Science & Faith: Friends or Foes?

By C. John Collins
Wheaton, IL : Crossway (2003). 448 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
15.2 (Fall 2004) : 248-251

The credentials to write on such a divisive subject are certainly there, and they are more than respectable, being earned degrees from M.I.T. (B.S. and M.S.), Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary (M.Div.), and the University of Liverpool (Ph.D.).

In a non-polemical, conversational tone, the author, in twenty-one chapters in four major sections, discusses matters of science and faith, and also enjoins the believer to support the sciences wholeheartedly. In the end, “friend” is most probably the term for science and faith.

The opening section deals briefly with philosophical issues of argument, sound thinking, definitions of science and faith, and the premises of the methods of science. It is a helpful summary and reminder. The longest section deals with theological issues, and is followed by an important section on the interaction of science and faith. Chapter titles attract attention, e.g., “This is My Father’s World: The Biblical Doctrine of Creation,” or “What a Piece of Work is Man! Human Nature as it was Created ,” and one more, “Intelligent Design a Dumb Idea? Answers to Objections.” A glance through the multiple sub-headings in each chapter quickly gives the reader an appreciation of the breadth of the material covered by Collins, who, on more than one occasion, apologizes that space forbids saying more on certain subjects. Well understood! The book is formatted differently from standard texts on such an academic subject. Endnotes have been discarded in favor of unnumbered personalized notes and comments in an appendix (351-417). That Collins is well read surfaces in the wide variety of literary sources referred to for illustration or color, with the most frequently cited source being C. S. Lewis.

Well-composed synopses present the author’s understanding of different subjects, such as man’s composition, body and soul (114-23), the image of God (124-32), Adam and Eve as mankind’s sole ancestors (132-34), “Open” theism (174- 76), the biblical view of the environment (203-10), the Big Bang and cosmology (230-33), geology and earth’s history (233-37), the anthropic principle (250-53), Darwinism and neo-Darwinism (256-80), and natural revelation in the OT (184-88) and in the NT (188-99); the latter being composed of four synopses, two on Paul in Athens and in Lystra, and two on Paul’s teaching of God revealed through nature and His testimony in every human heart. Under a few sub-headings spread over two chapters, Collins also gives an extended synopsis on the fall of man (135-45). In all, he displays a knack of being able to crunch down a lot of material into a concise and articulate précis. The book might very well be described as a compendium of well written synopses. For the most part, it does not provoke that much disagreement.

That the days of the creation week are not going to be taken as normal solar days creates an early suspicion which proves to be true! “God’s workdays” or “analogical days” is the preferred option (88). The repetitive marker for each day, namely “there was evening and there was morning,” has another unspoken element to it: “there was also night-time in between” (84), thus allowing for stretching the text time-wise. The actual length of the days is not germane to the purpose of the fourth commandment, which clearly sets up the work-rest rhythm for humanity. Analogy is all that is required. Are not outside influences driving this view of the six days in Exod 20:10-11? Further, Gen 1:1 is considered to be a separate summary statement of the initial creation event occurring an unspecified number of years before Day One (64). Shades of Waltke’s pre-creation chaos theory! This means, of course, that not everything in the universe was made in six days, and that Day Four does not tell of the origin of the sun, moon, and stars. These were merely, on that fourth day, appointed to their role in the seasonal cycle of earth’s calendar, and more particularly in setting the times for worship on man’s calendar (91). The absence of the term “created” in these verses allows for the terms “let there be” and “made” to indicate that these celestial bodies actually existed beforehand. Collins thinks that some unspecified creative activity may very well have taken place, but then he startlingly observes, “but even then it doesn’t say that God brought these things into being at these particular times” (91). This sounds very much like an attempt to make the verse say what it does not say. Out of respect for Collins’ intellectual integrity, one hesitates to go that far in response. Nevertheless, a warning tone has bleeped! According to his reasoning, Days 1-5 must add up to an unknown number of years in order to establish the seasonal cycle seen in Gen 2:5-7 (90). In the “endnotes,” he refers to Gerhard Hasel’s 1980 article on the “chronogenealogies” of Genesis 5 and 11 in Origins (369)—which he quickly sets aside as of no chronological value (107-10)—but one looks in vain for any interaction with Hasel’s seminal article in the same journal, namely, “The ‘Days’ of Creation in Genesis 1: Literal ‘Days’ or Figurative ‘Periods/Epochs’ of Time?” (Origins 21/1 (1994):6-38).

Collins acknowledges that he has no reason to reject the theory of the Big Bang and that his reading of Genesis can incorporate the amount of time this theory demands. Further, such a theory can only tell how we came to be here and not why. One must ask: Are the factual statements of creation’s historical narrative that easily adjusted and generalized so as to embrace theories like the Big Bang? Does the creation account really that easily allow for the oodles of time cosmologists and physicists insist upon? Does the continued upholding of the Big Bang theory by physicists and cosmologists compel the biblical creationist to grant it value and respectability until it is replaced with something more refined? Indeed, can the scientist, Christian or not, really do good science in studying origins without the prior help of the theologian? Not surprisingly, with an old earth quite acceptable to him, Collins does not accept death in the animal kingdom as being a consequence of the fall of man (159). Although aware of young earth and other more traditional studies on radiometric dating (259-260), he leaves the impression that this should not become a defining issue. What should be said is that all who wish to enter the sciences, especially physics or astronomy, will need to know as much as possible on the dating methods selected and those rejected. The ease with which Collins appears to capitulate to scientific theories on the age of the earth, or to show a conciliatory attitude towards such theories, is somewhat disappointing.

The two chapters devoted to intelligent design are informative and are a helpful simplifying of much material on this subject in recent years. The design argument, he concludes, has its place in evangelism and apologetics and in “nourishing our Christian faith” (315). Earlier, Collins had indicated preference for “intelligent design” over neo-Darwinism, including its Christian forms, as well as over “creation science” (282-83). Neo-Darwinism’s Christian forms? Such a comment makes the reader aware that scientific theories really have influenced exegesis.

Is Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? worthy of assigned textbook status? Yes, it is, despite the comments and reactions noted above. All in all, it is well written and could be used even in a graduate class, where it would serve both to highlight what needs to be thought through when treating the Bible, science, and origins, and to stimulate a more careful and cautionary mode when exegeting the biblical text. The theologian should ask himself, “Are scientific theories dictating the direction of my study? All should be asking, “Should not the theologian direct the scientist?” Additional critical reading set alongside certain chapters would be beneficial. While reading this book, and particularly the section on theological issues, the reviewer recalled a spate of pertinent books, journal articles, and dissertations. It included the wealth of data available in ICR’s Impact articles, and in AiG’s CEN Technical Journal (now known simply as TJ). Of course, all students and readers should be encouraged to peruse Taylor Jones’ chapter, “Why a Scriptural View of Science?,” in Think Biblically! Recovering a Biblical Worldview, edited by John MacArthur with TMC’s faculty (Crossway, 2003). Undoubtedly Collins pen will stir much earnest reflection on the Bible and science.