The Frontiers of Science & Faith

By John Jefferson Davis
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2002). 200 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
14.1 (Spring 2003) : 111-113

 A glance at the table of contents causes the reader to lift an eyebrow at some of the intriguing chapter headings, e.g., “The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence & the Christian Doctrine of Redemption.” One almost wants to go to that chapter first! This collection of essays, subtitled “Examining Questions from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe,” seeks to illustrate and explain certain theological difficulties by paralleling them with various known scientific principles, theorems, and laws. Chapter titles reflect this approach, e.g., “The ‘Copenhagen’ Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics & ‘Delayed-Choice’ Experiments,” which is intended to bring in a new perspective to help understand the doctrine of predestination. Receiving attention are the following: divine omniscience, determinism, full knowledge of the future and freewill, chance and providence, predestination and election, human personhood and the image of God, the incarnation of Christ and the atonement in relation to multiple worlds, and eschatological cosmic optimism and despair. Receiving attention alongside these and in addition to the two already mentioned above are: quantum indeterminacy, the Chaos Theory, Goedel’s Proof, Artificial Intelligence, and the Anthropic Principle. Notably, holding highly favored status in presentation and professed usefulness for origins is “Progressive Creation” (113-28). In the preface D avis states his basic presupposition, with which there would be no disagreement, namely, “that the results of modern science, properly understood, are no threat to Christian faith” (7), although the phrase “properly understood” becomes the clincher. His conviction is that the Christian faith and the scientific method are complementary ways of knowing God’s creative work. Later, he speaks of these as the “book of nature” and the “Book of Scripture” (128). The two “books” are quite disparate in character, however, and cannot be treated as being on a par with each other. Invariably, the interpretation of Scripture is held hostage to the prevailing scientific paradigms, theories, and opinions so that the biblical accounts of creation are treated with a great deal of elasticity. Davis did acknowledge that the scientific method has limitations when it comes to answering humanity’s deepest existential questions (7). Davis assumes that his readers will have a working knowledge of those different principles, theorems and laws to which he refers. This feature, which certainly shows the author’s background in physics, could cause a few readers to abandon the book, finding it too difficult to keep up with the material. Reading it is not without benefit, however, because one realizes afresh the obvious design and order in God’s creation. Furthermore, the reader also learns of how some researchers use these laws to gag God or make Him less than what He is, e.g., that God has made a universe in which His own knowledge is limited by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (41). Surely, it only limits human researchers and certainly not the Intelligent Designer who built it into His world and set it in operation? Summarily imposing limits on God is itself off limits! Thankfully, Davis does not appear to have defended the untenable positions. In the first chapter, “Genesis 1:1 & Big Bang Cosmology,” Davis rightly concludes that Genesis 1:1, standing alone among ancient cosmologies, presents a singular, ex nihilo beginning for the universe. But then his conclusion falters when he adds that as such, it exhibits “a convergence with recent big bang cosmological models” (36). Unfortunately, Davis makes no mention of the creation week as a whole, ignoring whether or not the rest of Genesis 1 with its tightly-knit six consecutive 24-hour days really allows for a big bang model. The convergence would seem to be in the eyes of the beholder! To be sure, Davis does emphasize that God by the power of His almighty word called the universe into actual existence. One wonders just what is meant, however, when he also remarks that God worked through the mathematical equations and quantum-mechanical laws He Himself designed and which are uncovered by the sciences (36, 128). The influence of “progressive creation” on his thinking is admitted and causes him to accept far more time for God’s creative activity to take place than Genesis would allow Him to have (127). Further, the polemical nature of the Genesis account and its concern for the relationship between God and His world and human beings (115) does not detract from the impact of the order of events in the creation week and the obviously restricted time span involved. Further, serious deficiencies in big bang theo ries, which would make it difficult to continue proposing, without some major qualification, such a model for Gen 1:1, were not specifically noted. Supplemental reading is in order here. Readers should refer inter alia to John B yl’s God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe and to Douglas Kelly’s Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1–2:4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms, as well as to ICR’s Impact 216 (June 1991), “The Big Bang Theory Collapses” by Duane T. Gish, in order to have up-to-date responses to this troubled theory of origins. It is no t as settled a theory as Davis implies. The author reveals bias when he remarks that “a Christian theory of origins must acknowledge and incorporate the evidence for the evolutionary changes that have occurred in the history of life” (127). He apparently also accepts the probability of the emergence of life from inanimate matter over 3.5 billion years ago, the sudden appearance of animal phyla at the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary 570 million years ago, and the sudden appearance of art and other expressions of behaviorally modern humanity some 40 thousand years ago (128). The nature of the creation week and its obvious impact on the age of the earth, and the matter of sin, death, and the fall of man and their impact on the created order must all be considered in any Christian cosmological proposals. These were noticeably absent from the discussion. In surveying the scientific developments since Bernard Ramm’s The Christian View of Science and Scripture in 1954, Davis omits, except for a passing reference to John Whitcomb, Henry Morris, and Gary Parker (114 n. 6, and 127 n. 53), any real mention of the young-earth, recent-creation movement and the wealth of literature and scientific papers it has produced, e.g., via the Creation Research Society Quarterly and CEN’s Technical Journal as well as the excellent Impact bulletins from the Institute for Creation Research. They introd uce, at the least, a healthy caution to avoid unwisely identifying the plain teachings of Scripture with even the most compelling contemporary scientific and cosmological theories. No matter how intriguing the content of the chapters may be, and no matter how interesting an exercise it may be—and that it is—to find parallels and analogies in nature or in scientific principles, theorems, and laws, for explaining theological difficulties, it must be acknowledged that the proper understanding and resolution of these difficulties will come from a study of Scripture. Non-scriptural sources are not definitive here. The bibliography listed for chapter 6 is actually for chapter 7, which means that the one for the chapter on artificial intelligence is missing. All chapters were marked (1) by informative reviews or concise surveys of the history and development of the principles being presented, and (2) by extensive footnotes. These resources inform the reader of a host of literature available on a wide array of subjects, constituting a valuable bibliographic resource, reason enough to have the work on one’s bookshelf!