Book Reviews for December 1996
THE BIG BANG, AND STEPHEN HAWKING: An Exploration into Origins by David Wilkinson.
Crowborough, England: Monarch, 1996 (2nd edition). 176 pages, index. Paperback; ,5.99.
Wilkinson, who has his doctorate in Theoretical Astrophysics and is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a Methodist minister, has written a very accessible book for a popular audience (with helpful charts and humorous illustrations) about cosmology and its relationship to theism. The book assumes that the reader has little background in science or religion (p. 11) and is written in light of the issues raised in Stephen Hawking's best-seller, A Brief History of Time, such as the universe's origin, the place of a Creator in light of current physics, and the search for a grand unified theory.
The first part of the book offers an excellent, well-summarized outline of developments in scientific thought regarding the universe's origin: how the universe has evolved over 15 billion years, general and special relativity, quantum mechanics, Many Worlds Hypotheses and their problems, chaos theory, the anthropic principle, and much more. This part is fairly noncontroversial.
On the other hand, the latter part of the book, which examines 'what the Christian view of God both gives and receives in relation to the scientific view' (p. 22), offers mixed blessings. On the positive side, Wilkinson provides some incisive critiques of Hawking's imaginary time (in which spatial and temporal distinctions are blurred), his no-boundary condition (in which there is no beginning in time for the universe), and his attempts at a theory of everything (which turn out to be insufficient to explain why the universe is the way it is). Because of the speculative nature of some of Hawking's theories and their lack of wide acceptance, Wilkinson rightly urges caution about taking Hawking as supplying the definitive view on origins and a theory of everything.
He, furthermore, criticizes Hawking for simply assuming the universe's intelligibility; for attacking a straw man (or straw God!), namely, that of deism; and for presupposing an inevitable clash between science and religion (pp. 97-8). However, Wilkinson clearly appreciates much of what Hawking has attempted to do and cites him as being open to the existence of a supreme being (pp. 101, 159).
On the negative side (and all within a few pages!), Wilkinson, first, appears to wrongly attribute to Aquinas a cosmological argument against an uncaused infinite temporal regress of events rather than a simultaneous series (pp. 91-92). Nor is Wilkinson convinced that we can 'prove God' by some cosmological argument (p. 97) or that we can infer God's causing the universe via the Big Bang. Surprisingly, Wilkinson fails to make reference to the persuasive kalam-style approach which argues against the existence of an actually infinite series of past events. Although 'proofs for God,' a phrase which implies a mathematical certainty, is generally not used by theistic philosophers, I believe it can at least be said that certain versions of the cosmological argument and of the design argument (e.g., regarding the delicately balanced life-permitting conditions of the universe) do render God's existence much more plausible than many of the feeble naturalistic attempts to bypass divine creation and design.
Second, Wilkinson oddly sides with Kant when he considers cause and effect to be applicable 'within the universe' only (p. 93). But this seems arbitrary, especially for a theist. (What of the creation of angelic beings, for instance?) Moreover, he asserts (again with Kant) that to speak of causes (i.e., efficient ones) 'in some way beyond this universe is highly questionable' (p. 93) since causality allegedly implies temporality. But this assumes a physicalist approach to causality. Although Wilkinson is correct to argue that the universe was created with time (not in time), he seems to overlook the fact that a timeless personal agent who is causally, not temporally, rior to the space-time order could bring about the first moment.
Third, Wilkinson cedes too much to Hume and Russell on the limits of causality (p. 93), and his question 'Why should God be self-explanatory when the universe is not?' (p. 94) is a category mistake. God by definition is necessary and self-sufficient whereas this being so of the universe is hardly obvious. Our universe did not have to exist of necessity (i.e., there are possible worlds in which it doesn't) whereas God necessarily exists in all possible worlds.
In the appendix, Wilkinson refers to some of the difficulties with young-earth creationism: its approach to Genesis 1 overlooks clearly figurative elements in the text, which should not be taken strictly scientifically; that God would create an ostensibly, mature, well-worn-looking universe essentially makes him into a deceiver; it wrongly supposes that God must create instantaneously rather than over billions of years; and it denies the work of both Christian and non-Christian scientists. Wilkinson also proposes a level-headed literary, theological (rather than a scientific textbook) approach to Genesis 1 in the face of the many figurative elements in the text itself.
Although Wilkinson's book is problematic in some ways, it reveals an excellent grasp of technical material and is a useful introduction to cosmology, to Hawking's main ideas, and to Christianity's relationship to science (and, more specifically, origins).
Reviewed by Paul Copan, Marquette University, Coughlin Hall, 132, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881.
Science and the Meaning of the Universe by John McLeish. North Pomfret, VT:
Trafalgar Square (Distributors), 1993. 212 pages, index. $39.95.
Reading how McLeish talks about God and the Bible hurts. The personality, behavior, and talk of Yahweh in the Old Testament horrify McLeish (p. 187). He said that the God portrayed by Christ was different, not a malicious and bad-tempered old man. He also says that Christ's followers were wrong. The story about the tables of law is the quintessence of anthropomorphism (p. 190). Ironically, he refers to Ex. 33:17-23, where the Lord tells Moses that he will not show himself to Moses. Moses may only see his goodness. At the end of the chapter, McLeish tells how God should be.
McLeish tells the story of what 'really' happened. At this stage, the only authority was truth itself, whose credibility was judged by the ordinary person, and by social consensus (p. 7). It is still the norm in some aboriginal societies, McLeish claims. The history of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries is very incomplete. What McLeish writes about Jesuits on page 27 is not true for all Jesuits. Sometimes their missionary activity consisted of having heretics killed.
The index is incomplete. For example, the writer refers to the apostle Paul three times, but Paul is not in the index. Occasionally I like to check sources, but due to the lack of references and bibliography that would be a major undertaking.
Because of its anti-Christian bias, I would not use it as a cosmology textbook. I do not recommend this book.
Reviewed by Jan de Koning, Instructor of Mathematics, Box 168, St. Michael's College (University of Toronto), 81 St. Mary Street, Toronto, Ont., M5S 1J4, Canada.
GREATEST BLUNDER? by Donald Goldsmith. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1995. 216 pages with index. Hardcover; $22.95.
Einstein called his introduction of a cosmological term into his gravitational equations his greatest blunder. Donald Goldsmith, astrophysicist and author of popular books on astronomical topics, starts from there to give a different twist to this survey of cosmology. Several nontechnical books cover basic cosmological topics: historical development, general relativity, discoveries of the extragalactic character of nebulae and their recession, the microwave background, nucleogenesis, inflationary theories, age problems, and dark matter. Goldsmith presents these topics well and gives some insight into the nature of cosmology as a science. The book's novel feature is described in its subtitle: The cosmological constant and other fudge factors in the physics of the universe.
The first chapter describes the interplay between theory and observation. Most scientists are familiar with fudge factors, which Goldsmith defines as features introduced into a theory in order to resolve a pressing problem with the theory in an acceptable but aesthetically unsatisfying way. He notes that these are not always bad, and that their introduction may turn out to be correct.
Various dark matter theories, discussed in later chapters, are in the fudge factor category today. Here there are a couple of pressing problems. First, galaxies and clusters of galaxies do not contain enough luminous matter to hold them together gravitationally. Second, inflationary cosmologies require the universe to be spatially flat and thus barely bound, but the observed density of matter is too small to make this happen. Various types of nonluminous matter have been invoked to resolve the discrepancy. The task is complicated by the fact that the mass needed to solve the first problem is not enough to solve the second. As often happens, one has a choice of fudge factors. The hope is that eventually observation will rule out all but one, which can be incorporated into a satisfying theory.
Einstein's constant is the prototypical cosmic fudge factor. If positive, it results in a repulsive component of gravitation at great distances. Einstein introduced it to make a static universe solve his gravitational field equations when everyone thought the universe was static. When this was found not to be so, he disavowed the cosmological constant.
But once unleashed, such things take on a life of their own, and can't be controlled by their inventor. New ways of thinking about an initially fudgy factor may be discovered. Einstein himself, before discarding the term, tried to relate it to the PoincarČ stresses of classical electron theory, an idea having some connection with the appearance of such a term in quantum field theories. Eddington, impressed by the fact that the cosmological constant introduces a natural scale of length, insisted that before he would give it up, he would go back to Newtonian theory. And some unified field theories, such as Schr–dinger's, require a non-zero value for the constant. Today, a positive value for the cosmological constant provides a way of resolving the problem that the ages of some stars seem greater than the time since the big bang if no cosmic repulsion has been at work.
Goldsmith refers briefly (pp. 188-190) to AGod language in discussions of scientific cosmology, as with notorious 'face of God' comments about confirmation of temperature variations in the microwave background. Emboldened by problems about ages and missing mass in cosmology, some Christians may be tempted to appeal to a classic fudge factor, the God of the Gaps. The use of God language by others may be an attempt to ward off serious theology: if a satellite shows us the face of God, why do we need Christ?
