Science in Christian Perspective
Book Reviews For December 2003
Table of Contents
Achtner, Wolfgang, Stefan Kunz, and Thomas Walter. Dimensions of Time, 55:4, 267, D 2003. (Joan Nienhuis)
Alexander, Denis. Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century, 55:4, 264, D 2003. (Allan H. Harvey)
Barlow, Connie. The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, and Other Ecological Anachronisms, 55:4, 270, D 2003. (J. David Holland)
DeHaan, Robert F. Into the Shadows: A Journey of Faith and Love into Alzheimer's, 55:4, 269, D 2003. (John W. Burgeson)
Feingold, Mordechai, ed. The New Science and Jesuit Science: Seventeenth Century Perspectives, 55:4, 266, D 2003. (Dennis W. Cheek)
Feingold, Mordechai, ed. Jesuit Science and the Republic of Letters, 55:4, 266, D 2003. (Dennis W. Cheek)
Georges, Thomas M. Digital Soul: Intelligent Machines and Human Values, 55:4, 265, D 2003. (Adam Drozdek)
Gregersen, Niels Henrik, ed. From Complexity to Life: On the Emergence of Life and Meaning, 55:4, 269, D 2003. (Randy Isaac)
Haught, John F. Deeper than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution, 55:4, 270, D 2003. (Robert J. Schneider)
Herzfeld, Noreen L. In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit, 55:4, 266, D 2003. (Adam Drozdek)
Kowalski, Gary. Science and the Search for God, 55:4, 263, D 2003. (Bernard J. Piersma)
Lemonick, Michael D. Echo of the Big Bang, 55:4, 271, D 2003. (Perry G. Phillips)
McCane, Byron R. Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus, 55:4, 272, D 2003. (Richard Ruble)
Murphy, George L. Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World: Fifteen Topics for Study, 55:4, 263, D 2003. (Daniel J. Berger)
Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack. Is Religion Killing Us? 55:4, 273, D 2003. (Gary De Boer)
Nesbitt, Jr., William R. The Illusion of Time: Seeing Scripture through Science, 55:4, 264, D 2003. (Gary De Boer)
Noll, Mark A. America's God, 55:4, 273, D 2003. (Robert Rogland)
Parker, Andrew. In the Blink of an Eye, 55:4, 261, D 2003. (Glenn R. Morton)
Pember, G. H. Animals: Their Past and Future, 55:4, 261, D 2003. (Richard Ruble)
Sire, James W. Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling, 55:4, 262, D 2003. (O. C. Karkalits)
Smith, E. O. When Culture and Biology Collide: Why We Are Stressed, Depressed, and Self-Obsessed, 55:4, 268, D 2003. (Leland P. Gamson)
Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. My Brother's Keeper: What the Social Sciences Do (and Don't) Tell Us about Masculinity, 55:4, 274, D 2003. (David O. Moberg)
Verhey, Allen. Remembering Jesus: Christian Community, Scripture, and the Moral Life, 55:4, 262, D 2003. (T. Timothy Chen)
Anthropology & Archeology
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE by Andrew Parker. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2003. 299 pages. Paperback; $27.50. ISBN: 0738206075.
The title only hints at the subject contained in the book, which should appeal to those of us interested in the Cambrian explosion. Parker, a zoologist at Oxford University, was named one of the London Times three most important young scientists because of the views outlined here. In the Blink of an Eye explains the Cambrian explosion as the result of the evolution of the first image forming eye. Having extensively researched this area for my 2001 PSCF article, I find this the only theory that seems to make sense.
With only a short space to tell the story, one must abridge the long chain of reasoning through which Parker takes his reader. But Parker's basic observation which set him thinking about the Cambrian explosion came from a study of isopods off of Australia. In the shallow waters, large numbers of species flourished. But as one went into deeper, darker waters, the number of species diminished and the size of the isopods grew with depth. In the deepest waters is found Bathynomus a giant isopod half a meter long. Originally the researchers expected that there would be more species found in these kilometer deep waters. But there weren't. All isopods deeper than 200 meters looked alike. And more interesting was the discovery that isopods from these depths from India and Mexico were almost identical with the Australian form. This particular isopod linage began 160 million years ago, giving rise to hundreds of species in the shallow waters, but few in the dark. Parker backs this up with studies of life in caves. Without light, life has fewer ecological niches to fill; no coloration or camouflage mechanisms are required leading to fewer species. In the dark, life takes on a boring, unchanging existence.
