Coming to Peace with Science

Darrel R. Falk

Forward by Francis Collins, 1st page, after decrying the extreme polarization of positions, says "Particularly at risk are those who, having been taught young-earth creationism by well-intentioned families and churches, ultimately become exposed to overwhelming scientific data supporting evolution and an old earth. Faced with unreasonable demands on their logic by sincere teachers of their faith, is it any wonder that many sadly conclude that they cannot believe in a God who would ask them to deny the truth?"


p13 In describing recent books about the action of the Creator, he is raising doubts about the appropriateness of the engineer metaphor. "God is frequently referred to as a designer, as though he designed and built living creatures in a manner analogous to how we humans construct a building or a piece of equipment."

p13 Properly notes that the approach to science over the last 150 years purposefully excludes the intervention of the supernatural. Talks about the gulf that this creates with persons of faith who see everything as in the hands of the supernatural.

p15 "Perhaps, however, the best analogy for the designer is not that of an engineer but an artist, or better yet, the composer and conductor of a symphony. Can one decipher through scientific study the 'rules' of great art or the 'statutes' of a masterfully composed and conducted symphony? Perhaps, like the work of an artist or a symphony conductor, the action of the Creator has been so subtle and all-encompassing that it will never be possible to describe it by using the tools of science."

Ch 1. Science and Religion, Trying to Live in Two Worlds at Once

p25 Falk compares the YEC teachings about the earth and life, particulary ICR stuff, as like teaching 2+2=5. That is, it is not just an isolated problem but crumbles the whole system of truth. "There is a real danger that a substantial number of churches in evangelical Christianity are constructed isolated islands for themselves - islands so separated from the world of science that any bridges that used to exist between their Christian faith and the world of academics will have been burned." "Is not the crying out the scientific equivalent of "two plus two does not equal four" comparable to burning one of the last bridges to that world? If so, then numerous children who venture from the island into the realm of knowledge that exists outside their island-world may drown when they find there are no bridges to carry them across." These statements are in the context of an argument that a common content of all the sciences includes a framework: "These sciences point toward a very old earth and universe and to the gradual appearance of new life forms on earth over billions of years."(p24). Falk speaks more gently than these quotes might indicate, and tells this story in the context of his struggle as a Christian young person.

p26 "The existence of this antiscientific island might be appropriate if astronomy, astrophysics, physics, geology and biology really do need to be dismantled. But what if much of the work of the myriad of brilliant minds is not wrong? What if these minds that are exploring the intricate details of God's world are really in the process of uncovering God's mysteries unaware - mysteries about how God created? What if creation really is a gradual process and the problem is not a major flaw in scientific investigation but rather a flaw in the theology of the numerous Christians who do not trust scientific conclusions? What if these Christians have simply misunderstood how God desires that his Word be understood? If this were the case, the ramifications would have colossal significance." These opening statements might lead to an expectation that this book is going to be very confrontational, but his approach is really quite gentle and careful. It is clearly targeted at the Christian reader, and is full of religious language as if he were talking to a church group. Or maybe to a group of students at a Christian college.

27 Scriptures used to defend the idea that the earth is at the center of the universe, Also throws in Joshua 10:13 about the sun standing still. The context was the challenging of Galileo by Jesuit Colombe in about 1600.

p28 Galileo's response. Long quote on the dangers of excessive literalism, like attributing an "arm" to God.

p30 Eloquent footnote by J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken, Revelation and the Bible, 3rd Ed. p94 "What patience and skill He showed throughout the long history of revelation in always so adapting his message to the capacities of his chosen messengers that it never overran their powers of transmission, but within the limits set by their outlook, culture, language and literary ability, could always find adequate and exact expression! But such gracious self-limitation is typical of the God of Bethlehem's stable and Calvary's cross."

p33 Commentary on liberalism and its contrast with evangelical Christianity

p34 Quotes of Augustine (Augustine's reserve), Calvin and Wesley - quotes that he clearly feels are foundational to his views.

p36 "It is now almost a century and a half since data implying a gradual creation began to accumulate. What if this data is God's data - revealed to us through the medium of scientific investigation? What if scientists are not as wrong as so many evangelicals think they are?"

p37 Description of the "file cabinet" of life. This is his layout section: Examining Genesis 1-3, fossil "file cabinet " of life, geographic distribution, DNA discussion, then theological ramifications.

