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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
368 pages
Apr 2006
Crossway Books

Science and Grace: God's Reign in the Natural Sciences

by Tim Morris & Don Petcher

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt



Why should another book on science and Christianity be written when there are already so many out there? To answer this question we must give some historical explanation from our own experiences and also answer some additional questions. In teaching our students at Covenant College about the relation between science and Christianity, we have found many excellent resources for how science has affected Christianity, and how Christianity has in turn helped to shape science. But we also wanted to inform the students of how our underlying convictions, and in particular our theological convictions, relate to the way we view the world we study and the way we view our own participation in the scientific endeavor. However, we were unable to find a one-volume source that addresses these issues in a way that speaks both to the evangelical mind-set and also to the subtlety of the issues involved without compromising what we hold to be fundamental theological truths. So eventually we set out to write such a book.

Why would this kind of book benefit God’s people? It seems to us that in terms of connecting modern science with Christian faith, many Christians think no further than the creation/evolution debate. And while this is an important area for Christian thinking and involvement, science and Christianity issues go much deeper. As God’s people we all have responsibilities before God to use the Scriptures to continuously assess each culture in which we live rather than to passively let the culture shape our perspectives. Modern science is a cultural achievement that has demonstrated many successes, mostly for the good of mankind. But modern science also has its down side, and partly as a consequence, in the Postmodern world science has come under suspicion in various ways. Not only has science been knocked off its pedestal of being the source for objective truth in the world, but science is also seen by many as a potent enabler of evil. As Christians we ought to be grateful for benefits of the science of our age, and we need to oppose its misuse, but we also need to be aware of the potential it holds for setting up “idols of thought” or “idols of the mind.” As idols always do, these science-related idols oppose God’s gospel of grace in various ways. Some of these ways are more obvious and direct, but many others are quite subtle. Thus a main focus of our book is to suggest ways that God’s people can think faithfully about science in terms of the gospel and so avoid idolatry.

What particular readership did we have in mind as we wrote? An author’s answer to this question can provide important clues as to the specific usefulness of the book for various kinds of readers. Based on our experiences with Christian college students, we originally set out to address evangelical Christians who have some familiarity with science and Christian faith issues and who are interested in ideas that may help refine their Christian perspective on science. We believe such readers will find the way we frame these issues in the book helpful in stimulating their own thinking. There is plenty here for those who are interested in the move from a Modern to a Postmodern cultural backdrop and what its effects may be on science and the church. And while we do not deal systematically with the specifics of the creation/evolution controversy, plenty of material here finds application in that debate.

But in addition to this original intended readership, as we wrote we began to see a wider audience for whom the book might find some relevance. Because of the breadth of topics touched on here, we deal with many issues that are not limited to their application to science, but are relevant to many areas of a Christian’s life before God. For example, in the early chapters our recommendations for ways of thinking about God’s relation to His creation should be helpful to many Christians in evoking a greater sense of His wonder and glory as we ponder in new ways His ever-present grace in upholding the universe. And in a later chapter our recommendations for considering our responsibilities as “knowers” will find much wider application than just in the sciences. Likewise our chapter dealing with some of the specifics of Christian vocation in the sciences includes much that can be applied to other callings for God’s people. Indeed, any Christian who has ever wondered what relevance his or her “day job” has to the Kingdom of Christ would almost certainly run into similar issues as raised here in the context of science. What we present here is a strong antidote to the tendency in our day to separate our Sunday religion from our secular work week, as if God is only relevant when we are worshiping on Sunday, and the day-to-day grind of our weekly activities is unrelated to what we profess on Sunday. Readers who have felt this tension between Christian commitment and everyday work will find much to help and much to ponder in these pages.