Goldsmith does not explore those issues at the science-theology interface deeply. His book will, however, provide helpful orientation to current issues in cosmology and, perhaps even more important, to the way cosmologists go about their task. The interest of the topic extends to other disciplines as well. Cosmologists are not the only people who use fudge factors.
Reviewed by George L. Murphy, Pastor, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Tallmadge OH 44278.
FIRE IN THE EQUATIONS: Science, Religion, and the Search for God by Kitty Ferguson.
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. 320 pages, notes, bibliography, index.
The author of this book has had an unusual career. A graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, she was for many years a professional singer and conductor. After a period of residence at Cambridge University in England, she entered into a full-time writing career on science. In this book she applies an unusually patterned style to discuss most of the major issues relating modern science and religious faith. The book is warmly endorsed on the jacket by such outstanding figures as John Polkinghome at Cambridge: 'Ferguson weaves together science, philosophy, and theology with verve and clarity'; and John A. Wheeler at Princeton University: 'A delightful, up-to-date, and accurate account of the most active frontiers of physical science in language equally pleasant to read at age thirteen or eighty-three, laced with puzzles, poems, people, and science and with much of the delicious accompaniment that goes on in the search.' The New Scientist comments that 'Ferguson concludes that `God, though perhaps not ruled in, is certainly not ruled out.'
The book consists of eight chapters with the titles, They Buried Him in Westminster Abbey, Seeing Things, Almost Objective, Romancing the Creation, The Elusive Mind of God, The God of Abraham and Jesus, Inadmissible Evidence, and Theory of Everything Mind of God.
Overall this book presents an informed and meaningful comparison between science and religion, arriving at the final conclusion that science can neither establish nor contradict the existence of God. Along the way a number of basic statements are made that are important for such a discussion. It is pointed out that science doesn't claim to discover the ultimate truth about anything, and that in science nothing can ever be really 'proved.' Or again in a discussion of evolution, the arguments which show that evolution would have been a clever and almost fool-proof way for God to set things up do not prove that there is a God who did this. They only show that we can't use the process of evolution to prove that there is no such God. Or again, 'We've shown that science can't prove that a physical explanation is the complete explanation'; or 'the bottom line would seem to be that at present we have no scientific way of proving or falsifying either of them (i.e., God or Mathematical and Logical Consistency as First Cause candidates), nor are we likely ever to determine the answer by means of the scientific method. To vote for either candidate is a matter of faith; or 'The failure of the God of the Gaps doesn't prove there isn't a God.' These repeated statements on proving the existence or non-existence of God, the first from p. 26 and the last from p. 205, illustrate one of the features of the book that was self-defeating for this reviewer: a style that may be literarily elegant, but is repetitive and rambling, a style that does not match the subject, at least for this reviewer.
Fanciful language tends to run away with the subject when it comes to the meaning of quantum mechanics. It is argued that existence as an independent entity demands that it have a definite location and a definite motion, and that 'it seems that when an atom isn't being observed it lapses into a state that can be described as ghostlike with no concrete reality to it all.' To put it bluntly, the observer seems to create reality by observing it. Now, because of the literary style, we have a hard time deciding whether the author is really advancing these views herself, or whether she is being dramatic with a recitation of the viewpoints of others. This gets intensified further when she asks, ACan God exist without believers?
Another troubling aspect of the book for this reviewer was the frequent use of such concepts as 'God intervening in the world, events governed by the laws of nature, breaking the laws of nature, violating the laws of nature, setting aside the physical laws etc'., without ever really giving a definitive treatment of what was meant by these critical terms, 'laws of nature, governing, and intervening'. Now it may be that phrases like, 'In the beginning, God created everything'as well as the laws that directed that outcome, are really only literary expressions.
There are many readers who may really enjoy reading this book as an experience in good literature, but those looking for recognizable resolutions of fundamental issues in a brief space may be frustrated. Perhaps the only way to find out which group you belong to is to get hold of a copy and give it a careful reading. You will certainly be informed about many aspects of modern science that you may not otherwise encounter.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. New York:
Random House, 1995. 457 pages, extensive references, index. Hardcover; $25.95.
Sagan is the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences at Cornell University. He is author of many best sellers, including Cosmos, which became the most widely read science book ever published in the English language.
In this book Sagan discusses the claims of the paranormal and fringe-science. For instance, he examines closely such issues as astrology (p. 303), crop circles (p. 75), channelers (pp. 203-206), UFO abductees (pp. 185-186), faith-healing fakes (p. 229), and witch-hunting (p. 119). Readers of The Skeptical Inquirer will notice that Sagan's approach is very similar.
The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal is an organization of scientists, academics, magicians, and others dedicated to skeptical scrutiny of emerging or full-blown pseudo-sciences. It was founded by the University of Buffalo philosopher Paul Kurtz in 1976. I've been affiliated with it since its beginning. Its acronym, CSICOP, is pronounced Asci-cop C as if it's an organization of scientists performing a police function Y CSICOP publishes a bimonthly periodical called AThe Skeptical Inquirer. On the day it arrives, I take it home from the office and pore through its pages, wondering what new misunderstandings will be revealed (p. 299).
Sagan points out that in 1991 two pranksters in England admitted that they had been making crop figures for 15 years. They flattened the wheat with a heavy steel bar. Later on they used planks and ropes, but the media paid brief attention to the confession of these hoaxers. Why? Sagan concludes, 'Demons sell; hoaxers are boring and in bad taste' (p. 76).
Christians must admire Sagan's commitment to critical thinking, logic, and freedom of thought. He takes on many subjects in this book, and the vast majority of his analysis is exceptional. However, his opinions on religious matters are affected by his devotion to scientism. Sagan believes only that which can be proved by science is true. He disputes psychologist Charles Tart's assertion that scientism is 'dehumanizing, despiritualizing' (p. 267). Sagan comments, 'There is very little doubt that, in the everyday world, matter (and energy) exist. The evidence is all around us. In contrast, as I've mentioned earlier the evidence for something non-material called `spirit' or `soul' is very much in doubt' (p. 267).
Science can only prove things about the physical world, and it cannot prove anything about the spiritual world. Does that mean that the mind and soul don't exist? Of course not! First, we must realize that science is not the only way to truth. Even Sagan must admit that he must justify values like 'be objective' or 'report data honestly'. Where do those values come from? They came from outside science, but they must be in place for science to work.
Sagan gives an illustration that contrasts physics and metaphysics. He shows that the physicist's idea will have to be discarded if tests fail in the laboratory. Therefore, the main difference between physics and metaphysics is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory. This is a cute story, but can science answer the basic questions that underline all knowledge? Metaphysics is necessary for science to take place. It is not true that science is superior to metaphysics like Sagan would have us believe. The presuppositions of science can only be validated by philosophy. J. P. Moreland has correctly said, 'The validation of science is a philosophical issue, not a scientific one, and any claim to the contrary will be a self-refuting philosophical claim' (Scaling the Secular City, p. 197).
Second, the absence of scientific evidence for the soul does not mean the soul does not exist. Sagan himself states, 'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' (p. 213).
I was impressed with the way Sagan put his inner thoughts on the table. For instance, he comments, 'Plainly, there's something within me that's ready to believe in life after death...If some good evidence for life after death was announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote' (pp. 203-204). What kind of evidence is Sagan looking for? It certainly is not vague prophecies. He states, 'Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy...Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs...Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? (p. 30). The answer to that question is yes. Christianity can point to very clear passages such as Isaiah 53 and Daniel 11 written hundreds of years before the events occurred.
While comparing science to religion, Sagan comments, 'Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It's just the best we have (pp. 27-28). Here Sagan is only half right. Science is imperfect, but it is not better than the Bible.'
The Demon-Haunted World is a thought-provoking book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Some of Sagan's anti-Christian views come through, but on the whole, this book uses critical thinking and logic and applies them to the claims of the paranormal and fringe-science of our day.
Reviewed by Everette Hatcher III, P.O. Box 23416, Little Rock, AR 72221.
ATTITUDES TO NATURE
by Jean Holm and John Bowker, Eds. New York: Pinter Publishers, 1994. 172 pages,
index, footnotes. Paperback.
Attitudes to Nature is the tenth volume in the Themes in Religious Studies series. This series focuses on the way eight religious traditions view important issues of the day. The groups covered are Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Chinese religions, and Japanese religions. Each religion covers one chapter. Holm has spent her career teaching mainly Judaism and Hinduism, most recently as Principal Lecturer in Religious Studies at Homerton College in Cambridge University. Bowker, Professor of Divinity at Gresham College in London, is interested in anthropological and sociological approaches to the study of religions. Neither editor contributed to this volume.
In the series Preface, Holm notes the danger and widespread tendency to stereotype beliefs and practices of religions. In this regard, she writes, 'We need to bracket out, temporarily, our own beliefs and assumptions, and `listen in' to a religion's account of what it regards as significant.' This book, and presumably the other books in the series, is a useful tool in understanding the views of the major religious groups of the world from their own perspective, rather than from a Christian's perspective on their views. The contributors introduce scriptural teaching and religious practices which relate to their view of the origins and meaning of the natural world. It became quickly obvious that even the meaning of the word nature varies greatly among different religious groups.
