
Although everyone has access to the same evidence, the presuppositions implicit in a person’s philosophy determine the perspective from which he or she views the data, leading to different logical conclusions about which explanation best fits the evidence. (p. 20)
Evidence is not self-interpreting. If it were, we would simply be observers who all share the same understanding of the evidence. This is not the case and I appreciate that Rau has brought this out in the open. This recognition of underlying philosophical/worldview beliefs which influence our interpretation of the scientific evidence lies at the heart of Rau’s overview and analysis of each of the six models he presents.
The Spectrum of Models
Rau has put together six different models about the origins of the universe: one naturalistic and five supernaturalistic. These six models can be seen as follows:
- Naturalistic Evolution – This is based on philosophical naturalism which states that everything can be explained naturally without appeal to anything supernatural, that is, outside what is natural.
- Nonteleological Evolution – This view believes that while a supernatural being got creation started it has no subsequent interaction with it. This is essentially deism. Nonteleology (no teleology) it holds that there is no plan for the universe. After the initial creation act natural forces take over until the end.
- Planned Evolution – This view believes that God began creation and built into it a plan and the mechanism(s) with which to accomplish that plan. Thus, God does not have to intervene within creation. There are natural explanations for everything since that is how God planned it.
- Directed Evolution – This view believes God not only created everything with a purpose but continues to interact with his creation throughout time in order to bring about his plans. Here, science and religion are interacting domains of knowledge.
- Old-Earth Creationism – While agreeing with DE that science and religion are interacting domains of knowledge, they differ in that they believe the Genesis account of creation has scientific value. God has revealed himself through the Bible and creation and both are used to interpret the other. As its name indicates, it believes the earth, and thus creation, is very old and science can help us determine how old.
- Young-Earth Creationism – This view differs from OEC in that they believe the creation account in Genesis 1 gives detailed explanation of the material creation of everything. They interpret the days of Genesis as literal 24 days as we experience them presently. With a “literal” reading of the biblical creation account coupled with the genealogies they believe the earth is 6-10k years old. In regards to science and religion they are overlapping domains of knowledge in which the Bible comes out on the top over science if science seems to contradict what is believed to be taught in the Bible concerning creation.
Rau furnishes the reader with twelve pages of charts that condense the four chapters presenting each views understanding of the origins of the universe, life, species and humans. Each of these four chapters follows the same pattern: (1) presents the evidence for said origins (i.e. life), (2) then presents how each of the six views interprets the evidence and (3) concludes with answering the question, “What difference does it make as to what model we view the evidence from?” Again, Rau points out how the underlying philosophical/worldview beliefs of each view effect how one interprets the evidence and in turn how that yields different results for the concluding difference each view makes.
What some readers will find both interesting and troubling is that Rau believes there are both positive and negative contributions from all six models he presents. I can agree with this but YEC’ers and naturalists will no doubt have a hard time seeing any positive contributions from the other side. Further, Rau believes that while each model is trying to deal with as much data as possible, none of them has all the pieces to the puzzle on their board to put together.
A book like this is hard to review. It is not a multiple views book with proponents of each view trying to convince the rest of us with their view. It is a book written by a single author who is trying to objectively as possible present each view. Further, Rau is trying to objectively critique each view and give equal critiques of each model without trying to show us his hand by leaning to one view over the others. Rau has tried to present each view fairly and in such a way that anyone who holds to any given view would agree with and recognize it as their view.
I think in the end Rau has reached the goal of his book in terms of presenting the views. What might be hard for some readers is the ability to track with some of the scientific ideas he discusses. A background in science will definitely help to get more from the book. A good grasp of biology would be a must as well as a working knowledge of chemistry and some basic astronomy. What I think Rau has done the best is show how ones philosophical commitments influence how a person interprets the scientific evidence. In each of the four main chapters Rau does a masterful job of weaving these together for the reader. That is the biggest take away from the book and makes it well worth reading.
NOTE: I received this book for free from IVP in exchange for an honest review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the words and thoughts expressed are my own.
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