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And God Said: A Review of "The Language of Science and Faith"
Giberson and Collins make numerous references to John Polkinghorne's work, which, though "the world's leading scholar of the science-religion interface" (107) he may be, leads them into some difficult waters. In citing Polkinghorne—who speaks of the Universe "as it explores its own inherent potential through its evolving process" (116)—they move close to a language of agency in the creative order that may cause discomfort in some readers. Nevertheless, they are forthright about their own agenda: to discern God's involvement with the world in and through the laws of nature.
This involvement, they recognize, will be more difficult for Christians who hold to a strong Calvinist theological position (138). While the authors have no difficulty aligning their beliefs in a transcendent and omnipotent God with the natural development of a long, slow process, others see in evolution challenges to divine power and purpose. Giberson and Collins also recognize that some of the theological trauma of the religion/science debate is caused not by real challenges to real orthodoxy, but by 20th-century apologetics that have used discredited or disputed science, rather than faith, as "foundations for belief in God" (142).
Perhaps one of the truest and most insightful comments in the book is a gentle rebuttal to young earth creationists: "We have to distinguish between challenges to our imaginations, which have trouble conceptualizing slow processes that take millions of years, and challenges to nature, which have no such limitations" (46). Like J.B. Phillips, we all need to realize "our God is too small." We cannot imagine a God whose divine activity extends from the minute unpredictability of electrons (118) to the possibilities of a vast multiverse (189) without also thinking of God as a great engineer who manages and manipulates and maneuvers the world at every level. Giberson and Collins paint a different picture, describing a God whose presence and purposes never fail, but who works in and through the laws of nature, laws that find their ultimate meaning, but not their modus operandi, in scripture. The authors invite readers to share in the wonder and worship of a God whose creative power extends deeper and higher than we have imagined. This is the work of faith, which cannot be subjected—either by verification or falsification—to the scientific laboratory.
The Language of Science and Faith will persuade neither the "new atheists" (or old ones) nor the followers of Ken Ham and other creationists. Its most fruitful audience will be those who follow the debate, find neither extreme compelling, and are looking for spiritually-attuned, biblically grounded, and scientifically accurate input. They might conclude that the theory of evolution is incontrovertible, but they might also be able to take a deep breath and believe that it's not only okay to accept it, but to embrace its vision of a deeper, broader grandeur to God's activity in the world than they had previously thought possible.
Kathleen Mulhern is Executive Editor of Patheos. She teaches in the areas of Church History and Spiritual Formation at Denver Seminary and blogs at Dry Bones.