on November 15, 2004
This book is one of those extraordinary reads. I bought it simply because i had Martinez Hewlett along with Thomas Lindell and William Stoeger as team teachers for an unusual and very interesting seminar class at the U of Arizona, theology and biology. It was a continuation of Dr. Lindell's interests in bioethics and exactly how to relate science to theology in a constructive and useful, to both parties, manner. A truely unique experience for which i am again thankful. But if buying this book because of the author was the reason for opening it and reading the first few chapters, i would have stopped there, for the book itself must carry my interest from that point. This one did. Very much so, engaging, informative, interesting, clever, structured wisely- just a few of my comments. I seldom thoroughly enjoy a book as much as i did this one, i even wrote WOW on the last page in my yellow highlighter, it is good.
First, it represents the culmination of two really interesting people's work. Dr. Hewlett is a clever, talented, thoughtful and spiritually aware man. He is a poet, a novelist, a viral researcher, but most appropriately to this book- a good teacher. There is something special about a talented teacher who can unfold a topic IN ORDER, with a structure that shows the neophyte how the pieces fit together. And gives us the pieces in an order that helps us see the big picture that the author's themselves grasp. Hey readers, this is RARE. More often you hit things in a logical or chronological order, pieces are thrown at you without reference to the big picture. So you often are lost as a student in a new field in the forest, concentrating on the trees and never ever able to understand why anyone would actually come to this forest. A good teacher, or a good writer, never lets the structure interfere with your reason for being there, for your motivation to read the next page. But they have you anticipate and salivate for the next chapter or the next idea.
Second, it represents distilled knowledge, carefully written to teach the essentials of the debate so that you can be lead to understand their big point. There is lots of background information here, people, spectrums, differentiations between close ideas, that are the meat and potatoes of this feast. Yet the point they want you to understand is available in just a few pages- chapter 7 Theistic Evolution: A Constructive Proposal, but you must read the book pretty much in straight order to get there. This is because of the culmulativeness of the material, the distinctions that they make, and the specialized vocabulary you need to understand. So pick it up and read front to back, with a pen in hand to markup and take notes, this is not a walk in the park book, but a serious analysis, worthy of your best efforts.
Third, i am impressed at the carefulness of the structure. Intro, Darwin, Social Darwinism, Creationism, ID, TE then their proposal.
It is certainly the result of Dr. Hewlett's teaching of the topics to seniors at university, first they are looking outside of school perhaps for the first time in their lives, and second they are self-absorbed and desireous of internal consistency and coherence, those early adulthood dilemmas and opportunities. By presenting it this way, the interactions between people and ideas is so obvious that it is extremely natural to be drawn into the discussion and look inward. nice.
I appreciate the talent and insight, for instance, "science must first be extracted from it's ideological wrapping" pg. 19, but a constant and important theme throughout.
Hey, it is just such an awesome book, if you have any interest in the topic, just get it and don't waste time reading more reviews but get onto reading it.
on August 25, 2008
This book may not be exceptionally detailed on everything it addresses, but it is by far the best survey of the issues pertaining to theistic evolution that I have yet encountered. Ted Peters and Martinez (a theologian and a scientist) work together in an attempt to bring together Christian theology and Darwinian evolution. They are excellent at critiquing young earth creationists, intelligent design advocates, and especially theistic evolutionists. Perhaps the most encouraging part of all is that they do all of this from an orthodox Christian perspective. It seems to be very hard to find books supporting theistic evolution which do not rely on open theism, process theism, or something resembling deism. Peters and Hewlett avoid all of these, and effectively critique other theistic evolutionists for straying from orthodox belief about God's nature (which is not to say that evolution has no impact on our understanding of God, but instead that it does not necessitate a departure from traditional Christianity). Let me briefly summarize the four main sections of the book:
First, they examine the "war" between Christianity and science. What they conclude (I think correctly) is that the war is not over whether Christianity or science is true. The war is over what constitutes science. Young earth creationists are not denying the validity of the scientific enterprise, or rejecting that we should attempt to determine the laws of the universe. What they are denying is that evolution is valid science. They proceed to examine what exactly Darwinian evolution means, and the negative results some have taken from it (e.g. social Darwinism, evolutionary psychology, etc.). This helps us to understand why it is that many Christians are wary of evolution: just look at the bad things people like eugenics programs that have resulted from what people understood to be the practical application of Darwin's theory. The authors explain why these things do not follow from Darwinian theory, removing some major obstacles many Christians have preventing them from even considering evolution.
Second, the authors examine alternate positions on creationism. They deal very fairly with young earth creationism, avoiding the unnecessary condescension many theistic evolutionists unfortunately use. They take seriously the concerns of young earth creationists, but ultimately conclude that they are misguided in their insistence that Genesis 1-2 be taken literally. They seem to skip over old earth creationism, which is somewhat odd, though some of their criticisms of young earth creationism and intelligent design would also apply to the old earth position. As for intelligent design, Hewlett and Peters examine the history of the position (back to Paley's watchmaker argument), and specifically address the arguments of Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski. Of the three, they find Dembski's the most convincing (they conclude that Johnson does not really understand neo-Darwinian evolution and that Behe's notion is mostly a God-of-the-gaps position), but conclude that his arguments effectively argue not against evolution, but against the philosophical underpinnings of science (i.e. whether or not science can include teleological explanations of events).
