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Book Reviews (by Kim Gentes)

In the past, I would post only book reviews pertinent to worship, music in the local church, or general Christian leadership and discipleship. Recently, I've been studying many more general topics as well, such as history, economics and scientific thought, some of which end up as reviews here as well.

Entries in evolution (2)

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate - John H. Walton (2010)

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate- John H. Walton

The last 6 years of my life I have been focused on studying history, Christianity, and science, always with an eye to looking at the serious questions of cosmology, anthropogeny and the origins of civilization. In relation to cosmology, I have found no single book more profound and articulate in explaining the Genesis account of creation than John H. Walton's "The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate".

There is a torrid spew of rhetoric accompanying both Christian and non-Christian views on the creation narrative found in Genesis 1. There are as many factions of Christian creationism as there are scientific theory groups whose anti-theist positions demand just as polemic a view point. What normally happens when Christian talk about cosmology (origins) is that they come down into two groups: those who believe the Genesis 1 account is literally true; and those that believe the Genesis creation narrative is allegorical. There are a few other subtler positions that combine features of the two, as well.

What Walton does with "The Lost World of Genesis One" is to revisit the text, the language, the culture and the ancient literature in which the text finds its context, and brings to us a brilliant re-thinking of the entire debate.  Part of the problem with this intensely powerful topic is that the conversation around it has become almost political in its consumption of subtly. We take sides without thinking deeper about the topic. But most of that is hardly our fault. Genesis is written thousands of years ago, into a language and culture we don't know or understand. Walton walks us into that strange world, and expertly explores how the ancient text was written, for whom it was written and how it can be read today in a startlingly satisfying and understandable way.

Because of the intensity and applicability of the topic (especially in today's culture and media) and the landmark approach which Walton synthesizes in this book, this is easily the most important book you read will this year, possibly in the next several.  In the Western world we often believe that the most important questions can be answered by short, simple sound bites. But this leaves us with a truncated mental grid through which to explore complex and profound truths. John Walton takes a lifetime of research and teaching to present a clear understanding of Genesis 1 that doesn't reduce the complex and important details into creationist or evolutionary memes. 

One of the pivotal points made by Walton is that the Genesis narrative, rightly understood, holds together as real and actual creation, but in a way that compliments the setting into which it was written. He says :

In a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties. Consequently, something could be manufactured physically but still not "exist" if it has not become functional.1

The implications of this statement are vetted out through 18 propositional chapters, along with a summary and much more supporting information which even includes a "Q&A" section to explore the nuances of what such a position means to Christians and the world.  I won't give more details here, since this is a serious book that really states every point well. In my opinion, this is the most important book of the decade.

I implore you- if you read just one book this year, make it this book. This excellent book contains the single best explanation for cosmology and the Genesis narrative I have ever heard. It is because of this that "The Lost World of Genesis One" garners our Editor's Choice Award. I can't urge you enough to consider this profound work. John H. Walton has given the Christian church a brilliant, readable and (most importantly) usable thesis for one of humanities most profound inquiries- the question of Creation.

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Review by Kim Gentes


  1. Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010) Pg. 26. Kindle Edition.


The Language of God - Francis S. Collins (2006)

In the last 150 years, since Darwin, science has advanced significantly in every field and discipline. On every level of natural science, the continued discoveries and study have led to a waterfall of on going re-interpretations of principles and exposure of new ones.  Whether Christians like it or not, science has become the leading voice of truth in the modern age. The Church, once the global bastion of truth to the world, bequeathed its preeminence as a guardian of moral, philosophical and practical understanding by arrogance and oppressive posture towards society in general.  While the Church was busy disconnecting itself from the humanity it once served, science was forwarding its framework of modernity and filling out its broad structure of the theory of evolution.  The theory of evolution has especially seemed to be a particularly “anti-Christian” concept, since it seemed to (on first blush) be directly contradicting the literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative found in the bible.  This is the arch-type of the modern scientific v.s. traditional Christian creationist conflict that has become a major issue not just for converting non-Christians to a belief in the Christian God, and savior Jesus, but also to retain a sense of truth and integrity within the well-thinking ranks of its own membership (Christians).  In the last 20 years, the study of genomics has become a particularly powerful field of advancement in the scientific and popular worlds.

