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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Review: Origins by Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma

In Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma make a profound case for how science leads people to worship God more deeply. They wrestle with questions of science, the interpretation of Genesis, and corresponding theological issues without shying away from the complexities of each issue. Nor do they try to give easy answers. They are honest about the pitfalls found in each viewpoint they present without leading the reader to subscribe to any particular interpretation. Yet they do seek to lead the reader into worship.

Drawing from St. Augustine and the Belgic Confession, they affirm that God reveals Himself to humanity in two ways, in two books: creation and Scripture or God’s world and God’s Word [1]. Both show who God is. Yet how they relate to one another can be a complicated question. Christians must be careful to not “read into Scripture things it was never intended to teach” [2]. Two main hermeneutical principles safeguard Scripture from misuse. First, “each passage should be interpreted in light of the rest of the Bible.” Second, “we need to understand how the original author and the intended audience understood it.” This requires studying the genre of a passage, the passage’s internal content, and the historical and cultural context of a passage [3]. Scripture can also direct us to supernatural explanations which science cannot explain and also provides a unique revelation about the meaning of human life and humanity’s relationship to God which science cannot explain [4]. Science, on the other hand, cannot be used to ignore portions of Scripture. It can, however, add to our understanding of nature as described in Scripture and explain how creation works in ways Scripture does not [5].

Scripture also provides a worldview for the study of science. As God’s image-bearers, humans have the ability to study Creation. Because there is only one faithful Creator, creation works in a consistent, natural way which can be studied. Yet humans can make mistakes because of sin and so continual observations and experiments are necessary for studying creation [6].

Despite the agreement between the two books of God’s revelation, there are perceived conflicts between how humans interpret each of the books [7]. The same worldviews that allow science to happen also influence which competing scientific models a scientist may pick when the data is inconclusive. A worldview can also lead a scientist to reject a scientific conclusion that does not agree with their worldview [8]. Politics can also get involved and bias the discussion outside of scientific concerns [9]. Christians can also go astray in interpreting Scripture. At times, theology and Church tradition can read Scripture incorrectly and lead to less faithful readings of Scripture [10]. Both scientists and Christians need to be careful how they interpret the evidence.

After these initial observations, Haarsma and Haarsma turn to the difficult questions of evolution and interpretation of Genesis. Throughout the book, they present the large body of scientific evidence supporting evolution. The evidence is so wide-ranging, it is nearly impossible to deny evolution without dismissing science altogether. They begin by presenting evidence for an old earth and an old universe. First, evidence of continental drift would have required a long period of time for the continents to move out from one continent to their current location. Second, there are thick layers of ice found in glaciers which mark out the seasons of the year. Thus far, scientists have been able to count these back to 720,000 years. Third, radiometric dating consistently dates the oldest rocks on Earth to 3.6 billion years [11].

The universe itself can be dated even earlier. First of all, the size of the universe itself indicates its age. If stars billions of light years away are currently visible on earth, it indicates the light has been traveling for billions of years. Second, geological evidence on the moon and other planets in the solar system give a similar age to the earth. Finally, radiometric dating shows meteorites and asteroids to also be billions of years old [12].

After settling on an age for the universe, Haarsma and Haarsma present evidence for the Big Bang. First, the observation that galaxies are moving away from one another allows scientists to reverse the process and see that once the universe was packed tightly together as a ball of hot gas [13]. Second, as expected, the universe still has heat radiation throughout it, a clue that the universe was hot at the beginning [14]. Third, helium is found throughout the entire universe in amounts that could have only been created by a large reaction when the universe was packed tightly together [15]. As a result of the Big Bang model, the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old, which fits all the evidence for the age of the Earth and Solar System [16].

Finally, they tackle evolution itself with a large body of evidence. First, the fossil record shows transitions between species [17]. Second, when comparing the anatomy of various species, scientists can find enough commonalities to indicate common ancestry between species [18]. Third, biogeography shows certain species, particularly island species, are perfectly suited for their ecosystem as the result of adaptation [19]. Fourth, there is a surprising similarity amongst the genes of multiple species, indicating common ancestry [20]. Fifth, genes within a class of species are more similar than they are to other classes, indicating common ancestry [21]. Finally, the genetic diversity currently seen in species indicates this process has been going on for a long period of time [22].

After detailing the evidence for creation, the Haarsma’s list many options for interpreting Genesis, though they do not favor one. Is the passage literal or allegorical? Is Genesis a poem, the representation of a covenant between God and creation, the building of a Temple, or a reaction to Babylonian creation myths? Does Genesis say the earth is young or old? Are the days literal or do they represent ages? Is there a gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2? Were Adam and Eve real ancestors, representatives, a group, or merely symbolic? Are they recent or ancient? If there were other human beings, what moral responsibility did they have? How is sin transmitted? Where did the other people come from in Genesis 4? What is the human soul and how did it come into being? No single view has been proposed that satisfactorily deals with all of these interpretive and theological questions along with the scientific evidence [24].

Since no reconciling view is without its problems scientifically or theologically, what are Christians to believe? The Haarsma’s believe that while we do disagree, there is much to agree on. All Christians affirm humans are made in God’s image with certain abilities. We are invited into relationship with God and entrusted to steward His creation. Because of the Fall, no matter how it happened, death is part of our world. Because of sin, we cannot have a relationship with God apart from the work of Jesus [25]. While understanding the scientific and biblical details regarding how Creation and the Fall occurred, Christians can agree God is the Creator, we have fallen, and we need the help of Jesus. The only response to that agreement is worship. “Worship and meditation provide space to ponder God’s revelation in nature so that we may listen to it more attentively” [26]. The Haarsma’s conclude their book with four helpful ways to integrate creation and worship. First, utilize liturgies concerning creation. Second, sing songs about God’s creation. Third, place images of nature in the worship space. Fourth, use science in sermon illustrations [27]. While the Haarsma’s may not give answers to every question regarding origins, they show us how we as faithful Christians can wrestle through the questions in ways that lead us to love and worship God more faithfully.

[1] Haarsma, Deborah B., and Loren D. Haarsma. Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2011. pp. 72-73.

[2] Ibid. p. 28.

[3] Ibid. p. 84.

[4] Ibid. p. 29.

[5] Ibid. pp. 29-31.

[6] Ibid. p. 43.

[7] Ibid. p. 74.

[8] Ibid. p. 75.

[9] Ibid. p. 78.

[10] Ibid. pp. 79-80.

[11] Ibid. pp. 115-117.

[12] Ibid. pp. 162-164.

[13] Ibid. pp. 166-167.

[14] Ibid. p. 168.

[15] Ibid. pp. 168-169.

[16] Ibid. p. 169.

[17] Ibid. pp. 194-195.

[18] Ibid. pp. 196-198.

[19] Ibid. pp. 198-200.

[20] Ibid. pp. 200-201.

[21 Ibid. pp. 201-202.

[22] Ibid. p. 202.

[23] Ibid. pp. 97-128, 229-276.

[24] Ibid. p. 270.

[25] Ibid. pp. 268-269.

[26] Ibid. p. 289.

[27] Ibid. p. 296.

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