Thursday, May 4, 2017

Zondervan's Dictionary of Christianity and Science

Zondervan's new Dictionary of Christianity and Science, which contains contributions from different perspectives, was just published last week.  I had heard that the book was coming from one of the contributors, but he didn't really know anything about the content of the book.  Now that I have my copy in the mail, I've been able to look through it, so let me make some observations. To be perfectly clear, I have not read this book entirely.  It's 700 pages.  So my comments are on the structure, design, and spot-checks of various articles that interest me.

Before we begin, a few introductory comments: The Dictionary is edited by Paul Copan, Tremper Longman, Christopher Reese, and Michael Strauss. Copan is a philosopher, Longman an Old Testament scholar, Reese a theologian, and Strauss a scientist.  The front cover depicts the book as "The definitive reference for the intersection of Christian faith and contemporary science."  The editors' "Introduction" to the book describes the Dictionary as "a contemporary investigation of the intersection between Christian faith and science" that should foster "reasonable dialogue about the intersection of these two topics and clarification of their respective concepts and implications."  They also wrote, "While no book can claim perfect objectivity, the aim of this volume is to represent various evangelical camps and viewpoints as fairly as possible on their own terms."  Does the Dictionary live up to these editorial goals and marketing descriptions?  Not by a long shot.  Let's start with the obvious bias.

The first thing I checked was the list of authors that went on for four pages at the very beginning of the book.  I read through the entire list looking to see which young-age creationists would be included.  I identified four who I know for a fact are young-age creationists because they've publicly identified as such: John Mark Reynolds, Paul Nelson, Marcus Ross, and Todd Beall.  There could be others, since the list contains a lot of names that I'm not familiar with, but even if there are others, there is not a single young-age creationist ministry represented in the list.  Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe is here.  There are a bunch of folks from the Discovery Institute and the Biologic Institute.  BioLogos is well-represented.  But there is not one representative of AIG, ICR, CMI, or any other young-age creation ministry.  That's not a good start.

Next, I checked some of the entries related to creationism, and there are LOTS of them.  Specific topics are presented by at least two different authors that represent two different perspectives.  For example, there are two essays on "Adam and Eve" by Beall and Longman.  That sounds fair.  They're both Bible scholars, and those essays should fairly represent the different perspectives.  They're followed almost immediately by two essays on the "Age of the Universe and Earth."  The first supports the conventional old-age view and is written by the book's editor and physicist Michael Strauss.  The second supports the young-age view and is written by Bible scholar Todd Beall.  So almost immediately we're presented with a set of essays that encapsulates a "science vs. Bible" perspective in their authors?  Shouldn't there have been a scientific response to Strauss's article written by a scientist?  Or maybe have a response to Beall's article written by a Bible scholar?  Shouldn't we "pick on someone our own size?"

Those essays are followed a few pages later by an entry on "Animal Pain," a subject of great interest to young-age creationists.  As anyone who follows young-age creationism knows, death before the Fall, even of animals, is a big no-no to young-age creationists.  Interestingly, there is only one entry on animal pain in which we read that animals vastly pre-date humanity and therefore death as a consequence of the Fall is implausible.  To be fair, the author Michael J. Murray also offers critique of other accounts of animal pain, but the creationist explanation is dismissed on the assumption that the earth is very old.  There is no consideration of the plausibility of young-age creationist claims if the earth is actually young.

I began to flip through to look at other entries at that point, and I found much the same in other places that I looked.  Darrel Falk has an entry on "Common Ancestry" that argues for common ancestry with no response from anyone who questions common ancestry.  John Soden's "Cosmology, Biblical" assures us that "Genesis 1 may sound familiar, but it actually fits into its ancient conceptual context better than a modern one.... The writers' concern is not, however, with the physical structure but with the theological significance...."  There is no alternative perspective.  Tremper Longman's entry on "Genealogy" informs us that using Genesis 5 and 11 chronologically is an "error" because they're not meant to be historical.  Michael Strauss's entry on "Pseudoscience" takes a swipe at young-age creationism.  Jonathan Howard Fisher's entry on "Institute for Creation Research" mentions none of their research projects but is nevertheless highly critical of their work and uses the term "ridiculed" twice to describe ICR's work.  In contrast, entries on "BioLogos Foundation," "Reasons to Believe," and "Discovery Institute" are all written by current staff members.  In fact, BioLogos president Deb Haarsma wrote the BioLogos entry herself!