Chapter 2: The Creation and the Fall

p39 Fusses about science in general and biologists in particular projecting beyond their evidence. After conceding the success of scientific investigations "There is not good reason to extrapolate from its success so far an assumption that there is nothing besides these natural laws."

p40 Quotes Johnson from "Darwin on Trial" and Dawkins from "River Out of Eden". This is Dawkins' "nothing but blind, pitiless indifference" quote, to which Johnson is strongly reacting. Falk's well stated comment "Dawkins extrapolates from the data of science to conclude that life is a blind product of DNA molecules - purposeless, with nothing behind the scene except vast empty space. How does he know this? Has he done experiments to test this? Extrapolation may work within the natural world of test tubes, graphs, and computer modeling, but how can it e used to move from a world governed by natural laws to make conclusions about a world of Spirit - a world that supersedes the natural?" Falk's bottom line "Dawkins uses extrapolation to jump out of the realm of science and into the domain of philosophy - hardly a scientific way to use a scientific tool."

p41 Gould and NOMA, summarizing what Gould has generously left over for the "magesterium" of faith " Religion can take what is left, namely a search for meaning, morals and ethics in a vacuous world with an all-but-dead God" Gould source is "Rocks of Ages:Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life" He also cites Johnson's "Wedge of Truth" in commenting on the "precious little" that Gould leaves over for religion.

p56-57 Meaningful parts of Falk's testimony of faith and his journey.

The tone of this writing is very much like he is defending the ideas mainly to committed Christians with whom he longs to communicate. It is a passionate effort to communicate to his fellow Christians the things that have become compelling in his long study and teaching of biology.

p59 "Because of this dependence on God's revelation, we must not give undue attention to the aspect of Christian apologetics that tries to prove by scientific arguments that there is a Designer. Even if we were successful at doing this, getting someone to accept that there is a Designer has little to do with the heart of the creation story." I find this a bit strange - maybe he is thinking about YEC publications that try to prove their perspective. I certainly see science apologetics as appropriate to get science-minded folks to think about the implications of agency and information in nature. It doesn't bring them all the way to Christ, but it seems to me that it can help start the journey.

3. Putting Creation Into a Time Frame

62 Quotes 2 Peter 3:8, the "day is as a 1000 years" verse and comments "Peter was telling us that our time frame is not God's, and he was reminding us not to try to fit God into our tiny boxes."

p62 General introduction to radioactive dating for beginners. Gentle and careful, like he was talking to young students.

p64 Makes a good point about lead isotopes that I ought to make use of. Lead 207 and Lead 204, being chemically identical, were chosen in an indiscriminate manner when included in early minerals, so we can depend upon having a beginning point that reflected the abundances of these isotopes at that time.

p69 40 different isotope systems give independent time measurements. He deals with the YEC objections to radiometric dating.

p70 Deals with and dismisses the idea that decay rates might have changed.

p71 Makes a nuclear scale model with nucleus at size of soccer ball. Diameter of atom then tops Everest. References Dalrymple, Age of the Earth. That's a reference I ought to look at. Uses Dalrymple to make case that all attempts to change the rate of a nuclear decay have been fruitless.

p73 References Dalrymple and also Roger C. Wiens, "Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective, ASA 2002 I have saved this as a pdf document Wiens2002.

p74 Age of the universe. Points to big bang and anthropic principle. Interesting discussion of Karl Barth and his discussion of creation from nothing, preceding the big bang evidence by 50 years. This section includes a kind of beginners guide to the big bang and doppler shift arguments.

4. The Fossil Record

83-84 Time line of fossils and argument for gradual change.

p84 "Our more 'modern' species of mammals are only found in rocks that are younger than 65 million years."

p84 "We can date the 'file drawer,' then look inside. What we see is a near-perfect correlation between the age of the drawer and the sorts of organisms that are found in it."