Many factors have gone into the development of this book. Perhaps first and foremost, both of us are graduates of Covenant College, and from the time of our respective undergraduate days, we each have had a long-term interest in the relation between science and our Christian commitment. After graduate school in elementary particle physics for Don and cellular and molecular biology for Tim, both of us went on to do postdoctoral work in our respective fields before returning to Covenant to teach. Don joined the faculty in 1993 and Tim two years later. We thus first met in 1995, and after a few discussions it became evident that we each had similar interests in terms of working out a more robust and comprehensive understanding of science from a Christian perspective than we already had to that point.  We also each had a similar desire to aid students and churches to better understand our dialog with the world concerning these issues and our participation as Christians in the cultural science in the face of the tensions that exist today.

Our first endeavor together was to create a course we called “Science in Perspective,” designed to fulfill the core science requirement for those not majoring in science at Covenant. Our idea was to introduce students to the “hot topics” in science in their philosophical, theological, and historical context. We also wanted to present science as the multifaceted, wonderful, and wonder-producing enterprise we found it to be in our scientific work. In practice, science is not a bland, “detached, purely logical” enterprise that mechanically leads to truth, as it is often portrayed. Science is a wholly human enterprise with all the subtleties and foibles of any other human activity, and it provides many opportunities to bring Christian thinking and creativity to bear on its tasks.

Our major goal in teaching this course was to send our students out with a greater awareness of the subtlety of issues in order to equip them for better service to the church and for more productive dialog with the world. While teaching this course, we became aware of the Templeton Foundation’s efforts to encourage a richer dialog between science and religion through promoting the teaching of courses jointly considering science and religion issues. We subsequently won one of the course awards offered by the Templeton Foundation in the Science and Religion Course Program, and this was the beginning of a very interesting chapter in our lives of attending conferences funded by the Templeton Foundation, culminating in our participation in the first Oxford Seminars on Science and Christianity hosted by Alister McGrath and John Roche at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, for one month each summer from 1999 to 2001, also funded by the Templeton Foundation.

At the same time, and partly in the context of our projects for the Oxford Seminars, we were both pursuing our respective interests in science and Christianity, expressed in papers presented here at Covenant in the spring of 2000, leading to material included in this volume. Tim presented a pair of chapel talks entitled “Science and Grace,” while Don presented a paper to the faculty entitled “Toward a Covenant Theology of Science.” Don’s paper followed up in part on some work presented in his 1996 talk “Scientific Law as Covenant Law” on the occasion of the dedication of Mills Hall, Covenant College’s new science building. Tim’s work as represented in his talk has helped to shape chapters 6 to 9 of the book, whereas parts of Don’s paper informed our introductory chapter and laid the foundation for chapters 4 to 6. While participating in the Oxford seminars, we realized that our respective projects mutually supported and complemented one another, and sometime during the second year, we decided to join forces in the writing of the present work. A final and very helpful experience helping to shape our endeavor occurred in the summer of 2002 when we both participated in the Calvin College workshop, “Natural Science in the Calvinist Tradition,” organized by John Schneider and Davis Young and funded by Fieldstead & Company. This seminar was extremely valuable in helping us shape the material here as we dialogued with a variety of people and perspectives within the Reformed tradition.

Covenant College has afforded us a rich backdrop for pursuing our interests, with its openness to addressing any and all questions wherever they lead, in the context of a confessional commitment to the Bible and the Reformed tradition from its various backgrounds. Thus with the firm commitment that there can be no conflict between the Bible and God’s creation, properly interpreted, we find ourselves connected to three distinct strands of the Reformed tradition. Our most direct link is to the Scottish Presbyterian tradition as derived through our denomination’s past liaison to Old Princeton, with their strong commitment to sound doctrine, while at the same time taking science seriously. This is combined with the Dutch Reformed tradition with its strong cultural focus, which came in part through Francis Schaeffer and his connection to the college through denominational affiliation and through the L’Abri conferences held here in the late sixties and early seventies. Also a number of faculty members with a Dutch Reformed background have since joined the faculty, providing breadth in this direction. Third, our southern Presbyterian heritage adds emphases on piety, personal holiness, and the need to distinguish ourselves from the world, while at the same time maintaining a gospel immediacy within it. These three strands, with their different emphases on the theological, cultural, and pietistic aspects of genuine Christian faith and practice, have provided rich resources for our work. Thus the Reformed tradition has given us an essential systematic unity, and the diverse emphases of the three strands have helped illuminate the multiple facets of a faithful Christian response to the science of our day.