Parker then looks for evidence of the earliest eyes. Evidence for eyes was lacking in the Precambrian creatures, but by the time of the Burgess fauna 515 myr ago it was common for arthropods to have eyes. Amazingly, the earliest evidence of coloration in the form of diffraction grating surfaces on Burgess animals appears as well. The 525 myr old Chinese Chengjiang arthropods and the 540 myr Moroccan arthropod Fallotaspis display the earliest eyes. Parker proposes that the first phylum to develop image-forming eyes were the arthropods, and it occurred somewhere between 544 and 543 myr ago, the Cambrian-Precambrian boundary.
The evolution of the eye opened up the ecological niche of predation. The first evidence of predation was 550 myr ago. Prior to this time animals found food by blindly bumping into it as they randomly crawled around. Now, animals could see their prey and the prey's behavior. This drove the evolution of hard shells, coloration, camouflage and defensive spines which become so common in the Cambrian.
Animal phyla existed in soft-bodied form prior to the explosion and the explosion is actually only the evolution of the outward body plan, not the internal plan. Parker documents the existence of proto-trilobites found in the Ediacaran Hills of Australia. Others have documented the existence of mollusks and other phyla living in the Precambrian.
Change was slow prior to the first eye. Animals changed at the Cambrian-Precambrian boundary or they would die. Vision opened up new niches and allowed fierce predators to roam the seas.
Hopefully, some of the errors in my uncorrected proof copy of this book will be fixed before final publication. There is one absolutely abysmal paragraph in which Parker claims that the chalk cliffs of Dover are made of seed-shrimp (they are made of coccoliths) and that seed-shrimp are good indicators of oil with all oil companies hiring ostracod specialists. This is not quite true. Plankton is much more useful. The book errs in calling the animal which was the first victim of predation Claudina instead of Cloudina. It was named in honor of Preston Cloud. Other than these deviations, the book is a very, very important contribution to the understanding of the Cambrian explosion. From now on, those who discuss the explosion must deal with Parker's ideas.
Reviewed by Glenn R. Morton, 10131 Cairn Meadows Dr., Spring, TX 77379.
ANIMALS: Their Past and Future by G. H. Pember. Elkton, MD: Pneuma Books, 2003. 77 pages. Hardcover; $14.95. ISBN: 0972513906.
George Hawkins Pember (1837-1910) is thought to be "one of the foremost theologians of prophetic study in the Victorian age" and this book "the classic theological treatise on animal rights." This book is a reprint of Pember's undated 1800s pamphlet. This compact book manages to include a preface, notes, bibliography, biography, Internet resources, a few sketches, and an index. This leaves forty-seven pages for the text's appeal to the Bible as authority on animal treatment.
Pember says that life improved for people and animals in the nineteenth century. However, apathy toward the plight of animals prevailed. His one goal in this treatise is to see whether the Bible casts light on how animals should be treated.
These are his conclusions: (1) animals, like people, are under God's curse; (2) future animals will not eat each other and will speak; (3) fish and snakes will be absent from the renewed earth; (4) future redemption of creation includes animals as well as people; and (5) humanity should show "tenderest consideration" for animals.
This is not a preachy book, and it excludes discussion of many contemporary animal rights issues. However, research on the Internet addresses included provides commentary on the present situation. This book can be read in less than one hour, and it provides valuable insight into what the Bible says about the treatment and future of animals.
Reviewed by Richard Ruble, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, AR 72761.
REMEMBERING JESUS: Christian Community, Scripture, and the Moral Life by Allen Verhey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002. xii + 526 pages, indexes. Hardcover; $35.00. ISBN: 0802803237.