The third major section was what I found to be the most important part of this book: the survey of positions within the theistic evolution camp. He places the major figures on a spectrum measuring the amount of divine action present in them. On end is scientific creationism (and, not far from the end, intelligent design) and on the other end is deism. The major figures they list are (in the order on the spectrum from most divine action to least divine action) B. B. Warfield, Kenneth Miller, Arthur Peacocke, Denis Edwards, John Haught, Robert John Russell, Philip Hefner, and Tielhard de Chardin. The authors look at the positions offered by each of these thinkers (and a few more) and ask five questions about what they believe about the following five items: (1) deep time, (2) natural selection, (3) common descent, (4) divine action, and (5) theodicy. They raised significant issues with the popular free-will theodicy (the idea that God is not responsible for natural evil because he created the universe to be free to evolve, and could not prevent things like pain without violating its freedom), noting that it is inconsistent for thinkers like Peacocke (and most theistic evolutionists) to take this line of defense yet at the same time talk about there being purpose in creation, and God guiding creation toward His ends. It seems that we must either choose one or the other: either God does interact with creation (in which case we get to keep the idea of purpose in creation) or God freely limits Himself to give creation freedom (in which case we can explain evil). Hewlitt and Peters surprised me by rejecting BOTH of these ideas.
The fourth section consists of their positive construction of what they believe to be a better understanding of what to make of God and evolution. They reject the idea that their is purpose within the natural processes of the universe. They make what I take to be a very important and insightful distinction between purpose WITHIN the natural processes of the universe, and God having a purpose FOR the natural universe. The natural processes themselves need not be purposeful, but Christianity requires that there be purpose FOR creation. This allieviates some (though by no means all) of the difficulty of understanding how there could be purpose in light of the apparently inherently random nature of genetic mutations which allow for changes in biological life.
Thus far I was largely in agreement with Hewlett and Peters on their analysis of alternate positions both within and without of the theistic evolution camp, and I was very much looking forward to their theodicy after they pointed out the major flaws I see in the current evolutionary theodicy. Unfortunately, their theodicy was severely disapponting. They did two things to attempt to relieve God of responsibility for evil: they (1) rejected the idea that the universe ever was good in the first place, and (2) point to the idea of God as a fellow-sufferer, heavily emphasizing a Lutheran theology of the cross. They pull a very, very strange exegetical stunt and explain that when God said that what He created was good, He was speaking from a post-new creation perspective. They actually claim that the Biblical narrative suddenly throws in a phrase God will speak in the future, and we have just misunderstood it to be about the past. I can understand claiming that the universe was never without natural evil, and I can even understand saying that the universe will never be truly good until after the new creation, but to try to claim that this is what is meant by that verse in Genesis one is absurd. At least be honest and admit that this is an argument driven by contemporary struggles to understand why evil exists in light of evolution, not something you took from Genesis one. Second, the idea that God is a fellow-sufferer IS a very significant theological concept, and it is helpful to us in our attempts to come to grips with the existence of evil. However, it does not explain at all WHY evil is here. Saying that God takes part in the suffering caused by evil does not even begin to account for why that suffering and evil are there in the first place. The concept of God as a fellow-sufferer is something which is useful in conjunction with a fuller explanation of the WHY of evil, but not as stand-alone theodicy.
In short, this is an exceptional analysis of the current landscape of the theistic evolution debate, but the positive construction of their own position leaves a lot to be desired, and is, quite frankly, even less convincing than some of the positions they critique in the third section.
This book may not be perfect, but it's definitely worth reading, and there's no better place to look (that I know of) for a comparison of thinkers within the theistic evolution position.
Overall grade: A
on March 26, 2008
Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett have written an absolutely remarkable book. I was recommended this book by a friend who's working on his PhD at Princeton in Theology and Science and he was right - this was an excellent read.
I spent most of my life as a staunch (and horribly uninformed) critic of any sort of acceptance of evolution: I really did see it as an enemy to the church, and went to great lengths to make this clear. I remember in third grade we'd watch videos in class that would talk about evolution, and I'd write papers that I'd always entitle "Truth" about how actually, God created everything and that evolution was just plain wrong. Fortunately my third grade teacher didn't see this as a reason to fail me. Peters' and Hewlett's book starts out by talking about the very conflict that I was having in the classroom setting, and how this has really become a delicate all-out war (see chapter one).
Towards the latter part of my seminary education I started to realize that my brick-like thoughts (as in unmovable) might not be the most helpful thing: but didn't seriously look at the issues until just a couple months ago when I started communicating with some of my seminary friends who I knew held evolutionary beliefs.
