Book Review: Science and the Mind of the Maker

     I suspect there are relatively few rocket scientist-theologians out there, but I’m one of them.  I’m frequently amazed by the number of people I encounter who see a conflict there — like my extensive scientific education should have “trained out” all that spiritual garbage, or how my deep reverence for God and theological education eliminates the need to seek scientific explanations for the universe.  I’ve never felt such a conflict, and in fact I find the two a perfect marriage.  The amazement I feel when exploring the deeper truths of mathematics and science is strangely similar to the awe I feel when probing the depths of God’s Word.  This is an act of worship — God’s Word and God’s World in perfect harmony, and Melissa Cain Travis agrees.

Mrs. Travis is an Assistant Professor at Houston Baptist University, specializing in Christian Apologetics and the Philosophy of Science and Religion.  Her book, “Science and the Mind of the Maker:  What the Conversation Between Faith and Science Reveals About God” (Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 2018) attacks this perceived conflict head-on, and handles it masterfully.  Her challenge was no small one — the temptation would be to err on the side of theology, and give the deeper scientific subjects only a passing glance.  Alternatively, one could delve deeply into the intricacies of DNA coding and star formation, thereby alienating a large contingent of Christian readers with insufficient scientific background to follow.  Incredibly, Mrs. Travis has tackled both with vigor and with great success.  The theology is precisely on point, and she handles the most complex of scientific subjects with a grace that makes it understandable to any lay person.

Has science eliminated the need for God?  Further, has it disproven His existence?  With Darwinism, the Big Bang Theory, genetics, the human genome, and universal common descent, what room is there for divine intervention?  Not so fast, dear reader…these advances in science have, in fact, only strengthened our case for a creator.  The book is anchored in “The Maker Thesis,” which claims that “…there are certain discoveries of the natural sciences [that] (1) support the inference that there is a mind behind the universe with whom we share kinship, and (2) suggest that this mind intended the success of the natural sciences” (Travis 25).  Simply stated, instead of asking whether or not science disproves God, the correct question to ask is whether or not his existence makes better sense of the available evidence.  Starting with a basic discussion of natural theology (God’s World, not His Word), Mrs. Travis expands into the beginning of the cosmos, the fine tuning of the universe for human life and discovery, all the way through Darwinism and the development of complex life and eventually humankind.  Each chapter remains anchored in the Maker Thesis, each time returning the inescapable conclusion that a scientific investigation of nature does not eliminate the need for God — rather, it demonstrates His existence, and His hand, at every turn.

The book is full of hidden and often surprising gems for both the scientist and the theologian, and for those few readers who (like me) are both.  How is fire evidence that God exists and participates in the lives of His creation?  Why are solar eclipses so critical to the advancement of science?  Particularly brilliant is the discussion about how the conditions necessary for complex (human) life, and the conditions necessary for that life to explore and experience the universe, are incredibly and inexplicably identical.  Continuing the example of fire, Mrs. Travis explains,

…the original and evolution of science have been dependent upon controllable fire, which in turn is reliant upon a rather finely tuned value of the electromagnetic force constant and a planet with a specific kind of atmosphere.  Interestingly, these requirements happen to also be necessary for the kind of complex life capable of using fire.  The birth of metallurgy required fire and complex life, as well as accessible, plentiful metal ores with the right chemical properties and the existence of large, woody plants that would be used to produce appropriate fuels.  Lo and behold, all these pieces fell precisely into place, leading to the scientific and technological world we enjoy” (Travis 84 – 85).

Scientific (and human) advancement requires advanced tools, tools required metallurgy, metallurgy required controllable fire, and the atmospheric conditions that allow controllable fire just happen to be the very conditions required for the complex life forms that control it.  Slightly more oxygenated, and there is a 70% increase in forest fires, slightly less oxygenated and large air-breathing land mammals (like mankind) are impossible.  This is one example of literally scores of them in this book.  How precisely tuned did the electromagnetic constant have to be?  That’s Chapter 3.  What kind of atmosphere was necessary?  Chapter 5.

As either a scientist or a theologian, I found nothing significant to criticize in this book.  I only wish there were more of it!  At just over 200 pages, I read it in a single sitting, and wanted more.  I was particularly fascinated by how Mrs. Travis incorporated the thoughts, writings, theories, and even poetry of the great fathers and mothers of both Christianity AND science.  Chesterton, Lewontin, Lennox, Pythagoras, Philo, Nicomachus, Athanasius, Augustine, Kepler, Copernicus, Planck, Boyle, Galileo, and others are quoted and interspersed seamlessly with Jesus, Paul, Solomon…it adds truly brilliant color to the sometimes highly technical backdrop.  Well done, Mrs. Travis — anxiously awaiting Volume 2!

