Reviewed by: Henry E. Neufeld
Wise, Kurt P.
Faith, Form and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms about Creation and the Age of the Universe. Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002. ISBN: 0-8054-2462-8. 244 pages, excepting front and end matter.
I have known of Dr. Kurt Wise for a few years through reports and through reading some of his shorter materials. Because of his educational background, and his firm stand, which I consider unusually honest, I immediately purchased his book, Faith, Form and Time when I saw it! I was not disappointed. For those who do not know of his work, Dr. Wise is an associate professor of science at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee who received his PhD in paleontology from Harvard, working under Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent proponent of evolution.
Dr. Wise writes with exceptional clarity, and with a faith in scriptures which is both clear and well-defined. He is also very knowledgeable about scientific topics. Unlike some books by young earth creationists, Dr. Wise does not provide extensive opportunities for the layperson to criticize his science. In fact, I intend to respond to this book largely on the scriptural level.
Before I look at those issues, however, let me tell you what this book does not do. Dr. Wise does not attempt to distance young earth creationism (or young age creationism as he calls it) from its scriptural, religious base. He is unabashed in maintaining that his basic reason for believing in a young earth and a literal six day creation week is simply that this is what he believes the Bible teaches. The first two chapters, “Creation from A to Z” and “The Biblical Standard” make this abundantly clear. In the conclusion of chapter 2, he states, “The Bible is preserved, reliable, and true because of the nature of its Author. It should be believed over observation and evidence.” (See comments on this by Richard Dawkins in his article, Sadly, an Honest Creationist. This article makes it plain that this stand is not a fluke, but a foundation of Dr. Wise’s understanding.) To be fair, I must note that he does allow some adjustment of Biblical interpretation according to available evidence, as long as this interpretation does not depart from what is “natural to the text.” (I believe this is one of his greatest weaknesses as well. See below.)
Dr. Wise prefers “young age creationism” to “young earth creationism,” but both views hold that the earth is about 6,000 years old and was created in six literal, 24 hour days followed by a day of rest. He believes in interpreting the Bible according to what is “natural to the text.”
Further, Dr. Wise does not attempt to make one believe that if we find various minor flaws in evolutionary theory this will somehow automatically prove creationism to be true. He accepts the task of creating a model which is falsifiable and which has predictive power. In chapter after chapter he describes his understanding of the Biblical evidence, and then states what that would suggest we would find in nature. He then points to those elements of the evidence which fit in with that theory. In a major departure from the apologetic approach of many books on creationism, he also points out those elements which do not, and those areas in which he believes fruitful research can be done using the model he is suggesting.
In another review I comment on the way that Morris and Parker in their book “What is Creation Science?” attempt to separate their “scientific” model from the age of the earth, and also from flood geology. This is, of course, impossible if one wishes to produce any kind of scientific model. Dr. Wise, on the other hand, never flinches from this issue. He deals with the creation week, and what would be predicted by this mode of creation, the Edenic world, the antediluvian world, the flood itself, the immediate post flood world, and what we see today. One may, of course, disagree with many of his conclusions, but he hasn’t attempted to dodge any of the problems. In each of these areas he has proposed new areas of research which he believes would be profitable.
Another welcome absence in this book is the regular accusations that all those who disagree are atheistic or dishonest. I found only two cases in which he made negative implications about those who disagree. One case, on the big bang theory, he states, “The most popular atheistic theory for the origin of the universe is the Big Bang theory, which leaves God totally out of the picture” (p. 89). The Big Bang is neither theistic nor atheistic, and it would have been possible here to discuss it without implying that it is such. Again he says, speaking of 2 Peter 3:3-8, “The passage further states that among their reasons for doubting a coming judgment is their denial of two facts from earth history: the Creation (because it would mean there was an authority over them with the right to judge) and the Flood (because it would mean that mankind had been judged at some point in the past” (p. 179). The implication here is much more subtle, but nonetheless would accuse those who believe in a creator God, but who do not accept the young age model of also denying a future judgment. This is simply false. The remarkable thing, however, is not these two rather minor innuendoes, but rather the fact that I only found two in the entire book. This is a remarkably positively written book, irrespective of the author’s position! I wish much more of the debate was constructed in this sort of a positive tone.
In the area of flood geology, his exposition on plate tectonics looks to me, as a layman, to be quite good. I would suggest that there would be considerable problems with the total release of energy and the availability of water under his scenario, but it is much more rational than others that I have read. I think he continues to have considerable problems with his description of the pre-flood world and the way in which biomes were destroyed in the flood. It is a good deal better than hydrological sorting, however.
His discussion of baramins bears some reading as well. I appreciated the description of apobaramins, holobaramins, and monobaramins. I’ll leave you to read the book to get all the definitions but all these terms are defined. The definitions are still a bit weak, in my view, but Dr. Wise indicates where research needs to be done to fill in the gaps. In a chart on page 113 he describes a monobaramin as being built up “from populations and varieties that interbreed, species that interbreed, and species that are sufficiently similar to those that do interbreed.” (I have removed references to chart elements.) This leave us with a slightly unsatisfying element in terms of “sufficiently similar to those that do interbreed.” But this is an area that Dr. Wise suggests needs further study.
I think I have given sufficient reasons for those interested in this controversy to take a look at this book. I want to respond to a small portion. I’ll leave the majority of the science to others.
If you accept the basic premises of the book, I believe you would be likely to come to agree with the author’s conclusions. In particular if one accepts the notion that the scriptures provide essentially an eyewitness account of origins, and that the eyewitness is the omniscient God, then one could hardly argue with most of Dr. Wise’s conclusions. The key issue arises, however, with the notion of the reading that is “natural to the text.” To read the text such as to provide scientific information without first determining that it is intended to provide scientific information really begs the question of what is the natural way to read the text.
I would suggest, for example, that in order to have any hope of reading the Biblical text naturally, one needs an acquaintance with the world of the Bible, with the language, literature, symbology and cosmology used in the ancient world that surrounded the Bible. One can hardly state that the Biblical text is one sort of literature without having any idea what the options are. Further, to conclude that it is essentially an eyewitness historical account seems to deny the evidence of the text itself, particularly in chapters 1-11. Dr. Wise’s natural reading is, in fact, a 20th century construct, reading the text as though it is intended to convey scientific information. It is on this fundamental point that I find myself in disagreement with all the rest of Dr. Wise’s conclusions. I’m not even going to try to respond to the science, though I think there would be value in such a response from someone who is a scientist. I have to say simply that at the most fundamental level, Dr. Wise has misread the Bible, and produced a reading which is not natural to the text.
I believe, however, that those of us who are in the Christian community need to respond to the type of effort that has been put into this work and to Dr. Wise’s other research. This is not a view that can simply be laughed off as the work of fanatics, idiots or liars. Dr. Wise is none of these, and I am thankful for his careful effort and clear exposition, even while I emphatically disagree with his conclusions.