Science in Christian Perspective

Book Reviews


PSCF Book Reviews for December 1980


Table of Contents
PSYCHOLOGY AS RELIGION: The Cult of Self Worship by Paul C. Vitz. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977. 149 pp. $3.95.
SCIENCE IN THE MIDDLE AGES, by David C. Lindberg, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. xvi+ 549 pp., $40.00.
LIFE WITHOUT PAIN: Kornails Secrets of Pain Control by Komar [Vernon E. Craig] with Brad Steiger, New York: Berkley Publishing Corp., 1979. 170 pp., $1.95.
SCIENCE IN THE MIDDLE AGES, by David C. Lindberg, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. xvi+ 549 pp., $40.00.
THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION, by Norman Anderson, Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1978, 162 pp., $3.95.
CULTURE AND CONTROVERSY, by R. Clyde McCone. Dorrance, 136 pp., $6.95.
READINGS IN MORAL THEOLOGY, NO. 1: MORAL NORMS AND CATHOLIC TRADITION, by Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick, S.J., eds., New York: Paulist Press, 1979. 363 + viii pp. $5.95 paper.
THE FUTURE OF SCIENCE, 1975 NOBEL CONFERENCE, edited by Timothy C. L. Robinson, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1977, 145 pages.

PSYCHOLOGY AS RELIGION: The Cult of Self Worship by Paul C. Vitz. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977. 149 pp. $3.95.

This is a nasty, wonderful little book. It is almost guaranteed to discomfort all who will read it, and therein lies its greatest value. The author, an experimental psychologist at a secular university and a recent convert to the Christian faith, advances the following thesis.

Psychology as "religion- (which he defines following Erich Fromm as any system of thought which provides an object of devotion) is not just alive and well in America, but deeply anti-Christian, and insidiously pernicious for individuals, families, and communities alike. Moreover, self-theory psychology, or selfism, received popularity not because it had a legitimate scientific foundation, argues the author, but because of its suitability for rationalizing a consumer mentality in a prospering industrialized society,. and for justifying natural tendencies toward narcissistic self-indulgence in an age of leisure and great wealth.

Leading this cult of self-worship the author identifies as four main gurus: Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Rollo May. Although the treatment these four receive is perhaps insensitive and unfair at points, there is still much that rings true amidst the scandalous polemics. And beyond the immediate scope of the book, other tantalizing associations and fundamental questions arise.

For example, Helmut Thielicke, although unmentioned by the author, would also seem to be working along similar lines when he argues that the crucial distinction within contemporary theology is not liberal vs. conservative, but Cartesian vs. Non-Cartesian (akin to selfist vs. non-selfist). Christopher Lasch would probably want to add that the ideology of personal growth, superficially optimistic, radiates a profound despair and resignation; that the cult of intimacy originates not in the assertion of personality but its collapse; that much that passes for hedonism is really a desperate concern for survival. Psychology as religion could therefore as easily stem not from idolatrous self-worship as gods but rather from the fear of having no final individual significance at all.

And then clinically, for those of us who are involved in the helping professions, how are we to square the author's criticisms of the alleged evils of selfist psychologies with the many relationships we see in which one person is living totally under the command of the other? What seems called for is more selfist assertiveness, not less, especially when such an internecine dynamic is equally debilitating, Paul Tournier reminds us, for the master as the slave, the strong as the weak.

More fundamentally, what would it mean for psychology to be Christian? Is there any such thing as "the" Christian psychology, selfist or not? And can someone who personally would seem to be an opponent of Christianity, as the author contends the four selfist gurus are, still have something to offer Christians? I believe they do. After all, the author himself centrally employs in his critique of self-worship the definition for religion framed by one he calls a chief selfist (Fromm).

Clearly, Dr. Vitz has done us a great service by sharing of himself and his sincere struggle to pursue what it means to be a good scientist and also a lover of Christ. All who spend time in this little volume will likely benefit from the experience.

Reviewed by Randall C. Sorenson, Ph.D. Student in Clinical Psychology, Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California 91101.

SCIENCE IN THE MIDDLE AGES, by David C. Lindberg, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. xvi+ 549 pp., $40.00.