The essays differ in style and depth of treatment. The essay on Sikhism was simple and personal. It was full of Sikh scripture references followed by commentary on how these apply to their view of nature, much like a simple homily. On the other hand, the essay on Japanese religions was a Japanese defense against western accusations of Japanese as eco-terrorists, whale killers, and callous capitalists. The authors on Japanese religions appeared to have an agenda which transcends the scope of the book itself. However, both the Sikh and Japanese essays are effective and enjoyable reading in their own right. Christianity and Buddhism, seldom found to have anything in common are noted to share a fundamental denial of the world and a tendency to escape from it. The material in the chapter on Islam is surprisingly similar to a Christian view of reality, emphasizing how creation points beyond itself to God the Creator. For example, the authors write, 'Everything in the heaven and earth bows to God in worship.' However, many humans do not and deserve punishment. However, the authors also mention how Muslims tend to view western science as secular and profane and completely void of any theistic focus. This is a good reminder to ASA members who must strive to adequately integrate faith and science.
This book introduces some conclusions held by religious people. For example, in the essay on Judaism, the author highlights the Hebrew Scriptures' preoccupation with keeping each species of life distinct. Animals were not to be cross-bred and Noah was careful to take all animals, even unclean animals, on the ark. This was to show that Judaism has defended biodiversity from antiquity. Looking at the same Scriptures, would Christians draw this conclusion?
The essays say little about how their respective beliefs about nature work themselves out in real situations, or how their ancient scriptures help them deal with modern problems like global warming, over-population, radioactive waste management, or species extinction. The tendency is to see the principles in the religious systems as the basis from which to ask the right questions about modern issues rather than indicate how they should be dealt with. Consequently, there are several ways a given religion might deal with environmental issues.
Attitudes to Nature meant more to me as a book to further my understanding of these religions than as a book on nature or ecology. I think it would be more appropriately used in a course on world religions (college level) than in a course on nature or ecology. (An exception might be the essay on Japanese religions.) Living in China, I found the essay on Chinese religions helpful to better understand Taoism. But when I learned that they view humans as one with nature, I was even more confused about why Chinese are so unconcerned about the environment, both personally and as a nation. As with many of the essays, I still asked, 'How does their behavior relate to their religious background'? In defense of the essays, their purpose is not to tackle popular environmental issues or apply their teaching to life, but I was frustrated at times with inadequate discussion of how and why the religious groups fall sort of the glory of their teachings on the natural world.
The nine contributors to this volume have varied academic credentials. Some essays were at a popular level (Sikhism and Japanese Religions), while others were more academic (Buddhism and Hinduism). Each chapter ended with a Suggested Reading list. Only books were mentioned (no journal articles) and many of the books were quite dated (1970s). Each author is intimately involved in work or research directly related to the topic they have addressed in the book. If my reading of the ethnic background of their names is correct, they all come from the religious or cultural background which they address, adding an element of authenticity and personalness to their respective essays.
Being interested in religions and cultures, as well as living overseas, I found this book interesting and beneficial. ASAers with a similar interest would likewise enjoy it. For those who work with internationals or work in science overseas, it would be a useful reference tool.
Review by Mark A. Strand, Medical Team Director, Evergreen Family Friendship Service, Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China, 030002.
EVOLUTION by Alan Hayward. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995. 232
pages, Name Index and Subject Index. Paperback.
Hayward, a physicist and a Christian, retired from a position of principle scientific officer at a British government research laboratory in 1977, in order to devote time to writing. This book is a recently revised edition a work originally published in London, in 1985. He has published several other books, including: Planet Earth's Last Hope, God's Truth and Does God Exist? Science Says Yes!
Hayward's purpose for this book is to present the case for ancient creationism. In his words, 'my aim is to produce a kind of Plain Man's Guide to what is going on in the creation-evolution debate.' He begins in an introduction by defining terms with particular emphasis on succession, evolution, and Darwinism. Hayward presents a very useful Logic Diagram.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part I, The Genuine Scientific Objections to Darwinism, Hayward presents arguments and quotations exclusively from the writings of evolutionists who oppose Darwinism. He finds that American and British biologists have acquired the curious and incorrect notion that practically everybody accepts Darwinism, but biologists outside England and the U.S. are not so accepting and would rather say 'we don't know how things could have evolved, then pretend that a bad theory is a good one.' Prominent European biologists find that Darwin's theory cannot be made to fit the fact no matter how much the theory is modified.
Part II, AThe Age of the Earth is Hayward's attempt to summarize the evidence that the earth is very old. While he makes some good points, my impression of this part is that it is more an attempt to discredit young earth creationists and Flood Geology than to present the scientific evidence. I find that several recent books, for example, The Creator and the Cosmos and Creation and Time, both by Hugh Ross, are much more extensive and helpful on this subject.
In Part III, Bible Teaching and Creation, the focus is on the Bible with an attempt to see what Genesis and other parts of Scripture really say about creation. Hayward discusses the five well-known theories about the days of creation: (1) Literal Days of Recent Creation, (2) Literal Days of Re-Creation, (3) Days equal Geological Age, (4) Intermittent Days of Creation, (5) Days of Revelation.
Then he presents a more extensive discussion of what he thinks is the most appealing but neglected theory, Days of Divine Fiat. Hayward suggests seven advantages of this theory with the last and most important being that it 'makes it easier to understand why the New Testament is so insistent that Genesis 1 is a prophecy of Christ.' In the twelfth (and next to last) chapter, Some Biblical Objections to Theistic Evolution, Hayward distinguishes between the liberal and conservative versions of theistic evolution. Liberal evolutionists modified Darwin in the same cavalier fashion as they reassessed the Biblical writers. He concludes that when the Fall of Adam is treated as religious fiction we strike at the very heart of the Christian Gospel and that the blend of fact and fiction made by liberals is a flimsy foundation on which to build a doctrine of eternal life. Hayward argues that quite a formidable case against any kind of theistic evolution can be mounted on Genesis. AIf we let the Bible speak for itself there appears to be only one natural way to read Gen. 2:7, the verse informs us that God miraculously created Adam from non-living matter. 'The theistic evolutionist appears to fall between two stools, when he reasons that God inspired Moses to compile a mixture of history and myth, and then left it to us to sort out for ourselves which is which.' To make Genesis fit the evolutionary view, Hayward concludes that the conservative theory of theistic evolution must abandon most of the historical details of the Fall, although it considers the Fall to be a historical event.
In the concluding chapter, Hayward suggests two simple questions to help anyone reach some decision in the creation-evolution debate: (1) Do the experts agree among themselves? (2) Can simple but convincing experimental proof be provided?
He believes that the answer to both questions is no where evolution is concerned, that all the evidence seems to show that large-scale evolution did not and cannot occur. As to the question of age of the earth, the answers to both questions is yes, there is abundant evidence on the age of the earth and all the experts are in agreement.
Overall, I found Hayward's book to be worth my time and have gained some new insights into the creation-evolution debate. The book is written for the lay person and is a popular presentation with almost no technical language. I am pleased to recommend this book to ASA members.
Reviewed by Bernard J. Piersma, Professor of Chemistry, Houghton College, Houghton, NY 14744.
LIES FOR GOD: Reason vs. Creationism by Ian Plimer. Random House, Australia Pty
Ltd., 1994. 303 pages. Paperback; $14.95.
In Australia, as in America, too little heed has been given to F. F. Bruce, who in his biblical scholar's advice to the Victoria Institute in 1954, urged the 'mathematician or natural scientist not to interpret early Genesis with either the exact literalism that leads to hasty dismissal or to spend needless toil in reconciling scientific knowledge with language which called for no such reconciliation' (Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 86 : 77).
Unhappily, exact literalism and scientific knowledge have met head on, since some still seek to compress earth's earliest ages into six literal days and deluge the geological column. A blunt riposte was bound to follow. Now, Ian Plimer, Professor of Geology at the University of Melbourne, well known for his research on metallic ore deposits, confronts Creation Science before the law courts.
The case may be moot, but its outlines seem clear in Telling Lies. Concerned with erosion of faith, some rethink their Christian options, others claim equal time, promote Christian schools, or launch protests. Regrettably, no ASA-like position appears to have mediated the extremes. Admittedly, the Foreword by Peter Hollingsworth, Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, begins with a soft answer, but its pointed queries raise the real question of truth, and its proper pursuit. What of thoughtful youth whose Literalist Fundamentalism often yields to the persuasive general concept of evolution with its consequent (but unnecessary) discard of Christian faith? Urging that minds be opened to see all of creation as part of God's domain, Hollingsworth leans toward Plimer's view, whereas Robyn Williams, ABC National Science Unit, pulls no Aussie punches in his trenchant Preface. Citing discrepancies between an astronomer's public lectures and his Young Earth credo, he underscores the disconcerting sting in Telling Lies.