Although it will be clear to readers that the perspectives we present grow out of our own theological location in the Reformed Christian tradition as expressed above, we have tried to avoid Reformed “jargon” and have emphasized themes that should resonate across a variety of Christian theological traditions. What we present is not intended to be an argument for taking a Reformed perspective but rather an attempt to flesh out a particular version of that perspective with respect to science. To this end, rather than making primary reference to our confessional heritage at various points, we have ramed our discussion by referring directly to Scripture. We do confess though that it seems difficult to us to make sense of all the Scripture we have used in a coherent picture unless God is sovereign over all areas of His creation, as Reformed doctrine has always emphasized, and we invite the reader to consider this prospect. While it is our hope that our book is unique in its approach and the topics it addresses, the writing process has made us all too aware of what “the Teacher” warned about in Ecclesiastes so long ago: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Eccl. 12:12). The number of books relevant for and past opinions  related to our subject is astounding, and we could not possibly do justice to all of them. We are also aware that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9); there are few genuinely new thoughts, and most ideas of the sort we discuss have likely been expressed by someone in the past. We hope we have faithfully represented the work of others when we were aware of that work. Also there are no doubt many cases where we have presented ideas without reference, when similar ideas have already appeared in past works of which we are yet unaware. If any of our thoughts fall into this category, we apologize and would be delighted to hear of such works and to give credit where it is due in future treatments. Further we are only too aware that our subject matter touches on a vast number of topics, many of which are well outside our fields of direct expertise. Although we have sought to obtain counsel from others who have expertise in these fields in order to fill such gaps, we no doubt have introduced numerous simplifications into such areas. We hope that such shortcomings will not detract from our main goal of edifying the evangelical churches by helping to broaden the horizons of our collective thinking in terms of modern-day science. We trust, by God’s grace, whatever the inadequacy of this present effort, that the reader will in some way be blessed by our endeavor. Again we invite those who discern various shortcomings to provide feedback to help us develop our thinking further.

Finally we would like to remark that with two authors writing different parts of the book, the reader may notice the different styles of each author. We have not made a great effort to unify the style even though we each have substantially “bought in” on the contents of the whole manuscript. We have also endeavored to make the chapters reasonably self-contained so that the book need not be read in its entirety to make sense of each chapter. This inevitably has resulted in a certain amount of redundancy and some fairly lengthy chapters. For these things, again, we beg the reader’s indulgence.


Many have helped in immeasurable ways in moving this book along. We first wish to prominently thank Sir John Templeton and the Templeton Foundation, without whom this work would not have come about. While Sir John may not agree with everything we write in these pages, we are indebted to him for the vision that realized that the world would be a better place if a more vigorous dialog were taking place concerning science and religion, and we wholeheartedly agree. His gracious philanthropy has set the stage for a much more nuanced discussion of this important tension in our lives than has been possible before, and to that we are indebted. May our effort add a small token to the ongoing dialog that has the potential to give God a greater glory in our midst. We are also greatly indebted to Covenant College, both for encouraging this type of endeavor and for support along the way: for sabbaticals, which each of us enjoyed during the course of the writing, for summer travel support and occasional course reductions, for development funds for book purchases and other expenses, and intangibly for the heritage that fosters this kind of scholarship.

In particular we want to acknowledge Professor Chuck Anderson from whom each of us had classes during our college years. Professor Anderson imprinted us at a formative stage with an appreciation for Christ and culture issues, and he played an essential role in developing our theological frame of reference for dealing with them.