Although the title of this volume may appear as a contradiction to some, its contents provide ample proof of the extensive study of the nature of the world which was pursued well before that era which we label the "Scientific Revolution." Here fifteen essays by sixteen scholars, most of them noted authorities in their fields, are collected under the editorship of ASA member David Lindberg. The result is not a general survey of the history of scientific study in the Middle Ages, but rather a key to that world of long ago that differed so much from ours. Considering this difference, perhaps the title does involve a contradiction, since a good deal of what this book is about is not "science" in the current sense of the word. For example, the medieval classification and hierarchy of "the sciences," which included everything from rhetoric to farming, is the topic of the essay by James A. Weisheipl. Although such a general taxonomy of knowledge is of interest to few people today, it formed an important part of the philosophical understanding of the Aristotelian world.

Weisheipl's contribution is typical of the better essays in the book in that he effectively conveys an essentially foreign idea (to modern minds) in a very well written interpretive essay which spans the centuries from the ancient Greeks to the early Renaissance. In another essay, Michael Mahoney deals with the more recognizably scientific subject of mathematics, although to cover the period in question, he moves from market-place finger-reekoning to the abacus, the recovery of Greek mathematics via the Arabic intermediaries, and then the eventual establishment of an autonomous, abstract discipline of mathematics. Mahoney does a superb job of helping the reader to understand the different problems and concepts involved, and provides, like most of these authors, extensive textual notes which form a useful bibliography for further study. David Lindberg's own contribution on optics pro vides a convenient precis of some of the conclusions of his well-received book, Theories of Vision from al-Kindi to Kepler, (Chicago, 1976), introducing the reader to the aim and scope of "perspectiva"-the medieval endeavor which included the physiology and psychology of vision as well as physical and mathematical optics.

It would be impossible here to give an adequate account of all of these essays; one must actually read them to get a real sense of the Medieval world they describe. There are very good sections on astronomy by Olaf Pedersen, motion by John Murdoch and Edith Sylla, and cosmology by Edward Grant (readers of this review may be interested to find that Grant concludes his contribution with a lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis' Discarded Image). Lindberg also writes on the transmission of Classical and Arabic learning to the West, while other essays deal with the universities and with the philosophical or sociological setting of medieval science. In the Middle Ages, of course, even scientific studies were never very far removed from theology, and this volume includes a good deal on the interaction of science and religion, although some authors seem more comfortable with the topic than others. While there is no section on "Science and Religion" a look at the index under "Christianity" shows that the topic is covered throughout the book.

Unfortunately, not all of these essays are uniformly good: Robert P. Multhauf seems to have too much of an eye on modern chemistry while writing on the science of matter, and the resulting discussion deals mainly with alchemy, providing little insight into the more sophisticated philosophical understanding of matter which was of greater significance for the time. C.H. Talbot's survey of medicine also tends to be preoccupied with tracing the progress to the present rather than understanding the past, and Bert Hansen's treatment of "Science and Magic" is spoiled by too heavy a reliance on the approach of Yates, Zilsel, and Thomas, historians whose work, once fashionable, is beginning to be more carefully criticized.

These are just a few of the pluses and minuses of this large book. All in all it is an excellent resource and an extremely important contribution to the field. It is most regretable that it could not have been made more affordable. It is to be hoped that a paperback edition will soon be available within the range of student budgets.

Reviewed by Charles D. Kay, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15227.

LIFE WITHOUT PAIN: Kornails Secrets of Pain Control by Komar [Vernon E. Craig] with Brad Steiger, New York: Berkley Publishing Corp., 1979. 170 pp., $1.95.

It is obvious that rational medicine's traditional ways of treatment as if people were spleens, or colds, or brain tumors, instead of people, is being reexamined. It is also obvious that pain control is an active field of inquiry. For evidence on the first point, see such articles as "Is Health a State of Mind?" by Leon Eisenberg (New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 6, 1979) and the study which prompted such a question (by George E. Vaillant, in the same issue). For evidence on the second, see such articles as "Pain, Enkephalin and Acupuncture" by Shin-Ho Chung and Anthony Dickenson. (Nature, Jan. 17, 1980)

I was expecting, based on the book's cover, ("Komar: A Guinness World Record Holder for pain control! He can walk on hot coals. He can lie on a bed of nails. He can show you how to get rid of a headache.") to read a bunch of nonsense. Much of the book, at least, is what is now referred to, generally with approval, as holistic medicine. It is commonsense stuff about getting along with others and yourself, sleeping and eating sensibly, and the like. Most of the rest of it is exercises. Since I am not currently suf f ering any pain, I did not test these. Perhaps they work, perhaps they don't.

