The title of this book alone was enough to make me want to read it. Anyone who has spent much time around flood apologists has heard the suggestion that to fit more animals on the ark, especially the larger animals like dinosaurs, they were included as babies. This very suggestion, as pointed out by the author early in the book, is one of the things that makes it hard for scientists to take creationists and flood geologists seriously. This anecdote represents the central theme of the book, the dilemma faced by many Christians that evolution and the age of the earth, as determined by modern geology, are at direct odds with a belief in a creator God.
The author, Janet Kellogg Ray, is a Christian and adjunct biology professor at the University of North Texas. Her skills as an educator are clearly apparent in the book, which contains a thorough introduction to the conflict between biblical literalism and the findings of science concerning evolution and earth history. One might wonder why yet one more book on this topic is needed but given the growing certainty of scientific evidence surrounding these issues and the continuing stubborn adherence to a literal reading of Genesis found in conservative Evangelical Christianity, this book represents another fine attempt at providing serious truth seekers the tools they need to forge a middle path.
The central premise of the book is that because most conservative churches consider a literal interpretation of Genesis essential to a belief in God and the validity of Scripture, they set their members up with a stark choice: either believe that the Bible teaches a young earth, literal 7-day creation week, and worldwide flood (ignoring everything science might have to say on the topic), or accept evolution and an old earth and become an atheist. Christians in these churches are told that it is impossible to believe in evolution and a creator God at the same time, and that evolution is just a myth invented by scientists to justify atheism. Some scientists, like Richard Dawkins, encourage this same approach, agreeing that science excludes the possibility of belief in God. These stark battle lines put many deep-thinking Christians in a quandary since evolutionary theory is strongly supported by scientific evidence. Scientifically literate Christians feel that they are being asked to ignore what seems obviously true, based on physical evidence, and just accept a literal interpretation of Genesis. The Bible, according to a fundamentalist literal reading, contains inerrant science and history and thus requires that we make scientific findings fit, come what may.
Ray’s solution to this dilemma is to recognize that it is possible to be both true to the scientific evidence and to the Bible, which requires recognizing the appropriate role for the Genesis account. God speaks to us both through divine revelation and nature, and her contention, much like that of Galileo, is that the Bible is primarily intended to teach us spiritual truths, not scientific or historical truths. Nature itself, through scientific inquiry, speaks to us of God’s work as creator. The Genesis account is simply there to remind us that God is the creator, not how he did the creating, or, for that matter, when he did the creating.
Ray explores these issues in part by retelling her own experience growing up as a conservative, young earth creationist. She always had an interest in science and nature, and as her studies in college began to confront her with discrepancies between what the Bible seemed to say and what scientific data clearly show, she came to a crisis of faith. Like many Christians before her, who became more scientifically literate, she was left with a stark choice: either reject the vast body of scientific evidence or reject God. Faith was too important to simply jettison, so she set out on a journey to accommodate both an acceptance of scientific facts and a faith in a creator God who is our savior and redeemer.
The bulk of the book covers the background information that shows how certain the evidence for the big bang and the age of the earth and universe is; how robust the conclusions of geologists are about the history of the earth; how well the fossil record explains the history and evolution of life on earth; and how modern genetics provides even more support for evolutionary theory. She writes at a level easily accessible to nonscientists. Along the way she points out how young earth creationists distort or ignore the evidence to maintain a literal reading of Genesis. She also shows the willingness of some young earth creationists, when backed into a corner, to simply claim that Genesis, as interpreted literally, is simply correct, no matter the weight of the scientific evidence.
Ray takes one chapter of the book to review the variety of models used to explain earth history, including young earth creationism (YEC), old earth creationism (OEC), intelligent design (ID), theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism, and naturalism/scientism. This chapter is very useful for those with only a passing acquaintance with the diversity of approaches, and Ray carefully outlines what each camp believes and the evidence they use to support their interpretations. She carefully critiques the quality of the evidence for each camp regarding the main issues, including age of the universe/earth, the origin of life, the Noachian flood, and evolutionary theory. It is probably no surprise that she considers evolutionary creationism as the best fit to the evidence. In brief, evolutionary creationism considers God the creator of the universe. He engineered the Big Bang in such a way that the universe would be just right for life to originate on earth (and potentially elsewhere in the universe as well) and that all living things on earth, including humans, evolved from a single common ancestor via evolution. She also considers God as a personal God who has interacted with humans since they evolved, accepts that the Bible is a document written by humans inspired by God, and that God has provided for the salvation of humankind through Jesus Christ.