Science and the Mind of the Maker is available from Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and other online sources, including Kindle and iBooks.

Book Review: Sharing the Good News with Mormons

Sharing_Mormons          I have been a Christian blogger and speaker for many years, but my apologetic interests started long before in a small Boy Scout Troop in South Korea, where my father was stationed with the DoD.  That Boy Scout Troop was led by the local Mormon Ward Leader (similar to a pastor or deacon), and consisted only of his five sons — and me.  If you’re familiar with the time when a young Boy Scout is earning his Eagle and the time a young Mormon is preparing for his Mission, you know that these two time frames overlap precisely.  Who was the only non-Mormon these five missionaries-in-training encountered on a regular basis?  You guessed it!  As a pre-teen and teenager, this environment forced me be able to articulate, at a very young age, what I believed, how it differed from what Mormons believe, and why I was right (and they  were wrong).

Sean McDowell and Eric Johnson have taken on this topic with great vigor, and edited a much-needed and highly applicable practical guide for engaging Mormons and sharing the gospel.  Both men are strongly credentialed and well-respected in the field, with my Biola classmate — and now professor — Dr. Sean McDowell carrying on his father’s work, and Eric Johnson bringing with him the long history and great experience of the Mormonism Research Ministry.  This review is written at their request.

Many books have been written that outline the theological differences between evangelical Christians and Mormons, but relatively few engage the reader in a practical or “tactical” (to use the military term) approach to discussing your faith when that tell-tale knock at the door comes.  In my view, none do it better than this compendium from Johnson and McDowell. Far from a narrative, this book is more of an encyclopedia — a toolbox of sorts, from which to draw whichever size wrench fits the task at hand.  By enlisting a “who’s who” of Christian apologists and counter-cult experts, Johnson and McDowell are able to bring to bear a vast array of perspectives, experiences, and techniques for most effectively engaging Mormons in meaningful conversation.  This includes Mark Mittelberg, Matt Slick, Brett Kunkle, J. Warner Wallace, and Sandra Tanner, along with about a dozen others.  Former Mormons like Sandra Tanner and Dr. Corey Miller provide a critically important “insider’s view” of Mormonism, while professional apologists Brett Kunkle, Sean McDowell and others offer approaches that help expose the clear disconnects between Christianity and Mormonism.  The “Police Lineup Approach” and “The Case-Making Approach” enlist the help of experts like LAPD cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace, and others provide equally valuable insights.  If one approach doesn’t seem to work, there are a dozen others to try — and no matter who or where your Mormon friend may be, there will be an approach in this fabulous book that will almost certainly reach them.  The “Survey Approach” was new and quite creative, and it was insightful to learn how reaching Mormon women is particularly difficult.

Finding something to critique in this book is a challenge.  The theological comparisons are accurate, and the tactics are practical and eminently usable.  Only one chapter gave me pause — “When the Elders Come Calling” by Sandra Tanner, a well-known author and former Mormon.  My wife and I have been inviting Mormons into our home for more than 20 years, including some of those very same brothers who first challenged me as a Tenderfoot 35 years ago.  In every case, I have found that confronting them with the false claims and prophecies of Joseph Smith, and the clear errors in the Book of Mormon, inevitably results in an immediate defensive posture, a quick end to the discussion, and a potentially damaged relationship.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the very approach that Tanner recommends — to “plant the seed” of doubt in them, then pray for them, and invite them back.  In scores of encounters with LDS Missionaries and other friends, I have never seen this approach bear any good fruit.  The “Conversational Approach,” detailed by Dr. David Geisler and Brian Henson in Chapter 14, is by far my preferred approach.  That said, Tanner’s parsing of LDS terms is tremendously helpful, as Mormons often use Christian terms in a completely different way, and her comparison of doctrinal differences is precisely accurate.  Still, confronting Elders at your door with their prophet’s and their holy book’s errors will rarely, in my experience, lead to an opportunity to share the gospel, and even more rarely result in a desire to return to your address.

From cover to cover, Sharing the Good News with Mormons provides a tour-de-force of strategies, tactics, and new ways to think about reaching Mormons with the Gospel.  No matter where you are strong or weak in your apologetics, McDowell and Johnson provide multiple options that you can enlist to communicate His gospel to this growing and highly reachable community.  The book is well-written, theologically sound, highly relevant, applicable, and — from this apologist — strongly recommended.

You can find the book at either Amazon or CBD or directly from Harvest House, or you can continue the conversation on the official website for the book here.