Verhey teaches religion at Hope College. The book's five parts (introduction, medical ethics, sex and gender, economics, and political ethic) seek to apply the Bible and early church teachings to contemporary ethical issues. Verhey thinks Christian ethics should be based, not on moral codes, but on the discernment of the Christian community based on the Bible's ethical teaching in stories.
Verhey emphasizes that in terminal illness the patient's suffering should not be extended. He deplores the neglect of the patient's welfare caused by some advanced medical technology. He might have added that the problem involved in terminal illness is often caused by the patient's family leaving decisions to doctors. Also, patients who participate in experimental treatments may benefit future patients.
Verhey takes the egalitarian view about gender role. He praises Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to disparage those who take the opposite view. He notes that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and that the phenomenon of sexual orientation was not known to biblical writers. Jesus' silence regarding homosexuality may have resulted because he lived in a Judean culture where homosexuality was not a problem.
Verhey is ambivalent about capitalism. He criticizes classical capitalism, but realizes that economic policy cannot be decided by pure ideology. He emphasizes that Christians must remember the poor because Jesus cared about them. One wishes that Verhey emphasized more the responsibilities of the poor to work and of the public to provide means for the poor to be educated and trained. The example of Asian economic success provides a lesson about the importance of education. The solution for the Third World totalitarian societies may not reside only in liberation theology, but also in a Puritan work ethic.
Verhey emphasizes the concept of theocracy in the political arena and rejects pacifism. He interprets theocracy different from Calvin's practice and identifies it with the lordship of Christ in all areas of life. He claims that Jesus shifted emphasis from rules for conduct to the formation of character. One would differ here because Jesus said that he completed the law, so what Jesus really did was a shift from ceremonial to ethical law. Verhey applies the concept of theocracy in health policy and promotes universal access to health care.
Overall Verhey stands between liberal and conservative evangelicals. He blames the Enlightenment, instead of liberal theology, for moral deterioration in American society. He accepts the conclusions of biblical higher criticism. He borders on placing community above the Scriptures and gives general guidelines without providing detailed deliberations. For example, he omits dealing with hard questions such as: when should medical treatment be withheld from the terminally ill, to what extent should health care be provided, and to what degree can the welfare system be limited without neglecting the needy? Despite these reservations, Verhey's book can be recommended as exploring a Christian position on contemporary ethical issues.
Reviewed by T. Timothy Chen, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX 76122.
Faith & Science
HABITS OF THE MIND: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James W. Sire. Downers Grove, IL: IV Press, 2000. 256 pages, index. Paperback; $14.99. ISBN: 0830322739.
Sire, former editor of Inter-Varsity Press, is also the author of several books. For Sire fans, it is always good news that another book from his pen is now in print. They will not be disappointed in this book, for it lives up to what we have come to expect. I am still amazed at the sheer magnitude of the number of books he has read. The endnotes number thirty pages of references in small print! Sire writes: "The primary goal in this book is to encourage you to think more and better than you did before reading it, to strive toward the perfection of the intellect: to enjoy the proper habits of the mind" (p. 11). Sire states also that "this book is about the integral value of the intellectual life."
Sire quotes Richard Hofstadter who lists the following qualities that characterize intellectual life: fresh observations, free speculation, creative novelty, radical criticism, generalizing power and disinterested intelligence. Sire then adds this observation: "A Christian intellectual is one who is all of the above to the glory of God."
In chapter two, Sire writes that John Henry Newman (1801-1890) has become a model as a Christian intellectual. He explains that the experience of reading two of Newman's works, Apologia Pro Vita Sua and The Idea of a University, while a graduate student at the University of Missouri were major factors in his selection. I would have selected C. S. Lewis as my model for a Christian intellectual. My reason is that I believe Lewis's world view is more biblical than Newman's, and his writings were at least as excellent as were Newman's. However, I have read more of Lewis's books than Newman's. Sire himself admonishes us (pp. 166-7) to seek out the world view of the author of any book we read. I have not read all of Newman's writings, but from the extensive quotations from Newman that are cited here, I deduce the following about Newman's view of the world.