86 250,000 species preserved. Defense of consistency with scripture.

86 Presents 3 views of the fossil record

  • Possibility 1: God created each individual species from scratch, from nothing, one species at a time
  • Possibility 2: God created specific types of organisms in bursts of creative activity and then, by what some people refer to as microevolution, organisms underwent changes to produce a series of related species
  • Possibility 3: God creates by guiding and influencing a process that involves gradual change.

These three possibilities show up a lot in the subsequent discussion and he defends his preference for Possibility 3. He argues on pg 88 that the three are 'scripturally equal', i.e. all consistent with scripture.

86 Speaks of figurative language in Genesis 1. He is arguing that the message of Genesis is consistent with the fossil record, at least allowing for a long gradual progression from simpler to more advanced as the fossil record shows.

p87 "Animals, plants and other organisms really do share common ancestors, but through a process continually under the control of God's presence the history of life has taken the course that it has." Cites Gen 1:2 "the Spirit of God [is] hovering."

88 Life at 3.5 to 3.8 billion years

p88 Citing Gen 1:20 and 1:24 he comments "Clearly it happened at God's command, but how?"

p89 "When scientists look at this data without the lens of faith, they propose, given the atmospheric conditions and the composition of the earth, that the origin of life is a highly probable natural event." Whoa! I haven't seen any previous statements in the book that seem so way off-base as this one. Almost like he hasn't looked at the assessments of the difficulty of the origin of life problem.

89 references the Murchison meteorite but it only has simple amino acids - so seems to overstate its relevance.

90 An appeal to abandon preconceived limits on God's time. "Whether cells originated 3.8 billion years ago, 3.8 million years ago, or even 3,800 years ago is of no particular consequence to us. Once life is viewed through the lens of faith, once we believe that it happened at God's command and because of God's presence, theologically it becomes somewhat irrelevant as to when it happened. We can simply "sit back" and let the data of God's created world tell us when."

p91 "Is it not possible that God's Presence and God's command might have subtly influenced natural processes, causing the otherwise very unlikely to become likely? According to this line of thinking, God might have worked in such subliminal ways that you and I, with our microscopes and test tubes, would never be able to point to a specific miracle - not, that is until we stood back, looked at the completed project and calculated the probability of that set for events occurring without God's Presence and without God's command."

p91-92 His Mona Lisa model. "Let's pretend we could go .. back to the studio of Leonardo da Vinci to observe him painting the Mona Lisa. If you and I were able to go back in time to watch and analyze da Vinci's individual brush strokes with our handy microscope and test tubes, we would never know a masterpiece was being painted. As we used our twenty-first-century sophistication to examine the chemical composition of the paint laid on the canvas, we might be able to explain all the details of why some chemicals have one color and others a different color. We might be able to explain the principle of how the paint sticks to the canvas and why some canvases are better than others. We might even analyze the brush stroke and explain perfectly all the maneuvers of the painter's hand and brush. 'Looks like and ordinary painting to us', I am sure we would conclude. Little would we know, by those techniques alone, than the mind of a genius was guiding the paint as it appeared on the canvas. Analyzing only the brush strokes cannot demonstrate the artistic majesty of da Vinci's work. Only as we stand back and view the completed painting in all of its beauty can we recognize that a master has been at work guiding the brush to the artist's desired end."

p92 "If this is how God created life - gradually, using strokes that to scientists almost appear to be ordinary chemistry when analyzed through the myopic lens of their scientific tools - would it be any less of a miracle? Even if scientists were able to explain the detailed, natural-appearing steps in the history of life's origins, does that in any way imply that the work they describe was not guided by the hand of the Master? The majestic living picture of the interior of the cell is a masterpiece like no other. Created by the Word of God's command and the Spirit of God's presence, and nurtured by the vision of God the Father for his offspring, the cell is God's painting come to life. When one examines this whole living picture in all of its moving majesty, is the question of whether it took 200 million years or 200 microseconds even relevant? Gradual or sudden, is one somehow less the work of God than the other?"