If I was surprised at the common-sense approach, I was not surprised at the religious implications. I was advised to commune with myself, and/or the God-force. People with electric religious beliefs were held up as examples. I was told that I am an undeveloped God. Surely there are dangers here for the Christian, however sound the rest of the advice. However, I wonder if these dangers are any more than the dangers from misguided Christians prescribing grass-sprout enemas for cancer, or of charlatans masquerading as Christians, peddling health quackery as revelation. There is much unfortunate writing about how to achieve health that may have its theology in the right place, but be misguided about health. We don't need either Eastern Mysticism or Western hogwash! Nor can we expect a life free from pain.

It is not clear, at least to me, that to be a Christian is to espouse the rationalistic, reductionist medicine of our day. On the other hand, it is not clear that we should discard it, either. Probably there is much to be gained both from treating a patient as a person, and from treating a disease as a disease. This book is an example of the former. I think there are better approaches, and cannot recommend it, except as an example.

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

THE DARWINIAN REVOLUTION: SCIENCE RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW by Michael Ruse, University of Chicago Press (1979). 320 pp., $20.00.

There have been many works devoted to Darwin and his impact on the world, and they have been valuable in helping us understand the complexities of the innovative Victorian scientist. It may seem unwarranted for another book to be added to that number. However, such seems not the case, considering the scope and detail of this new book.

Professor Ruse (of history and philosophy) has incorporated recently uncovered material relating to the whole Darwinian Revolution and has woven those strands together with the more common Darwinian knowledge to form a magnificent tapestry.

Beginning in 1830, and working a decade at a time, he traces the somewhat circuitous development of organic evolutionary theory to its fruition in 1859 with Darwin's publication of the Origin of Species, and on to 1875, by which time most of the sentiments from the primary forums had been adequately aired. Ruse, in each decade, considers separately the various thoughts of the scientific, religious, and philosophical communities, and where appropriate, adds general public feelings as well.

At times the arguments and documentations seem to resemble legal briefs, serving to complicate the reading process. However, given the nature of the subject and the intent of the author, I doubt this could be avoided. The antagonisms, alliances, arguments and agreements between such principals as Whewell, Chambers, Lyell, Huxley, Owen, Darwin and others is fascinating. The imprint of Victorianism and the religious doctrines of those times is seen indelibly impressed on everyone ' (even Huxleyl). One can feel the early theorists squirm as they search for a resolution to the problem of organic origins and speciation.

Though this book was not intended for the Christian audience, it is a valuable one to us by providing details of all the basic evolutioiaary and/or creationist positions held then. I think we all will find it interesting to view our own representatives within the Victorian milieu, and to see how little some things have changed since.

The author's style at times reveals his own prejudices against theistic explanations, though this is held to a minimum. For the most part, an adequate consideration of all major positions is given.

As Ruse says in his overview:

The Darwinian Revolution cannot be considered a single thing. It had different sides, different causes, and different effects. Often it is portrayed as a triumph of science over religion; but, though there is some truth to this idea, as a total assessment of the Darwinian Revolution it is far from adequate. The supposed triumph of science over religion was questionable, more was involved than science and religion, and in some respects religion helped the cause of science (p. 273).

He has managed to show the complexities of scientific inquiry in an earlier day. Few of the actors, if any, escape the criticisms of Ruse's pen, and conversely, most have their brighter sides painted too. The Darwinian Revolution took place in anything but a vacuum. The interactions revealed in this book-allow us "moderns" to better appreciate the religious, scientific, and philosophical struggles that preceded us and to put into perspective our own grapplings with the whole concept of organic evolution.

Reviewed by E. Steve Cassells, President, Plano Archaeological Consultants, Longmont, Colorado 80501.

THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION, by Norman Anderson, Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1978, 162 pp., $3.95.

Theology, they tell me, used to be considered the queen of the sciences. That is no longer true, and, as a remark attributed to Kenneth Boulding puts it: "Science might almost be defined as the process of substituting unimportant questions which can be answered for important questions which cannot."

Norman Anderson attempts to answer a very important question. That is, what is the nature of Christ? Is He God, man, or both? It is symptomatic of the divergence between science and theology that this complex of questions is irrelevant to science. It is not so, I trust, to the membership of our Affiliation.

The question has been asked for almost two millenia, and one chapter of Anderson's book is mostly a recitation of heresies, some obscure, surfacing and resurfacing. But the book is not merely an analysis of past controversy, as another major portion is devoted to an analysis and response to current thought. Anderson responds, in particular, to The Myth of God Incarnate, edited by John Hick; to John Knox (The Humanity and Divinity of Christ); to John Robinson (The Human Face of God) and others.

Anderson, who is actually a lawyer by training, closes with his own view, which is impossible to summarize completely in the space of this review. Approximately, it is that Christ became human, without losing His divine nature. As a man, He was completely dependent on the Father. He suffered real temptations, was killed, but rose again. As a result of His becoming man, He has permanently accepted some limitations to His Godhood, but is God. There is much here that neither I, nor Anderson, can comprehend, but Jesus is Lord, truly man and truly God, in his view.

As a biologist reviewing a lawyer's critique of theologians, I was impressed with The Mystery of the Incarnation. In particular, Anderson seems to examine the scriptural evidence critically. His analysis of opposing views seems insightful and penetrating. His attempt to deal with an important question which cannot be fully answered is worthy of perusal by those of us who are grappling with unimportant problems that, we think, can be.

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

CULTURE AND CONTROVERSY, by R. Clyde McCone. Dorrance, 136 pp., $6.95.

R. Clyde McCone, professor of anthropology at California State University in Long Beach, presents a new dimension in the biblical and anthropological investigation of the tongues of Pentecost. He argues cogently that the early Christians at Pentecost spoke in the learned Gentile languages familiar to them and their hearers rather than in the sacred Hebrew expected in a religious service.

This work which was turned down by several publishers as too controversial, raises an issue with which every biblical scholar needs to grapple. McCone argues that the "tongues" of Pentecost were not ecstatic utterances (after Montanus) nor miraculously given languages (after Jerome and Augustine) but were the Holy Spirit's gift working through the filled personalities of the early Christians. With such a conclusion he has taken the initiative from the traditional interpretation of "glossolalia" (which term does not occur in Scripture) and will have to be reckoned with by Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals alike.

In order to reconcile the Corinthian passages with "tongues" as learned languages-Aramaic, Greek and Latin, McCone carefully exegetes I Corinthians 12-14 in light of the context of the entire letter and its occasion. "Gifts are the divinely-given potential of the spiritual being called man" (p. 49). While not supernatural powers, their quickening and use by the Holy Spirit is a supernatural work. Such a view does not limit the gifts of God, but spiritualizes man's activities and places his gifts in humble service before the Divine Giver.

Crucial to the argument are McCone's carefully thought out principles of biblical interpretation. "I. Observe what the portion read does not say. 2. Limit one's conclusion to what the portion read does say. 3. Form one's understanding (a) in the scriptural context of the event or statement, and (b) in the cultural and historical context of its occurence or expression" (p. 5). In applying these principles to the biblical text, he reaches startling conclusions on the meaning of "tongues" -conclusions supported by his anthropological data.

McCone's interpretation throws new light on the whole problem of "tongues" and "gifts" in the church today. Evangelicals need to take a careful look at this issue which is often approached psychologically or sociologically rather than biblically. The issue is not a new look at Pentecostalism but a new look at Pentecost and its meaning for the church today.

Reviewed by Bert H. Hall, Azusa Pacific College, Azusa, Caitfornia.

READINGS IN MORAL THEOLOGY, NO. 1: MORAL NORMS AND CATHOLIC TRADITION, by Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick, S.J., eds., New York: Paulist Press, 1979. 363 + viii pp. $5.95 paper.