Since Newman lived in the Victorian era, he apparently adopted the utopian, optimistic world view of that era. Key literary figures of that era (besides Newman) were Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Browning believed in the perfectibility of humankind. He proclaimed exuberantly, "God's in his heaven,- all's right with the world." Tennyson believed that one day soon the "battle flags" of the nations would be furled in "the parliament of man, the federation of the world." Alas for such dreams: the next century had two world wars and the holocaust! Newman may be excused to a degree if his world view was more optimistic than ours is today since he hopes that the human intellect can be "perfected." In spite of Newman's optimistic view of humankind, I believe Sire is justified in citing Newman as a great Christian intellectual.
The last four chapters of this book are the best of the lot in my opinion. I found much food for thought in chapter 8, entitled "Thinking by Reading." I was excited to see the comparison of monastic reading and scholastic thinking. That was a new insight for me. Chapter 9 on "Jesus, the Reasoner" is worth the price of the book. His explanation that "Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived" is outstanding. There is a real message for contemporary Christian intellectuals in chapter 10 entitled "The Responsibility of the Christian Intellectual."
Sire is distressed (and so am I) that so few Christian intellectuals in the late twentieth century have put aside their fear that their career advancement will be terminated if they speak out for truth. I know some Christian researchers in the life sciences who do not accept Darwinian evolution as scientific, but will not write such a paper for fear that it will not be accepted in the peer review stage. After all, promotions and tenure depend on publications! Sire mentions C. S. Lewis, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Alvin Plantinga and George Marsden who are not afraid to speak the truth as they see it from a Christian world view. To this list I would add Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe and William Dembski. One of the great delights to the reader of this book are the hundreds of "pithy" quotations that Sire has interspersed within the text. They stand out as bright jewels in the tapestry of this thought-provoking book. I heartily recommend the book to anyone who wants to be classified as "Christian Intellectual."
Reviewed by O. C. Karkalits, College of Engineering and Technology, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, LA 70609.
TOWARD A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF A SCIENTIFIC WORLD: Fifteen Topics for Study by George L. Murphy. Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 2001. 151 pages. Paperback; $13.95. ISBN: 0788018078.
Murphy, an ASA Fellow, has published many articles but few books in the area of science and religion. For this reason, he may not be familiar to ASA members who are not versed in the many journals related to "science-and-religion," unless they happen to follow the ASA E-mail list. When I still kept up with the discussions a few years ago, Murphy was a regular, cogent and patient contributor, and his erudition and easy writing style are apparent in this book.
This book is probably the best introduction to the intersection of science with Christianity for the average layperson. It is the first text I have seen that is aimed at the general Christian public and suitable for readers with a high-school education or less. The other available texts, with the possible exception of Nancy Murphey's Reconciling Theology and Science, are aimed at college students or the college-educated.
As a Lutheran pastor who has for some years been associated with an Episcopal parish in Columbus, OH, Murphy understands the questions that congregations may have, and his book is designed to explore them in the context of a small study group. As an instructor for several years at Trinity Theological Seminary, he has theological depth and sophistication. As a theoretical physicist who still publishes an occasional paper in the refereed literature, he has first-hand experience with how science works.
The thing I particularly like about Murphy is that he does not practice the bloodless "natural theology" of so many others in "science-and-religion" or even in "science-and-Christianity." Instead he bases his treatment firmly within the Christian faith and Luther's theology of the Cross. He understands that nature does not prove the existence or teach the precise nature of God. But he thinks nature can help us understand and interpret what we know of God from elsewhere. This book explores how nature can do so.
Murphy's book is firmly based in Scripture. Whenever God's nature or role is considered, the discussion is first grounded in the Bible. Following that grounding, non-scriptural considerations are introduced. Coverage is thorough and well-ordered. It progresses from the questions most commonly asked, through how we know about God and about nature, to consideration of the Church's mission in a scientific age. Along the way, Murphy touches on topics from the conventional ("How to Read the Bible") to the possibly impractical ("Angels, Aliens and AI"), all in a spirit of firmly Christian inquiry and a luminous assurance that knowledge about the world can only confirm our faith in Christ.