Wow! When I got to this point it seemed like all the rest was prelude!

p93 "rapid" an unexplained appearance of cells, "sudden" appearance of animal life at about 545 million years ago. Characterizing "phyla' as "major body plan", discusses the appearance of many within 15-20 million years at the time called the Cambrian explosion.

p93 "As Creator, God may or may not choose to work in sudden, dramatic fashion. It is entirely possible that God may choose to work so subtly in influencing natural-appearing processes that the mechanistic-reductionist approach that scientists use would fail to detect contingency on God's command and Presence. God is free to work in whatever way God chooses, be it subtle or explosive."

p94 Essentially attributes the idea of the "Cambrian explosion" to Stephen Jay Gould and in particular to his book "Wonderful Life". Notes that the Cambrian explosion idea is highly controversial and goes on to comment to the effect that it is not held by most biologists - they regard it as an explosion of finding fossils because suddenly there was a "much greater likelihood of fossilization."

p97 A quote prompted by the Elijah story in I Kings 19:4 about "the still, small voice" Falk reflects "God works in different ways, and if God's work in creation was primarily in the form of a whisper, then we need to be prepared to come out of aour cave and, like Elijah, stand in awe, because we are emerging onto the holy ground of God's creation. Follow along through the rest of the chapter as we explore whether possibility 3 is the correct one, but do so in a spirit of worship - "cloak over your face" - listening for the wisper of God."

p98 Elephant story - several varieties in fossil record, converging gradually to present elephant

p101 "The Bible says that the creation of life's varieties happened at God's command, but it says nothing at all about whether it occurred from scratch, nor does it say with certainty that it happened by one unique command for each unique species. If a person wants to believe this, he or she is free to do so, but it is inappropriate to insist that this is the biblical view."

p103 "This is not to say that God is not playing a supervisory role in creation in a manner resembling the role God plays in my life and yours. But there is no a priori scriptural reason to assume that the biological world was created one species at a time by the God of the universe "pushing creation buttons" each time he wanted a new species. He does not do that in the daily affairs of my life ..."

p103 tackles the issue of transitional forms with whales and turtles

p109 "We must be careful about inserting God's activity only where human knowledge appears to be deficient. The gaps in the fossil record are not the places where we should search for God. Rather all that happened occurred because of God's Presence, God's command and God's consent. No search is needed! 'Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made'(John 1:3)

p110-115 The gaps in transitional species are being filled in. Detailed discussion which includes recent findings and discussion of reasons why transitional forms in the fossil record would be expected to be rare.

p111 All life in the sea before 400My, at about 400My land plants appeared and by 380My shrubs and the first green revolution was underway. At about 370My land animals are detected.

p115-120 Chain leading to mammals

p 112 Discusses the 1998 discovery of a fish fin dated 370My with a different fin structure similar to a 320My tetropod - evidence for a transitional form at about the right time to speak to the development of land animals.

p 115 "The first land animals were so fishlike that it is virtually certain they were derived from fish."

p 115 First mammals about 225My, small mouselike creatures in a land dominated by large reptiles.

p 116 Discusses a reptile subgroup, the cynodonts, which were found around 260My. Several pages of discussion of the apparent progression of a double-hinged jawbone to make the structure that is part of the ossicles of the ears of modern mammals. Kenneth Miller also discusses this on p138 of "Finding Darwin's God". This cynodont then disappeared, so is pointed to as a true transitional species that helped the development of the modern mammalian middle-ear structure.

p121-125 the rise of birds. Archaeopteryx story, birds with tails.

p124 Since 1990 many bird fossils

p125 upwards of 10 million species alive today, likely less than 1% of total.

p125 fossilization rare - issues which make missing fossils expected, and even can bring the whole Cambrian explosion picture into doubt.

p126 transitional species in small populations

p126-127 reason for rarity of transitional forms

p133 models of time line, 4 billion years to one year, 100 years an eye blink. 67 mile line with 100 years the width of a pencil line.

