Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science, by James Gilbert (University of Chicago Press, 407 pp.; $22.95, hardcover);
Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, by Phillip E. Johnson (InterVarsity, 132 pp.; $15.99, hardcover; $9.99, paper). Reviewed by Richard J. Mouw, president, Fuller Theological Seminary.

These two books cover somewhat different territory, but reading them together is a good exercise. Historian James Gilbert provides a fascinating study of the ways in which religion and science have interacted in twentieth-century American culture, while Christian apologist Phillip Johnson provides believers with what the book jacket tells us is "an easy-to-understand guide" to helpful tactics in the ongoing debate with the defenders of Darwinian thought.

Since Johnson's campaign against Darwinism has stirred up some controversy, even within the evangelical community, I should make it clear at the outset that I agree with the substance of his case against the evolutionist perspective as he defines it. Johnson contends that much science education these days simply equates scientific thinking with a naturalistic view of reality, with its credo that "nature is all there is."

Gilbert's opening chapter nicely corroborates Johnson's description of the perceived link between naturalism and the scientific enterprise. Gilbert sets up his chronicle of science and religion by explicitly endorsing the naturalistic scheme. "By definition," he tells us, science "denies the intervention of deity in any explanation"; scientific investigation offers us "explanations of natural phenomena capable of verification within a materialistic framework." Religion and science, then, represent "two very different and potentially hostile systems of explanation."

Johnson rejects this approach, insisting that the real conflict is not between science and religion, but between science done from a naturalistic perspective and a scientific investigation that is genuinely open to evidences of divine causality. He wisely points out that scientific activity is guided by world-view commitments and that the espousal of a naturalistic world-view in particular is often grounded in an overt hostility toward the idea of a God-fashioned universe.

In observing that Johnson's and Gilbert's books are good companion volumes I do not mean to suggest that Gilbert's study has value only as a foil for Johnson's arguments. While Gilbert does fall back on a standard science-versus-religion rhetoric to set up his chronicle, he also has an instructive story to tell, a tale that begins with the infamous 1925 Scopes trial and ends with the portrayals of religion in the 1962 Seattle Exposition, billed as "America's Space Age World's Fair." Gilbert touches on many fascinating topics: ufo "sightings," the controversy over Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision, the politics of funding for scientific research, and Frank Capra's efforts in his television documentaries to portray science as the exploration of God's handiwork.

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Of special interest to evangelicals is the sustained attention Gilbert gives to the Sermons from Science films produced by the Moody Institute of Science. These productions—God of Creation, God of the Atom, Voice of the Deep, and others—were standard fare in evangelical churches during the 1940s and '50s. But, as Gilbert shows in considerable detail, they also played a significant social role in the post-World War II campaign for universal military training. Finding it necessary to address a widespread concern that military service corrupts America's youth by uprooting young men from the healthy influences of hearth and home, the Air Training Command established a Character Guidance program in which the Moody productions figured prominently. In 1951, for example, Sermons from Science films were shown 239 times, to 187,028 military personnel.

At one point, Gilbert refers to the "showmanship" of Irwin Moon, the producer-narrator of the Moody film series. While Gilbert clearly does not mean this as an expression of unmixed approval, I am willing to let it stand as a compliment. I was inspired by the Moody films in my youth, and I suspect that I would still give them high marks if I saw them again. If Moon engaged in some showmanship, his was a good show. The fact is that much of the larger story that Gilbert tells is about different varieties of showmanship. Science is not a subject that can ever be left for the scientists to manage completely on their own. It is an enterprise that has far-reaching social consequences. And it is a subject matter that looms large in the education of our youth.

Phillip Johnson is also concerned with the effects of scientific showmanship, albeit of the more secularist variety. Naturalistic science has certainly had its share of gifted preachers; a Carl Sagan declaring to popular audiences that we humans have been produced "by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime" and a Bertrand Russell delineating the contours of "A Free Man's Worship" are every bit as showy as a televangelist declaiming against "godless science." Again, it is not the showmanship as such that is worrisome. In the realm of scientific debate, most claims are underdetermined by the evidence. Since, as Johnson rightly insists, the most important issues here are world-view ones, we should expect that popular advocates of this or that world-view perspective on science will indulge in a bit of preaching: telling inspiring stories, spelling out a way of viewing reality in general, calling for commitment.

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The important question is whether this kind of popular advocacy is done badly or well. To discern the difference we need what Johnson calls a "baloney detector." Johnson himself is skilled at employing this instrument to identify flaws in pro-evolutionist arguments. In defending natural selection, for example, the well-known molecular biologist Francis Crick repeats Richard Dawkins's argument that we have through selective breeding produced, in a relatively short period of time, many new varieties of dogs. Why, then, asks Crick, couldn't the even richer diversity of living beings have come about from a similar process over a period of hundreds of millions of years? Johnson quickly exposes the fallacy here: "Was Crick aware that domestic animal breeding requires a preexisting, purposeful intelligence?" He points to a similar error in the way another scientist defends natural selection by pointing to the process of "evolutionary refinement" that led to the present version of the Corvette. "Of course," Johnson observes, "every one of those Corvettes was designed by engineers."

These are good demonstrations of the effective Christian use of a baloney detector. We need to be clear about the fact, though, that what Johnson is challenging here, strictly speaking, is not the idea of a long process of "selection" as such, but of the idea of an unsupervised process of gradual evolution. He admits as much when he tells us that someone who believes in "a gradual process of God-guided creation … might be on the right track. A God-guided process is not what modern science educators mean by 'evolution,' however."

Suppose, though, that a Christian teacher of science chooses to use the term "evolution" in a way that does not rule God out of the picture. Johnson sees such a ploy as a regrettable "accommodation"; it clouds the real issue and "leaves our young people open to materialist indoctrination when they go away to college and learn there what 'evolution' really means."