When Plimer steps directly into the fray, he invokes Papal authority to claim that physical evolution is irrelevant to faith, and turns his ire on the scientific claims of the Creation Research movement. Hopefully, the casual reader will not confuse this with the essential Christian doctrine of creation and recourse to commentaries should eliminate ideas of four-footed fowls and turtles (turtledoves?) that give voice (p. 17). Still, it's not Plimer's biblical understanding that's at issue here: it's his more pertinent geology.
Conceding scientific qualifications to at least some Creationists, Plimer highlights alleged distinctions between self-corrective Science and dogma. There's real umbrage in his reaction to abuse: abuse of democratic voting power, selective presentations of data to a public which (given the nature of science) can scarcely comprehend context or appropriate qualification, abuse of time-consuming quotes and misquotes, and failure to explore either the awkward ramifications or the scrupulous cross-checking inherent in an integrated science. And especially the portrayal of science as vacillating betwixt Evolution and Creation, between an earth billions, or only 6,000, years old C each a mere theory.
The mix of indignation and mockery continues for all 300 pages. Chapter 2 moves from biblical to scientific methods of determining earth-age, with an ironical challenge to confirm alleged changes in the speed of light. Chapter 3 turns to scientific fraud, giving decidedly personal attention to views expressed by some creationists. Chapter 4, 'the great flood of absurdities,' is followed by 'bearing false witness' in Chapter 5, which claims to probe the personal, academic, and fiscal backgrounds of some, issuing in insinuations of media manipulation, and raising questions regarding appeals for education and Ark-eology. Chapters 6 and 7 respectively touch on 'doublespeak' and 'gishing for God,' not without self-congratulatory accounts of debates, and sharply-drawn contrasts between Creationists' contributions to scientific journals, and the implications of their Young Earth cult.
The closing Chapter, Why all the fuss? only seems less strident.
Plimer's wonderment at the coincidences of earth's history are matched with puzzlement
that some intelligent folk accept creation though not, presumably, in forms that
expunge geology from youthful minds. Dismissing Creation Research as lacking either
theological or scientific credibility, he notes its significant absence from mainline
churches. His final musings on a scientist's hopes and fears have Christian counterparts,
and maybe a saner appreciation of science and Scripture might yet emerge.
AT HOME IN THE
UNIVERSE by Stuart Kauffman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 321 pages,
bibliography, index. Hardcover; $25.
This book's contents are called a major scientific revolution, a new paradigm in evolution theory, rivaling Darwin's theory in importance. Kauffman, the leading thinker of self-organization and the science of complexity, uses common properties of complex systems to show that self-organization is inevitable. He is a biologist at the Santa Fe Institute. This text, written for the general audience, follows his The Origins of Order, written for specialists. All technical words and concepts in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics are properly described in non-technical terms. The reader needs good analytical/mathematical reasoning ability to understand the computer algorithms which underlie this research.
His book is well written and well organized with good introductions for each chapter. In the first chapter, Kauffman subtly hints at a desire to find meaning in his existence. He is uncomfortable with the Darwinian concept of man as simply the result of a chain of accidental mutations. Kauffman is still a Darwinian and his new theory is a marriage of chance and necessity.
The second chapter describes the total failure of previous theories to understand the origin of life even to the extent that no plausible story-line could even be conceptualized for the beginning of life on Earth. Kauffman presents this chapter as an entrepreneur with a new product, showing that all existing products on the market are unsatisfactory.
Chapter three presents computer simulations which show a chemical soup held in a localized region with a supply of energy and a sufficiently diverse supply of molecules which will crystallize into a complex autocatalytic system. Kauffman shows that such an autocatalytic system can reproduce and is capable of heritable variation. The beauty of his models is its simplicity and few basic assumptions. The only inputs are variable values for the number and diversity of molecules, the number of possible chemical reactions and the average probabilities that any molecule can catalyze (speed-up) any reaction. No details such as specific types of molecules or reactions are considered.
Chapters 4 through 6 use chaos theory, again with no details and only basic properties to show that cells and ecosystems are likely to be near the boundary between subcritical and supracritical behavior. One of the successful outputs of the theory is that the number of human cell types is approximately the square root of the number of genes.
In chapters 8-10, he incorporates standard Darwinian evolution to ecosystems, giving plausible explanations for the Cambrian explosion 550 million years ago and for the Permian extinction 245 million years ago. Finally, in the later chapters he introduces his models to the understanding of economic, political, and cultural systems.
I enjoyed this book. I like the marriage of chance and necessity which, as a physicist, I see throughout the natural order. I see evidence for Design and the anthropic principle in Kauffman's model. Kauffman realizes his model is not yet a fully developed theory and acknowledges its limitations. At the same time, his upbeatness, excitement, and anticipation are contagious. There is a good possibility experiments will be performed to test his model. This is the way science should work and makes any experimental scientist envious of what lies ahead.
Reviewed by William R. Wharton, Physics Department, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187.
AN ETHOS OF
COMPASSION: The Integrity of Creation by Brian J. Walsh, Hendrik Hart, and Robert
E. VanderVennen, Eds. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995. 230 pages. Paperback.
When I saw this title in the Books Available for Review section, I thought that it would be a book about how Christians should deal with the environment. The book, however, is on that subject and more. It is a record of the proceedings of a symposium held in 1992 in Toronto, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Institute for Christian Studies. The book began as if it had nothing to do with the environment. After an introductory chapter, the talk by J. Richard Middleton, the designated devotional speaker, appears. It is subtitled Opening Meditations For a Creation-Order Tradition. There isn't really an explanation of what that means. Since the conference was apparently attended mostly by persons in that tradition, there was probably no need for such an explanation. I gathered that a Creation-Order Tradition isn't only, or even mostly, about Christian stewardship of the environment. I think Creation-Order Tradition is like a Natural Law Tradition.
Other chapters include: Creation Order: A Historical Look at Our Heritage by Albert Wolters, Creation Order and Transcendental Philosophy by Sander Griffoen, The Doctrine of Creation: Judging Law and Transforming Vision by Carroll Guen Hart, and Points of Unease With Creation Order by Nicholas Wolterstorff. My reaction to all these is that those in the Reformed Tradition should read them for their own evaluation.
There are several reasons why I think this book is important. First, it is clear that the book was written by, and apparently for, what are mostly called political liberals. That doesn't make them wrong (or right, of course), and those who are called political conservatives aren't always right (or wrong) either. What evidence do I have for this leaning? One of the authors said exactly that. Another took Reagan, Bush, and Quale [sic] to task. There are occasions when the oppressed are listed. Such oppressed are the poor, the nonwhite, females, and homosexuals. Unborn fetuses (abortion is given a passing reference) aren't even mentioned in the book, let alone described as oppressed. Conservatives probably would have included them, and perhaps not all the others.
Secondly, the book is of note because the longest chapter, Creation Order in our Philosophical Tradition: Critique and Refinement by Hart, who is an employee of the Institute, was disturbing. I quote:
If the Bible is not obviously a book of doctrines and moral absolutes anchored in a known and unchanging order, but speaks to us more clearly as narrative of divine guidance in history, the traditional message of Scripture changes considerably (p. 68).
Yes. And Hart makes it clear that he wants to make this change:
"Christians should acknowledge that we already play God when we participate in dealing with abortion and euthanasia, with in-vitro fertilization and extending life beyond its livable margins, with the ozone and the Amazon, with nuclear arms and genetic engineering. Why should we shrink back when, for example, it comes to redefining sexual morality? Why should we not view homosexual relations in the light of Jesus rather than in the context of the specific understanding of a culture that is no longer ours? Why should intimate relations be normed by preserving antecedently known eternal rules? Y To reclaim the world as creation, we must acknowledge God's authority in all creation and learn to regard all rules, also the ones we now think we make ourselves, as human responsibility in the presence of God" (emphasis in original, p. 73).
The Hart paper was important enough that there were three printed responses to it. One by John E. Hare entitled AToo Far the Pendulum Swings says:
"My main point in this response is to deny that an ethos of compassion is inconsistent with the evaluative framework within which there is a central core of human needs which stay the same. That is, compassion does not require a framework within which the assessment of what constitute core human needs changes over time" (p. 104).
Another response is entitled APortrayal of Reformation Philosophy Seems Unfair, by Johan van der Hoeven. The title speaks for itself.
"In the third place, this book did have quite a bit about homosexuality. There is a chapter, AWhen Is Sex Against Nature? by James Olthuis, that examines the Scriptures which are used to bolster the evangelical view that the only proper sex is between married heterosexuals. It comes to the conclusion that the evangelical view isn't nearly as firmly based on Scripture as evangelicals usually think it is."
This chapter deserves careful reading, and also deserves careful examination by Bible scholars.
In the fourth place, Allen D. Verhey, in Biblical Hermeneutics and a Medical Ethos of Compassion, writes about something that has troubled me. I don't have much difficulty finding a scriptural basis for environmental ethics, but I do have a lot of trouble finding one for medical ethics. Verhey explains that, in his view, there isn't such a basis. (He is not arguing against the existence of a medical ethic, of course. He is just saying that it is not possible to find a scriptural basis for it.) He says some other things of importance in this paper, including that he isn't completely happy with the idea of compassion, because some stupid, and even evil, things have been done in its name.
