Faith, Form and Time
Kurt P. Wise. 2002. Faith, Form, and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms about Creation and the Age of the Earth. Broadman and Holman Publishers. Nashville, TN. Paperback. 287 pages.
Few Christians in science today are as qualified as Kurt Wise to talk about origins theory. His field of expertise is fossils and he obtained his Ph.D. in this discipline from Harvard University. His research director was none other than arch-evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould who well understood that Wise was a creationist. After graduation Dr Wise accepted a position in a small Christian college in Tennessee. There he has encouraged a nucleus of like-minded scientists to cooperate on highly technical research of relevance to creation. He does not appreciate superficial efforts. Indeed he has made himself unpopular in some circles through his insistence on high standards in scientific research and in the drawing of conclusions. Thus one might expect his new book to deal with science but it only lightly touches on the issue. What this book does is to provide a Scriptural defense of the creationist position.
Not only does the author discuss in detail exactly what the Bible tells us about the Creation, but he also discusses the importance of these statements. For a start, he points out that “if the Bible is the preserved issuance from the mouth of God and carries some of the attributes of God in its basic essence, then it seems only natural to give it authority over any claim of man.” (p. 20) This of course includes any claims of modern scientists. Having established that the Bible is the standard by which to evaluate any question, Dr. Wise then goes on to examine the issue of evidence from the natural world. Here too, he declares, that the Bible is the standard. Thus he remarks: “The Bible is not reliable because evidence exists that it is, evidence exists that it is because the Bible is reliable.” (p. 26)
Dr. Wise next anticipates the reader who might well, in response, ask what value there is in making observations and collecting evidence from nature. He replies that there is much value, not the least of which is that God wants us to study His Creation. Following Scriptural defense of this argument, he next launches into a discussion of the “Great Synthesis”. In that the “Great Divorce” is the pursuit of knowledge without recourse to God’s revelation, the Great Synthesis is an attempt to “focus on God once again and base all our academic disciplines on God and His truths.” (p. 27) This objective, of course, includes science. Indeed, declares Dr. Wise, it is a fact that study of nature can only be justified in terms of a Biblical worldview. Of the three necessary presuppositions that must be true if science is to be pursued, none can be proved but are based on the word of God. The presuppositions are that the physical world exists, that information about it can be known, and should be known. On this issue Dr. Wise declares: ” The doctrine of the Creator (that God created the physical world so that all people everywhere through all time could come to know Him through it) is the foundation for all the presuppositions of science. Science, then, is founded upon presuppositions that are themselves founded on the truth of Scripture — and thus on the nature of God. Outside of Scripture there is no known foundation or justification for the presuppositions of science.” (p. 35)
Having established that God wants us to study His Creation, and the primacy of Scripture over all interpretation of the evidence, Dr. Wise then proceeds to discuss the Creation week, the implications of the fall of Adam, the Flood and the march of history since. Plenty of scientific issues are connected with past history. One issue of special concern to most people is the age of the universe and of earth itself. The author’s initial statement that a face-value examination of the creation suggests an ancient universe, will certainly surprise many readers. However he is not actually saying that the universe bears witness to an old age. As we read on, he clarifies this remark. His point is that such conclusions are based on a superficial reading of the evidence and are in fact not justified on several counts. Thus he declares: “Although there are many different indicators that the universe is old, each one struggles with data that does not seem to fit. Because God created things with the appearance of age, some of the excessive, apparent age is due to the nature of the initial creation.” (p. 70) The whole issue, the author has already told us, boils down to belief in God’s word. He earlier wrote concerning God: “He provides sufficient ambiguity in the creation for humans to conclude erroneously a history that never actually happened — if they so choose. This is apparently because God requires faith of us (Heb. 11:3). At the same time, however, God does provide truth and gives us reason to believe it. In each of the above examples, God does tell us the truth.” (p. 60 italics his).
As Dr. Wise moves briskly though a wide variety of disciplines in connection with a discussion of the creation week, he shares with us some interesting insights into God’s character. It is his contention, for example, that God loves variety. We see this, he says, not only in the great diversity of form among heavenly bodies but also among living creatures. Furthermore and perhaps even more interestingly, God reveals His love of communication. Not only do we see this in the structure of the genetic code, but the whole universe bears similar witness in that so many aspects can be described in mathematical terms (a language). Dr. Wise concludes his chapter on the heavens with the words: “because God created all things by His Word (John 1:1-3; Heb. 11:3), evidence of language was created throughout the creation (such as the mathematical precision of the universe and the mathematical nature of the natural laws), …. The universal presence of language in the structure of the universe suggests that the cause of the beginning of the universe may be a communicator.” (p. 91)
Beyond the creation week Dr. Wise turns his attention to events in the Garden of Eden. Based on Scripture he argues that God cursed all nature, including the whole universe, as a consequence of Adam’s fall into sin. Furthermore, all the evil that we see here in nature, stems from this corruption of God’s very good creation. As Dr. Wise remarks: “The young-age creation model suggests that these biological evils of death, disease, struggle for survival, poisons, thorns, and carnivory were all a consequence of man’s sin. Other theistic models of origins are forced by their time lines to claim that all these things preceded man’s sin and are part of the world the way God created it. Since this seems to strain the conventional understanding of goodness and mercy, the young age creation model for the origin of biological natural evil is more consistent with the nature of God as revealed in Scripture.” (p. 166) The author also discusses not only Scripture but also probable geological ramifications of the Flood. The modern theory of plate tectonics for example, is taught to every school age child in geography or earth science courses. This theory requires millions of years to work, but catastrophic plate tectonics (connected to the Flood) achieves the same or better results within a short time frame.
Dr. Wise wrote this book to encourage us to fight untruth and error and that most emphatically includes evolution. Certainly not every creationist will agree with all his interpretations of the scientific details. For example, I personally think he could be a little more critical of appearances of age and of diversification of whales. Nevertheless his overall message is excellent. It was his objective, with this book, to reach a much wider audience than the scientifically literate. While not everyone enjoys the details of science, everyone can nevertheless appreciate the discussion of Scripture. In addition, the details from nature are discussed in such general terms in this book that most people should obtain some insights from these sections. Faith, Form, and Time is recommended for anyone studying or teaching Scripture or science, as well as for anyone who enjoys learning about these disciplines. That should include most of us.
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