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It is precisely here where Johnson has stirred up some controversy among Christian scholars. He treads fairly lightly on the subject in this book, but in a recent radio interview with James Dobson he had some harsh words for evangelical scientists who, he said, are so desirous of gaining "prestige" in the larger academy that they are willing to follow this "accommodationist" route.

Johnson would do well to consider a more charitable interpretation of his Christian colleagues' motives on this matter. It wasn't easy for evangelicals to become scientists in earlier decades, a fact that is spelled out nicely by Gilbert in his account of the emergence in the 1940s of the evangelical American Scientific Affiliation. In order to pursue their careers with Christian integrity, many evangelical scientists had to turn their baloney detectors not only against the materialists, but also against views about the Bible and science that were prominent among evangelicals. They were rightly concerned about the fact that there were many young people in their generation who were abandoning an evangelical faith, not because they were taught an "accommodationist" perspective, but because many Christian leaders were substituting crude rhetoric for careful reflection on what it means to engage in actual scientific activity from within a biblical world-view.

I hope that Phillip Johnson will pause in the pursuit of his own important campaign to listen with empathy to the stories these evangelical scientists have to tell about other campaigns in the not-too-distant past when they were wounded by their own troops. It will help him to understand better why these Christian colleagues get nervous sometimes about the way he makes his case. A sustained conversation on these matters would, I am convinced, greatly strengthen Johnson's significant ministry on behalf of all of us who know that heaven and earth together declare the Lord's glory.

American Catholics: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church
By Charles R. Morris
Times Books
511 pp.; $27.50, hardcover

Read Charles Morris's history of American Catholics after Joel Carpenter's history of fundamentalism in the 1930s and 1940s (see review on p. 46). Morris's canvas is much larger, but there are provocative points of contact between the two books.

Morris's lively narrative is divided into three sections: "Rise," "Triumph," and "Crisis." The first of the five chapters in "Triumph" is titled "A Separate Universe," which resonates with Carpenter's account of fundamentalist separatism. Catholics and fundamentalists, then, flourished in similar ways. But the fifth and concluding chapter of Morris's Part 2 is titled "The End of Catholic Culture." How did triumph suddenly give way to crisis? Are there any lessons here for evangelicals?

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Morris, a moderately liberal Catholic, adduces demographic changes—above all, the population shift from the city to the suburbs—and suggests that the church hierarchy, spoiled by success, was blind to new realities. Another perspective, not entirely at odds with Morris's but with a different emphasis, was suggested by Mark Noll in an essay in Books & Culture (September/October 1996, print only) on Catholic higher education. "What this Catholic story offers to believers of other flavors can be put bluntly," Noll wrote. "While solid, well-defined theological boundaries can be enforced in ways that stifle productive Christian thinking, sustained, meaningful, doxological Christian thought will not flourish unless such boundaries exist in some form."

Christmas: An Annual Treasury
Edited by Robert Klausmeier
64 pp.; $19.99, hardcover

This is the sixty-seventh volume in Augsburg's annual series. In a marketplace that is surfeited with Christmas "products," this book stands out in several ways. It is traditional in the best sense of the word—that is, it offers tradition as a living thing, not a museum piece. It is modest—it doesn't try to compete with videos or computer games, doesn't imply that bigger is always better. It is simply a beautifully made, companionable book, and it will bring instruction and delight to many readers, young and old.

Facing the title page, before the book proper even begins, there is a winsomely illustrated page with a stanza by Phillips Brooks, the nineteenth-century Bostonian preacher who wrote the Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Here Brooks exhorts us:

Then let every heart keep Christmas within.
Christ's pity for sorrow,
Christ's hatred for sin,
Christ's care for the weakest,
Christ's courage for right.
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!

The first selection in the book is the Christmas story from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Taken together with the lines from Brooks, this sets the right tone for the anthology: Christ-centered. And here, as throughout the book, there is a note on the illustrator, who includes a personal statement.

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The Christmas story is followed by a wonderful collection of Christmas memories, in brief recollections from 15 people—most of them from the Midwest, and many from Minnesota—who were born around the beginning of the twentieth century (or, in two cases, near the end of the nineteenth). Their memories are pithy, pungent, and wonderfully various. It is good to hear the voices of older people, and not just the young.

The rest of the volume is a pleasing potpourri of poems and stories and songs and recipes and an abundance of glorious illustrations. Right in the middle of the book is a gallery of "Scenes from Nativity" by three American folk artists. One of these, La Huida a Egipto (The Flight into Egypt), by Jose Rafael Aragon, a nineteenth-century itinerant painter in what is now northern New Mexico, is reproduced on the right.

The Illustrated Jesus Through the Centuries
By Jaroslav Pelikan
Yale University Press
254 pp.; $35, hardcover

In 1985, Yale University Press published the first edition of Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus Through the Centuries, a wide-ranging account of the place of Jesus "in the general history of culture." Now, Yale has published a new edition, in the format of an art book, with an extraordinary selection of illustrations and an abridged but still substantial version of Pelikan's original text.

The cover of this new edition reminds us, even as we celebrate Jesus' birth, that he chose the path to the cross—and that he asks us to follow him. Other works of art reproduced here can serve as vehicles of meditation and prayer as well as reflection on the manifold depictions of the Son of God, from Byzantine icons to a Chinese Jesus stilling the waves.

Some readers may wonder, as they turn the pages, why so many of our churches today are utilitarian places at best, ugly or garish at worst (and that worst is not uncommon). And, we may hope, at least a few Christian artists who get this book in their hands may be inspired to create, in the idioms of this millennium's end, work as beautiful and as enduring as we find here.

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