BALTIMORE — Wheaton College professors have penned what is believed to be the first college-level textbook outlining mainstream scientific theories on origins of life and how they fit within a biblical framework, something they say has been lacking in Christian higher education for decades.
Based on over two decades of teaching origins at the historic Illinois evangelical higher education institution, the textbook, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins, released last December, addresses many topics such as cosmic origins (Big Bang Theory), the geologic history of the Earth, the origin of life and diversity of life on Earth (evolution), the Genesis Flood, and Adam and Eve.
While highlighting various mainstream scientific theories and providing a biblical perspective, the book also takes a critical look at theories like Young Earth Creation. It examines the principles of biblical interpretation and features close readings of relevant Genesis texts.
“We did feel that it's a unique product compared to all the other kinds of textbooks that are out there,” said co-author John Walton, an Old Testament professor who also authored The Lost World series.
“It's a Christian textbook that presents mainline science as legitimate science. Lots of times, Christian books are more or less using mainline science as a foil or as the enemy. Of course, we don’t do that. We present the mainline science. At the same time, we present the limits of science in some of the ways that philosophy of science needs to understand.”
The book was published by InterVarsity Press and funded by the BioLogos Foundation. Its release comes as many in today’s secular culture think that scientific discoveries and Christian teachings must come into conflict. But the new book seeks to “diffuse tensions” by detailing how the sciences of origins fit into the story of “God’s creative and redemptive action.”
Chapters in the book were also authored by Professor of Philosophy and History of Science Robert Bishop, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry Larry Funck, Biology Professor Raymond Lewis, and Geology Professor Stephen Moshier.
All of those men join in on teaching Wheaton's 300-level general education elective course “Theories of Origins,” which has been taught there since the mid-1990s when a few different courses were merged together.
But until now, the professors have not had a textbook to teach the class. They have had to rely on various readings and books that dealt with faith and science issues but they were still lacking a good science text.
Moshier, Walton and Funck presented the book on Thursday during the BioLogos Conference that was attended by other scholars, professors, pastors and professors.
The BioLogos Foundation is an advocacy organization that promotes Evolutionary Creationism and was founded by National Institute of Health Director and evangelical geneticist Francis Collins to highlight the harmony between science and biblical faith. The conference’s theme was “Beyond Conflict.”
“It is not just a science textbook but it also talks about the philosophy and the limits of science,” Walton said at the conference.
“It's a book that is intended to be integrative in a number of different ways. Each of the chapters of the different sciences is integrative as they talk about their science. But we also have integrative chapters to deal with things like Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 and the Genesis flood account. So we have biblical, theological chapters that are in there working the information that has been presented.”
Walton explained that what he outlined as far as Genesis accounts in the new textbook is similar to what he has written about in his The Lost World series that includes titles on Genesis 1, Adam and Eve and the Genesis flood.
“In that way, we are able to help students think about these big questions in science in connection with the big questions in Bible theology, particularly in Genesis,” Walton added. “We don’t just present conclusions to our interpretations; we also deal with hermeneutics. That is the methods that should be used to think about the Bible and interpret Scripture. Just like we do methodological discussions for science, we do methodological discussions for Bible and theology.”
The new book takes a different approach than the 2017 Zondervan title Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. The Zondervan book featured contributions from Ken Ham (for Young Earth Creation), Hugh Ross (for Old Earth Creation), BioLogos President Deborah Haarsma (for Evolutionary Creation) and Stephen C. Meyer (for Intelligent Design).
Instead of looking at different theological views, the book focuses on the varying theories within the sciences. Different scientific and theological views are compared, but the book primarily presents mainstream scientific theories as a paradigm to be learned and understood through the workings of science.
“We’re looking at the consensus mainstream view. I would say that we are persuaded that there's validity to the mainstream scientific use of origins,” Moshier told CP in an interview. “And then that being the case, where is the potential conflict or harmonization with Scripture?”
Moshier said that the book tries to bring the philosophy of science and theology together by looking at “God’s two books.”
“God created nature, He also gave Scripture,” he continued. “So theology is really designed to look at the data of Scripture, right? And science is designed to listen to the data of nature. Well, nature and scriptures shouldn't conflict because they’re both from God.”
Moshier explained that the book takes a “historical approach” and looks at leads that were present before the time of famed naturalist Charles Darwin, during Darwin’s day, and the ideas that have come along after Darwin's death.
“We end up with a biblical and theological perspective relating evolution to a comprehensive doctrine of creation modeled by which the origin of species can be understood in the context of Christian faith,” Moshier detailed, adding that the book also evaluates elements of Intelligent Design that are applied to that topic.
“We distinguish the scientific theory of evolution from evolutionism. We want to make that distinction very clear. Part 6 on Human Origins is what set this book apart from anything we could have written 20 years ago in terms of what we know now — not just from the discovery of hominin species. Since we started writing this book, I think there were about five hominin species that have been discovered.”
According to the geology professor, what has been discovered about hominin species in recent years are more than just some “isolated bones.” He said there are hundreds of specimen in labs and museums around the world.
“There is a strong case to be made for these different creatures that have lived and God created them,” he explained.
As far as Adam and Eve are concerned, the book presents five different possibilities that can help readers make sense of the Genesis account.
“We don’t try to say to any of the students that this is what you have to believe,” Moshier assured. “We give them the tools to read any variety of literature or claims about origins they may read and have a much higher level of understanding about what goes behind some of those claims. I think we succeeded in opening the world up to students and removing the stumbling blocks that can sometimes lead students to the frustration of having to choose between evolution and creation.”
With the grant from BioLogos, the authors were able to hire illustrators to redraw and produce original graphics as well as secure illustration rights and photography used in the book.
Moshier told CP that he and his colleagues have not received any pushback from the Wheaton administration or donor base at Wheaton, an institution known for its evangelical identity and connection to former pupil Billy Graham. The book was approved through the school, which provided feedback in the form of wording suggestions.
“I think that Wheaton is one of those places where there is an appreciation for different opinions on matters like this,” Moshier said. “We don't see these as foundational doctrinal kinds of [matters]. I think the only statement in our statement of faith that really would bear on this is a statement affirming the historicity of Adam and Eve. Almost any of those five patterns that I talked about in the class, you could fit into it. You have to nuance at times, but you could fit it into there.”
Since the book was released just last December, it hasn't yet been adopted by courses at other institutions since teachers of spring courses need to have their book selections in the fall. But the authors are hopeful that professors from a wide range of courses at other schools will consider using it in their classes.
Moshier said that a good number of students who enter the SCI 311 class come from a Young Earth Creation background. While some of them alter their beliefs as a result of the class, some do not, Moshier explained.
“Some [students] will have the same view that they came with but they will express and actually thank us for the opportunity,” he explained. “To me, it's not my job to change people's mind or indoctrinate people. My job is to educate students so that they can make up their own minds. And every student who comes to Wheaton or any other Christian school goes through a process of deciding, ‘OK, is this my faith or parents' faith?’ Well, every young adult should go through that.”