Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012). (Amazon.com)
Immediately, one may be skeptical of this book’s agenda because (1) the author Gerald Rau has been a professor at such evangelical institutions as Wheaton College and Trinity Christian College and (2) IVP Academic is an evangelical publisher. This might lead a potential reader to dismiss the book as conservative propaganda, or worse, pseudo-science. While I won’t go as far as to say that Rau is unbiased I can say with a straight face that he does a very good job of aiming to be as fair as possible. This is not an apologetical work, per se, though one may deduce from the end of the book that Rau is not comfortable nor satisfied with how this topic is being addressed in the public square (which may irk those who want groups that espouse theistic philosophies—like Intelligent Design advocates—to disappear).
For those who are trying to reconcile the message of Christian Scripture regarding creation with modern science this book will prove informative. If you were hoping that Rau might give you apologetic ammunition to attack “the evolutionists” this is not that book. Obviously, Rau’s workplaces and his choice of a publisher indicate that he is a Christian theist, but not one who you’d see representing Answers in Genesis (maybe not even Hugh Ross and the Reasons to Believe crowd).
Rau examines four main areas of study: the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and origins of species, and the origins of humans. In each chapter his goal is two-fold: (1) discuss the evidence then (2) discuss the interpretations. This is where my short review is weakest: I am not well educated in the sciences; therefore, I cannot vet his presentation for you. He seems to me to be the type of author who aims to be fair, but again, I read this book with interest, but without expertise.
Each data set (the evidence) is then placed in dialogue with six interpretive models: Naturalistic Evolution, Nonteleological Evolution, Planned Evolution, Directed Evolution, Old-Earth Creationism, and Young-Earth Creationism. Of these six there are five theistic models. Four of those theistic models suppose that God has a purpose or telos for creation. Three of them make space for the idea that God may intervene directly and uniquely in the process. Five of them assume that the earth is quite old. Each of them present a different understanding of the process necessary for things to come to be as they are now.
What are some of the strengths of this book that make it worth your time? Well, Rau is forthright about the necessity of understanding worldviews, the philosophical presuppositions that support these various interpretive models, and the need to know where science ends and interpretation begins. Even for those who are skeptical of an evangelical discussing modern science should come to appreciate the effort Rau makes to show that no one approaches the evidence free of bias. Although I know this has become an observation many Christians like to use to discredit those with whom they disagree, I don’t see in Rau’s book an effort to drastically undermine certain views. There are times when the opposite poles—Naturalistic Evolution and Young Earth Creationism—appear to be the views Rau least appreciates, but you have to be paying attention to see this.
At the end of the book Rau aims to show readers that each model has contributed something to the overarching conversation. Those who are encamped at one of the aforementioned opposing poles may not like this, but those who fall somewhere in the middle should find Rau’s discussions agreeable overall.
As I said earlier, those who are not likely to read an evangelical take on modern science can gain some things from this book in spite of their distrust. For example, Rau aims to be fair to those whose religious views may seem extreme, like Old-Earth and Young-Earth Creationists. The nice thing about this book is Rau will tell you how these folk interpret the data without using vitriolic rhetoric that attempts to dismiss them outright. Likewise, for someone who finds his or her self on the more conservative end of the spectrum, you’ll find Rau might give you more appreciation for those you once dismissed as merely godless. This is what appears to be the greatest strength of the book: it brings together proponents of differing worldviews who may never have come together for dialogue on their own.
This book was provided for free in exchanged for an unbiased review.