Science in Christian Perspective

Book Reviews


JASA Book Reviews for December 1976

Table of Contents
POLITICS: A CASE FOR CHRISTIAN ACTION by Robert D. Linder and Richard V. Pierard, Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1973, 155 pp., $1.75.
GENETIC FIX by Amitai Etzioni, Macmillan, New York, 1973. 276 pp. $7.95.
THE TRUTH: GOD OR EVOLUTION? by Marshall and Sandra Hall. Craig Press, Nutley: South Carolina 29630. (1974) 186 pages. $2.95.
THE BIOLOGY OF THE TEN COMMAND MENTS by Wolfang Wickler. McGraw-Hill, 1972, 198 pp. $6.95
THE ASTRAL JOURNEY by Herbert B. Greenhouse, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1975, 359 pp., $8.95.

POLITICS: A CASE FOR CHRISTIAN ACTION by Robert D. Linder and Richard V. Pierard, Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1973, 155 pp., $1.75.

Is there any doubt that Christians are supposed to be of significant assistance to both Christians and not? No. The Scriptural records are full of items such as the second of the great commandments, the miracles of Christ, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the like. Why then a book with this title? To argue for a specific kind of activity, not to argue for aid in general. The authors are correct in believing that a case for political involvement does indeed need to be made. In this respect, however, they do not take their task seriously enough. All too often the contents are more of an exhortation to participate in a certain kind of activity instead of a case for that activity.

By "politics" Linder and Pierard mean "the formation and implementation of public policy for the public good." In theory this can be done by state or private agencies, The emphasis upon private activity is microscopic, however. "Politics" is the realm of winning elections, passing laws, waging war and peace, and so on,

The position of Linder and Pierard is that political action and Christianity are not contradictory (chap. 1), that although a number of objections to political activity by Christians have been raised, they are of little merit and, in fact, God has ordained the state and by implication some types of political activity (chap. 2); that there are some solid Christians around who are very political (chap. 3); that college campuses are important politically (chap. 4); and that history exhibits a number of cases where the efforts of a single person or small group of people did mighty things (chap. 5). Chapter 6 is both a summary and a further exhortation.

it ought to be apparent that only the first two chapters make any sort of case for a certain kind of Christian action, and it is difficult to evaluate this case. On the one hand, some of their treatments are quite good, e.g., the short section on "submission" to governments. But underlying it all is the position that the "base" from which they proceed is that the state is a "divinely ordained institution" and its corrollary that "political involvement means active participation in the life of the state." If one accepts this starting place their case is brief but not too bad. But it seems that a case for something ought to evaluate fundamental assumptions like this one. Linder and Pierard apparently feel no such need and are unabashed statists throughout. This is unfortunate because their contentions about the legitimacy of the state can be unproblematically denied without sacrificing a shred of orthodox Christianity and perhaps even strengthening its theology in the process. It is not necessary that a majority opinion favors this alternative approach.. It is only necessary that such be possible and not altogether implausible. Since this is true, its omission is a serious flaw.

Questioning the legitimacy of the state is not farfetched. In my experience with Christian college students, the ones for whom the volume is written, it comes up with surprising frequency, albeit usually in a rather roundabout fashion. Is it merely ironic, an historical accident or a irrelevant matter of fact that the cataclysms which Linder and Pierard call "the cosmic issues of our time" have been in great measure caused and perpetuated by the state? Could there not be, in fact, is there not evidence for, something intrinsic in the state that tends, as Friedrich Hayek says, to make the worst get on top?

It would be unfair for a reviewer to lament that a book did not say what he wants. In this volume, however, we are promised a case for Christian action but are not given an enormously helpful one.

Reviewed by Allen 1. Harder, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

GENETIC FIX by Amitai Etzioni, Macmillan, New York, 1973. 276 pp. $7.95.

Etzioni's name is probably familiar to many readers because he is a prominent sociologist, because of the
name itself (II Kings 14,25; Jonah 1: 1), which sticks in the mind better than, say, John Smith's, and because
he served on the editorial board of Science for several years. Genetic Fix is a personal book, with considerable 
moral implications, by this prominent social scientist. 

If you read scientific book review columns with any frequency, you could probably write an acceptable review of most symposium publications without reading them. You would include complaints about the lack of unity, mourn that the extremely interesting discussion was not reported, criticize the system for publishing the book after it is badly dated, and perhaps despair that book prices have become so high. In general, if you would report the opposite of these four elements, you would have written an acceptable review of Genetic Fix. Whatever that title suggests to you (and the title is my biggest complaint about the book), this is a unified, inexpensive record of a symposium whose topics are still relevant. It dwells on the discussion as much or more as it does on the papers, being a sort of diary of Etzioni's stream of consciousness.

