In the late 80’s, I was part of a quartet who began the journal, Leaven. One of the co-founders was a brilliant theologian who taught at Rice University, Lynn “Butch” Mitchell. Lynn had been my favorite writer for Mission Journal, which preceded Leaven, and I interviewed way back in the day for the Youth Minister position at Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston where Lynn was an elder. During the interview, I was asked what I thought of a class Lynn taught the teens on God and science. They had Lynn teach the class because most Bering students went to public universities and they wanted their kids to be open to science. I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever heard.
At the time, I had just finished an MA at Abilene Christian University, where I had also attended as an undergraduate. One of my undergraduate classmates was Janet Kellog Ray whose uncle, unbeknownst to me, was Lynn Mitchell. It is fitting that Ray has written a book on faith and science that her uncle would be proud of. Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making it all Fit, is a most helpful and delightful read. Janet is a first rate scientist and storyteller. She makes the biology and geology around evolution understandable for a non-scientist like me. And she takes seriously the claims of people she disagrees with, creationists like Ken Hamm, and Intelligent Design theorists like Michael Behe. While she treats them with respect, fairly representing their positions, she is also convincing as she challenges their work piece by piece. It would be hard to be as fair-minded as Ray is and not be convinced by her evidence.
She makes a compelling case for evolution, and along the way for science, while maintaining her faith. The burden here is to account for faith, which she does more fully at the end of the book. She focuses more on what to do with Genesis 1-2, as these passages are the battle ground over which origins are fought. I like her metaphor of science talking about the house, but Genesis being more interested in the home. Still, more could have been done with this section. The issue, as I see it, is less with Genesis per se, and more with faulty views of the Bible. The issue is even less about faith and science, and more about faith and the bible.
I think Uncle Lynn might have pointed more to the bible as an anthology of diverse literary genres, each genre to be interpreted according to the type of literature it represents. Moreover, beyond genre, the bible represents great diversity in themes and theological perspectives. The bible feels no need to apologize for this variety, and in fact, one might argue that this diversity is necessary for God to remain holy, i.e. not captured by a single perspective, always avoiding a complete identification of God with our ideas about God. This diversity also wreaks havoc on fundamentalist notions of Scripture that insist on literal readings and no errors of any kind.
The irony here is that the type of inerrantist positions taken by many creationists is the opposite side of the modernist coin that accepts as truth only what is factual. It makes the bible play according to rules it could never satisfy. And there are simply better options that are truer to the phenomenon of Scripture. Ray likely has a sense of all of this, but has chosen to stay in her lane, which is the beginning of wisdom.
I was also struck at a few places that she grew up in a very different Church of Christ than I did. Again, there is an irony here. While we were in the main, culturally conservative and biblicists, we were not technically fundamentalists. In fact, we were so sectarian that we pretty much sat out the Scopes trial and had no dog in the modernist/fundamentalist controversy. Alexander Campbell was a man of science, reading the bible according to Baconian inductive method. He founded Bethany College as a liberal arts institution, a practice which continued beyond Campbell, both in the north and the south. This rich tradition of liberal arts education has continued and stands in contrast to the Bible colleges founded by Independent Christian Churches and their evangelical counterparts. While there were certainly fundamentalists in Churches of Christ and in Ray’s childhood church, there weren’t in mine. Ray’s book falls in line with the best lights of our tradition.
So, Ray’s book needed to be written. And it is done beautifully so. It will help us not only with evolution, but will challenge the pervasive anti-science bent among some evangelicals. Climate science, vaccines, masks, and the like are fights that weaken public Christian witness. Creation care and love of neighbor are denied right along with the science. This need not be the case. Uncle Lynn would be proud.