In the fifth place, the book does have some environmental ethics. Calvin B. DeWitt has a pretty straightforward chapter on environmental ethics and puts forward seven principles which can be, and are, used by non-Christians, and gives biblical support for each.
There are some important, and disturbing, ideas here, and serious Christians can't ignore them.
Reviewed by Martin LaBar, Professor of Science, Southern Wesleyan University, Central, SC 29630
MANY PEOPLE CAN THE EARTH SUPPORT? by Joel E. Cohen. New York: W. W. Norton and
Company, 1995. 506 pages, index, bibliography. Hardcover; $30.00.
Cohen is head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University. He writes with relaxed authority concerning the demographic issues needed to address the title question. His relaxed tone does not mask the urgency he feels concerning the issues being developed. He has been a prolific writer on population issues and a range of other topics.
Background for this subject is developed as three subtopics. First is a review of the history of human population. Cohen describes various attempts at discerning and modeling patterns in human population growth from the beginning of history to the current time. Next a series of projections addressing where the earth's population may be headed is reviewed. Finally the concept of the earth's carrying capacity appropriately occupies the largest portion of the book. Pitfalls in defining a specific capacity are brought to light. The multifaceted issues are complexly intertwined. Though potentially highly disruptive indicators are observed, how they interact in any timely way to make policy choices is stymieing.
When technical and statistical materials are developed, the author's personal, straight-forward, and sometimes entertaining style make for comfortable reading. Clarifying analogies are frequently introduced. The analogy of a large truck on a changeable mountain road with a significant part of six billion passengers pumping at the brakes and accelerator or grabbing for the steering is as terrifying as it is clarifying. Actually, most of the passengers are probably making music with Nero and have little regard to coming curves.
Appropriate mathematics are introduced in a clear and friendly manner, without diminishing the difficulties innate to the work of gathering and analyzing population data. The author develops nuances of the issues involved in an accessible, yet intellectually legitimate manner. He discusses where significantly weak assumptions have lessened the usefulness of some attempts at understanding changing demographics. He exposes weaknesses with understanding, not iconoclastic vigor.
The book is peppered with clear, supportive charts and graphs. The section delineating mathematical models that have been tried (unsuccessfully) as fits to population data is well supported graphically. There are abundant, helpful notes and a thorough, relevant bibliography.
There is not a theistic perspective to any of the material. There are a couple comments about Hutterites being obstinately pro generative. After a thorough discussion of Catholics, the conclusion is that organized religion's impact on rates of fertility is minimal. A reference to Adam and Eve is included in an illustration about linear population growth. If, throughout history, population had increased linearly at the 1994 rate, then Adam and Eve would have been created in 1936. They also would have had to have 90,000,000 offspring that year. (Tim Stafford in Christianity Today 10/2/94 writes with great clarity about population issues as a theologian.)
Cohen speaks politely of respect for various values and cultures. He cites Al Gore and others who call for action in education, especially for women, and in providing ubiquitous contraception, which he believes is especially needed for teens. He says that he would eschew coercive policies as ineffective, but apparently believes some centralized initiative is needed.
This book provides excellent documentation. It is an exceptional source for gaining perspective, a view from some high ground on population issues. The information contained in Cohen's book will serve a range of readers. It is a good place to gain an exposure to population issues. It is an insightful and extensive compilation of ideas for those already involved.
There are fluctuations of populations on all scales, spatially and temporally, as well as the wide swinging fluctuations in the projections of experts. This would suggest that both population change and modeling population change are complex phenomena. Cohen proposes that greater investment be made in gathering data. If we had better accounting of many things, then more discerning judgments would be possible. Should not a demographer solve problems with more demography? Could it be that such a complex system does not allow analysis that can be made significantly faster than real time? Consider the multitude of contributing factors and the amount of data that needed to be gathered and integrated. Successful prediction may be limited as in meteorology, where predictions by the best models are reliable for only a few weeks. In comparison, demographic projections have proven of little value within one year to a decade.
Human population will either fluctuate widely, or it will gently approach equilibrium. (Read chapters 5 and 6 for information that should dispel any notion of the possibility of perpetual growth.) Intuitive reactions are generally empty of real problem solving. In fact, they may tend to support callous policies, reflecting Scrooge's comment about reducing the excess population. Such heartlessness has been a repeated theme for millennia. Tertullian in 200 A.D. wrote, "In truth, plague, famine, wars, and earthquakes must be regarded as a blessing to civilization, since they prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race." To too large an extent, western attitudes toward Third World disasters display this callousness. We need to understand what is actually happening. How Many People Can the Earth Support? provides an excellent opportunity to become better informed.
Reviewed by Douglas Franks, Physics, Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Lansdale, PA 19446
AT RISK? Religion, Science and Environmentalism by Michael Cromartie, Ed. Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995. 166 pages. Paperback; $15.00.
According to the flyer advertising this book, Creation at Risk? Ais a collection of essays in which ten scholars and activists explore and clash over some of the scientific, religious, moral, philosophical, economic, and political claims proposed by contemporary environmentalists. The concept behind the book is an excellent one, based on a symposium held in 1994 by the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Evangelical Studies Project that brought together a diversity of people to discuss the relationships among the topics included in the title. Unfortunately, the chapters and responses are uneven in their scholarship and writing, making for a volume that suffers from an evident lack of cohesiveness.
There are five chapters: Managing the Planet, The Climate Change Debacle, Here Comes the Sun, The Challenge of Biocentrism, and Can Markets or Government do More for the Environment? Each chapter is followed by a response, followed in turn by comments of various symposium participants. Andrew Kimball wrote the response to the first chapter and one of his comments applies to several parts of the book: An unseemly snideness marks much of the criticism of environmentalism, especially from the right. Kimball's chapter is one of the best in the book, although I disagree with several of his principles. The Climate Change Debacle seems out of place in this book. It deals with specific aspects of global warming. Other aspects of global environmental concerns are not given even treatment.
AThe Challenge of Biocentrism will be of interest to readers of PSCF because it addresses the accusations that biblically based Christianity is to blame for at least some of the present environmental mess. I read the last chapter, Can Markets or Government do More for the Environment? while on a field trip to Alaska. Surrounded by the pervasive wilderness and the stunning splendor of Denali National Park, I trembled at the thought of such God-given resources managed by the private sector. Sure, bus tours and bookstores can be privatized but the overall maintenance of natural areas of national importance benefit from being government run.
It is difficult for me to identify the audience for this book. It could be used in a public policy course dealing with the environment but only if other books were ignored. It is too light on either theology or ecology to be used in those courses. One bright spot is the cost. At fifteen dollars, it is sort of an endangered species in the book market.
Reviewed by Lytton J. Musselman, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529-0266.
THE BIOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN MORALITY by James P. Hurd, Ed. Lewiston, NY:
The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996. 249 pages. $89.95.
This book addresses one of the pivotal questions of our time: ATo what extent is evolutionary biology a necessary and sufficient explanation for human morality? (p. ii). It is pivotal because our answer will have, indeed has begun to have, a major effect on how we order our lives and societies. While you might not guess it from the title and main question, this book is particularly valuable for those interested in a Christian perspective on biology and morality. This is not surprising given the editor and publisher. James Hurd is Professor of Anthropology at Bethel College, and active in the Network of Christian Anthropologists. Likewise, the Edwin Mellen Press is a household name in religious studies.
The book's origins can be traced to the Conference on Biology and Morality held at Bethel in 1992. Fortunately, it is not just a long-delayed printing of conference papers; at least some of the articles have since evolved. Most of the papers are quite original, and as the authors come from a range of fields, they have aimed their work at each other, not just fellow specialists. Among them are two anthropologists: William Irons and James Hurd (who offers a preface but not an article); three psychologists: Linda Mealy, Carole Young, and Lucie Johnson; four biologists: Gregg Johnson, Jeffrey Schloss, Timothy Shaw, and Elving Anderson (the last two are ASA members); one geochemist and social historian: Alfred Kracher; two theologians: Garrett Paul and Gary Simpson; and two philosophers: Bruce Reichenbach and James Fetzer.
This volume clearly moves us forward in our understanding of biology and morality. But I think it is also fair to say it is like a room full of explorers describing disparate plans and discoveries. Contributors' answers differ substantially on the main question, though the view that biology is both necessary and sufficient for explaining morality is clearly in the minority. Likewise, it is far from uniform as a Christian response to sociobiology. Indeed, several authors (Irons, Mealy, and Young) make no direct reference to religion. All of this reflects the state of the field.
Although I cannot summarize each piece, a few examples may give a sense of the work. In The Selection of Moral Behavior by its Consequences, Carole Young brings together sociobiology and behaviorism. Someone like B. F. Skinner, she argues, "would agree with much of the sociobiological explanation of altruism except for the characterization of human behavior as anticipatory (p. 68)." But she finds the behaviorist alternative, that we act in certain ways because past behavior is reinforced, to be compatible with, and to improve upon, sociobiology.
