Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Books That Changed This Scientist's Mind

When news of the sudden death of my husband came out on Facebook and people learned more about his life and his faith, some friends expressed an interest in knowing which books Dennis had read that had finally convinced him of the truth of Christianity.  I said I'd write up a short bibliography for those who are interested, so here it is. 

Dennis was a staunch agnostic until 1980, when a series of incidents led him to begin an intellectual investigation of the claims of Christianity.  The most crucial claims of Christianity--the Incarnation and the Resurrection for example--can seem outrageous to scientists who are used to looking at all reality through a materialistic microscope.  The assumptions behind their materialistic worldview often keep them from rationally studying the evidence--historical and scientific--that supports the supra-rational claims of the Bible.  

Dennis was a detail person.  He could, and often did, rattle off the scientific names of a gazillion plant species from memory, whether anyone around him cared about such details or not.  So it took Dennis two solid years of intense study before he finally became convinced of the reliability of the Christian belief system.   When he finally became convinced that the claims of Christ were supportable, he said that in the past when he looked for God he had been "looking too low."  When he began looking "higher," he realized that God had been there all the time, just waiting to be discovered.  His conversion to Christianity in October of 1982 was solid, and it profoundly influenced the way he lived the rest of his life.

Below is a list of a few of the books that Dennis researched in his search for answers to his God-questions.

Dennis first read all of  F.F. Bruce's books.  Carefully.  Methodically.  One after the other.  The one that was the biggest influence on his decision was The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?  As far as Dennis was concerned, if the Gospel accounts and the Epistles were not primary sources, as they claimed to be, they were unreliable.  F.F. Bruce's methodical analysis of the New Testament documents impressed Dennis, and by the time he had finished reading all there was to read by this author, Dennis had become equally impressed by the God-Man the books were written about.

Dennis was especially impressed with the Apostle Peter's two letters, I Peter and II Peter, because their authorship is well established.  Peter was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection, and he talks about what he saw in these letters, and discusses why what he witnessed is so important to the Christian faith.

A more philosophical approach is taken by Francis Schaeffer.  I seem to remember that Dennis was first impressed by The God Who is There.  If you're not philosophically trained, the jargon will probably put you to sleep.  I've taken a couple of philosophy courses, which means I've got just enough knowledge in this area to be dangerous, but Dennis was intelligent and well read in many disciplines, so he enjoyed this author.

Josh McDowell's, More Than A Carpenter, is less academic.  It's also a rational approach to the credibility of the Christian story, but it's an easy read, fast-paced, unemotional and hard-hitting.  Later on, after he made his decision, Dennis also studied Josh McDowell's more intense Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which presents extensive evidence supporting the Christian faith in more of an encyclopedic arrangement.  This book was written mainly as a resource for students who study and write about Christian apologetics, but it has good, thought-provoking ideas for the lay reader as well.

Dennis also studied the writings of secular historians of the time of Christ and other early Christian writings not included in the canon of the Bible.  I never had the patience for those, but Dennis went after Polycarp, Eusebius, etc. etc.

Later on, Dennis also enjoyed reading books like The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, the scientist who led the successful effort to complete the Human Genome Project.

Books by Hugh Ross impressed Dennis, including specifically, The Cosmos and the Creator.  Hugh Ross disagrees with the "young earth" position that argues that the seven days of creation were 24-hour periods.  As a botanist, Dennis recognized that there is hard evidence of an older earth, including tree ring dating as well as carbon-dating, which might or might not be totally accurate. 

Dennis never saw a conflict between a proper analysis of scientific data and a proper interpretation of the Bible.  He recognized the evidence for "micro-evolution," the theory that species change over time.  That kind of evidence can be observed scientifically.  It's demonstrable in laboratory test tubes and petri dishes.  But the philosophical extrapolation of the micro-evolutionary theory to the theory of "macro-evolution," which assumes that all life forms came from one original organism, required too big a leap of faith for Dennis.  He respected Darwin for his contributions to science, but was convinced that if Darwin had access to the genetic information we have today he would have recognized that his macro-evolutionary suppositions were wrong and would have freely admitted it.

Dennis also loved to quote Professor Richard Owen, the superintendent of the Natural History Department of the British Museum of Natural History and Evolution, who said that the claims about the origin of species made by macro-evolutionary theory were "Just So Stories," no more scientifically reliable than the fictional stories found in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books.

So there you have it.  The books, along with the Bible, itself, that convinced Dennis that there is a God; that He is a Person, not just an impersonal force; that He loves his creation; and that He wants a personal relationship with each one of his human creatures.  I hope some of these are of interest to those of you who have asked for them.  
Meanwhile, I like to remind myself that one day we will be together again, in a place where all questions will be answered and all tears will be wiped away forever.  

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