Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: The Adam Quest by Tim Spafford

“Interpretations surrounding the brute fact of evolution remain contentious, controversial, fractious, and acrimonious. Why should this be so? The heart of the problem, I believe, is to explain how it might be that we, a product of evolution, possess an overwhelming sense of purpose and moral identity yet arose by processes that were seemingly without meaning. If, however, we can begin to demonstrate that organic evolution contains deeper structures and potentialities, if not inevitabilities, then perhaps we can begin to move away from the dreary materialism of much current thinking with its agenda of a world now open to limitless manipulation.” – Dr. Simon Conway Morris, Cambridge University

The Adam Quest, by Tim Spafford, is an exploration of the evolution-creation debate – a study of a group of Christian scientists (each is a PhD with articles published in peer-reviewed journals) who endeavor to study the realm of human origins. Stafford profiles twelve scientists – eleven of whom fall into one of the three paradigms of Christian creation science: young earth creationism, intelligent design creationism, and evolutionary creationism, and one who is a scientist and a pastor and shares his views of how faith and science are meant to complement each other. Stafford carefully explains each creation paradigm, and then allows his scientist subjects to explain the science in their own words.

 The eleven scientists profiled are:

Young Earth Creationists: Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, Georgia Purdom
Intelligent Design Creationists: Michael Behe, Fazale Rana

Creation science is a very “hot” topic, and has been for a few decades now. Stafford douses the flames of rhetoric, and calmly lays out the science of each system. He shows the strengths and weaknesses (including lack of funding for proper studies, etc) of each scientist’s program. Stafford is always respectful, and brings a great deal of clarity to a subject often muddied with conflict and opinion.

"Today’s polarized environment produces less dialogue, more sound bites." - Tim Spafford

The first scientist profiled is geologist Kurt Wise, a young earth creationist and devout Baptist, who believes that, “I am not an anti-evolutionist. I am a creationist. My life goal is to create a model that explains the world.” While many in the secular world think of young earth creationists as “wacky” and “against science” and “ignorant,” Wise is actually Harvard-educated – he studied under the famous (or infamous) Stephen Jay Gould, and earned that man’s respect, if not his agreement.

The final of the eleven is biologist Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University in England, a distinguished evolutionary creationist. Morris is controversial, he publicly argued with Stephen Jay Gould on his ideas of convergence (the observation that similar forms or traits often evolve in distinct families or lines of life forms – think of the similar spines on a hedgehog and a porcupine, yet their nearest common ancestor is a distant creature that lived in the time of the dinosaur – or the unique fingerprints that developed on humans and…koalas). Morris feels that the universe is constructed to evolve in a particular way, and that done over again would still create the same forms, leading to the inevitability of humans. 

Stafford adds a "bonus" profile: Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, a physicist who seamlessly married science with his deep faith. Polkinghorne was a distinguished physicist with Cambridge University, publishing many papers, and eventualy becoming President of Queen's College. And then, at the height of his career, he retired from academia to become an Anglican minister. His ministry brought him back to Cambridge, where he once again became President of Queen's College. Polkinghorne hold not part in the evolution-creation debates, but he does hold important views on the proper place of science in every Christian's life.

"People sometimes say that science is about facts and religion is simply about opinion, but that's to make a double mistake actually. There are no interesting scientific facts that are not already interpreted facts, and to interpret what's being measured, you have to use theoretical opinions. So there's a very subtle exchange between theory and experiment in science, which means its conclusions are never absolutely certain but well-justified. Similarly, religion isn't just a question of shutting your eyes, gritting your teeth, and believing impossible things on some unquestionable authority. It's also concerned with the search for truth through motivated belief, but it's a different level and kind of truth, and so it's motivations are a different kind of motivation. But I think, under the skin, science and religion are cousins in the search for truth." - John Polkinghorne

I went into this book assuming it was one thing and being delighted it was another. Stafford’s writing is clear and concise, he brings the scientists and their science to life in language understandable to the layman – and yet he doesn’t patronize or overly simplify the science into meaninglessness. At the conclusion of the book, Stafford expresses what he feels are the pros and cons of each of the three Christian creation systems, and where his personal belief falls on this range. He and I are in agreement on this, and yet his coverage of the scientists with very different views never fails to be respectful and non-judgmental.

I highly recommend The Adam Quest to anyone who truly wants to understand what the real debate is regarding Christianity, Science, and Creation – as opposed to what media pundits say it is. Whether one is a strict evolutionist or rather leans towards one of these creationist systems, whether one is of a Judeo-Christian or non-Christian religious leanings or atheist leanings, there is much to be learned from these scientists. The questions posed by each, as they work towards a more accurate science of life and creation, provoked a great deal of very thoughtful conversation in my house – and I know we will be adding the books written by these scientists to our reading list, for more in-depth reading about these systems and their possibilities.

Tim Spafford is a Senior Writer for Christianity Today, and is also the author of more than twenty fiction and non-fiction books
The Adam Quest is published by Thomas Nelson Books.It can be purchased for $22.95 directly from Thomas Nelson, or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other fine booksellers.

Non-fiction, Science & Technology/General, teen to adult.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trace Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."