It is characteristic of sociobiology to argue that altruistic acts are really selfish, but Gregg Johnson (Inadequacies of SociobiologicaI Explanations of Altruism) shows that humans engage in genuinely nonselfish acts, and do so both frequently and cross-culturally. This is not genetically adaptive for the individual and so cannot be accounted for by sociobiological explanations. Yet, it does seem adaptive for the species overall.
Jeffrey Schloss (Sociobiological Explanations of Altruistic Ethics: Necessary, Sufficient, or Irrelevant?) asks: When we speak of unselfish behavior, are we speaking of genetic consequences or personal motivations? (p. 111), and proposes an account that affirms true altruism but yet is consistent with sociobiology. If radical sacrificialism exists, he states: Either we admit to non-Darwinian agency, or we find that the most truly unilateral acts of human sacrifice, while altruistic in motivation, are not fitness-reducing in consequence (p. 127). It is just possible, in other words, that a strategy of authentic generosity and honest concern for others could do equally well or better than one of manipulative exploitation (p. 129).
Geneticist V. Elving Anderson and philosopher Bruce Reichenbach collaborate in the Implications of the Human Genome Project for Views of Morality, which is exceptional for its imagination and clarity. They point out that the effect of individual genes must be described in terms of probabilities rather than rigorously determined outcomes (p. 167) and go on to argue that the effect of genes upon behavior, including moral behavior, cannot be understood without considering the development and function of the brain and the role of trait-relevant environmental factors (both internal and external) (pp. 171-172).
Finally, in Ethics and Evolution James Fetzer shows that we do not always act morally, and that behaviors consistent with kin selection or even reciprocal altruism are not always good. This will prove to be a key point. But, as Fetzer observes, it raises the problem of how we decide what is morally good in the first place. Thus, while his objection to Robert Richards' model is that some evolved behaviors Aappear to qualify as immoral (p. 225), this does not mean Richards is wrong. What it does mean is that if we accept Richards' view we will need to greatly change our ideas about which behaviors are right or wrong. My guess is that there are many who would willingly, even gleefully, do just that if required (or even just excused) by their view of biology and morality.
We usually assume there are only three sources of moral standards religious, objective moral axioms, and genetically-based rules of conduct (p. 231). But, Fetzer points out, we also have moral theorizing Ain which notions that are vague and ambiguous are subject to critical scrutiny in an effort to clarify and illuminate their meaning (p. 231). With our minds, we can contribute to improving our own culture (p. 233). Indeed, he even suggests Athat morality may have originated with criticism (p. 232). Our capacity for critical thought is not mere chemistry; it has a measure of autonomy, and a great influence on what we do. Fetzer goes on to build an evolutionary ethic that accounts for this capacity, concluding that the emphasis in sociobiology on survival of the species as the basic good, as the fundamental goal of morality, will inevitably render evolutionary theories of morality incomplete. He believes they must be supplemented by deontological commitments to the equal worth of every human being (p. 233).
I agree. I think he is also correct that this is a truth which cannot come from biology. But can it come from critical thought alone? Suppose a sociobiologist becomes insistent (I'm speaking hypothetically, but it just could happen) and says: "If critical thought (if modern, Western critical thought) leads to a view of right and wrong different from evolutionary morality, that's tough. I still prefer my model, which has the weight of biology behind it. What evidence do you have that our critical thinking has not simply misled us about morality?"
How would we answer? I do not think Fetzer has solved the problem. But he does have some very good ideas which will help. I urge you to read the article for yourself, for there is more to his case than I have presented here. That goes for the rest of the book as well.
Reviewed by Paul K. Wason, Bates College, Lewiston, ME 04240.
NINE LIVES OF POPULATION CONTROL by Michael J. Cromartie, Ed. Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. 160 pages, notes and index. Paperback; $14.00.
In 1993 scholars, activists, and religious leaders came together at a conference on World Population Growth, sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center. This book presents the results of this meeting and also a paper assessing the significance of the 1994 population conference in Cairo.
The nature of the population problem has seemed fairly straightforward to me. (1) If the birthrate exceeds the replacement rate, the population will grow until something stops it. (2) World population will not grow without limit, but will reach some maximum value. (3) If we do nothing about it, this maximum value will come about either (a) naturally and benignly, requiring no or little attention, or (b) with increased human suffering, requiring major human attention to avoid. (4) If (3)(b) is accepted, then the required attention is (a) primarily educational, financial, and motivational, or (b) coercive, political, and authoritative. I have favored principally (4)(a), and perhaps this is a major perspective of this book, but a clear exposition of these choices and issues is hard to find.
In the first chapter with the same title as the book, Midge Decter, social critic and writer, concludes that "there is only one way to get people to have only as many children as they can feed and house and bring up benignly. This one way is to help them, even just permit them to attain to a bit of wealth." She dismisses the suggestion that limitation on natural resources may be a crucial factor: "The problem is not the resources at all which wealth, in fact, helps to preserve and protect."
Nicholas Eberstadt, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, writes on The Premises of Population Policy: A Reexamination. Noting that Dire results have been just as assuredly ascribed to population slowdown or decline, as to its growth, he concludes that nothing like a generalized understanding of the socio-economic causes or effects of population change can be found today, nor does such a thing appear to be in the offing. Not only that, but there is no workable demographic definition of `overpopulation.' Finally, the author offers the critique that much of the current discourse on the `population problem' seems to assume that preventing the birth of poor people will help to eliminate poverty. This appears to be a fundamental error.
Robert Engelman of Population Action International responds to Eberstadt. Engelman views population policies, not as an intrusion or restriction on human freedom, but as precisely the reverse: a community public-health service that expands freedom and personal options, especially for women, who need it most. He challenges the thesis that growth in population in the past decade has acted in any country to raise the overall economic situation. He points out the basic fact that over the past forty years three billion people have been added to a world that took from the dawn of human time to 1960 to acquire the first three billion, and reminds us that Eberstadt ignores the critical question of balance between the earth's physical and biological systems and human population. Finally in one of the places in the book where the issue is clearly stated, Engelman points out:
"Unless you believe that the capacity of the earth's resources and waste sinks, as modified perhaps by human imagination and work is absolutely without limit, you are forced to agree that there is some level of human occupation of the planet at which well-being would decrease with further additions."
In the following chapter on How Population Growth Affects Human Progress by Julian Simon, who teaches business administration at the University of Maryland, and Karl Zinsmeister, the editor of The American Enterprise, the battle is rejoined: "Many Americans believe that population growth inevitably slows economic development, increases global poverty, reduces the food supply, and degrades the environment." The reason for this wide-spread mistaken belief is not hard to find. It is all the result of a concerted plot by international institutions and environmental organizations. After all, "the contributions people make to knowledge are great enough to overcome all the costs of population growth." And if you like unlimited optimism: "The standard of living has risen along with the size of the world's population since the beginning of recorded time." There is no convincing economic reason why this trend toward a better life should not continue indefinitely.
A response by Rodolfo A. Bulatao, a senior demographer with the Population and Human Resources Department of the Word Bank, seeks to establish a responsible middle ground, and concludes: "What I have argued, then, is this: (1) that hundreds of millions have chosen to limit their fertility, and hundreds of millions more are motivated to do so but need assistance; (2) that, to promote their welfare, it makes sense to provide them with assistance."
In one of the final two chapters, Population: Delusion and Reality, Amartya Sen, Lamont University Professor and professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University, argues against a confrontation between apocalyptic pessimism, on the one hand, and dismissive smugness on the other. After his own assessment of the problems and issues, he concludes: "There is no imminent emergency that calls for a breathless response." What is called for is systematic support for people's own decisions to reduce family size through expanding education and health care, and through economic and social development.
Finally George Weigel, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, gives a critique of the population conference at Cairo, "What Really Happened at Cairo and Why with a ringing denunciation of the U. N. bureaucrats, Scandinavian politicos, Clinton administration `global affairs' mavens, radical environmentalists, feminists, and population-controllers.
In an Afterword, The Meaning of the Presence of Children, Gilbert Meilaender, professor of religion at Oberlin College, presents a warm and understanding assessment of the Christian attitude toward children, but the relevance of this discussion to the issue of overpopulation is not clear.
Although the reader can certainly gain a much clearer perspective on the differences between advocates on both sides in the population debate from this book, it is likely that the reader will leave with the same original problems. Advocates of population control see it as a humanistic attempt to provide the motivation for people to have fewer children, whereas opponents of population control see it as coerced abortion. The flagrant disagreements and denunciations of one another are reminders of how much more complex the field of social interactions is compared to the field of physical science.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Emeritus Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
LIFE ON A
MODERN PLANET: A Manifesto for Progress by Richard D. North. Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1995. 326 pages, index. Hardcover.
North brings twenty years of environmental writing to this book. The book displays two major interests: the Adebunking of most of the hot button environmental issues in Parts I and II (pp. 2-186) and the rejection of some of the major attitudes and presuppositions of the environmental movement in Part III (pp. 187-309). In all topics, North gives a balanced presentation of scientific and other empirical evidence.
