Kurt P. Wise
Leonard R. Brand,
Faith, Reason, and Earth History: A Paradigm of Earth and Biological Origins by Intelligent Design
Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press, 1997, 332 pp.
It must be acknowledged, even by proponents of young-age creation ism like myself, that works from this perspective are typically marked by an outmoded philosophy of science, a weak understanding of evolutionary theory, and an unfortunate fixation on evolution-bashing. Faith, Reason, and Earth History is refreshingly different. Brand posits a reasonable philosophy of science, shows a good understanding of evolutionary theory, and humbly initiates the construction of a model of earth history consistent with his understanding of the Bible. This book demonstrates a new and more sophisticated stage in creationist thinking.
Brand devotes the first six chapters of his book to issues in the philosophy of science. Most creationist works, especially on the popular level, define science as the study of that which is directly observable and repeatable. The weakness of this definition is that it denies the status of science to any historical science, such as paleontology and much of astronomy. (It even denies scientific status to archaeology, leaving virtually no scientific support for the biblical record.) Most troubling, this definition brands creation theories themselves as non-science. Young-age creationists also tend to champion the logical positivist definitions of science commonly found in textbooks. Many appeal to Karl Popper’s falsification criterion to deny that evolution is genuinely scientific.
Brand does not fall prey to any of these incorrect definitions of science. In fact he spends considerable time showing how the logical positivist definition of science is inadequate to describe the way science is actually done. Among other things, he repeatedly indicates the importance of the human element in scientific investigation. He also argues that the sociological dimension advocated by Thomas Kuhn1 is an important part of science. Brand utilizes Popper’s falsification criterion to identify only what should characterize a good scientific theory, not what must must characterize a theory for it to qualify as science at all. Although I might differ with Brand in placing even less importance on falsification (it is no absolute standard; in practice it can only function in choosing the better of two theories), Brand is to be commended for taking pains to correct a common error in creationist writings.
In spite of the book’s philosophical sophistication, Brand in no way buries the reader under philosophical jargon. In a consistently readable, patient, and gentle manner, he guides the reader through the arduous task of making sense of the often muddled discussion of philosophy of science. Furthermore, his graphic examples lure the reader in with the sheer excitement of doing science. (Brand is a mammalogist by training, having done much of his professional research on chipmunks; thus many examples throughout the book revolve about this compellingly attractive little creature.)
Chapter 6 gives a brief overview of Brand’s prescription for the proper interaction between science and the Bible. He proposes neither the old-age creationist’s “different realm” approach, where the two do not overlap, nor the typical young-age creationist’s “Bible over science” approach, where the interpreter’s understanding of Scripture trumps science every time. Rather, Brand describes a careful and studied interaction, where the Bible informs our science and science informs our understanding of the Bible. Unfortunately, this chapter may lead some readers to misunderstand him to say that science has a higher position than the Bible; but on reading the remainder of the book, the honest reader would conclude this is not his position. Rather his position is that whenever both science and the Bible claim authority on a matter, the Bible trumps science. That is, if after having carefully examined our understanding of the Bible we believe that it makes a claim contrary to science, then it is our interpretation of science that must change, not our interpretation of the Bible.
On matters where the Bible does not claim such authority (e.g., cases where the biblical account is unclear, or perhaps allows for several possibilities), science might be validly called upon to define the matter. According to Gary Phillips, theology professor at Bryan College, extra-biblical evidence (e.g., science) can allow us to choose among natural readings of the Bible, but it can not force us to re-interpret the Bible or to adopt an unnatural reading.
Brand’s model of Bible-and-science interaction is exemplified in Chapter 8, in his discussion of “created kinds.” Though some have read Genesis to indicate that God created all species separately, a re-examination of the text in light of hybridization and other microevolutionary data supports the claim that God created all the kinds separately—not necessarily species. The Bible allows that created kinds might be a larger category than species. In this case, the physical data allows one to choose an alternative but still natural reading of the biblical text. On the other hand, since the Bible clearly claims that there are separately created kinds, Brand rejects the evolutionary claim that all organisms are genetically related, in spite of evidence that might count in favor of that claim.
