Reasons to Believe

Book Review: Dr. Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate, Part 2

Guest writer Melissa concludes her review of Dr. Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate with a critique of several points on which she disagrees with Rau.

Despite my default skepticism when reading books (written by a single author) that claim to offer a balanced view of contentious topics within Christianity, I was pleasantly surprised by Dr. Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything. Rau lays out various views on the origins of the universe, life, species, and humanity without noticeable bias, providing high school and college students (his primary audience) with a handy guide to this hot science-faith topic (see part 1 of my review).

Still, I was not without moments of disagreement with Rau. Here in part 2 of this series, I’ll mention a few minor points.

Now for Some Nit-Picking

1. Rau credits Intelligent Design (ID) with this philosophical axiom: “Design in nature is empirically detectable, and provides evidence for the existence of the supernatural” (p. 53). Now, this is accurate as far as the theist ID advocate is concerned, and that is the group to which Rau refers. Nevertheless, I think it should be pointed out that ID doesn’t require the postulation of the supernatural (God). Rather, it only infers an intelligent designer from the available evidence.

Evolved extra-terrestrial engineers of terrestrial life would be another explanation compatible with ID theory (see here). If you’ve seen the movie Prometheus, you will better understand that example. True, this theory faces the problem of an infinite regress—but that’s for other books to deal with.

2. Related to the above problem is the assertion that implicating God as the agent behind origins represents a “god of the gaps” argument (p. 97). Rau is fair in pointing out that the naturalist’s denial of a designing intelligence while waiting hopefully for a material explanation is “naturalism of the gaps.” However, I disagree that ID is itself a gaps argument.

ID makes only the minimal claim that there is a designing intelligence, and builds an abductive argument based on what we do know about biochemistry and signs of intelligence. The theist, however, can pair the ID conclusion with a valid philosophical argument for believing that this designing intelligence is, in fact, God. I would refer readers to the Leibnizian cosmological argument for further details. (On Guard by William Lane Craig provides a lay-level explanation of Leibniz’s argument.)

3. On page 136, Rau speaks of evidence for symbolic thought, such as “art objects and signs of ritual burial,” being associated with both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. However, the connection between Neanderthals and symbolic thought is highly contentious. I personally don’t find the supposed association very compelling due to difficulties with artifact provenance, a low volume of evidence, and questions of later human occupation of Neanderthal sites. Even the evolutionary community doesn’t agree unanimously on the proper interpretation of this evidence.

4. On page 147, Rau says, “Generally OEC considers all Homo fossils to be human, whereas YEC is more likely to consider only Homo sapiens to be human.” This is exactly backwards. Old-earth creationists see the hominid forms as lower animals that have gone extinct. They believe humans alone were created in God’s image (see Who Was Adam? by Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross). Young-earth creationists accept many of the Homo genus fossils as variations of fully human individuals. Perhaps Rau knows of some OEC and YEC advocates who match his description, but I have yet to encounter such.

My Recommendation

Anyone seeking clarity and an improved understanding of how the various origins models approach the evidence would benefit from this book. Specialists who need an objective, succinct resource to recommend to non-specialist friends and family need look no further. Although Rau intends the book for both high school and college students, I think the text is best suited for college students and other adults. It is also a fantastic choice for Christian leaders and parents who need a better understanding of the origins debate (a large majority, in my experience).

Rau states in the preface that one goal of his book is helping Christians “find their way through hotly disputed territory, to guide their journey from the one-sided and greatly oversimplified arguments they have heard in science textbooks or church sermons to the depth of scientific, theological and philosophical literature that exists”

In my opinion, he accomplishes this goal beautifully.

Check out the RTB review of Melissa’s own science-faith book for children, How Do We Know God Is Really There?

See Part 1 of this two-part series.

Melissa Cain Travis

Melissa Cain Travis received her MA in science and religion from Biola University in 2012. She is an independent scholar specializing in science-faith integration and author of the children’s book, How Do We Know God Is Really There? She resides in The Woodlands, Texas.

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