North's major accomplishment in dealing with the hot button issues is that he shows that the issues have two sides. On issues as far ranging as global warming, oil spills, and chlorine pollution, he repeatedly points out that, while the environmental problems are real and demand serious attention, there are cogent arguments that things are not as bad as the environmentalists maintain.
Some specific examples follow. North points out that the often predicted food crisis has not occurred, and that when it has seemed to occur it has really been the product of other more specific causes rather than over-population or environmental degradation. There are negatives in food production, but the debate has two sides (pp. 35-62).
North is equally optimistic concerning the energy crisis, citing such facts as the following: We can now produce oil in algae ponds at a rate of a barrel per acre per week. When the return reaches five barrels per acre, the technology will be feasible (p. 75). Photovoltaic production of hydrogen for fuel is nearing feasibility (pp. 77-78). Energy efficiency can produce even further great savings in energy consumption (pp. 79-80). For North, nuclear power is not the energy villain. He points to the natural formation at Oklo in Africa to argue both that nuclear fission is a normal natural process and also that safe storage of nuclear by-products is possible (p. 84).
North discusses the dangers of chlorine usage (pp. 123-163). He mentions such disasters as its use as a poison gas in World War I (p. 129), its indirect role in the Bhopal tragedy (pp. 129-130), and the DDT pesticide disaster (pp. 141-142). These negatives have led to efforts to ban any usage of chlorine. North responds that there is a necessary and proper usage of chlorine products. The issue should not be banning a useful chemical, but should be the wise, responsible usage of a necessary resource. North insists that there is a way of dealing with the dangers which is both friendly to the environment and friendly to the human race.
He gives some examples in Part III, in which he argues for more general changes in attitude. He notes in Chapter 10, AWilderness and the Manscape, that some human impact even on designated wilderness areas is unavoidable. Therefore, wilderness maintenance is always relative (p. 208), a fact which has not always been acknowledged by devout environmentalists. Chapter 11 (pp. 250-275) seems to make the point that the Green movement has failed the practicality test and thus reduced itself to practical impotence. Chapter 12 may be summarized by North's praise of the IIED's work in Acombining economic growth in poor countries with the ecological needs which underpin it (p. 276). Again, the general theme is that ecological issues are serious, but that some compromise with human need and practicality is needed in dealing with these issues.
Overall North achieves a good balance between recognizing the reality of ecological problems and the need for practical common sense in dealing with those problems. However, while I generally agree with North on details, two doomsday issues will illustrate North's major weakness. First, it is true that population has been sustainable far beyond early doomsday predictions. But that does not mean that indefinite growth is sustainable. Even if the world could sustain a population of 100 billion rather than North's ten billion, population growth must still cease at some point. Second, although North recognizes the dangers of global warming. and notes that "insurance' action is worth taking (p. 74)," this reaction does not match the gravity of a doomsday threat. Both of these are issues in which some believe that the possibility of disastrous though improbable environmental consequences could demand very drastic Ainsurance.
Reviewed by Andrew Bowling, Division of Biblical Studies, John Brown University. Siloam Springs, AR 72761.
AND THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE: A Christian Appraisal by John F. Kilner, Nigel M. S.
de Cameron, and David L. Schiedermayer, Eds. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995. 313 pages.
This is the first volume in the Horizon in Bioethics series, produced by the staff of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity in the suburb of Chicago. The series is intended to be a serious engagement about bioethical issues from the Christian-Hippocratic tradition. The twenty-three essays in this volume emerged from the inaugural conference on bioethics held at the Center in collaboration with Trinity International University and the Christian Medical and Dental Society.
These essays are divided into four parts. Part one AThe Practice of Medicine has six articles. AThe Christian Stake in Bioethics by Nigel Cameron sets the tone for the book. He points out that there is a need for Christian bioethics in this progressively secularized, post-Christian, post-modern society. The Medical Profession in Modern Society by H. Jochemsen et al., attacks the pseudo-religion of science and medicine, and asks the medical profession to set its own limits in the taking of human life in abortion and euthanasia, and in reconstructing a new order through genetic engineering. Daniel versus Saul: Toward a Distinctly Christian Biomedical Ethics by Loreen Herwaldt is a personal testimony by a physician about being a virtuous doctor. Physician Values and Value Neutrality by John Peppin explains the impossibility of being value neutral as a Christian doctor and encourages a disclosure up-front of one's belief and values. Study of Religion and Health by David Larson and Mary Greenwold points out that religion is a neglected or mismeasured variable in health research and summarizes the beneficial association of religion and health. The Ethics of Physician Income by David Schiedermayer defends the high salary of physicians and encourages Christian youth to enter medical careers.
Part two The Ethical Underpinnings of Medicine also has six articles. Luther's `Freedom' and a Patient's Autonomy by Allen Verhey points out that quest for freedom is a distinct character of the Protestant movement, and enumerates the difference between this Christian freedom and secular autonomy. Quality of Life Criteria by Jerome Wernow says that quality of life consideration is consistent with a sanctity of life position in dealing with terminal illness. Bioethics in the Shadow of Nietzsche by Stephen Williams considers Nietzsche's influence in autonomy and egotism. Bioethics and the Church by Ben Mitchell delineates the role of the church in the world and in the life of the believer and encourages the church to speak the Christian truth to the world and teach it to the believer. Decision-making in Clinical Ethics by Robert Orr gives four factors to be considered in decision-making: medical indications, patient preference, quality of life, and contextual features; and contrasts secular and Christian thinking in medical ethics. Christian Ethics, Pastoral Care, and Public Policy by Dennis Hollinger differentiates these three as foundation of right and wrong, application with compassion and grace, and dialogue in the pluralistic secular public square.
Part three The Evolving Abortion Crisis has five articles. Post-Abortion Syndrome by Stephanie Smith summarizes a report from a British private commission of inquiry into the consequences of the abortion and indicates that further long-term investigation and better measurements are needed. Abortifacient Vaccines by Lawrence Roberge discusses the recent research in this area for very early stage first trimester abortion and possible impact on the abortion scene, the vaccine recipient, and the pro-life movement. Legal Focus in the Abortion Debate by Francis Beckwith tries to refute the argument put forward by Judith Jarvis Thomson about women's right of refusing to be a good Samaritan. Abortion and the `Image of God' by Donal O'Mathuna briefly summarizes different interpretations of the image of God, uses the metaphor of God as our protector to remind us to act as protectors for the unborn, and asks us to show the grace and love of God in dealing with people of different persuasions. Abortion: Responsibility and Moral Betrayal by Christine Pohl points out that the abortion is an escape of responsibility not just by the woman, but also by the male participant, extended family, church, and the community, and also a betrayal of self and the unborn child by partners, parents, and society.
Part four AThe Expanding Bioethics Agenda has six chapters. Commercial Surrogate Motherhood by Scott Rae discusses the issue and concludes that it is the equivalent of baby-selling, therefore morally objectionable. Clones, Chimeras, and Barthian Bioethics by Geoffrey Brown deplores the human creative genetic engineering of the clone, the specialized human mutant and the chimera through Karl Barth's treatment of Imago Dei. Advance Directives: The Case for Greater Dialogue by Peter L. Jaggard points out the need for more dialogue between physicians and patients in terminal illness, but rejects assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. The Right to Die by Daryl Charles argues that the right-to-die movement is inconsistent with the thoughts of America's founding fathers, and it is a perversion of moral discourse by transforming questions of right and good into questions of individual preference. Christian Care for the Dying by Greg Rutecki decries neglect of the dying in the hospital and redefinition of death to increase the supply of organs, and praises the hospice movement. Rationing and Health Care Reform by John Kilner explains the inevitability of rationing, and proposes that Christians should develop rationing criteria that do not put marginalized persons at risk.
Overall this book is a good beginning for conservative Christians to enter into dialogue about bioethics. Some articles have fallen into the mentality of cultural war and tend to be judgmental. Some take mediate positions such as the fetus may not be an image of God from the moment of conception, or Scripture may not forbid genetic surrogacy in which the surrogate contributes both the egg and the womb. Many areas are touched upon only superficially, such as new reproductive technologies, human genetics, health care reform, health policy, and experimentation on human subjects. I hope some in-depth treatises will be written in the future, grounded in Scripture and theology, fully informed about the medical and scientific issues, to provide clear analysis of Christian options. These will be welcome by the church and will provide Christian education material for adults. To convince the secular public to return to the Judeo-Christian-Hippocratic tradition ultimately depends on the testimony of the Christian community, as well as their evangelism, dialogue, and caring.
Reviewed by T. Timothy Chen, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892.
GOSPELS: Public Theology and Economic Theory by Robert G. Simons. Alexandria NSW,
Australia: E. Dwyer (Australia) Pty. Ltd. (distributed in the U.S.A. by Morehouse
Publishing, Ridgefield CT), 1995. 231 pages, bibliography, name, and topic index.