And so it goes.  A lot of entries not directly related to the "two view" entries are pretty unfriendly to young-age creationism.  "Big Bang Theory" and "Noah's Ark?"  Written by old-earth creationist Hugh Ross.  "Evolution, Biological?"  Written by BioLogos fellow Dennis Venema.  "Genesis Flood and Geology?"  Written by Davis Young.  "Cambrian Explosion?"  Written by Darrel Falk.

So what about those "two view" entries?  Here's my tally:
  1. Adam and Eve: Beall vs. Longman
  2. Age of the Universe/E arth: Beall vs. Strauss
  3. Climate Change: Calvin DeWitt vs. David Legates
  4. Creationism, Old Earth: Todd Beall vs. George Schwab
  5. Creationism, Young Earth: Bruce Gordon vs. John Mark Reynolds
  6. Days of Creation: Todd Beall vs. Hugh Ross vs. George Schwab
  7. Divine Action: Robert Bishop vs. Jeffrey Koperski
  8. Evil, Problem of: J.B. Stump vs. Hugh Ross
  9. Evolution, Human: Darrel Falk vs. Ann Gauger
  10. Evolutionary Creationism: Stephen Meyer vs. Dennis Venema
  11. Fall, The: Tremper Longman vs. Hans Madueme
  12. Fossil Record: Gregg Davidson vs. Marcus Ross
  13. Genesis Flood: Marcus Ross vs. Tremper Longman
  14. Genesis, Interpretation of Chapters 1 and 2: Tremper Longman vs. Ardel Caneday
  15. Hominid Fossils: Darrel Falk vs. Casey Luskin
  16. Psychoanalysis: Dominick Hankle vs. Edward B. Davis and Andrew D. Cuthbert
  17. Science and Theology: William Dembski vs. J.B. Stump

Notice anything about that list?  How about the degree to which it's stuck on origins issues?  At least 13 of the 17 topics bear directly on the origins question.  Is that really the only thing that Christians disagree about in "Christianity and Science?"  There's nothing else worth mentioning?  Maybe stewardship, economics of conservation, health and alternative medicine, genetic engineering, genetically modified food - it seems to me that there are plenty of scientific issues that evangelical Christians wrestle with.

Overall, the authors they matched up for these "two views" essays aren't terrible, but there is definitely some unmistakable "ganging up" going on.  For example, Marcus Ross writes in favor of a global Flood, and Tremper Longman argues against it.  Those essays are followed immediately by "Genesis Flood and Geology" written by Davis Young, where we read, "Geological evidence has demonstrated that thick accumulations of sedimentary rock ... are not the product of a yearlong global flood."  There's also an entry on "Flood, The" written by Michael Strauss, where we read yet another argument against the global Flood.  Likewise, the "Days of Creation" entries are followed by an essay on "Days of Creation, Interpretations," written by Michael Strauss, where he claims that interpreting the days as 24 hours is "not necessarily warranted."

OK, so am I just moaning about young-age creationism being excluded from the book?  A little sour grapes, maybe?  Sure, that's possible, but there's definitely something deeper here.  Surveys repeatedly show an overwhelming support for creationism among American evangelicals, and those who specifically identify as young-age creationists constitute about half of evangelicals.  Those who support theistic evolution are a tiny minority.  Yet in the Dictionary, there's vanishingly little fair representation of the majority view of evangelicals and a disproportionately large representation of a tiny minority.  Now that's fine, if this were the Dictionary of Christian Evolution, but it isn't.  This book claims to fairly represent the different views of evangelicals, and it does not.  Not even close.

