Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review of Evolving out of Eden, by Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen

For hundreds of years, Christians have attempted to "reconcile" the Bible, and what it says about how the world was created, with what science reveals about how the world came to be. Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution is a lucid and, dare I say complete, exploration of the various intersections between Christian theology and science -- in particular, the science of evolutionary theory.

For hundreds of years, Christians have been adamantly opposed to humanity's ever increasing knowledge about the way the world actually works. Galileo was opposed by the Roman Catholic Church. Darwin was, and still is, opposed by Christians from many different Churches. And in America, Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians attempt to smuggle creationism (that is, Bible stories about the creation of the world) into the science classrooms of our public education system. All in an effort to protect their long held, and false beliefs, that the Bible is in some way a science text book. Well, as New Testament scholar Robert M. Price and co-author, Edwin A. Suominen clearly demonstrate: the Bible is NOT a science book!

Evolving out of Eden essentially begins as layman's guide to evolutionary theory. Quoting extensively from leading scientists in the field, the authors explore the reasons scientists throughout the world insist that evolution is true, and has always been the mechanism for the creation of life on earth. It is, in many ways, a crash course in the basics of evolutionary theory, as understood and explained by scientists. But like the Bible, Evolving out of Eden is not -- nor does it pretend to be -- a science text. It's real strengths are to be found when the authors delve into the vast history of the Biblical creation stories -- of which there are many. It explains, how these stories came to be, what they meant for the writers of the texts, and how Christians throughout the centuries have interpreted and reinterpreted them, in order to make them fit with our ever expanding scientific knowledge. And it shows that, no matter how hard Christians have tried to force the Biblical creation stories into the world of science, it is always a futile attempt to force the square peg bronze age creation myth into a round hole of science.

While the authors themselves no longer consider themselves religious, they are not, in an way, anti-religious. They both have a great deal of respect for religion, Christianity, the Bible and Christian theology -- and their respect shows in their words. This is not a book meant to bash those who believe in Creationism, but a book meant to open up lines of communication that -- for the most part -- have been closed down, by us Christians.

Evolving out of Eden simply points out what some Christians and Church fathers (like Origen of Alexandria) always understood: the Bible is NOT a scientific text from which one can draw information about how the world works. It is a religious text, meant to explore humanity's quest for something more than the world. And any attempt, no matter how sincere, to reconcile the Biblical creation accounts with scientific facts, fail on every level.

As a believing Eastern Orthodox Christian, I highly recommend this book. It's educational, enlightening, at times funny, and above all it is honest and fair. Following the internet book review standards, I'm rating it five stars, with one caveat: by the very nature of the topics involved, somewhat technical -- especially near the beginning. I'd rank it 4.5 stars, because the technical nature may turn off some readers who aren't as serious about following through on the subject as other. However, that's not the fault of the authors, but rather the fault of America's lackluster science education system, so in order to not punish the authors in my review, who've done their very best to make a complex topic understandable, I'm giving it five stars.

It is a FANTASTIC book, and probably the best over all introduction to the topic of how evolution and Christianity intersect that I've ever read. If you have, even the slightest hint of an open mind, this book will change your opinions about the Bible, creationism, and science, while giving you a new respect for all three.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

George R.R. Martin fans: stop taking your favorite series so damn seriously!

Okay, I've decided that fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series take themselves and the books WAY TOO SERIOUSLY. I don't mean in the sense that Tolkien or Star Trek fans give a piece of their hearts over to the world, characters, and stories -- I mean in the sense that (unlike Tolkien fans) Game of Thrones fans seem to believe that Westeros is a freaking REAL world, or was a real world, or is representative of the real world. 

I was just reading a Wheel of Time fan board, and saw some Game of Thrones trolls arguing that, while they liked WoT, they LOVE Game of Thrones because it is a "realistic" world with "real" characters who act like real people in real situations, and that Westeros is just like ancient Rome (what???) and like medieval Europe all at the same time. (Yeah, again -- WHAT???) 

I like ASOIF too. I think GRRM is one of the BEST writers writing today -- but these diehard GoT fans really need a reality check. You're reading a series of books in which ice monsters, from beyond an 800 foot tall wall, are coming to overthrow the seven kingdoms which was once ruled by a family who mated with dragons! (Or however it was they got their magical, dragon-like abilities to survive being burnt at the freaking stake.) Yeah.....nice, gritty, realistic stuff, wouldn't you say? 

Look, I'm NOT bashing the fantasy genre. Fantasy, of one sort or another, is pretty much the only type of fiction I read these days. The fantasy genre does things that so called "mainstream" literature does poorly or cannot do at all. It deals with the "other" and can make commentary on subjects that, we otherwise might be uncomfortable with. But there is this ugly side to the fantasy genre -- or rather, fantasy fans -- that assumes that their favorite story is the BEST story. WoT fans did it. Sword of Truth fans did it. And now ASOIF fans do it. For them, all other fantasy is second class, or outright "crap" while their favorite book is "real literature, take that Terry Goodkind/Robert Jordan/J.R.R. Tolkien."

Of course, in fifty years I doubt that there will be entire scholarly societies dedicated to doing scholarship on Westeros like they do with Tolkien. But that's irrelevant, because George Martin has a badass dwarf who gets laid -- and that proves he's the best!

Don't get me wrong. I love GRRM's emphasis on the "grey" reality of human nature -- I like the story, but to pretend it's anymore "realistic" than WoT (or LOTR, or Terry Brooks) is total bullshit!  Yeah, more people die and they use the words "whore" and "fuck" more than in other books, but that doesn't make it "realistic," just different. If Martin's Westeros was representative of the REAL Middle Ages, we'd definitely see the brutality, but we'd also see the beauty of that time too. We'd see the poetry, the language, magnificent cathedrals, monasteries educating people etc. Martin has no beauty in his story. It's horror after horror. I get that that is the "point" of the story. But, in my opinion, that  makes it "gritty" but not necessarily anymore  "realistic" than anything else.