Ch 5 Beyond the Fossil Record

p135 Comments on how different from today are the organisms 50My and 500My back and makes the observation: "Far from being inconsistent with Scripture, this data informs us a little about what it means from creation to have occurred in response to God's command and in the ongoing Presence of his Spirit. The changing distribution of organisms through time makes it clear that God's act of creation has been a gradual one, taking much longer than some had imagined."

p135-150 Effects of geographical isolation: Hawaii, lakes of Africa, mites on pocket gophers. Diversity of life. Hawaii interesting in that it has only one native mammal - a bat, which could fly to the islands. Islands rose from sea, Kauai oldest, so no way for land mammals to get there. The cichlid fish of African Lakes Victoria (0.5My), Malawi (4 My), and Tanganyika(10 My) are isolated to these lakes. Interesting that species are specialized to different niche diets, like thin-nosed species to get larvae from between rocks. The thin-nosed cichlids from different lakes look very similar, but DNA studies show that they are further apart genetically than different-appearing species in their own lake, which share a common genetic heritage. Mites on pocket gophers add another aspect, mites on genetically similar gopher species are more similar genetically than mites from more different gophers. A sort of second-order evidence for gradual genetic change.

p143 "Various types of evidence indicate that all three hundred to five hundred ciclid species in Lake Malawi are descended from a single species."

p 137 Discussion of the 10,000+ unique species in Hawaii - "it really does imply that, in response to the Word of God's creation command and in he Spirit of God's Presence, species that had arisen elsewhere were changed gradually to their Hawaiian counterparts."

p150 Reflects on "Let the water teem with living creatures .." as expressing a kind of liberty of creation. The 'hovering' of God's Spirit "imply an omnipresent God who is not coercive but rather a God who lights the way.. "

p151 Continental drift and long-term isolation.

p152 About the South America and Africa fit, there are fossils of "a snaggletoothed reptilian organism that can be found in the rocks in only two world locations: the eastern edge of South America and the southwestern side of Africa that matches quite precisely its South American complement."

p154 Australia and its abundance of marsupials. Expect greater change in Australia because of long time of isolation (50 My+). Variety of marsupials to respond to the ecological niches. There are similarities in body features in Australia vs South America, but the variations in Australia are marsupials, those in South America not. Have kangaroos rather than buffalo and other ungulates. New Zealand has no native mammals, but had flightless birds that filled the food-gathering niches normally filled by mammals. They did that until humans came and ate them all except the kiwi. Very interesting chapter in general because of all the unique species that it discusses.

p168 In his conclusion he comments in more detail on his opposition to the picture of God as engineer-designer of species one by one.

Ch 6 Tracing Lineage by Tracking Genes

p169 Quote of Augustine on Scripture.

p170 J I Packer quote
Reiterates his three possibilities as noted on pg 86

p170-171 A recap of the support for Possibility 3

p171 Genetic language. General description of role of genes and proteins.

p172 Humans have about 35000 genes. Description of hemoglobin.

p176 Gene 'messages' the same because of having the same source.

p178 do mistakes occur

p179 mistakes point to a common lineage

p183 Average human chromosome has about 2000 genes

p185 duplicate gene for delta globin present in all monkeys and apes

p185 pseudogenes - a duplicate gene that is not needed, not functional. It can accumulate mutations without affecting function, and therefore are passed along to progeny.

p187 Same deletion in a pseudogene in goats and cows, indicating a common ancestry.

p188 A common deletion in chimps, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons, but not in macaques and some others. Information about common descent.

p189 Genes have introns, sections of gibberish that do not contribute to the gene's message, but which the cell knows to ignore, so they don't affect function. Then there are "retroposons", sections of floating gibberish that can insert themselves into the introns. Don't affect anything, but are passed to progeny and can be used as an indication of common descent.

p191 bottom of page fascinating discussion of a particular retroposon that is in the same place in the genes of all even-toed ungulates from whales and dolphins to cows, sheep, deer and giraffes.