The symposium was held in Paris, apparently in September 1972, under the auspices of the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences, an arm of WHO. Its overall topic is approximately, "Is progress in biological and medical research good for us?". A parallel is drawn to the dilemma of what to do with knowledge in nuclear physics. As Etzioni puts it, "Can we edit progress?" (p. 29) Not stop it, but edit it. 

The issues raised are many. They include reference to some agonizing dilemmas thrust upon us by the advance of science, and Genetic Fix would be worthy of reading for its coverage of them. These dilemmas are important, and not only to those involved, but Etzioni has bigger fish to fry. His basic concerns are two: Individual patient rights and responsibilities, and the establishment of some sort of commission to deal with the dilemmas, rather than leaving them to individual doctors and patients to worry about alone.

Concerning the first major issue, I quote:

"It seems clearly desirable that when a person's blood is tested . . . it should also be determined whether he or she could serve as a potential organ, blood, or bone marrow donor At the same time to inform everyone whose blood was typed that he or she might be called upon one day to donate this or that, would put on hundreds of thousands of people an extra psychological burden On the face of it, the answer seems obvious:  Why not wait until an actual need for a decision to donate has arisen before informing them? [This] is a highly paternalistic and patronizing view. People are seen as immature children to be protected by the doctors who know better and will make the "tough" decisions for them. . . . Why shouldn't people think-yes, even  worry-about these matters? Isn't it at least as worthy a topic as any they would think about otherwise? (pp. 151-152.) 

Although Genetic Fix is not an especially religious book (Jurgen Moltmann was at the conference) it certainly concerns ethics, and has a high moral tone. The participants, including Etzioni, seem to have a strong sense of right and wrong. The book has several valuable appendices, is indexed, and is full of inter esting information (such as that women who have an abortion are much more likely to have a premature baby). I recommend it.

Reviewed by Martin LaBar, Central Wesleyan College, Central,

THE TRUTH: GOD OR EVOLUTION? by Marshall and Sandra Hall. Craig Press, Nutley: South Carolina 29630. (1974) 186 pages. $2.95.

To the making of anti-evolutionary books, there  would appear to be no end. There must surely be more
  than a grain of truth in this statement, and I was forci bly reminded of it when reading this book by Marshall
and Sandra Hall. I am not implying, however, that their book is quite like the whole host of other anti-evolu tionary books. While their arguments are well-known the fiery, polemical style and the repeated claim that evolutionary thinking lies at the root of all society's problems set this book apart.

 The authors see evolution in very clear, black and white terms. Of the numerous possible illustrations of
  this, let me quote just two: "The purpose of this book is to make it impossible for anyone to say that there is
 scientific proof of evolution." And again, evolutionists " must assume everything happened in ways that
  against all the scientific evidence and laws of prorability." And so the "scientific evidence against evolution" is presented in this vein, the evidence being thrown at the reader who is given no opportunity to reach his own conclusions. These too, are thrown at  him.

The ground covered-spontaneous generation, mutations, natural selection etc. is familar as is the arguments for and against have been repeated on countless occasions I will not add to the list. What does deserve comment however, is the presentation, de pending as it does to a large extent on ridicule. I am far from clear who is supposed to be convinced by this-certainly not thought-through evolutionists. I was also left wondering how Christians would respond to a similarly phrased attack on Christianity. I imagine they would ignore it; failing that, they would almost certainly consider it biased, unrepresentative and unfair.

Having robbed evolution of its credence, the Halls  proceed to prove the reality of special design and creation. As they themselves say, "One reality . . . is that  there have been and are now only two theories of how  man got here, Evolution and Creation. When one is proven false-ludicrously false-then the other is ipso facto proven true!" How do we know that special creation is true? The answer, according to the Halls, is because it can be shown to be true by "logic and science." The logic and science adopted by them consists of a mixture of 18th century-type arguments from design, further ridicule and misinterpretation of evolutionary ideas and somewhat irrelevant stories.

Apart from these particular arguments, we are left with the issue of whether the approach adopted by the authors is an essentially Christian one. My own impression  is that the concept of special creation as employed in this book owes more to philosophical than to biblical thinking. As such, this does not constitute a serious analysis of creationism. What is more, while most Christians today are probably aware of the dangers of evolutionary thinking, relatively few are awake to the dangers of unbridled anti-evolutionary feelings.