My only complaint is that the book has not been thoroughly edited for errors of fact. There is a serious error on page 84, in which the electrostatic force between protons is said to be attractive. The sense of the passage makes clear that this is a typographical or editorial error, but it nevertheless makes me apprehensive about the possibility of garbling in areas with which I am not so intimately familiar. I also had some problems with Murphy's versions of the "collapse of the wave function" and of the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics.
In spite of these reservations, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to ASA members and to church study groups of all denominations.
Reviewed by Daniel J. Berger, Professor of Chemistry, Bluffton College, Bluffton, OH 45817.
SCIENCE AND THE SEARCH FOR GOD by Gary Kowalski. New York: Lantern Books, 2003. 186 pages, bibliography. Paperback; $15.00. ISBN: 15905600450.
Kowalski is a Unitarian minister in Burlington, VT. This book is based on a class he developed for his congregation on "Topics in Science and Religion." It includes ten pages of discussion questions at the end of the text. Other books written by Kowalski include The Souls of Animals, Green Mountain Spring and Other Leaps of Faith, and The Bible according to Noah: Theology as if Animals Mattered.
From reading this book, I assume that Kowalski does not accept the Bible or the God of the Bible. He describes his belief as naturalistic theology and states: "The ancient myths of the Hebrews and the Greeks are indeed lovely and suggestive of many profound insights but not literally true ’Ä¶" He calls for a new creation epic that "provides a unified account of the natural world, without reference to any other supernatural domains."
He asserts that the creator is not separate from the creation and that the universe is wholly material. Kowalski cannot accept the God of the Bible because this God leaves no room for freedom. Rather, he accepts the process concept of God and prefers process thought because then his alternatives are not limited.
This book has eleven chapters with titles like "Tell Me Why" (religion should never presume to contradict the findings of physics, chemistry and geology, and who can say what happens when we die), "Star Dust" (the religion of the next millennium will find its inspiration, not in the domain of the supernatural, but rather in oneness with the natural world), and "Gaia and the Great Mother" (life is a property, not of molecules, genes, or even individual organisms, but of whole planetary systems).
Kowalski's purpose in this book is apparently to argue that the results of science make it impossible for educated and intelligent people to believe in a supernatural God, who is separate from creation. He is supportive of the Gaia hypothesis as a scientific theory. "One day people will know the earth as holy and all creatures sacred. The creative power that enlivens our universe will then be as close and accessible as a mother to her child." Kowalski is prone to making unsupported statements, e.g., "design does not necessarily imply a designer," or "God is that loving whole of which you and I and others in the cosmic conversation are active parts and partners," or "we are star dust, deeply and forever related to a beautiful and ever-changing cosmos." I can find nothing in this book to recommend it to ASA members.
Reviewed by Bernard J. Piersma, Professor of Chemistry, Houghton College, Houghton, NY 14744.
THE ILLUSION OF TIME: Seeing Scripture through Science by William R. Nesbitt, Jr. San Diego, CA: Black Forest Press, 2002. 178 pages, index. Paperback; $13.95. ISBN: 1582750750.
The book has fourteen chapters, an introduction, bibliography, a glossary of terms, and a number of black-and-white illustrations. The early chapters of the book give a very conversational description of multidimensional physics. This physics is used to explain how God can view all of time and can be in all places at all times. Nesbitt, an ASA member, offers scriptural references of appearances of angels and other beings that he says are consistent with hyper dimensional theory. All of this is given as evidence that a multidimensional theory of physics is consistent with a biblical record and confirmation of a Christian faith. The later chapters rely more on Nesbitt's extensive experience as a military doctor and other personal life stories to give real life illustrations of his evangelical message.
Time is an illusion says Nesbitt. Creation was laid down from a hyper dimensional perspective. This perspective sees all of time as now, as a painter may see an entire canvas. It is only sin that limits us to seeing only the present due to the loss of our ability to perceive the higher dimensions. The present can be described as one looking through a narrow slit as it passes across the canvas, changing the view and giving an illusion of time.
The strength of this book lies in its easy reading, popular periodical style. Even children will be able to follow the story line. And because the story sparkles with personal tidbits, the story never becomes dull. Nesbitt is a great storyteller who conveys not only the Christian message of salvation but much general wisdom as well.