Brand also provides valuable suggestions on what a Christian ethic of science might be. “We must be honest with the uncertainties in the data,” he writes, “and be careful to distinguish between data and interpretation. We must approach the task with humility and open-mindedness, even if the data point to dimensions of reality beyond our current understanding. Above all it is essential that we treat each other with respect.” Brand heeds his own ethic throughout the book, consistently discussing the weaknesses and tentativeness of each of the theories he proposes, with humility and open-mindedness. The phrase “more research is needed on this point” recurs frequently throughout the book. Brand is also honest in evaluating alternative models and noting their strengths. “I suggest that at this time naturalism has better answers for some data,” he writes (p. 74).
Brand also treats evolutionists with respect, noting that “Scientists are portrayed sometimes as being very stupid to believe in evolution. That approach is neither true nor constructive. Evolution is not a theory to laugh at. One who is knowledgeable about the data can made a good case for it” (p. 149). Brand urges creationists to refrain from evolution-bashing and instead “conduct themselves as genuine scientists and get actively involved in research. It is better to develop an alternative paradigm than to merely poke holes in someone else’s theory” (p. 76). He ends by saying, “I see reasons to believe that, if we do trust Him, that belief will help us to be good scientists” (p. 318).
On all sides of the origins debate, the most difficult phrase to say may be I don’t know. “We like to have answers for everything,” Brand notes (pp. 317-8), “but we don’t have answers for all the questions about earth history. We will be much better off to recognize that the limitation in the available evidence and in the amount of time we have for research on these issues makes it unrealistic to expect scientific answers for all of our questions in the future.” Unfortunately, the demand by the Christian public for answers, and the willingness of popularizers to provide those answers, have encouraged shoddy work on the part of creationists. Ideas are sometimes accepted and popularized before they have been adequately reviewed in the scientific literature. We would have a slimmer but better literature on creationism if the public would refuse to be satisfied with anything but well-tested truth.
Brand’s model (which he hopes will become a research paradigm, a la Thomas Kuhn) is not referred to as a “creation” model but as an “informed intervention” model, a phrase borrowed from Thaxton.2 He avoids the controversial term “creation,” as do Wendell Bird with his “abrupt appearance” model,3 Walter ReMine with his “biotic message,”4 and the advocates of Intelligent Design (e.g., Phillip Johnson5 and Michael Behe). Yet Brand differs significantly from these other writers in that he adopts a model of informed intervention that is “built on the biblical account” (p. 84). By contrast, design arguments offer little more than negative critiques of atheistic evolution, and can be reconciled with a wide range of otherwise incompatible worldviews (e.g., deism, pantheism, polytheism; see Swanson, 19976 for a good philosophical-theological analysis of design theory). Brand’s model, on the other hand, is positive and specific, with affinities to young-age creationism.
Chapters 7-11 of Faith, Reason, and Earth History discuss evolutionary and creationist (interventionist) theories of biology. Brand devotes Chapters 7 through 10 to a review of the evidence for abiogenesis, microevolution, speciation, and megaevolution, re-interpreting the evidence in each case in light of his creation model. Chapter 7 contains Brand’s all-too-brief summary of the critiques of conventional origin-of-life theory by Thaxton7, and Bradley and Thaxton.8 Brand argues that the difficulties of abiogenesis, combined with the overwhelming complexity of life, strongly implicate informed intervention at the origin of life. Chapter 8 reviews evidence for microevolution and speciation, concluding that both have occurred in Earth history. “It is important to remember,” he writes later in the text (p. 161), “that even an interventionist recognizes that microevolution and a certain amount of macroevolution does occur.” (Unfortunately, Brand does not cite any of the baraminological and related research done recently, 9-13 which would have yielded him good examples and reinforced his claims. For example, the widespread hybridization among species, genera, and even subfamilies of the anatids, suggests that the entire duck/swan/goose family, Anatidae, may be a created kind.14) Brand’s summary of the evidence for megaevolution (Chapter 9), although brief, is excellent, and he offers a way to interpret that evidence (Chapter 10) from a creationist perspective.
