Like author Karl W. Giberson, I grew up in a strict, fundamentalist home. In retrospect, I had always been a "young-earth creationist", surrounded by those of like belief, with little reason to question the "truth" of a literal translation of Genesis--the description of a six-day Creation and its account of our origins.
Information I gleaned from field trips to the Smithsonian museums didn't really mesh against what I was taught in private school, church, and in my Bob Jones-breed Christian home. Answers from my childhood "experts" seemed flippant, curt, and imminently unsatisfying.
Years later, I met and grew to love my parents-in-law (and before them, my brilliant, well-read, think-outside-the-box husband!). The whole family valued independent thinking and had the utmost respect for science's contributions to our understanding of our existence. They all encouraged me to explore and test different ways of thinking, much to my growth and amazement. Science, and three people who deeply loved me, quietly tugged at my heart.
But, the icing on the cake came when my pastor preached a sermon titled "Isn't Creation Just a Myth?", a clear assault on all that Darwin stood for. You see, my pastor, whom we still greatly respect and study under, called Darwin's theory of evolution "a religious system" that is "full of lies" on that fateful Sunday. Was my husband angry! For weeks afterwards, I listened to his diatribes. Eventually, he went to talk to our pastor one-one one, and eventually came to some kind of resolution in his own heart and mind on this volatile issue. I had only seen that kind of passion in hard-core fundamentalists before!
So when "Christianity Today" ran a review on Giberson's "Saving Darwin", I was chomping at the bit. I longed to resolve the obvious tension playing out in my intellectual and personal life. Besides, the search for Truth should never intimidate us, especially as Christ-followers!
"Saving Darwin" covers a lot of ground. Giberson begins with an honest assessment of Charles Darwin's paradigms and the ultimate break in his faith (which had absolutely nothing to do with his brand of science). He then moves comprehensively to an in-depth look at evolution's dark side, its abuses and extremes (think genocide) and slips easily into an anecdotal recount of the Scopes "Monkey Trial". In the blink of an eye, he leads us though a systematic dismantling of "The Genesis Flood", a fundamentalist's "science" book, co-authored by one my home-town's Biblical heroes, John C. Whitcomb. Giberson clearly demonstrates that the creation/evolution argument is a culture, rather than an academic war, for evolution bears out its scientific validity in a number of disciplines including biology, geology, genetics, and paleontology. On the other hand, young-earth creationists have virtually no support from mainstream scientists and in fact, find themselves a bit isolated (and conveniently academically myopic), with a small, but fiercely dedicated army of anti-evolutionists.
Few books have challenged my faith, my core beliefs, and my intellect more than this one. Many times, I found myself nodding with a clear understanding of Giberson's science, immediately accompanied by stabs of fundamentalist offense and guilt. In the end, however, I could find nothing in this work that contradicted Jesus' story of redemption for His fallen people. (That being said, I don't know that I could find much in this work that disagrees with any of the world's three major religions.) Giberson repeatedly warns both "sides" of the creation/evolution battle that the existing dichotomy between their theories is "wrong" and that the current polarized positions "are not the only two options". He compels his readers to re-work their understanding of God's creativity and our place in the universe to match what can be empirically studied. And he warns against twisting the Bible's ancient wisdom "to speak to a modern issue it never intended to address."
On a minor note, Giberson never fully engages his reader on an emotional level, other than his brushes with wry humor. This man is clearly a scholar, not a salesman. He does take one brief rabbit trail into his own personal belief system. He writes, "As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God." He then describes his parents as "deeply committed Christians", his wife and children as "believing in God", most of his friends as "believers", and his job that he loves at "a Christian college". His relationship with our Creator never reaches much beyond his summation that "abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails." That's all? That is the basis for his faith? I wanted more.
In his conclusion, Giberson offers the book's powerful redemption, an admission that won me over: "Perhaps the unfolding of history includes a steady infusion of divine creativity under the scientific radar. Perhaps the meaning we encounter in so many different places and so many different ways is not simply an accident of our biology, but a hint that the universe is more than particles and their interactions." My belief in Jesus' plan for our universe's reconciliation and the wonder and mystery of His methods remain fully in tact, but will be, hereafter, combined with a respect for modern academia and science's advances.
"Saving Darwin" will make a great gift for my dear father-in-law; he will find it brilliant and engaging. I probably won't, however, buy it for my dear pastor. On second thought... it might be just the challenge he needs.