The strength of the book might also be seen as a weakness. There is nothing in Nesbitt's book that is not more thoroughly described in the books of Hugh Ross and Gerald Schroeder, both of whom are quoted by Nesbitt. This book would be a useful resource for anyone interested in an introductory perspective to multidimensional physics.
Reviewed by Gary De Boer, Associate Professor of Chemistry, LeTourneau University, Longview, TX 75607-7001.
REBUILDING THE MATRIX: Science and Faith in the 21st Century by Denis Alexander. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003. 473 pages, notes, index. Hardcover; $29.99. ISBN: 0310250188.
Sometimes I wish I were British. In contrast to the low wheat-to-chaff ratio for American books on science and faith, the UK seems to produce a disproportionate number of well-reasoned books from a sound Christian perspective, such as those by John Polkinghorne and David Wilkinson. To this list we can add molecular biologist Denis Alexander, whose Rebuilding the Matrix is being distributed in the US after publication in England in 2001.
An early chapter examines the ways in which an unfounded idea can become widely accepted. This sets the stage for the majority of the book, which is devoted to refuting two related paradigms about science and faith that many today take for granted.
The first false idea is the "warfare" model of the history of science and Christianity, in which science marches toward truth, opposed at every step by stubborn believers trying to keep the world in darkness. Alexander exposes the origins of the warfare myth, and shows that science and Christianity have (with exceptions) historically coexisted in harmony. He also argues that the Christian view of nature as contingent on its Creator greatly aided the development of science. While I was generally aware of these points, they were made so well and so thoroughly that I gained a deeper appreciation for how utterly wrong the warfare model is.
Alexander then moves to the present, where many people assume that science and faith can no longer coexist, largely due to the theory of evolution. The material will be familiar to many ASA readers, but it is presented well. Science and theology are viewed as complementary ways of knowing, each taking a "critical realist" approach. It is argued that early Genesis should be read as a theological document in its historical context, rather than being twisted into a scientific text. Abuse of the theory of evolution for unscientific ends, like social Darwinism and the promotion of atheism, is denounced. It is pointed out that it is not only atheists who are guilty of erroneously attributing God-excluding metaphysical meaning to evolution, but also Christians whose "God of the gaps" philosophy compels them to oppose the science. Evolution is compared to a ship, with barnacles corresponding to the metaphysical baggage both "sides" have attached to it. Stripped of the barnacles, the ship can steam ahead without threatening our faith.
Additional chapters critique ideas of Michael Ruse on the evolution of morality (an interesting choice of opponent, since Ruse's recent Can a Darwinian be a Christian? has many points of agreement with Rebuilding the Matrix), examine (and cautiously endorse) anthropic arguments for theism, and criticize David Hume's circular argument against miracles. A final chapter discusses how theism can provide a matrix not only for making sense of the cosmos and human experience, but also for channeling the power of science in worthwhile directions.
I recommend Rebuilding the Matrix for anybody, believer or not, interested in the relationship between science and faith both in history and in the present. Even though it is well-written, it is not light reading. But readers willing to invest some thought and effort will be rewarded.
My only major criticism may reflect the book's British origin. While the flaws of the "natural theology" most closely associated with Paley are discussed, there is no mention of Paley's (mostly American) successors who arose during the 1990s. Many of the author's wise observations (like noting that many Christians make the same category mistake as Richard Dawkins in viewing creation and evolution as rival explanations) could be applied to the "Intelligent Design" movement, but the only Christians criticized for such errors are those of the young-earth variety. As good as Rebuilding the Matrix is, it is rendered less useful for American readers by its neglect of a movement that, at least on this side of the Atlantic, has become a major force for needless warfare between science and Christianity in the twenty-first century.
Reviewed by Allan H. Harvey, 1575 Bradley Dr., Boulder, CO 80305.
DIGITAL SOUL: Intelligent Machines and Human Values by Thomas M. Georges. Boulder: Westview, 2003. 285 pages. Hardcover; $26.00. ISBN: 0813340578.