So what about a scholarly book on Christianity and science?  If we ignore all the origins stuff, could it still be a decent book?  Well, that's a tough question.  I'm very certain that there are essays in the Dictionary that are well-researched, well-written, valuable, and balanced (Stephen Contakes's "Life, Origin of" isn't too bad, and I'm obviously looking forward to Marcus Ross's articles).  There are numerous head-scratchers.  For example:
  • Darrel Falk's "Archaeopteryx" - First of all, why do we need an entry on Archaeopteryx?  Second, why recruit a fruit fly geneticist to write it?  (No offense is intended to Darrel, of course, who wrote a decent essay.  This is an editorial oddity.)
  • Samuel Matteson's "Pi in the Bible" - Huh?  It's a decent essay on the dimensions of Solomon's bronze "sea" in I Kings 7:23, which supposedly gives the value of pi as 3.  Nice essay, but why is this here?
  • Casey Luskin's "Pseudogenes" - They've got all sorts of geneticists writing for the Dictionary, and they had Casey Luskin write on pseudogenes?  Again, no offense to Casey, but why?
And then there's the stuff that's omitted.  Topics like Scriptural Geology, John Pye-Smith, Richard Owen, Georges Cuvier, Medieval bestiaries, Philip Henry Gosse, and Omphalos.  Admittedly, these are some of my own hobby horses, but I would argue that any of them are far more important than "Pi in the Bible."  There are also no entries for topics like Origin of Species, Asa Gray, the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter, Phil Johnson, Stewardship, Dominion mandate, and Accommodation.  Now you might argue that my first list is just my own preference, but omitting these topics is far more problematic.  Phil Johnson the founder of the Intelligent Design movement is ignored?  And no entry on accommodation?  The entry on Galileo doesn't even mention it!  Let's hear what BioLogos fellow Ted Davis has to say about the principle of accommodation:
This is an inexcusable omission. Accommodation is such a crucial part of the history of interpreting biblical passages about nature that it just cannot be left on the periphery of a book like this. The modern controversy about interpreting early Genesis simply cannot be separated from the early modern controversy about interpreting other biblical passages touching on the Sun's apparent motion across the sky and the Earth's apparently stability in the midst of the heavens. (Source)
Now that's not an evaluation of the Dictionary (it's actually a critical review of a creationist book), but still, the spirit should surely apply here, right? Ironically, Ted Davis's entry on "Geocentrism/Heliocentrism" in the Dictionary does mention it, so we can't blame him for the omission of a separate accommodation entry.  Accommodation is a big deal to evolutionary creationists.  How does it not get its own entry in this Dictionary?

Most bizarre of all, the Dictionary of Christianity and Science has an entry on "Science" but not on "Christianity."  Or the "Bible."  Or "Evangelical."  The closest we get are entries on "Theology" and "Religion," but that's not the same thing.  Not only that, but there are multiple entries about science: "Science, Limits of," "Science and the Bible," "Science and the Church Fathers," and so on.  Fourteen essays begin with the word "Science."  So the Dictionary of Christianity and Science has lots of "Science" but no "Christianity?"  Ouch!

And then there's the book itself.  Would you like a table of contents so you know what kind of essays are in the book?  Too bad for you, because there's no table of contents.  How about an index, where you can figure out if the book EVER mentions accommodation?  Nope, nothing like that either.  The only way to navigate this thing is to flip through it and hope the word you're thinking of is actually in the book.  Or you can just read all 700 pages, which seems unlikely.

As I said, I'm certain that there are some valuable essays in this collection, but as a book that purports to be "definitive" and a "fair" representation of different views, it falls short.  Miserably short.  Articles outside of the "two views" articles are sharply biased against young-age creationism, the majority view of evangelical Christians in the United States.  Remember that, according to the editors, "the aim of this volume is to represent various evangelical camps and viewpoints as fairly as possible on their own terms."  If that truly was the aim, then this book is a failure.

I find this most problematic because the public is likely to believe the marketing hype and think that this book really is a fair representation of current issues.  The real shame is that the Dictionary didn't remotely have to be this disappointing.  Clearly, the editors had contact with four young-age creationists who could have readily recommended additional authors and even given editorial advice.  But they didn't bother, and we end up with this, which the editors claim is fair but is not.

I don't know how a project like this goes so far off the rails, but I do hope that if there is ever a revised version, Zondervan will address these shortcomings.  Either drop the pretense of "fair representation" or hold the editors accountable to include all perspectives as they claim to do.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.