Others who played an important role for one or the other of us in those early years of development include Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, John Sanderson, Reg McLelland, Jerry Wenger, and Jack Lothers. We are grateful for Covenant College, a place with a tradition that encourages such investigations and that wholeheartedly strives to understand all things in view of the grace of God given us in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We are also indebted to many individuals, both at Covenant and elsewhere, who have aided in the writing process in many different ways. We are indebted to Alister McGrath of Wycliffe Hall and John Roche of Linacre College, Oxford, for organizing the Oxford Seminars on Science and Christianity, to John Hedley  Brooke for sponsoring Don’s sabbatical in the fall of 2001 at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, and for many helpful discussions, and to John Schneider and Davis Young for organizing the Calvin College Summer Workshop on Natural Science in the Calvinist Tradition.

We also would like to acknowledge individuals who have aided by reading and commenting on parts of the manuscript and those who have especially encouraged us along the way. Particular thanks are due to Henry Krabbendam, who read every word and gave much valuable feedback. We would also like to thank Roy Clouser, Bill Davis, Edward B. Davis, Brian Fikkert, Richard Follett, Jeff Hall, Roger Henderson, Kelly Kapic, Roger Lambert, Bob Monroe, Niel Nielson, and Rebecca Pennington for reading and commenting on various parts of the manuscript (in some cases substantial parts). We would also like to thank our rather captive audiences of students in our Science in Perspective classes of spring 2003 and fall 2004, who, although required to read and respond to much of the manuscript, graciously took their role seriously in offering valuable suggestions toward the final draft.

Finally, we would like to express some more personal thanks. Tim would like to give special thanks to his wife, Lisa: Lisa, you are the most precious gift God has given me on this earth, and your love and encouragement over these years made completion of this project seem possible. Thanks as well to my children Emilie, Aubrey, Meredith, Joseph, and Caroline for your patience and understanding through what was a much longer process than anticipated. Thanks to my parents, Bob and Elaine Morris, for introducing me to my Lord at a tender age, for giving me a foundation in the Reformed tradition, and for nurturing my interest in the “big questions.” I am also deeply grateful to God for the privilege of sitting under faithful preaching of the Word throughout my life. Thanks to those faithful preachers of the gospel who continuously confronted me with the reality and largeness of God’s grace: Elmer Dortzbach, Tom Champness, Karl Ellis, Ed Hague, Mark Cushman, Jim Pickett, Mike Higgins, and Randy Nabors. Finally, I’d like to thank Don Petcher for his friendship, his optimism, for never running out of interesting ideas, for his great patience with my “longwinded” drafts, and for his unflagging enthusiasm for this project. I look forward to continuing “adventures with Tim and Don!”

Don would like to begin with thanks to the many pastors he has sat under over the years who have faithfully preached the Word: Particularly I would like to thank Paul Alexander, who first introduced me to the gospel of grace, and more recently Joe Novenson, who always refreshes me in portraying God’s grace to us, Frank Hitchings, who never fails to convict and to encourage, and Bob Eckhardt, who always has insightful and reflective words to say both in the pulpit and out, even on matters of science. I would also like to thank Tim Morris for his perseverance, his everlasting optimism about deadlines, and the enduring grace that the Spirit has graciously given him that he has shown to me and others at every stage of the project. And last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my wife, Ling Mei, and daughter, Evelyn, for many ways of support—Ling Mei for many stimulating discussions over the years that have undoubtedly, both consciously and subconsciously contributed to the ideas expressed here; Evelyn for understanding when Daddy could not do this or that because I had to work on “the book,” and both for understanding when I have been away, sometimes for a month at a time, at workshops and seminars, and generally for picking up an extra share of the house and yard work while the book was in preparation. Ling Mei, you are my best friend, and I could hardly have asked for a more interesting person to spend my life with; Evelyn, by God’s grace you are everything I could ask for in a daughter, and then some. I thank God for both of you. And, Tim, yes, more adventures!

Lastly, we thank Marvin Padgett, Ed Veith, and the entire Crossway editorial team for their patience with our slow pace and for their excellent editorial help. They have been a joy to work with at every stage. We especially thank Lila Bishop for her excellent copy editing and her flexibility in working with us in the editing process.

All quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version unless otherwise specified.