On Origin: A Book Review

I’m not an avid reader of fiction, but after watching two interviews on his book promotion tour, I was interested. Knowing my interest in the interchange between science and religion, my wife (who also saw the interviews) returned from Costco with a copy of Origin by Dan Brown.

For the record, I’ve have not read any of Dan Brown’s other books, so I am not going down the rabbit hole of comparing Origin to any of the others.

Origin is a tale involving science and religion revolving around two fundamental questions that humans have thought about for many years: Where do we came from? Where are we going?

Professor Robert Langdon, a character in other Brown novels returns, As an invited guest, he is attending an event where a former student, well-known futurist and anti-religion atheist, Edmund Kirsch is to announce a major finding that (according to him) will disrupt the foundation of world religions.

Most of the story takes place in three different Spanish cities: Bilbao, Madrid, and Barcelona – with a small portion in Budapest, Hungary. Having been to Barcelona, I greatly enjoyed Brown’s use of La Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera (Casa Mila). These both unique structures from famed architect Antoni Gaudi are local treasures. We also visited the Abbey at Montserrat outside of Barcelona.

The fast-paced story held my attention. Given the different locations and the story’s short time frame, Brown dedicates each chapter (which are short) to a specific setting with different characters. This format indicates of simultaneous events.

Brown combines adventure, history, present-day thoughts, religion, a royal family, Artificial Intelligence, and real-life settings to engage readers in the storyline. Being curious, I researched some of the organizations and places in Origin – and yes – they are legit.

There is enough science within Origin to engage readers – but not enough to require a science background. The religion side is small, while the science-religion interrelationship is (at best) shallow. As with any topic, generalizations provide the broad thought, but that can also lead to misconceptions. One incident caused me to cringe, but (at the time of this writing) I can’t find it.

Whereas Origin creates an atmosphere for discussions on the creation topic for readers, some consider Origin to be another God vs Science situation where one must make a choice. The actual wider range of thoughts is not part of this novel – which also reinforces the choice notion. I also note that the religious conservatives in this story do not seem to promote the same type of creationism as the Young Earth Creationists and organizations as Answers in Genesis and their Creation Museum.

Whereas some may take Brown is publicizing an anti-religion view – and possibly his – I did not take his text that way. Professor Langdon’s final conversation with a priest shines light on those who see how religion and science do coexist.

Origin centers around Edmund Kirsch’s big announcement. I’m not going to give it away, but I will state that it’s not what I expected – and it is worth pondering.

In closing, I enjoyed Origin and recommend it. I found it to be easy and engaging reading. Although it is based on many truths, the story is still fiction – but the two key questions are worth thinking about: Where do we came from? Where are we going?

Enjoy a few pictures of La Segrada Familia, La Pedrera, and Montserrat.

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On a Spiritual Spectrum

In the previous post (On a Beach Walk: No. 12), I presented a continuum. No matter the topic, a continuum tries to categorize in order to show relationships. Positions are difficult because overlap exists between adjacent groups and each group can be subdivided into more specific smaller groups.

The continuum below is an attempt to show relationship around the topic of science and theology regarding evolution. It’s not perfect, but it illustrates different positions people hold, so it also stimulates thinking and serves as a point of discussion.

Defining each group is another important aspect. Although each definition below is far from complete, they provide a sense for each group’s position. On the other hand, representing all positions would be difficult.

Strong atheist: Lack the belief in any god and are fervently against religion.

Passive atheist: Lack the belief in any god, but are less antagonistic to religion – possibly tolerant.

Agnostic: A broad group including (but not limited to)

  • Those who don’t believe in any god because we cannot prove a deity’s existence or non-existence.
  • Those who simply don’t know about any god or don’t care to know.

Spiritual naturalist: A broad group including (but not limited to) two broad groups: religious naturalists and humanists – neither believing in a god or gods.

  • Religious naturalists see the meaning of life through the beauty and complexity of the natural world.
  • Humanists embrace reason and logic in order to emphasize a moral and ethical code for doing good in human society.

Spiritual non-theist: Religions that are spiritual, but without believing in a god or gods; such as Buddhists, Hindus, and others

Deist: God who is not linked to any religion is the creator, but does not intervene and is not personal because God has left the world. There are different types of Deists.

