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Books of the Year

Two new books are important responses to the rapidly growing promotion of theistic- or, more properly, deistic-evolution

Issue: "2011 Books of the Year," July 2, 2011

WORLD has chosen a Daniel of the Year since 1998 and a Book of the Year since 2008. Since the variety of candidates is enormous, sometimes we look at where the battle is hottest and pick someone who stands firm in Christian witness when it would be easier to duck. For example, in 2007 we chose Wanda Cohn, director of a Florida pregnancy care center, both for her own work and as a representative of the thousands who offer counsel to abortion-prone young women. Several times we've chosen Christians who persevere against Islamic aggression.

It's also hard to choose a Book of the Year, so here as well we tend to see what's under assault. In 2008 and 2009 the "new atheism" of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins was picking up speed, so we chose Tim Keller's The Reason for God; in 2009, the ESV Study Bible. Last year, following passage of "Obamacare," the drive to expand Washington's power had still not suffered a major setback, so Arthur Brooks' The Battle, which described federal governmental expansion and proposed ways to stop it, was our Book of the Year.

This year we're looking at neither the depths of Scripture, nor the surface of politics and economics, but the middle ground: ideas about the nature of man and the world. Think about the three main intellectual influencers of the 20th century: Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Charles Darwin. Two of the three-Freud and Marx-have lost most of their influence. The exception is Darwin. Two years ago his millions of fans celebrated the bicentennial of his birth, which was also the 150th anniversary of his famous book On the Origins of Species.

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Today, the overwhelming majority of American kids receive a Darwinian or neo-Darwinian education. They learn at schools and then colleges that they are just matter, the result of occasional mutations and survival of the fittest. Christians over the decades have debated whether the earth's history should be measured in thousands or billions of years, but-until recently-almost all stuck by the biblical account of God creating every kind of plant and animal in six days (perhaps longer than 24 hours). Almost all believed that God created Adam from dust, and Eve from Adam.

For decades an attempt to make Darwinism acceptable to Christians, "theistic evolution" (TE), lurked in the background but made almost no inroads among Bible believers. A December 1997 article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society-"Theistic Evolution: Deism Revisited"-began by observing that TE "has not proven to be the mediating position once hoped for." Taylor University professor Michael A. Harbin noted that Bible scholars criticized TE for being unbiblical and "more deistic than theistic."

TE did not make much readily visible progress over the next six years. In 2008 TE proponent and blogger Steve Martin (not the comedian) rhetorically asked how many TE books at a popular reading level were published in North America prior to 2003? His answer: "None. A big fat zero. Zilch." Then came the deluge. Martin listed 10 popular books published between 2004 and 2008 by authors like Darrel Falk, Owen Gingerich, Karl Giberson, and-most notably-Francis Collins.

The Language of God, by genome pioneer Collins, became a bestseller. Collins himself became director of the National Institutes of Health. As Martin put it, "very few evangelicals have the time, energy, and focus to 1) thoroughly investigate the evidence from biology, geology, genetics, paleontology, anthropology and related scientific disciplines and 2) navigate the maze of Ancient Near East cultural history, ancient Hebrew linguistics, Christian Theology, Biblical Studies, and Old Testament exegesis." The natural tendency is to rely on the testimony of a winsome, credible scientist like Collins.

That's particularly the case when said scientist's school of thought is well-funded, while those from different perspectives search for crumbs. Since 2008 Collins' BioLogos Foundation-which, according to its website, "celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith"-has been TE's leading promoter. Its well-designed BioLogos Forum, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, has been the leading TE website for TE speculation.

Templeton has made multimillion-dollar grants to BioLogos and a host of other TE proponents: Those who read pro-evolution essays often see the tagline, "supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation." Money has helped to fuel TE's recent advance (see sidebar), but so has backing from many members of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of professing Christians, and from some biology departments within historically Christian colleges.

TE proponents say its popularity in those precincts is because their theory is true. Opponents note that it is extraordinarily hard and painful for scientists who are Christian to stand up against the conventional wisdom. "Publish or perish" is still the rule at many academic institutions, and Christians who oppose TE increasingly have to search for publishing venues. In February, InterVarsity Press put out the first of a planned series of TE books with Francis Collins as co-author.

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