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By Barbara Forrest

Christian teenagers whose families and churches have repeatedly told them that evolutionary theory is evil often find themselves deeply conflicted when they finally see how compelling the scientific evidence is for evolution. The only thing they have ever heard is that evolution and religious faith are mutually exclusive. They are told that if they accept evolution, their faith will be destroyed. If they lose their faith, their moral principles will corrode and their lives will be meaningless. This is a powerful message, even though the dilemma these young people face is a false one. Finally, a Christian biologist has written a book to address their situation. The Prism and the Rainbow (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), written by my friend Dr. Joel W. Martin, is — so to speak — an answer to their prayers.

The Prism and the Rainbow

Dr. Joel W. Martin

“Jody” Martin is the Curator of Crustacea, Chief of the Division of Invertebrate Studies, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. He is also an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, where he works with the high school youth ministry. He has a connection to Louisiana: he earned his M.S. in biology in 1981 at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. A few years ago, he contacted me and asked me to read his manuscript when he was seeking a publisher. I read it, and it was wonderful. It was just the kind of book that has been needed for a very long time. Jody explains why he wrote it and how he hopes that it will be used:

The book is aimed primarily at young adults and their parents who are looking for helpful information on the issue of science and faith, and my hope is that it might prove useful for discussion groups in school and church settings.

According to the publisher,

Martin finds that much of the controversy in the United States over evolution is manufactured and predicated on a complete – and sometimes willful – misapprehension of basic science.  Science and religion, he says, serve different purposes and each seeks to answer questions that the other need never address.  He believes that many of the polarizing debates about evolution distract from the deeper lessons of Christianity and that literal, fundamentalist readings of the Bible require the faithful to reject not just evolution but many of science’s greatest discoveries.

Just as the scientific explanation of rainbows is not meant to refute the biblical “rainbow” story of God’s promise, evolutionary theory is not a ploy to disavow the divine.  Indeed, Martin shows that the majority of Christians worldwide accept the theory of evolution.  He urges his fellow Christians to refuse to participate in the intellectually stifling debate over evolution and creationism/intelligent design.

Two other friends of mine, Dr. Kenneth Miller of Brown University and Dr. Kevin Padian of the University of California-Berkeley, have endorsed the book. Miller, a cell biologist and practicing Catholic, has been a prominent spokesman for the compatibility of science and faith:

Joel Martin’s marvelous book echoes the sentiments of Charles Darwin himself, who reminded readers of The Origin that one cannot be too learned ‘in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s work.’  It is a powerful testament to the compatibility of faith and reason, and demonstrates with remarkable clarity that the conflict between religion and evolution is a false and contrived choice that does justice to neither science nor religion. —  Dr. Ken Miller, Brown University

Padian, a paleontologist who is Curator of Paleontology at the UC Museum of Paleontology, refers to the “safe place” that Martin provides for Christian teens in this book:

Teenagers need a place where they can get straight talk and reputable answers about evolution, all the more so if they come from religious backgrounds that prepare them to mistrust what they might be told.  Jody Martin provides a safe place for them.  He is a first-class, accomplished scientist and a dedicated Christian, and his is a perspective well worth listening to. —  Dr. Kevin Padian, Department of Integrative Biology, Univ. California Berkeley

In closing, I will let Jody speak for himself about the central message of his book:

Science and faith are not competing hypotheses of how the world works. They are not meant to be, and to argue one over the other is to miss the point of both. . . . Newton’s prism . . . did not create the colors contained in sunlight. It simply revealed them. Science does not invent nature; it simply reveals nature. If this is God’s world, then science can only reveal God’s world. . . . The relatedness among all forms of life on Earth, humans included, and the diversification of life over millions of years — revealed by the science of evolution — does not remove God from the history of life, or from our lives. (95-96)

The rest of the book is as beautiful as this lovely quote, as well as being very informative and scientifically accessible.

If you are a young person who has been looking for a way both to retain your personal faith and appreciate the wonders of modern science, you cannot find a better book than this one. If you are the parent of a young person who has raised the question of the relationship between science and religion, you owe it to that young person to help prevent what could be a totally unnecessary dilemma as your child encounters the massive, compelling evidence for evolution in college biology classes.

Interested readers can buy the book here at Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher at the link above.

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