FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Book Review: Mapping the Origins Debate

Mapping the Origins Debate:

Six Models of the Beginning of Everything

by Gerald Rau

Review by Lori D. Wilson

A bibliography of all the books addressing the topic of questions of origins would be dauntingly long, and many of the books listed would be quite technical and addressed to highly specialized audiences. But an excellent and manageable resource is Mapping the Origins Debate by Gerald Rau. Dr. Rau has an impressive history of education with degrees in Biology, Science Education, Horticulture, Plant Breeding, Vegetable Crops and International Agriculture. He takes on the challenge of charting a comprehensive overview, informed by his training in genetics, education, and Philosophy of Science. This broad range of experience allows him to approach the debate from multiple perspectives, offering a variety of entry points to a necessarily complex subject matter.

Rau’s approach to the questions of origins is a unique one, charting a continuum of six models ranging from naturalistic evolution on one end to young earth creation at the other. He stresses the internal coherence of each approach to its own standards and criteria and explains that, while scientific evidence is crucial for investigating questions of origins, our underlying perspectives help select which evidence to admit and how to interpret it accordingly. “Each model rests on and is inextricably connected with particular philosophical presuppositions.”

Rau’s intent is not to minimize or relativize the scientific process. Instead, his goal is to map the evidence—and our accompanying assumptions—in such a way that leads to fruitful dialogue between proponents of different positions. He is careful to use neutral language and respectful explanations of each mode, reminding his reader that each approach makes logical sense within its own stated parameters. We are each playing by the rules; it is the rules we do not agree on. This approach helps us understand those who hold to different models and respect the process of reasoning that leads to their conclusions. Though we may ultimately disagree about models, we can recognize that our thought processes share striking similarities.

The book is structured as an investigation of the origins of the universe, of life, of species, and of humans. Each chapter lays out a brief summary of the scientific evidence and then explains how each model selects and interprets the evidence. Finally, Rau offers an overview of the theological and philosophical implications of each approach.

In the final chapter, Rau surveys the philosophical presuppositions inherent in the practice of science as broadly understood. Critical to the purposes of this book is the recognition that science itself is not a monolithic, uncontested set of facts. Rau does hold that there is such a thing as scientific truth, and a great deal of it is knowable by us. However, it is simultaneously true that our philosophical and religious assumptions dramatically impact how we approach and understand that truth. Rau’s goal is to shed light on this reality “in a way that will promote mutual understanding and thus honest communication about the underlying issues with less animosity.”

This book is a significant resource for those who desire to engage in charitable dialogue about contentious issues. The framework sets the stage for gracious discussions. The information it lays out is a helpful introduction to the relevant scientific considerations. Most especially, the author’s respectful tone effectively models the presentation of opposing perspectives with charity and respect.

Mapping the Origins Debate is especially helpful for high school or college level educators or adult study groups. His scientific expertise gives equal weight and validity to each of the six models, which could lead to the assumption that scientific evidence or philosophical inference supports each to the same degree, a conclusion to which some readers may object. On the other hand, the book has been recommended by the National Science Teachers Association, suggesting that its balanced approach is viewed as a welcome alternative to the all-too-common contentious treatments of the issues. This book provides helpful information in a gracious manner which evidences precisely the kind of formation The Colossian Forum works to affirm.

Mapping the Origins Debate

Gerald Rau

Dec 10, 2012