Redeeming Science (Book Review)

redeeming-scienceVern Poythress is one of my favorite Christian teachers and authors. If you haven’t heard of him, check out the website he shares with his “theological soulmate” John Frame. Poythress is the kind of Christian who is wise enough to walk the difficult line where creativity and orthodoxy meet. He’s a NT biblical scholar who also holds degrees in apologetics and mathematics. And he’s got the mind of a scientist. All this makes him uniquely qualified to write the go-to book on how the Bible and modern science ought to interact with each other. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach is that book. If you are a Christian who wrestles with the problem of how an ancient book like the Bible may be read with honesty and integrity in light of what scientists find it their observations of the natural world, then Poythress is your guy. This is not a book about “creation science” in the fundamentalist, biblical-literalist sense (as much as critics would like to lump all creationists together). It is also not so much a book about the problems in neo-darwinian evolutionary theory. It is a book that first asks foundational questions about how to think about science and the Bible. In other words, it’s a book that begins with questions about the philosophy of science and how scientists often succumb to idolatry from the outset. And then it just builds from there. Such a unique book is hard to summarize. In one sense, you just have to read it. Better yet, find someone to read it with and talk about it. If the church and the science academy could sit down and read this together, who knows what could happen. As MLK famously hoped, “I have a dream!”

Perhaps I made the book sound inaccessible to the average Joe. I think there are portions of it that can be difficult (who didn’t run into trouble wrapping their brain around something in their science textbook?). But Poythress aims to make science wonderful again, as it is when you used to look upon the world with childlike amazement. I think he does a good job of moving us in the right direction.

The flow of the book is straightforward. Some will recognize that his apologetic method of interacting with modern scientists is presuppositional. He begins by explaining why scientists must believe in God (Yes, must!). Thus the book begins with a bombshell. Next he discusses the questions of authority and knowability (epistemology). After concluding with a convincing argument (in my judgment) that God and His Word are authoritative and knowable, he examines the Bible’s doctrine of creation with an emphasis on Genesis 1. He devotes a couple chapters to the question of the earth’s age in light of the Bible and modern science, then he presents and critiques the various creation views held by Christians:

Major views

  • Day-age theory
  • 24-hour-day view
  • Mature creation view
  • Analogical day theory
  • Framework view

Other views

  • Religious-only theory
  • Local creation view
  • Gap theory
  • Intermittent day theory
  • Revelatory day theory

The book continues by examining man’s role in science, Christ’s role as redeemer of everything (which must include science), the relation of God’s spoken word to science, how truth is discovered and expressed in science, the character of scientific knowledge, creation related to re-creation, and the mystery of life. After this long and sustained argument, the author proposes why Intelligent Design (ID) is an attractive and viable option for scientists. Despite many who loudly object, ID does not have to “kill” scientific inquiry! Poythress shows how to avoid this trap. The book ends by proposing a distinctly Christian approach to the sciences of physics and chemistry.

It was these last two chapters on physics and chemistry that contained some material that stretched my mind a bit, considering it’s been a few years since I studied those subjects. But on the whole, the book is surprisingly accessible for its lofty content matter.

For the curious, Poythress seems to be an old-earth creationist.  He believes the analogical day theory proposes the best model so far for harmonizing the Bible with science. He is open to other major views, as he sees strengths and weaknesses (even his preferred analogical view) in each. The discussion and critique of each view is worth the price of the book. But hey, you don’t have to pay for it in electronic PDF format. The author gives away many of his books for free download!

You can believe this is a book worth reading when proponents of various creation and theological views sing its praises. Theologians John Frame and Wayne Grudem commend it. Frame says, “This is by far the most important book you can read on this subject.” ID advocate and scientist Stephen Meyer is a fan. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe, and Jitse Van Der Meer, professor of Biology and History and Philosophy of Science, both highly recommend the book. After carefully reading it myself, I find myself excited again about exploring our world through science with my kids. Now I have more insight in answering their questions (and mine) of how science and faith relate. The short answer? They kiss each other.

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