Readings in Moral Theology has a place as supplementary readings or a text for upper-division or graduate courses in Catholic moral theology. This discipline, with a history extending back at least as far as Thomas Aquinas, has a great deal of theory and a special terminology all its own, not unlike, say, that of theoretical population genetics or of nuclear physics.

The book is a compendium of essays published between 1967 and 1977, inclusive. Some were translated from German for this book. Some of the Latin in the book should have been translated! One of the editors, and five of the other contributors, are Jesuits. The titles: "The Hermeneutic Function of the Principle of Double Effect;" "Ontic Evil and Moral Evil;- "The Absoluteness of Moral Terms;" "Direct Killing/ludirect Killing;" "Problems on Norms Raised by Ethical Borderline Situations: Beginnings of a Solution in Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure;" "Various Types of Grounding for Ethical Norms;" "Processive Relationism and Ethical Absolutes;- "The Direct/Indirect Distinctism in Morals;" "Morality of Consequences: A Critical Approach;- "Morality by Calculation of Values;- "Reflections on the Literature;" "Utilitarianism and Contemporary Moral Theology: Situating the Debates." It has no index or glossary.

Based on the likely utility of Readings to readers of this Journal, neither a full summary of the book, nor a definition of the terms in the titles of the essays is justified. The book appears to be largely about how some acts done for good purposes may be reconciled with the evil consequences of such acts. Few examples are given; the book does not use a case study approach. One example briefly mentioned is that of Mrs. Bergmeier, who submitted to extramarital intercourse while in a Soviet concentration camp in order to be released and be allowed to rejoin her family. Was this action morally right? This book treats the academic discipline of theoretical moral responsibility.

Reviewed by Martin LaBar, Central Weskyan Colkge, Central, South Carolina 29630

THE FUTURE OF SCIENCE, 1975 NOBEL CONFERENCE, edited by Timothy C. L. Robinson, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1977, 145 pages.

On October I and 2, 1975, twenty seven Nobel laureates and six theologians met before a group of 4,000 at Gustavus Adolphus College to discuss "The Future of Science". This book samples four of the topics discussed during the conference. The format follows that of the conference, a prepared address followed by open discussion. The four topics chosen by the editor are Dr. Glenn Seaborg's (Chemist) "New Signposts for Science", Dr. Polykarp Kusch's (Physics) "A Personal View of Science and the Future", Sir John Eccles' (Medicine) "The BrainMind Problem as a Frontier of Science", and Dr. Langdon Gilkey's (Theologian) "The Future of Science". The ensuing discussions cover a wide range of topics: pollution, population, government funding, technology, ultimate responsibility, to identify a few.

Predictions as to the directions the various disciplines would take in the future 25 or 50 years were very cautious, noting as Dr. Kusch did that physicists of the 1890's felt all the fundamental laws had been discovered and the future lay in refinement, not at all anticipating the new physics of relativity and quantum phenomena, or the availability of vast federal funds for research after World War Il.

As a group, the scientists were optimistic that scientific pursuits in all areas would continue to provide increased knowledge of the world about us, and be beneficial to mankind. They were less certain that the eventual application by technology would be "good",. There were spirited discussions on the ethical dimensions of research with the views ranging from deep involvement to semi-detachment.

The theologian, Dr. Gilkey, has the last word in this volume, and he likens scientific inquiry and the knowledge gained therefrom to a religious force that is dominating the modern culture, just as organized religion dominated the medieval period. Most everything has to be "scientific" if it is to be respectable. He wonders if the future of science is to be dethroned as a dominating force, and to be replaced by an as yet unidentified unifying and philosophical force.

In the end, science and applied science-like every other aspect of human creativity-must learn to live and deal with the vast ambiguity of their own creativity-which is an existential, moral, and religious problem facing every profession, but new, I suspect, to the scientist as it once was new to the priest. For the lesson of history-and surely also the message of the gospel-is that it is the very creativity of man that can spell his doom, and his knowledge can be turned into blindness, and his power into self-destruction.

I found the volume stimulating to read but providing no answers to the question raised by its title.

Reviewed by Robert Carlstrom, 8666 Cooperhawk Court, Columbia, Maryland 21045.