Gerald Rau is founder and chief editor at Professional English International, Inc. Before that, he was an adjunct professor of biology at Wheaton and Trinity Christian College in Illinois. He has a doctorate in plant breeding from Cornell (12), and a master’s degree in science education focused on philosophy of science (13). With that background, he is particularly well suited to write on the topic of origins in science, and does so as educator trying to bring some cartographical clarity to an often heated and confusing debate.
In his book, Rau is trying to explain the lay of the land and it exists right now. Rather than arguing for one position or another, Rau is simply trying to faithfully exposit the dominant views on the table. Instead of going view by view, he opts to focus on the scientific evidence in several main fields of inquiry and show how each view interprets the data. But first, he has to clear some ground.
Chapter 1 covers one of my favorite topics: philosophy of science. Rau wants to be clear on what a worldview is and how it informs the way a person approaches science in the first place. He also wants to lay out the questions that any potential model of origins will need to deal with. It is here he introduces the 4 major origins that need to be addressed (28ff): the universe, life, species, and humans. At the end of the chapter he makes an important distinction that readers do well to keep in mind as they proceed:
Many people evaluate others’ models based on their own personal convictions, and find them to be logically untenable. In this they are correct. Each model rests on and is inextricably connected with particular philosophical presuppositions. Apart from that, it is nonsense. Thus, when passing judgment on a particular model, we are usually not judging its logical consistency or ability to explain the evidence as much as its philosophical or religious roots (30, side note: Rau would make a good presuppositionalist).
That being said, in chapter 2, Rau can explain to readers what a model is within scientific thought. It is here he introduces us to the 6 models of origins:
- Naturalistic Evolution
- Nonteleological Evolution
- Planned Evolution
- Directed Evolution
- Old-Earth Creationism
- Young-Earth Creationism
We are also introduced to the first of many useful charts Rau has put together, and I do love a good chart or seven. Having introduced the models via chart, Rau then explains each model in terms of its main philosophical axiom, how it draws inferences, and its logical conclusions. With this groundwork laid, readers are ready to look at each of the 4 types of origin in turn.
In chapters 3-6, Rau works through the origin of the universe, life, species, and humans. Each chapter follows the same format:
- What is the evidence?
- How does each model interpret the evidence?
- What difference does it make?
I was a big fan of this format in my reading since it tried as best as possible to present the scientific data, and then turn to how each model interprets the data. In reality there is no uninterpreted data (and I think Rau realizes that), but this layout goes a long toward showing how different models make radically different interpretations of the same data based on their different presuppositions.
Once Rau has worked through the 4 different origins, he presents a chapter showing what we can learn from each model and then a final chapter looking at the heart of the debate. Not surprisingly, the heart of the debate hinges on what counts as science (whose science? which method?). He then gets into how this influences science education and concludes with an epilogue about how minds are changed, which I already blogged on previously.
I found this book to almost completely strength. It well written and accessible to audiences who are not schooled in scientific jargon. Throughout the book, Rau puts an asterisk next to any words that will be defined in the glossary, though he also defines them in context on their first appearance. The charts are outstanding, and honestly the book itself is simply a commentary on appendix 1 “Tables Comparing the Six Models of Origins.” Rau also includes a second appendix “Comparison of Various Interpretations of Genesis 1” which is also very useful.
Being very familiar with much of the literature out there myself, I found Rau’s overall typology to be a very good way of understanding what the dominant views are, as well as how they can be fruitfully compared. This book would make a great supplement in a biology class, but it is also an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the creation vs. evolution discussion/debate.
My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that Rau does not tip his hand on his own view. Certainly he is not obligated to since the aim of the book is descriptive rather than prescriptive and he is simply explaining the playing field to the readers. Rau does comment that “no one has yet written a comprehensive justification of the model I support, from a theological and scientific perspective,” which hints that his model is a hybrid of sorts. He goes on to say that “perhaps now that this book is done, I can consider attempting that” (191). I hope, after reading this book, that he does just that.
- Author: Gerald Rau
- Title: Mapping The Origins Debate: 6 Models of The Beginning of Everything
- Publisher: IVP Academic (January 1, 2013)
- Paperback: 210pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in the creation/evolution debate, especially as it pertains to origins
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of IVP Academic)
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