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Creation and its reverent study

08 May 2015

David Atkinson reads the reflections of a scientific community


True Scientists, True Faith
R. J. Berry, editor
Monarch £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 

Christians and Evolution: Christian scholars change their mind
R. J. Berry, editor
Monarch £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 

R. J. (SAM) BERRY, formerly Professor of Genetics, President of the British Ecological Society, Gifford Lecturer, and a leading figure in Christians in Science, ex-member of the General Synod and a Reader, has been a pioneer for some decades in trying to wake the Church of England up to environmental concerns.

Berry has edited both these books - one, a welcome reprint with additional material, is a collection of testimonies - broadly Evangelical in tone - from scientists about their Christian faith and its impact on their work; the other a series of essays specifically about creation and evolution.

One of the sillier things Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion is his reference to "Britain's three well-known religious scientists", who "stand out for their rarity" and who are the subjects, Dawkins says, of amused bafflement in the scientific community. As so often, Dawkins has not taken the trouble to get to know what he is talking about. Christians in Science has about 850 members. The Society of Ordained Scientists has more than 100 ordained clergy with research degrees in science.

True Scientists, True Faith brings together 19 scientists. Three are university professors at Oxford, three are at Cambridge, one is in York, one in Durham, two are in London, and two are from the United States, with a range of disciplines, including evolutionary palaeobiology, nanomaterials, psychiatry, genetics, and neurochemistry. Others have specialisms in ornithology, geophysics, and environmental science. Francis Collins directed the Human Genome Project, Ghillean Prance was Director of Kew Gardens, Sir John Houghton chaired the science group for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Simon Conway Morris was a pioneer in work on the Burgess Shale's pre-Cambrian fossils.

All of them tell their own story, accessibly written for the general reader, and explore the coherence of their faith with their science. Several, such as Alister McGrath, started their careers as atheists and came to faith in Christ later in life. A number pay tribute to the influence of C. S. Lewis. The book includes a final reflection by the late Professor Donald Mackay on the conversation between Christian faith and science - both of them involving "trust based on experience and on testimony judged reliable". I think this book will be a real help to the many who still think of science and faith in terms of warfare.

Christians and Evolution is less satisfying. It is also a collection of testimonies - several from professors with wide experience, some from students still young in the faith. Some are deeply moving; others come over as simplistic. Many follow the pattern of a person who grew up in a fundamentalist context, committed to Six-Day Creationism, and whose loyalty to the Bible was severely questioned on beginning to study evolution. How that struggle is resolved varies.

Most of the authors are not from the UK, and I suspect that the main appeal of this book will be to readers in the US, where huge numbers visit the Creation Museum in Kentucky and see the dinosaurs roaming the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Surprisingly, only one writer refers to the difficulty that Darwin himself found in believing in a beneficent Creator, namely the apparent cruelty, waste, death, and pain of the evolutionary process. I think there is still quite a lot of Christian thinking needed on what St Paul (and Christopher Southgate) called "the groaning of creation".

The most substantial contribution is Sam Berry's own introduction, a helpful overview of the different ways in which evolutionary biology makes an impact on Christian understanding of divine action. The Christian Church continues to benefit greatly from Berry's scientific wisdom and godly faith.

Dr David Atkinson is a member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, and an assistant bishop in the diocese of Southwark.

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