Theistic evolutionist: God is the creator. Scripture and nature in a collective relationship. A range of theistic evolutionist exist.

Progressive Creationists: God is the creator and the earth is very old. Two groups include

  • God created many species from which others evolved through mutation and selection
  • Intelligent Design: God creatively intervenes over time when necessary.

Young-Earth creationist: God is the creator, Earth is young, and a literal Genesis in today’s language explains creation.

On a Beach Walk: No. 12

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I like walking the beach as it is good for the body, mind, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

I think about a continuum of thought – one that I’ve encountered countless times over 8 years of personal study and reflections. A continuum containing a diversity of ideas, including the antagonistic polar opposites who only see their way – a way of being one of us or one of them – a shallow continuum of two.

I know where I lie on this continuum of thought, but not at either polarized end. Not only do I know my position between the continuum’s poles, I also know that there are others like me here. Interestingly those at the ends can’t justify our existence.

I see the antagonistic groups as the Blackhearts and the Righteous. Each acting as hooligans as they shout at each other and intimidate others. I see many others who wander as if they are lost because they don’t know. I invite them to have a seat to listen, but polar opposites are preying on the wanderers by saying they have to make a choice, which is really a forced choice. I try to provide a different perspective, but either the hooligans are too loud or the wanderers are either confused or won’t listen.

Some may be thinking I’m referencing Democrats and Republicans, but I am not because that’s too painful – perhaps another day. Today my thoughts are about the interchange of science and religion – an arena where the antagonistic foes force choices upon others – especially the vulnerable and the unknowing.

I am not vulnerable. I am not unknowing. I have a place and I can respectfully and confidently take while understanding the others. I also take my place knowing the difference between right/wrong and agree/disagree.

Finally I get someone to listen. They ask questions as if they don’t hear the shouting because they want to know where they belong. They want confirmation of something they wondered, but never heard.

The continuum is a lot to ponder as I walk – but I like to walk the beach for it is food for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

On Aspects of Science

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Science – the search for the explanation of what we observe in nature.

Science – a body of organized knowledge that describes the properties and interactions of the material components of the universe.

Science – a human endeavor limited to the human perspective seeking to understand and explain phenomena occurring in the natural world and the laboratory.

Science – a dynamic (not static) intellectual human endeavor leading us to a deeper understanding of the natural world.

Science – an impersonal process requiring a trained mind with passion, imagination, and patience for details to find patterns, structure, connections, and history within nature.

Science – a data-gathering process so we can better understand ourselves, the natural world around us, and our place in this world.

Science – a process with accepted methodologies trained mind works uses while fighting misconceptions, mistaken observations, and inadequate conclusions.

Science – an intellectual activity using the senses and technology to extend the senses for gathering data to develop an explanation based on evidence and what is already known.

Science – a process and activity requiring a conscious mind that observes, inquires, organizes, interprets, understands, and a willingness to follow acceptable scientific methodologies while staying within nature’s boundaries – yet that does not mean that nothing exists outside of nature’s boundaries.

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Science – the study of the material, processes, and forces of the natural world.

Science – not a belief system, but a learning system involving the exploration of natural causes to explain natural phenomena through systemic processes and procedures.

Science – an empirical human endeavor by establishing questions of truth through experimenting and testing without absolutes while remaining open to retesting and reconsideration.

Science – a gift as it brings us new knowledge, yet knowledge that is only for a given point in time because it can change based on newer knowledge. Because of potential development of new knowledge, science must be willing to have what is currently known to be proven wrong.

Science – a system giving us gives theories: a structure of ideas based on large amounts of evidence that explain and interpret numerous facts about a concept – therefore, well beyond a personal opinion or a detective’s hunch.

Science – a habit of mind of careful sifting of data and withholding of final judgment.

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Science – a methodology that does not make moral, ethical, and value judgments for society because those judgments are made by society.

Science – a way of knowing, but not the only way because science does not corner the way to truth about everything. Philosophical, theological, psychological/emotional, ethical, political, and historical views provide additional perspectives, yet each discipline is selective and limited.

Science – an activity bringing forth new issues causing humanity to face moral and ethical questions – whose answers science does not provide because it is neither equipped nor competent to answer ethical and moral questions, let alone the metaphysical, philosophical, or theological questions as “what is the meaning of life”, “why am I here”, and “is there a god?”