Although Ray is not an Adventist, she does acknowledge the Adventist connection to the resurgence of YEC support in the 20th century by recounting the work of George Macready Price, an Adventist educator and arm-chair geologist who coined the term “flood geology,” which he used as an explanation for the fossil record. In 1961 Henry Morris brought flood geology into the mainstream when he published the book The Genesis Flood. Ray recounts Henry Morris’ attempt to explain the orderly arrangement of the fossils as due to “hydraulic sorting,” failing to mention that this basic idea also has its roots in the work of another Adventist scientist, Harold Clark. Clark referred to his model as “ecological zonation”:
It is interesting to learn, upon reading reports of geological discussions over a century ago, that the pioneers of modern geology recognized the principle of ecological zonation of ancient life; but because they were already imbued with the idea that the stratified rocks represented the deposits of long ages, and the flood of the Bible record produced only the surface sands and gravels, they failed to see the significance of the facts.
Adventists who accept young earth creationism will find this book challenging, as it questions every scientific assumption used to support a literal reading of Genesis. Adventists have long prided themselves in being serious students of God’s two books, the Bible and the book of nature, and we have had a long tradition of attempting to reinterpret scientific findings to fit our favored creation model. Over my lifetime such attempts have become ever more untenable, however, as more and more evidence from multiple sources continues to support an old earth age and the evolution of all life from a common ancestor.
What is most helpful in this book is that the author was also once a committed YEC who believed that there was sufficient scientific evidence to support her traditional beliefs. She knows what it is like to be confronted with ever more troubling evidence and be forced to confront it. Janet Ray believes it is important to be able to accept the findings of science while retaining a faith in God as our creator and redeemer. She fears the consequences for believers who only see a binary choice of either accepting a YEC model or atheism. Her concerns about these issues reflect the trends facing Christian believers today:
The reasons for de-churching are varied and nuanced, but Barna has identified six consistent themes among the dropouts. Among the consistent six? “The church is antagonistic to science.” Young adult dropouts (and older ones as well) believe the church is out of step with modern science and even anti-science. They are particularly turned off by the creation versus evolution debate.
To the trained scientist much of what Ray shares in this book will be familiar. Defending a YEC position given the mounting scientific evidence almost demands blatant denial of science. Little room is left to explain away the evidence for an old earth and evolutionary theory. To an open-minded reader who is confronting the evidence for the first time, Ray’s reassurance that acceptance of the scientific evidence does not mean rejecting the Bible or a belief in a personal, creator God should be comforting. She is one of many scientists who fully accepts the scientific evidence and remains a committed Christian. It is time for conservative churches to stop insisting on a YEC model and allow for more diversity of belief. To continue to insist that a YEC model is the only valid way to interpret Genesis will only drive more intelligent, educated people from the church, and will lead to a complete shipwreck of faith for others.
Notes & References:
 Whitcomb, J.C. and Morris, H.M., 1961. The Genesis Flood (Baker Book House).
 Clark, HW. 1944. “The positive aspects of Creationism,” Ministry Magazine 17(5): 6.
 “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church,” Barna, September 27, 2011, https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/#.V1IFAI-cGUk.
 Ray, Janet Kellogg. 2021. Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark?: The Bible and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.), 162.
Bryan Ness has BS and MS degrees in biology from Walla Walla University and a PhD in botany (plant molecular genetics) from Washington State University. He is a Professor of Biology at Pacific Union College (PUC), where he has been teaching for over 30 years.
Title image: Baby Dinosaurs on the Ark? The Bibla and Modern Science and the Trouble of Making It All Fit (Eerdmans, 2021).