This book is ideal for someone like myself who's never really read a survey of a large variety of view on the issue. Peters and Hewlett discuss and survey topics including Darwin, Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism Synthesis, Social Darwinism, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, Scientific Creationism, Intelligent Design, and finally Theistic Evolution.
Within all this they discuss the many positives and negatives that have been birthed out of the different Darwinist traditions and interpretations, from the horrors of Frances Galton's Eugenics to the beauty of theologically interpreted creative evolution (you can see my clear bent away from atheistic evolution and towards theistic evolution). It's important to note, however, that the "nice/not nice" line is in no way defined by theists/a-theists. That is to say, the book gives clear support that there have been many naturalistic thinkers (i.e., a-theistic) who have argued for high moral standards, and there have been theists who have perhaps argued for not so high of standards.
People discussed in the book include Herbert Spencer, E.O. Wilson, Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Phillip Johnson, Teilhard de Chardin, Philip Hefner, John Haught, Arthur Peacocke, and others.
The book closes with Peters and Hewlett describing their own system of theistic evolution, which I find to be quite convincing. I learned a lot from this book, and would definitely recommend it to anyone seeking an understanding of these issues. The book ends by saying, "In earlier editions of Origin of Speicies, Darwin opened with a quotation from Francis Bacon admonishing us to read `the book of God's word' and also `the book of God's works.' This is sound advice" (p.181).
on October 25, 2007
This is a good overview of the spectrum of debate between science and the Bible. It covers the various flavors of Darwinism, social Darwinism, scientific creationism, intelligent design and theistic evolution by two theistic evolutionists, one (Peters) a professor of systematic theology and the other (Hewlett) an emeritis professor of biology and medicine.
The authors present each view positively, then offer their critiques, clearly labeling their opinions as opinions.
Their treatment of theistic evolution is particularly good, in that it clearly labels and systematically discusses the spectrum of flavors of theistic evolution, from reluctant acceptor (B. B. Warfield) to enthusiastic supporter (Theilhard de Chardin), along with the views of six others (Kenneth Miller, Arthur Peacock, Denis Edwards, John Haught, Robert John Russell and Philip Hefner) in between. The authors conclude the book with their own "Constructive Proposal." The book includes extensive notes, a glossary, an index and a scripture index.
I highly recommend it to Christians seeking to better understand the pros and cons of each viewpoint, particularly theistic evolution. Unfortunately, there is virtually no discussion of Old Earth Creationism and Progressive Creationism, which is why I gave it only four stars.
on January 12, 2008
This book gives a great walk through the issues surrounding creationism, intelligent design and theistic evolution. The authors also published a shorter version called, "Can You Believe In God And Evolution: A Guide For The Perplexed." I read the shorter version and then decided to buy and read the longer one. The shorter book is just half as long.
on January 10, 2005
Over the years I have accumulated a lot of material on the intersection of religion and science, but no good way to file and retrieve the stuff. I needed a typology to develop a "filing system," not only to organize the papers, but my thoughts. This work, as a survey, proved to be extremely helpful in laying out ways to view the various schools of thought, relationships, and their chief adherents into some pattern, as well as good definitions. In fact, one can play with iterative bubble-charts and arrows, and really get somewhere in sorting out this fascinating, but intricate, field.
On the other hand, I found that the authors' own convictions appear to be agenda-driven, as is so aften the case. They seem to "cherry pick" their way through the mine-field of alternative arguments in order to lay the "best" groundwork for mankind's excursion into genetic engineering--which they view as integral to Divine Redemption--whereas others plainly see the old, sad hubris of "playing God."
on December 23, 2004
Although this book has much useful information, and is clearly supportive of ID, as a whole I was disappointed in the section on creationism. To keep this short I will cover just one point. Peter and Hewlett imply that creationists do not see much need to produce new scientific data. First of all, this common claim is not true. Unfortunately, almost all research they do must be financed out of their own pocket, so it is limited. Secondly, they have tried to get grants but, as far as I am aware, have consistently failed whereas Darwinists get multibillions of dollars in grants each year world wide. There is as much chance of an out of the closet creationist getting a grant as a open rabbi holding a high level government post in Nazi Germany. Furthermore, since many creationists are denied doctorates many will never be in a position to do science. And those that have Ph.D.s are almost without exception denied tenure if they are out of the closet. Those in the closet stay there if they want to advance in their career. About 20 percent of all scientists are conservative creationists, but one would never know this because they wisely stay in the closet. I believe that at some point it will be time for all closet advocates of creationism, and even ID, to band together and join the relative few who have gone public. The more targets there are, the softer the collective blow. Frankly, I think it is past time. Darwinists will continue to get away with firing isolated Darwin doubters of all stripes until the numbers become too high. But few creationists will risk their career to come out of the closet now. Lastly, of the research creations do, if the implications are obvious, there is no way that it will be published, and if published the journal will retract the paper as poorly done or worse. Since the "goo to you by way of the zoo" is true, contradictory data cannot exist, therefore all research that proves otherwise must be wrong.