The dispute over how Christians should engage in science has been going on for years, but it hasn’t always been that way. Before the Ham/Nye Debate, the trials in Dover and Dayton, before the Conflict Thesis, many scientists were devoted Christians. Kepler, Bacon, Brahe, Boyle, Newton, and Faraday all saw their work in science as describing God’s creation. While popular conception of scientists may disagree, there are many who take the Bible as the Word of God, and use science to help describe God’s creation.
In The Adam Quest, author Tim Stafford has interviewed eleven of these scientists. As the subtitle implies, these eleven scientists have a strong Christian faith, but are doing serious science. In these interviews, Stafford seeks to show how these scientists view the roles of science and faith, and how these views coexist.
Each chapter is dedicated to a different scientist. Stafford writes a compelling narrative for each, describing their journeys into both faith and the field of science. He writes positively about each, though noting their concerns about other viewpoints.
The views of the eleven scientists fall into three broad categories:
- Young Earth Creationism
- Intelligent Design
- Theistic Evolution / Evolutionary Creation
The book progresses through these three categories in order. Reading through the book, it is clear that these are very general categories, with room for disagreement. For the most part, each scientist is not concerned with hermeneutics and interpreting the Bible; instead, each focuses on how their faith and their research interact.
Rather than give a beat by beat explanation of the book, I would rather focus on a few trends I noticed throughout the book. These are big-picture trends that seem to cover most of the interviews.
First, the most encouraging part of the book is that there are Christian scientists doing some serious science. Many are tenured professors, extensively published, heading recognized organizations, and are well-regarded by their colleagues and adversaries alike. The most impressive is John Polkinghorne—a scientist-turned-Anglican priest—who was on the cutting edge of discovering quarks. The picture painted by Stafford shows Christian scientists not rejecting what science has to offer, but seriously engaging in science.
Second, these scientists are discussing science, not philosophy. Unlike Richard Dawkins and others in the New Atheists movement, who focus on metaphysical statements, all these scientists are actively engaged in seeking scientific answers. Many are not engaged in tearing down other views, but rather advancing better ideas. For the Young Earth Creationists, this involves developing a grand explanation theory that would rival evolutionism. For the Evolutionary Creationists, they are focused on diving deeper into the realms of biology, chemistry, physics, and paleontology.
Third, most see science and religion as complementary, seeking to answer different questions. They recognize that science can’t answer questions better suited for religion. Ard Louis, a Reader in Physics at Oxford, is most helpful in separating these two areas. According to Louis, science is best equipped to answer questions of mechanism (the How? questions) while religion is best left to answer questions of meaning (the Why? questions). Those interviewed all said science can’t answer these questions, and any scientists seeking to do so—like Dawkins—is slipping into philosophy.
Fourth, many of the Young Earth Creation and Intelligent Design scientists are not engaging in lab work. This is often because of resources: Creationist facilities cannot afford the expensive lab equipment found at grant-funded research labs. Other times—in the case of Michael Behe—a lab is taken away by the school because of his stated beliefs. Either way, this causes the scientists to engage either in developing theories based on others’ research or teaching grad students.
Fifth, most of the views are nuanced, leading to great diversity in each of the larger categories. Young Earth Creationists aren’t agreeing with each other, with an apparent split between popular creationism (apologetics-driven) and scientific creationism (science-driven). Intelligent Design has split into a few factions; Michael Behe and Fazale Rana, the two ID scientists profiled, are on polar opposite sides in terms of what ID even means. Overall, it means these labels will become less-helpful as the gaps become greater.
Sixth, all the scientists interviewed seem to argue for at least the fine-tuning of the universe. This thesis—commonly referred to as the anthropic—states that the universe is set up in such a way to support human life. Just a slight change in the way the laws of physics work, or the behavior of atoms, or the distance the earth is from the sun, and life would not be possible. As noted in the book, this view is held by Young Earth Creationists, Intelligent Design proponents, and those holding to Evolutionary Creationism.
Now, this argument does not always lead to a designer, but at least it “calls for an explanation,” as Polkinghorne says (144). Plus, this proposition starts moving away from science and into the realm of philosophy. But this view shows there is some unity between all the scientists interviewed.
In The Adam Quest, author Tim Stafford provides Christians with some encouragement: there are several Christian scientists who take both their faith and their research very seriously. For college students or new believers, the interviews show you don’t have to reject your faith to be a good scientist. For others, these scientists help show a healthy relationship between science and religion.
Unfortunately, this book is not very helpful for the undecided—those still seeking how to best answer human origins from a Christian perspective. In a book like this, a reader can be persuaded to agree with a view based on how much they like one of the proponents. Plus, the book only engages with science, without engaging in the interpretations of Genesis 1; for the undecided, these are the two areas in which they must decide their views. For this reason I think the best audience for the book is a Christian looking for support with how to engage in both faith and science. Stafford’s interviews provide support to those Christians willing to wade into the waters of science, in hopes of better understanding God’s creation.
- Title: The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists who held on to a Strong Faith while Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins
- Author: Tim Stafford
- Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2013)
- Format: Hardcover
- My Review: 4.5/5