Learning that the book Origins, published by Faith Alive Christian Resources in 2007 and updated in 2011, is already available in French and Korean and is currently being translated into Chinese and Farsi (Iranian Persian) struck me as interesting and even newsworthy.
For one thing, I knew that this book, even a decade after publication, remains one of the most popular titles Faith Alive has available.
So I phoned Deborah Haarsma, a former Calvin College professor and one of the authors, to see if we could talk about the ongoing interest in Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design.
Today Haarsma is president of BioLogos, an organization in Grand Rapids, Mich., that, its website says, “invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.”
While evolution remains a controversial topic among Christians today, we didn’t go into details on that. Instead, we talked mostly about considering creation, from animals here on earth to stars exploding light years away, and how that can inspire and bolster our faith.
At one point, Haarsma got up from her chair and stepped to a large photograph on the wall of her office.
Taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, the photo shows stars and galaxies spreading across interstellar space. Leaning in, she pointed to a small spot of light shimmering in the midst of hundreds of other lights. “That galaxy is the size of the Milky Way. We're pretty small in comparison,” she said.
Even after spending many years as an astronomer probing the depths of the universe, a smile appeared on her face, as if she were discovering this area of space for the first time.
Sure, the Milky Way looks small. But, she said, instead of making her feel insignificant, she is grateful that she has the chance to get a glimpse into and be a part of God’s handiwork.
She says the photograph always reminds her of Psalm 103:11-12: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us. . . .”
“God invites us to look at the heavens and remember that our sins are forgiven to the end of the universe,” she said.
The writing of Origins was a team effort by Haarsma and her husband, Loren Haarsma, while they both taught at Calvin College. He still teaches physics at Calvin. She taught astronomy there from 1999 until 2013.
“When we were working on the book, we prayed that it would help people see beyond some of the same conflicts to new options and ideas and to help us all in the church to have better conversations,” she said.
Origins has helped to accomplish that by reaching a fairly broad audience of Christians. Using the book as a backdrop, the Haarsmas have spoken to many audiences about creation.
The purpose of the book, they say, is to lay out a variety of options and to examine what both the Bible and the natural world can teach about creation.
In their talks, the Haarsmas explore the issues of origins and consider areas where Christians generally agree with each other and areas where Christians tend to disagree.
In 2010, Deborah Haarsma became an adviser for BioLogos and then was named president in 2013. BioLogos was founded by geneticist Francis Collins. Now director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Collins began the BioLogos organization after his book, The Language of God, came out in 2006.
A bestseller, the book linked Collins’s Christian faith with the work he was then doing in helping to map the human genome. Following the book’s publication, he says, he received thousands of emails from individuals who were affected by the book. They were seeking to explore the relationships between Scripture and science. So he established BioLogos to help provide responses to these questions.
For some people, said Deborah Haarsma, moving away from the view that God created the world in six 24-hour days, as implied in Genesis, has been and remains difficult. Doing so, some believe, would go against the very basis of the Christian faith — human history as found in the Bible.
But, for others, being able to see the issue of creation from other perspectives has been liberating. The Haarsmas have found that their book has proven, unexpectedly, to be a kind of ministry for them. It reaches out to some people and helps them reconcile their faith with the findings of science.
Here are some of the stories the Haarsmas have heard:
A physics professor told them he had recommended Origins to a woman who, in turn, recommended it to a chemist friend, who told her that it had brought him out of a crisis of faith.
A pastor, who was teaching an adult education class at his church, said he recommended Origins to a retired engineer who was about 80 years old and had lost his first wife to cancer. The engineer brought a good friend to the class. Both had been struggling over the Genesis creation account. But reading the book opened them to different perspectives on the Genesis story that helped deepen their faith, and they became dedicated members of the congregation.
A youth pastor said that a few families didn’t like the idea of using Origins in a church class. But the elders overruled them. About 70 people attended the class. Some were curious, and others were critical, but, said the youth pastor, class members began to see that Genesis 1 can have different interpretations.
A woman told them that it was possible the book saved her marriage. She grew up Baptist and earned a degree in English. Her husband was an aerospace engineer. At first, her reading of Genesis 1 and his acceptance of evolution kept them from finding a church and caused deep friction. Discovering Origins, they found common ground — and the Haarsmas helped them find a church. Now they are using the book to help other couples.
“Messages we have received have let us know that we have helped bring some people together and have given them new ways to talk and think about their faith,” said Deborah Haarsma.
Origins raises many questions and doesn’t answer them all, and it does present the authors’ approach to creation, evolution, and intelligent design. Basically, though, the book as well as BioLogos try to bring attention to the glory and complexity of creation, made by the God who appears in Genesis to separate light from dark and call the heavens and the earth into existence.
After the interview, I was glad to know that Origins, a Faith Alive product, will soon be finding a new audience in China and Iran. These are ideas worth discussing not only in the Western world but also in largely non-Christian countries.
But something else beyond this nugget of news has also stayed with me.
It’s the smile — the sense of joy and even awe — that came to Deborah Haarsma’s face when she stepped over to that photo on the wall and pointed out the tiny sparkle of light.
She delighted in showing me these distant galaxies of stars similar to the Milky Way galaxy in which we live and, as Origins points out, have the opportunity day in and day out to marvel in and praise God for his seemingly endless creation.