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Science – a process with recognized limitations. Science does not state how to use its knowledge. Science does not make value judgments. Science is limited to studying in nature. Science is limited to our ability to observe, including technology’s limitations. Science does not operate outside of its defined methodologies.

Science – a study that is limited to itself. Science cannot prove or disprove God’s existence because that question/topic lies outside science’s self-imposed boundaries of the observable events in the natural world around us.

Science – a study that should be embraced by all.

On a Book Review about Yes

Because the interchange between science and religion is a hobby of mine, I’ve read my share of books and articles on the topic – so I recognize many of the leading names in the field. Dr. Denis Lamoureux is one of those authors, but I haven’t lamoureuxbookcoverread any of his work. That’s why I placed Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes! on my reading list while snowbirding in warmer weather this past January.

Dr. Lamoureux is a Professor of Science and Religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. Interesting that some colleges have at least a designation of science and religion as a study.

In this book, Dr. Lamoureux incorporates the concept of the existence of two books: The Book of Word (Scripture) and the Book of Works (Nature). This thought has been around for many years as people as Galileo and Francis Bacon used it – but it remains timely today. Lamoureux encourage readers to listen to both books. I was already aware of this concept, so for me, this book reinforces the point.

Dr. Lamoureux also weaves his personal story into the text – his moments of wrestling with science and faith. His journey from Christianity to Atheism to 7-day Creationist to theistic evolutionist is interesting in itself. Because of his experiences, he knows the trials and tribulations people face while understanding the source of their angst. Yet, in this text, I felt him encouraging others.

Because of his involvement with the opposing ends of this topic’s spectrum, Lamoureux knows that the opposing ends force people to make a choice. Therefore, he includes the important concept of dichotomous decisions throughout the text; as well as the effects of forced choices as causing some to lose their faith or not follow a personal dream of a science career – especially in biology.

Along his personal journey, Dr. Lamoureux incorporates words from Richard Dawkins (an evolutionary biologist and staunch atheist), Michael Behe (a biochemist and important Intelligent Design Theory advocate), Charles Darwin, and Scripture. It’s through those interactions that Lamoureux helps readers understand the issues and rationale behind different viewpoints.

Dr. Lamoureux’s passions are apparent in the text. His passion about the interchange. His passion about science. His passion as a Christian – and through these passions he shines a light on the path for those who want to know how to harmonize religion and science without compromising personal faith.

As a university professor, Dr. Lamoureux’s students are at many positions on the continuum of religion and science – especially regarding evolution. Not only does he weave some his encounters along the way, he dedicates an entire chapter (the last one) to various discussions with students. This was priceless for me.

Readers should be aware that Dr. Lamoureux’s view of intelligent design is different than Behe’s Intelligent Design Theory. Although I understand and agree with his point, the natural similarity of the wordings bothered me for some reason. On the other hand, I am over that minor discomfort.

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes! is an excellent book for those who struggle with a literal Genesis and evolution. It’s also an excellent read for those who do not struggle because it provides reasons they may not know. Lamoureux’s words are rooted in an unwavering belief in the two books that successfully intertwine science and religion.

Two sidebars
Somewhere in the book I noticed that Dr. Lamoureux did a TEDx Talk, so I watched. I recommend this 14-minute lecture because it is a mini-version of this book. Besides, Dr. Lamoureux is also a good speaker. His lecture is below.

After reading the book and watching the lecture, I emailed Dr. Lamoureux. Not only did I appreciate that he took the time to respond, but we also engaged in dialogue, He also gave me additional resources. All of which I am grateful.

On Darwin’s Faith

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Depending on one’s perspective, Charles Darwin is a lightning rod and a foundation. Opposing sides in the theology-evolution issue use him in different ways. Whereas conservative Christians describe him as an immoral, hateful atheist who is a messenger from the devil, evolution supporters refer to him as a scholar, a brilliant thinker, and even an inspiration.

Interesting how the two views of one life differ based a perspective of a forced choice that some present. In terms of his religion, Darwin faith life was filled with struggle. Below are chronological moments in Charles Darwin’s religious life. Besides, February 12th is his 208th birthday.

1809: Charles Darwin is born into a family of a father who was a religious skeptic, a Unitarian mother, and 4 siblings (3 sisters and a brother) who attended church with their mother. His paternal grandfather was a deist, as was Darwin’s brother.