An example of what I mean by the latter is provided by the last section of this book in which evolution is seen as the principle (? the only) culprit behind the loss of discipline in the classroom, most current psychological concepts and Marxism. The demise of evolution is envisaged and with it the demise of materialism, Marxism and all the other obnoxious 'isms' that assail us. Not only this, it is now possible-we are told-to prove the existence of a Creator. But is evolutionary thinking quite the culprit it is made out to be? Are new horizons for mankind just around the comer, once evolution has become a foible of history? Is this diagnosis in accord with the biblical diagnosis of man? Isn't the autonomy of man rather wider than evolutionary theory? And isn't the authors' desire to prove God simply a facet of man's desire for autonomy?

We need to ask ourselves whether our obsession with disproving evolution is not blinding us to far more important biblical realities. I am not suggesting that we calmly accept the tenets of evolutionary philosophy, but I am pleading that we take seriously both biblical and scientific data-difficult as these sometimes are to interpret and even more difficult to hold together in harmony.

Reviewed by D. Gareth Jones, Department of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, West Australia.

THE BIOLOGY OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS by Wolfang Wickler. McGraw-Hill, 1972, 198 pp. $6.95

This is a translation of a unique German book, containing many interesting insights. Wickler has an bubristic view of the role of the ethologist: "Ethical claims which are not based on concrete biological data are meaningless." (p. 2); ". . . criticism of social norms ... is a job that specifically belongs to the etbologist. His long-term goal, let us say, is to test ethical norms against natural laws . . ." (p. 21). He does recognize that certain social norms, such as the Christian commandment of love, go beyond natural laws (by which be means laws controlling animals), but thinks that such commandments should be justifiable on the basis of natural laws. If not, then ". . . strickly speaking- [they] should not be followed." (p. 22)

In spite of this view, which would seem to make moral philosophers, legislators, parents, etc., answerable to etbologists, Wickler confines himself to an attempt to discover how animals obey the commandments, rather than prescribing how humans should act. Wickler does not deal with the first few commandments, since they are not directly related to social behavior.

The author finds examples of not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, not coveting, and honoring elders in various kinds of animals. He also examines parallels to the Ten Commandments in non-Jewish societies. These chapters are the bulk of the book, and very interesting. Among the highlights:

A close Masai parallel to the "cultic decalogue" of Ex. 34:10-26.
An attack on Kant's categorical imperative.
 Wickler's statement that the best way to compare human and animal behavior is to study animals occupying ecological niches similar to man, rather than to compare man with the higher primates. 
"It can be no surprise to the ethologist that the biblical term for the most intimate marital relationship between partners is 'knowledge'." (p. 132.)
"Abortion cannot be justified either economically . . . or ethically." (p. 140.)
A German survey ( 1970) found that 77% felt cruelty to animals should be punished, but only 61% felt that eating one's wife should.
An attack on situational ethics.
Examples of lying and of "false witness" in animals.

I found the logic of Wickler's discussion on killing to be weak. He says that there is an inhibition against killing in animals, and that since this is so, overcoming that inhibition is a symptom of rationality. If that is rationality, I hope it's not contagious. Another negative criticism is that the author generally takes a low view of Scripture.

This is an interesting book, of some value to psychologists, sociologists, theologians and ethologists.

Reviewed by Martin LaBar, Central Wesleyan College, Central, South Carolina 29630.

THE ASTRAL JOURNEY by Herbert B. Greenhouse, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1975, 359 pp., $8.95.

This book is typical of the pseudo-scientific books which are good sellers just now. It seeks to appear religious as well as scientific. The tbesis is that each person has a "second body," "double ... .. soul body," or 11 astral body." This "astral body" can sometimes leave the physical body and travel long distances, though it is attacbed to the physical body by a silver cord. Such 11 astral journeys" usually take place in sleep, but some claim to make them at will. LSD and alcohol have assisted some such trips (pp. 102 ff.).

Greenhouse tells hundreds of stories of "astral journeys." Some are from ancient or medieval sources. Some are taken from fiction. Satisfactory documentation is never offered. Even in the section, "The Scientific Approach" (pp. 269-324), there is no description of evidence obtained under scientifically controlled conditions. Yet there is an obvious attempt to make all this credible.

The use made of Bible stories illustrates the way Greenhouse handles his sources. He declares that Elisha travelled in his astral body to learn Syrian military' secrets. Paul made an astral journey to heaven. And the resurrection of Jesus was really his astral body (p. 21 )1 Such use of the Bible makes nonsense of it. it is quite similar to that in Chariots of the Gods?, and such books.

Greenhouse writes as one who believes. And because he believes, some of his readers will believe though not because of convincing evidence.

Reviewed by Kenneth E. Jones, Professor of Theology, Gulf Coast Bible College, Houston, Texas 77008.