Within this context of a great show down of scientific discovery and post-modern Christian change, Francis Collins, a noted scientist, writes the book “The Language of God”.  Collins convincingly argues for a more thoughtful interpretation of both science and the Bible, such that a faith-centered belief might not be incompatible with such a scientifically understood world.  Collins begins with the usual larger picture issues in developing his thesis towards a scientifically compatible faith, establishing a list of natural descriptors that make man unique in the natural world.

It is the awareness of right and wrong, along with the development of language, awareness of self, and the ability to imagine the future, to which scientists generally refer when trying to enumerate the special qualities of Homo sapiens.[1]

The Language of God walks judiciously through both arguments of the uniqueness of the humanity and arguments related to creation as a whole that some Christians try to use to make science compatible with faith.  The best thing this book does is to discount unprotectable positions made by Christians that are simply not reasonable or scientifically accurate.  What Collins is doing is both deconstructing false Christian/scientific theories and opening up the possibility to leave space to have the story of creation and human place in it become tellable in a post-modern, scientific world.  Without walking through many arguments, he uses CS Lewis, Augustine and other great thinkers to steer away from poor logic and reason, and keep the understanding of morality within the confines of generally accepted thought (although he largely discounts post-modernity as a methodology to achieve deeper understanding of the faith /science conflict). 

While deconstructing much falseness about the scientific provability of creation science, Collins introduces the importance of “the Anthropic Principle: the idea that our universe is uniquely tuned to give rise to humans.”[2]  He elucidates that so many parameters and probabilities exist in the physical universe that make the possibility of the existence of the physical universe, the development of the stars and planets, the flourishing of life on earth and the development of humans within that- all but an impossibility in a reality which contains no preeminent being (God) from whom such precision is possible.  He says,

There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge.[3]

In addition, he adds two other important points to the Anthropic Principle, both of which have no scientific solution either now or in the foreseeable future.

First, is the problem with actually having the universe at all.  Collins argues that no scientific work has even proposed a reasonable hypothesis from which the “singularity” (an initial state of mass/energy) can be explained.  That is- even if we attribute all things from having come from a Big Bang (from which develops all other things through evolution), how does the first point of the universe (before the Big Bang) come into being?  Simply put, science has no answer. Somehow, everything came from something, but no one can account for how that something came about.

Second is the actual origins of first life on earth. Collins carefully tracks understandings of origin of life theories but comes to this conclusion:

how did self-replicating organisms arise in the first place? It is fair to say that at the present time we simply do not know. No current hypothesis comes close to explaining how in the space of a mere 150 million years, the prebiotic environment that existed on planet Earth gave rise to life. That is not to say that reasonable hypotheses have not been put forward, but their statistical probability of accounting for the development of life still seems remote.[4]

After dismantling the scientific plausibility of life  and universe existence without some supreme being, Collins turns his mind to breaking up false concepts of creation put forth through groups like the YEC (Young Earth Creationists).   This is heartening, not because of an anti-Christian standpoint, but because of a need to keep credulity inside of a thoughtful Christian response to scientific /atheistic attacks.

What Collins gets to is the reality that neither Christian misinformation about science or atheistic pride based on science can lead to the real answers of the prime questions of our universe, life and the human place in it.  He eventually leads the discussion to the clear questioning of the atheistic/scientific modernist mindset, from which much criticism is leveled. Collins, after deconstructing their presumed positions of pride (by the 3 main points listed above), challenges scientists by saying this:

Are you simply uncomfortable accepting the idea that the tools of science are insufficient for answering any important question? This is particularly a problem for scientists, who have committed their lives to the experimental assessment of reality. From that perspective, admitting the inability of science to answer all questions can be a blow to our intellectual pride—but that blow needs to be recognized, internalized, and learned from.[5]

I found the book to be enjoyable and interesting. Collins ends with a profound call to both sides of the discussion:

Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible. So let us together seek to reclaim the solid ground of an intellectually and spiritually satisfying synthesis of all great truths.[6]


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Review by Kim Gentes


[1]Collins, Francis S. “The Language of God”. Kindle Edition (New York, NY: Free Press 2006), Pg. 23

[2]Ibid., Pg. 74

[3]Ibid., Pg. 93

[4]Ibid., Pg. 90

[5]Ibid., Pg. 232

[6]Ibid., Pg. 233