Published by Eerdmans on September 9, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Apologetics
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A scientific look at creationism from a former creationist
A significant number of Americans, especially evangelical Christians, believe Earth and humankind were created in their present form sometime in the last 10,000 years or so—the rationale being that this is (presumably) the story told in the book of Genesis. Within that group, any threatening scientific evidence that suggests otherwise is rejected or, when possible, retrofitted into a creationist worldview.
But can this uncomfortable blend of biblical literalism and pseudoscience hold up under scrutiny? Is it tenable to believe that the Grand Canyon was formed not millions of years ago by gradual erosion but merely thousands of years ago by the Great Flood? Were there really baby dinosaurs with Noah on his ark?
Janet Kellogg Ray, a science educator who grew up a creationist, doesn’t want other Christians to have to do the exhausting mental gymnastics she did earlier in her life. Working through the findings of a range of fields including geology, paleontology, and biology, she shows how a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis simply doesn’t mesh with what we know to be reality. But as someone who remains a committed Christian, Ray also shows how an acceptance of the theory of evolution is not necessarily an acceptance of atheism, and how God can still be responsible for having created the world, even if it wasn’t in a single, momentary, miraculous event.
Christian distrust of science is noticeable in the current pandemic response and climate change, but the root of that distrust—even though the historical rift goes back to the Middle Ages—is the debate between creation and evolution. Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? takes a close look at the debate, carefully defining every major position and terminology, making reference to every major player on all positions, and making a case for theistic evolution.
The book starts with the provocative chapter “The Biology Professor Who Doesn’t Believe in Science.” It sets the tone for the rest of the book and helps frame the conversation that author Janet Kellogg Ray is trying to have. She doesn’t believe in science, she writes, she simply accepts science evidence—“After all, a fact is true whether I believe it or not.” And alongside that, she makes the statement that evolution theory does not inherently say anything about religion or God. It’s a thesis that both Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins would hate.
Ray grew up in a conservative Christian church tradition, believing evolution to be synonymous with atheism and holding firmly to young earth creationism. Then middle school hit and Ray was introduced to science. And as she grew in scientific knowledge, she began to struggle fitting science into the story of Genesis. The early chapters of the book shift from memoir to a study of what science is and is not and how polarizing the debate into two extremes with no in-between is harmful to the exploration and understanding of both science and Christianity.
From there, Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark lays out the major positions and players and tackles the crucial interpretive issues one by one. Ray accomplishes this as a scientist, not a theologian, so her concern is more with scientific record than the biblical one. That is, she doesn’t spend much time talking about how the creation accounts can be interpreted, but on how the scientific accounts give evidence that an interpretation away from young earth creationism is necessary. While YEC proponents will definitely disagree—and Ray doesn’t do much in the way of countering potential rebuttals—she provides enough lines of evidence that readers should at least begin to question a YEC interpretation of creation.
A few chapters are spent on the flood, as the cataclysm of a global flood is the driving force of young earth creationism’s of the earth’s apparent ancient appearance. The flood is often used as a cure-all to explain anything that might point to the earth being older. Again, Ray does enough to cause us to question that explanation, poking holes in the theory while rebutting some of the major arguments that YEC proponents give.
Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark also devotes time to the intelligent design movement, which can exist in either young or old earth interpretations, but criticizes evolution theory on the belief that organisms can only undergo so much change. That is, while animals can evolve within larger “kinds,” they cannot have evolved from a single organism. This goes back to “irreducible complexity,” the idea that evolution could not have evolved such complexity where a number of features in an organism must all have been present at the same time for an organism to function. Ray is able to provide a critique of the concept, showing that the organisms most commonly used by ID advocates as examples of irreducible complexity could, in fact, be reduced to simpler structures.
The book ends with a few chapters on human evolution. Interestingly, Ray is adamant that Adam and Eve—if historical—cannot be the genetic ancestors of all humanity. This is not a settled feature in theistic evolution (see William Lane Craig’s In Search of the Historical Adam or Joshua Swamidass’s The Genealogical Adam and Eve). Ray basically goes through a simple understanding of human evolution without much commentary on religious beliefs on creation.
The primary focus of Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? seems to be a refutation of young earth creationism. While old earth creationism and intelligent design are both discussed—and Ray’s criticism of irreducible complexity was the most helpful part of the book for me personally—she does not do too much in analyzing those views. Nor does she seek to defend theistic evolution against any common talking points that any other side might have, content to lay out the facts as she sees them.
What I appreciated most about this book was how it was through the lens of science but open to faith. All other books I’ve read on the subject have been the opposite. They have affirmed evolution, or struggled with evolution, but sought to show how evolutionary theory fits into a faithful reading of Scripture. This book is much more honest about how fitting science into Scripture isn’t their goal; Ray is just simply stating science facts as she interprets them and will hold her beliefs in tension. It’s an honesty that’s refreshing and needed amid an argument where too many think they have all the answers and that any deviation is either religious or scientific heresy. Ray’s writing is engaging and conversational, not at all stodgy or “scientific.” It’s a great introductory exploration into how one can faithfully follow God’s revelation in science and his revelation in Scripture. a