Georges is interested in problems of the relationship between machines and humans and in the nature of such a relationship for the future of humanity. The philosophical stage is set by the statement that the distinction between artificial and real intelligence is "merely a linguistic trap" (p. 5). There is no real difference between humans and machines because humans are machines. There is no soul, no inner life, no emotions, no consciousness, no free will; or, at best, these are just names for certain physical attributes or processes and references to them only demonstrate the level of our ignorance about physico-biological mechanisms to which they are reducible.
If humans are conscious, so are machines. Georges sees consciousness not as a thing, but as a process (p. 77), not quite consistently with the view that consciousness is information, that is, "the way things are arranged" (p. 96). With such a definition, everything may be deemed conscious, and the author does not shirk from such a consequence. People, animals, and machines "all need some degree of self-awareness to survive" (p. 84). In computers, self-understanding is manifested by printing an error message (pp. 83-4, 92) and "even a book with a table of contents might qualify as self-aware in the crudest sense" (p. 83). Crudest sense, indeed.
For the author, the meaning of life is to "survive and reproduce" (p. 155) and because natural selection wants us to be "genetically prolific," it "favors societies that create moral and ethical structures that work in the competitive environment in which they must function" (p. 126). However, such a vision of social Darwinism does not sit well with the author, and he wants humans to go against such evolutionary tendencies and take charge of the development of society and its morality. In his view, we should replace existing moral values by "new moral codes based on reason" (p. 133) and the author is specific about one rule presumably based on reason.
The rule states that the blame for misdeeds should not be placed in individual responsibility (p. 133). It is the genetic and social environment that is at fault (p. 134). "If punishment is not appropriate for a machine, is it appropriate for humans, if we are merely 'soft' machines?" (pp. 147-8), he asks rhetorically. And so, humans, like machines, can be repaired. But is lobotomy as a fixing procedure so different from rewiring the brain of a criminal, advocated by the author (p. 206)? "What needs to be changed is the environment, not some mythical internal attitude" (p. 201). One just needs to rationally design "suitable environmental controls" which is possible only if we "abandon our cherished 'values' of freedom and dignity altogether" (p. 202). Why does the author find prisons as the means of such behavioral engineering repugnant if they serve so well the purpose of abandoning our cherished values of freedom? This rational approach has been tried already in the former USSR based on the Marxist doctrine of historical materialism that social and economic conditions exercise an alienating influence on people, and change must concentrate on these conditions.
Georges embraces Wooldridge's statement that "men who know they are machines should be able to bring a higher degree of objectivity to bear on their problems" (p. 208). The more machine-like our behavior is, the more rational it becomes. And yet, he flatly contradicts himself by stating that "the greatest threat to our dignity and our humanity will not come from machines that act like people, but from people who act like machines" (p. 217). The author wants to have it both ways: naturalist reductionism, on the one hand, and compassion and fair treatment of people, on the other. However, human treatment simply does not square well with reducing people to the level of machines and to seeing survival and reproduction as the meaning of life. Why be human if this undermines being genetically prolific? Why have any qualms about anything if the excuse, "my genes made me do it," is "technically correct" (p. 206)?
The case for a materialist view of man made by Georges is thus self-contradictory and unconvincing. The book is more a doctrinaire treatise than a carefully thought-out case arguing for a point. His home-spun psychology is a far cry from what can be found in other books written by authors who try to explain the phenomenon of humans in physical and biological terms (e.g., Pylyshyn, Searle, Dennett, Pinker).
Reviewed by Adam Drozdek, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
IN OUR IMAGE: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit by Noreen L. Herzfeld. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002. 135 pages. Paperback; $16.00. ISBN: 0800634764.
In this book, the author is interested in uncovering the roots of our fascination with artificial intelligence (AI). The problem is an important one because this fascination tells us more about ourselves than about the potential of computers. Herzfeld begins her investigation by presenting some views on the image of God (chap. 2). She presents the substantive approach (the image of God is an attribute of the human being, such as rationality), functional approach (the image of God is a title ascribed to humans on account of what they do, e.g., exercise dominion), and relational approach (humans are images of God because of their genuine relationship with God and with one another). She then finds counterparts of these three approaches in AI (chap. 3).