Chapters 11 and 12 represent an unfortunate break in the flow of the book, perhaps in part because each was modified from an earlier paper that Brand co-authored with another person. Yet the awkwardness may also stem from more fundamental problems with Brand’s approach. In Chapter 12, he summarizes the creationist (interventionist) model of biology; yet the fact that earlier in the book he has already elaborated the evidence for evolution means he proceeds by re-interpreting that evidence, instead of developing his alternative model on its own terms from the ground up. That is, he resorts to the re-interpretation of evidence gathered and originally interpreted within an evolutionary paradigm (a problematic practice common in creationist literature, including some of my own writings15).
To his credit, Brand realizes the problem and tries to regroup and present a positive creation model of biology, but it would have been better to start there.
Chapters 13-16 of Faith, Reason, and Earth History deal with conventional versus catastrophic geology. Though not a geologist, Brand hobnobs with a group of well-trained geologists at Loma Linda University and the Geoscience Research Institute. He has also attended and presented at the Geological Society of America Annual Meetings, on both taphonomic and Coconino ichnology studies. His discussion of geology appraises both the strengths and weaknesses of the creation model.
For example, the much discussed “Cambrian Explosion is not a record of the first appearance of life—as many creationist incautiously suggest to their listeners or readers—but the first burials during a catastrophe” (p. 172). Furthermore, “radiometric dating, although not an air-tight methodology, is still the strongest evidence for the great age of the fossil-bearing formations” (p. 265). Brand accepts a global Noahic Flood in the recent past (i.e., thousands of years ago), but gives consideration to an old, pre-Flood earth (perhaps billions of years old [pp. 269-270]). Yet he is not dogmatic, acknowledging that he is not sufficiently trained in geology to weigh and choose from among the myriad of understandings of the early chapters of Genesis.
Faith, Reason, and Earth History makes a substantial contribution to creationist literature. It is the most philosophically sophisticated book on the subject and a must read for anyone interested in creationism and the origins controversy.
1. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1970).
2. C.B. Thaxton, W.L. Bradley, and R.I. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984).
3. W.R. Bird, The Origin of Species Revisited: The Theories of Evolution and of Abrupt Appearance (New York: Philosophical Library, 1989), 2 volumes.
4. W.J. ReMine, The Biotic Message: Evolution versus Message Theory (St. Paul, Minnesota: St. Paul Science, 1993).
5. P.E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1991).
6. J.P. Swanson, “The good, the bad, and the ugly – Fruits of the intelligent design movement,” Evangelical Theological Society 49th Annual Meeting, Santa Clara, CA, November 20-22, 1997.
7. C.B. Thaxton et al., Mystery of Life’s Origin (reference 3).
8. W.L. Bradley and C.B. Thaxton, “Information and the origin of life,” in J.P. Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), pp. 173-210.
9. K. Wise, “Practical baraminology,” Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 6 (1992):122-137.
10. S. Scherer, Typen Des Lebens (Berlin: Pascal Verlag, 1993).
11. D.A. Robinson, “A mitochondrial DNA analysis of the testudine apobaramin,” Creation Research Society Quarterly 33 (1997):262-272.
12. David Tyler, “Adaptations within the bear family: A contribution to the debate about the limits of variation,” Creation Matters 2 (1997):1-4.
13. D.A. Robinson and D.P. Cavanaugh, “Evidence for a holobaraminic origin of the cats,” Creation Research Society Quarterly 35 (1998):2-14.
14. S. Scherer, “Der Grundtyp der Enternartigen (Anseriformes, Anatidae): Biologische und palaeontologische Streiflicher, in S. Scherer, ed., Typen Des Lebens (Berlin: Pascal Verlag, 1993), pp. 131-158.
15. K. Wise, “The origin of life’s major groups,” in J.P. Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), pp. 211-234.
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