1817: Darwin’s mother died. Thereafter, his older sisters took him to an Anglican church where he remained and was educated. At the time, the Anglican church had a 6-day, young-earth creationist view of the world.

1828: After several years in medical school at the University of Edinburgh, Darwin enters Cambridge University to study theology. Studies introduce him to Paley’s Natural Theology, which influenced his beliefs in a God intervening in creation.

1831: Darwin graduates from Cambridge with a theology degree, but decided not to pursue being an ordained pastor. A geology field trip initiated the thought that the earth is very old, therefore developing a view of today’s old-earth creationists with an intervening God as the designer. Later that year he begins his 5-year journey on the HMS Beagle.

1831-1836: Through his many observations across the globe, Darwin is convinced God is present in nature and that God was the intervening designer.

1836-1839: After his journey, Darwin thought deeply about biology, geology, and theology, so he spend much time writing. He rejected origins based on Genesis 1 and eventually Christianity – but not God.

1839: Marries Emma (a Unitarian) in an Anglican ceremony. They would eventually have 10 children, two of which died in infancy.

1851: Annie, his second oldest child and the “apple of her proud father’s eye” dies after an illness of several years. This devastated Darwin, and some say this greatly impacted his view of suffering.

1856: Starts writing On the Origin of the Species.

1859: On the Origin of the Species is published. In it Darwin mentions god as the Creator on multiple occasions – signally his shift from a traditional theist to a non-traditional theist with God as the creator of the evolutionary process.

1860-1861: Reflecting on reactions people had about the book, Darwin writes to a Harvard botanist, “I had no intention to write atheistically … my views are not at all necessarily atheistical.” He also admits being troubled by the suffering that occurs in nature and in the world, but reinforces a belief in design by a Creator.

1871: The Descent of Man published. While acknowledging the “highly irreligious” will denounce his work, he supports his belief in a Creator at work in designing life. “The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance.”

1876: Because of his struggles with suffering, he continues to question God’s existence. In his biography Darwin explains his belief in God as an intelligent designed and states, “I deserve to be called a theist.” His writings point to one who believes in a god that is not assigned to one particular religion. Later he concludes, “The mystery of the beginning of all things is not solvable by us; and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

1879: Although agnostic, Darwin writes this powerful sentence about evolution and theology in a letter: “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man be an ardent theist and an evolutionists. …. In my extreme fluctuations, I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God …. I think that as I grow older, but not always, that an Agnostic would be a more correct description of my state of mind.”

1882: After a difficult 3 months with health issues, Charles Darwin dies – and never an atheist. Reports of him recanting his view of evolution and proclaiming Jesus Christ as savior lack evidence, therefore untrue. He is buried in London’s Westminster Abbey (Anglican).

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On Origins: A Book Review

I became aware of this book on the Biologos blog and website. Although I had not encountered either author from my numerous readings, I decided to give it a chance.

OriginsBookOrigins: A Christian Perspective on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma is a good introduction into the science-religion interface for a study group. The authors provide questions to stimulate thinking and discussion, while also providing point-counterpoint in the form of ranging and diverse perspectives about various topics – which will promote more thinking and discussion.

A website tailored to the topic and this book provides a collection of over forty articles for elaboration. Each chapter end with a good set of questions for “Reflection and Discussion” while listing additional resources.

Three things haunted me in this book. First, I was leery of the inclusion of Intelligent Design in the title. My apprehension caused me to be cautious from the start. Second, an early statement of humans evolving from apes ruffled my feathers, but the authors addressed it later. Third, the survival of the fittest reference continues to bother me because I believe it to be inaccurate.

The authors targeted this text to help Christians navigate the seemingly “dangerous waters” of origins. As I have stated on this blog, the “danger” is due to a lack of or poor quality of education regarding evolution by schools and the avoidance of the topic by numerous Christian denominations.

Nonetheless, the text follows a logical sequence as it examines God, science, Genesis, the universe, evolution, Intelligent Design, origin issues, and Adam and Eve. Although each of these topics can be book of their own, Origins sets the stage for future readers to seek additional information.

In the end, this is a good resource for anyone early in their study of the interface between science and religion. I say early because it provides good introductory information serving as the foundation diving deeper into the subject and it stimulates thinking.

FYI