Some quick and short book notes

Some quick and short book notes August 10, 2018

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As is my wont, I’m excited about a few books, two popular and two more academic.

First, Peter Enns has a new book coming early next year, How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great NewsEnns is one of my favorite authors, an academic who can also write for normal people. In fact, my Mom’s been reading his Genesis for Normal People and loving it. (Enns has been on the Maxwell Institute Podcast a few times and spoken at BYU.) For a content summary from the publisher, see here.

Second, Kyle Grenwood’s edited collection, Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages should appear in the next month. Greenwood’s book on science and cosmology in the Bible is on my top 10 list for the early chapters of Genesis.

A claim is often made like “Christians have always interpreted Genesis literally until science came along!” There’s a lot wrong with that claim, which I’ve written about…somewhere. I can’t find my own darn post. Greenwood’s volume will not be the first to tackle the various interpretations of Genesis throughout the ages, but I hope will do it well and in an accessible and popular way. It’s no good for academics to know this stuff if it doesn’t filter down to popular discussion and debate.

Third, an edited anthology called The Warfare Between Science and Religion: The Idea that Wouldn’t Die. I can’t find much pre-publication PR on this yet; it’s not even available to preorder on Amazon, but several of the contributors footnote it in their articles elsewhere.

In the late 1800s, two authors (Draper and White) popularized the idea that Religion and Science had always been and inevitably always would be at war with each other. Although highly problematic and consistently rejected by historians, this “warfare model” came to dominate popular understanding today.

For an overview, I highly recommend this 5-minute video by historians-of-science Lawrence Principe (whose books and lecture series on the history of science and science&religion I have greatly enjoyed) and Ted Davis.

Edited by eminent historian of science Ronald Numbers and others, this volume looks to be the broadest and deepest exploration of the “warfare model,” featuring essays by prominent historians in the field like Peter Harrison and John Hedley Brooke. I’m quite excited for it.

Lastly, I’ve been skimming Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929

All the big US universities you’ve heard of, like Princeton, were founded as places of religious education as well as training for clergy. They maintained their religious status until very recently (see Marsden, Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief). Process and Providence represents a dry but important examination of how religious thought wrestled with scientific thought at a prominent religious school.

Princeton was the epicenter of a number of simultaneous religious and intellectual developments; The theologians at Princeton generated the modern Evangelical understandings of inerrancy/infallibility (thus contributing to modern fundamentalism), while simultaneously making room for human evolution. Names like B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge,  Alexander Hodge, and J. Gresham Machen appear repeatedly in this broader history (Wikipedia, because I don’t have a better link.) Peter Enns touches on them and Princeton in this online series.

I suspect some of the ideas generated by these scholars affected Joseph Fielding Smith and his views on interpretation, scripture, and science. For example, representing a very concordist perspective, Charles Hodge wrote that the Bible constituted “a god-given storehouse of facts.” Joseph Fielding Smith similarly held that, in contrast to man-made hypotheses like evolution, “the testimony of the prophets [in scripture] are actual facts.” How directly or indirectly Smith’s views were influenced by the Princetonians, I can’t say at this point.

None of these books is on my reading lists for my upcoming exams, but I’m going to try to fit them all in.

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