p192 More discussion of common descent as indicated by genetic information.

p193 Part of a viral gene may get placed into a "gibberish" region, an intron, and be passed on to progeny. A certain retrovirus is in all old world monkeys, but not in new world monkeys, giving some evidence of heritage and the separation of the populations.

p195-196 "God can move suddenly in ways that represent unmistakable miracles, but he also works in subtle fashions, in manners that frequently cannot be detected except through the lens of faith. Which way he chooses (or has chosen) in any particular event or series of events is his call, not mine and not yours."

p196 Most mammals have about 35000 genes, humans 2 sets of 23 chromosomes, averaging about 1500 genes each.

p197 There is a common arrangement in a particular chromosome of a chimp and an orangutan. The same genes of that chromosome are present in the gorilla, but there has been a single rearrangement - a segment of the chromosome has the genes arranged in inverse order. Works well either way, but is an identifiable and inheritable difference.

p198 After discussing the lines of descent that we can figure out from these distinctive features of the DNA, he comments "Now, like never before, God is allowing us to peer back through those millions of years to see how it was done."

p199 Deals with the "No death before the fall" objections. "There is nothing in Genesis stating that no organism died until the moment of the Fall."

p200 Further dealing with the "No death before the fall" objections citing Romans 5:12, 1 Cor 15:22, Rom 8:20-22.

Ch 7 Coming to Peace with Biology

p203 Deals with the Second Law objections. Great paragraph on the cell and its intricate order.

p205 Deals with "first cells" problem.

p206 "The Second Law and Christian Apologetics. If scientists ever discover how the first cells arose, the finding may point to the hand of God. But it is also possible that it may not. If any lesson has come out of biology, it is that God works in subtle ways. God clearly uses natural forces to accomplish God's purposes, and often we see God's hand only when we look back in faith at the finished product. In doing so we worship God for a finished product that is awesome indeed."

p207 "I am convinced that it is through faith in Jesus that God wants us to come to him, not through some scientific "proof" that the creation of cells is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics." This is the beginning of a wonderful paragraph on Jesus kingdom being based not on miracles and majesty but upon servanthood.

p208 "It is possible that God may have chosen to work in creation in subtle ways because he wants humankind to be drawn to his servanthood more than to his majesty." Another beautiful paragraph --- rather than draw us by the inside of a beautifully organized cell, he points us to a lonely hillside.

p208 Coming to Peace with the Slippery Slope Really Being a Heavenward Climb. Deals with the very real concern that accepting figurative language in Genesis can lead to rejection of the resurrection. Lays out the tenets that are necessary for Christians but untestable by science 1. The resurrection, 2. the Holy Spirit's presence, 3. the power of prayer, 4. listening for God's voice

p216 Coming to Peace with Human Creation. All the writing in this whole chapter is heartfelt and passionate - more of his testimony. Some beautiful expressions and some reflections on God's love in the creation.

p224 Having come back to discussion of some of his personal journey, and the conviction he feels about the gradual creation, he moves back to comment more on the genetic evidence.

p224 "Humans have many of the same marked genes as the great apes. We have many retroposons and silenced virus genes inserted into introns in the exact same position as chimpanzees and gorillas. There is no "break" in the genetic data that implies that the human body was created in a manner that is different thant he way in which God created other living creatures."

p225 comment on Neanderthal DNA

p228 comments on why the Bible is not explicit about gradual creation

p229 Appeal for tolerance and peace with those who think differently.

p233 "God does not call us to a life of studying science - he calls us to a life of following in Christ's footsteps. Hence we must be patient with each other and allow each other to follow truth as we see it in Scripture. We must recognize that we will never reach the point where we all see Scripture the same way. Although you may be absolutely certain that God created gradually, this does not mean that you are somehow less obligated to love and care for someone who is equally certain that God created suddenly. We are one body, and we must nurture and care for each other, all the more so when we think differently on some points."

In those final pages he shares more of the story of his family and the acceptance he found in a vital church fellowship. He longs to build bridges to scientists who might not have found the acceptance that he has enjoyed.


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