by Fred Heeren

Searchlight Publications, Wheeling IL, 1995. 387 pages.

ISBN 1-885849-51-6. $19.95 hardcover.

It is too bad that this volume, the first in a series titled "Wonders That Witness", carries the subtitles that it does. Despite the author's own claim to be skeptical believer, his repeatedly stated purpose of proving the Bible's fundamental compatibility with modern science is very much apt to turn off anyone who is the least bit skeptical about religion's claims to begin with. That would be a shame, because Heeren proves himself a very articulate observer of contemporary cosmology and a very intuitive interpreter of the theological implications that flow from it.

His exposition is logical and clear-cut, and best of all, he frequently lets the scientists speak for themselves. For example, the end of his excellent chapter on "The Big Bang", which covers all the main points of the theory and its variations, Heeren gives us three telling quotes. The first of these, from Sir Arthur Eddington, states that following Hubble's discoveries and Friedmann's and LeMaitre's revolutionary new theory, "Religion first became possible for a reasonable man of science in the year 1927." Then we have COBE project director George Smoot's statement that following the confirmation of minute variations in the cosmic radiation background, "The question of 'the beginning' is as inescapable for cosmologists as it is for theologians." Finally, we have astronomer Robert Jastrow who, even as an agnostic, claims that "the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same; the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply, at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy."

Yet this impressive succession of quotes shows both the strength as well as the weakness of the author's technique. Eddington's opinion, as valuable as it is, (as well as Heeren's book, despite its appendix of believing scientists) unaccountably ignores the fact that LeMaître also happened to be a Catholic priest -- and hence open to suspicion as a believer -- long before he articulated what Hoyle derisively called the "The Big Bang". Then too, while Smoot's microwave background measurements may have decisively cinched the argument for an inflationary Big Bang, does the theory unequivocally point (as the author implies) to a "creation from nothing" in the strictest sense of the term? Finally, despite my appreciation of Jastrow's forthrightness, I would strongly question the conclusion that all this establishes that the "essential elements on the astronomical and biblical accounts in Genesis is the same..."

As a theologian I have two problems in particular with that last statement. First is the assumption the Bible essentially concerned at all with how the universe actually came to be. Heeren would perhaps have been wiser, among his many quotes, to have recalled the pun (which translates quite well from the Latin) of Cardinal Baronius, who was the Vatican librarian around the time of Galileo: that "the Bible was written to tell us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." (Too bad the rest of the Vatican wasn't listening!)

My second problem is with the assumption that the Genesis "accounts" (and there are two of them) do in fact teach the more or less the same thing. And furthermore, that the accounts themselves prove (as Heeren repeats several times) that only the Hebrews, among all ancient peoples, got the concept of "creation from nothing" right from the beginning, is a bit too sweeping. In fact, the oldest of these biblical creation stories (that which begins with Genesis 2:5) seems to assume the earth is already there, while the newer one (the "priestly" revision found in Genesis 1-2:4, which is hardly the oldest part of the Bible) while it uses a unique verb ("bara") to denote God's creative activity, also still seems to assume that there already was something (the "tohu w'bahu" -- a trackless waste or emptiness) on which God was already working. Nor do early Jewish creeds or commentaries stress creation from nothing in the technical sense. I point out these problems because, as one very much concerned to see a real collaboration between cosmologists and theologians, I think it is not wise for the latter (or for Christian believers in general) to pin all their arguments on what is essentially a philosophical interpretation of scripture, no matter how long-standing that interpretation may have been. In fact, the author himself warns believers against this tendency. The problem is that, ignoring a broader variety of biblical as well as philosophical interpretations, he doesn't always follow his own advice. Unfortunately, in his discussion of the so-called "anthropic principle" in his chapter on "Evidence of Design" this same limitation shows itself -- along with a more disturbing tendency to engage in ridicule. Even worse, by confusing only one interpretation (the "Many Worlds theory") of the "strong anthropic principle" with the others, he unwittingly undermines his own position, which one would expect would favor what appears to be a cosmic "plan" or "intelligence".

On the other hand, Heeren also seems to leave no creative role to chance. These may seem to be minor points, but I would double these words of caution when it comes to Heeren's intended second volume regarding geology and the theory of evolution. Such oversights could be counterproductive to the author's aims. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who has an open mind, and I congratulate Heeren for his untiring work. It deserves to be more widely read than it probably will be.


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