Every Christian should read this book. It shows how economic theories guide governments. The author says in the Preface that the subtitle might have been: "The struggle for a minority opinion." Simons mentions four reasons supporting the need for a minority opinion. First: "The radical need to move from viewing social relationships as embedded in an existing economy, to holding economic systems accountable to already existing sets of human relationships and communities." Second: "An opportunity to place the anthropologies assumed by economists from both capitalist and socialist backgrounds in critical dialogue with a more sensitive communitarian vision of the human person derived from key Christian doctrinal perspectives." Third: "The need for the voice of Christian churches on economic issues to become even more public and credible." Fourth: "To suggest strategies to the Church for alternative ways of communicating and witnessing the relevance of its wisdom in the realm of economic organization."
The writer shows his Roman Catholicism. He only treats as a Protestant economic theory the theory of the Ainvisible hand of Adam Smith. Simons thinks that Smith derived his theory from the Protestant doctrine of Original Sin. Simons does not mention Protestant economists who criticize the economic and political scene. One example is De Lange and Goudzwaard, who wrote Beyond Poverty and Affluence (University of Toronto Press, 1995).
The author knows that politicians (and others) in the First world will not receive his book well, since the First world increases its wealth by keeping the Third and Fourth worlds dependent (p. 139). Goudzwaard says it even more strongly, namely that the rich in Western society are becoming richer at the cost of the poor, including the poor in their own countries. Simons warns against the thought that Christian norms only apply to personal morality (p. 162).
Some people may disagree with certain ideas in this book, but the basic points need to be considered: mankind is destroying our planet; the rich trample the poor, often unknowingly; churches have to stand together and fight the secular, worldly economic systems. Modern society must hear that message. I recommend the book for critical reading.
Reviewed by Jan de Koning, Instructor of Mathematics, Box 168, St. Michael's College (University of Toronto), 81 St. Mary Street, Toronto, Ont., M5S 1J4, Canada.
OWES US NOTHING: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism by
Leszek Kolakowski. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. 238 pages. Hardcover.
"God owes us nothing"; this statement is by no means universally accepted even within Christianity. But what is God supposed to owe us? Life, eternal life, life in eternal happiness. Does he really? From the standpoint of the Almighty, the Creator of all, nothing is owed to anyone; everything is a matter of divine grace. From the standpoint of man the answer is not so obvious. If God owes us nothing, then our actions have no bearing on the afterlife, on eternal happiness. We cannot in any way earn the entrance to God's presence; this entrance is bestowed only by God's grace. And this is a position of Augustine. On the other hand, as Pelagius maintained, man can earn the afterlife, thus God owes it to man. A middle course is called semi-Pelagianism according to which man's action counts since man cooperated with God's grace. Thus God owes us, if only a little bit.
Although discussions concerning which position is correct are as old as Christianity, they have risen to the height they reached in seventeenth century France. Theological aspects of these discussions are brilliantly presented by Kolakowski. The author concentrates on the core discussions between Jansenism and the doctrine of the Molinists, on the problem of human freedom versus God's grace. On the theological level the question is whether man can add anything to God's grace, and the Augustinian-Jansenist answer was negative, which amounted to espousing the doctrine of predestination. The positive answer of the Molinists stresses human freedom and partnership with God, whose reward can be won by appropriate actions. There was also a practical side to the issue. Jansenists called for total commitment to a godly life. This attitude led Pascal's renunciation of scientific pursuits. The Molinists emphasized acts as the path leading to God, which led to indulgences and the like. The problem was that the Jesuits wanted to retain influence of the higher strata of the society, which was impossible to do in the Jansenist spirit: AThe Augustinian moral stringency and inflexibility were simply not for ballrooms or comedy-goers (p. 57).
The Molinists prevailed in the Catholic Church and, as Kolakowski sees it, this fact had an overall positive effect since it may well have played a liberating role in the history of modern Europe because of Molinists' emphasis on human freedom. The Jansenist's accentuation of total humanity's dependence on God could justify the oppressive and potentially totalitarian idea. Neither side was free from degeneration, thus no idea, however attractive is invulnerable to the infiltration of evil and cannot become prey to the dark side of human nature (pp. 184-5).
Reviewed by Adam Drozdek, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
OF FAITH AND REASON by Robert Sokolowski. Washington, DC: The Catholic University
of America Press, 1995. 153 pages, appendices, index. Paper; $14.95.
Monsignor Robert Sokolowski is a priest in the Diocese of Hartford and professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He has written extensively in the areas of philosophy and Catholic doctrine. This book is a reprint of a work that was originally published in 1982. The current version is unchanged from the original except for the addition of a preface in which Sokotowski attempts to clarify his approach to theology. Although the book is the result of his students' questions, it is not intended as a text; however, it could be used a supplement in a course on Christian doctrine or ethics.
The purpose of this book, according to the preface to the original edition, is to provide the needed theological foundation for believing that the Christian doctrines are real. For Sokolowski the needed theology is the view of St. Anselm, namely that the Christian God is totally transcendent to the world. Specifically God does not depend on the world in any way for his existence but would be just as good and great as he is, even if he had never created the world.
After presenting and elaborating on St. Anselm's theology, Sokolowski applies his theology to several areas: creation, the incarnation, virtue, the Scriptures, Christian experience, and the sacraments. The Christian response to creation is intense gratitude for such a gift brought about by a generosity that has no parallel in what we experience in the world (p. 19). The incarnate Christ can be separately truly man and truly God: it was not necessary that the human nature of Jesus be diminished and replaced in part by the divine (p. 35). Sokolowski agrees with Aristotle that there are good people, either through virtue or self-control; however, this natural virtue does not lead to salvation. Salvation must be the work of God: "no action of ours, no matter how virtuous or generous, can bring about our life with God (p. 73)." If human beings could initiate the life of God within them, "then that divine life would be something achievable within the powers of nature and the world, and God would not be distinguished from the world in the way Christian faith understands him to be" (p. 37). The Scriptures must be read in light of God's transcendence: "If this is not done, the salvation promised in the Scriptures is almost bound to be distorted" (p. 122). Not all religious experience is Christian: "all Christian experience must blend natural feeling, sentiment, and insight with what is believed in faith(p. 140). Furthermore, it requires careful attention to the integrity of doctrine to keep the Christian distinction intact and alive and in control of the natural religious instinct, not in the service of it (p. 138). Finally, if God were not separate from the world, there would be no sacraments: "sacrament can occur only when there is a need for actions and events in regard to the God who is not part of the world" (p. 147).
The book contains twelve chapters and three appendices. In the appendices Sokolowski cites recent formulations on Aristotlean ethics, discusses John Wippel's interpretation of St. Thomas' argument for the existence of God, and critiques of the political philosophy of Leo Strauss. Although crediting Strauss for being the only contemporary to write on religion and politics, Sokolowski faults him for failing to properly distinguish the natural and the supernatural.
The theme of the book is an important one for all Christians. However, understanding Sokolowski's applications requires a strong background in Roman Catholicism. There were several places where I had to ask my Roman Catholic husband for clarification. This is an aspect which I believe limits the book's value to the majority of the ASA membership.
Reviewed by Elizabeth M. Hairfield, Professor of Chemistry, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, VA 24401.
DISAPPEARANCE OF GOD by Richard Elliott Friedman. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and
Company, 1995. 335 pages, bibliography, index. Hardcover; $24.95.
Friedman is a professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California in San Diego. His previous book was Who Wrote the Bible? His present book is intended for a general audience. It contains useful notes, a bibliography, and an index.
My interest in this book was stimulated by hearing Friedman on a local PBS talk show. I called in and gave some general thoughts without having read the book but was stimulated to read it. I found the author's thesis interesting and well defended.
The book is in three parts, presented as three mysteries. The first mystery, the disappearance of God in the Bible, is argued brilliantly from the biblical data. The second mystery deals with Nietzsche's death of God theme, seen by Friedman as an outgrowth of the disappearance of God. The last mystery is an attempt to relate all of this and Big Bang cosmology to the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism of the Middle Ages).
Friedman, in presenting the first mystery, argues that if one looks at the Hebrew Bible, one observes the gradual disappearance of God from the world, and a shift in power from God to man. That is, in the early stages of human development, God reveals himself to everyone. Examples are the flood of Noah, the plagues in Egypt, and the Exodus event. These public displays of God become more rare with the passage of time until we end up with the last public event, the bringing down of fire (several times) and the resurrection of the dead by Elijah's prayers. After this, God's relationship with his people is by his prophets, who experience God privately, in dreams and visions. Again, Moses sees God's backside in Ex. 33:17-34:8 and the last person to Asee God is Solomon (1 Kings 9:2). Finally, in the last three books of the Hebrew Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, God is not visibly active except by his Torah. Strikingly, Friedman argues that this is what God said he would do all along and he quotes, Deut. 31:17, 32:20 and other texts (Isa. 45:15, Pss. 10:10, 44:25 etc.) in which God says he will hide his face from them.
This development is provocative from a number of view points. A reader with a critical knowledge of the Scriptures wonders how he would relate it to JEDP theory. Since it doesn't fit convincingly with this approach, this section is poorly developed. Most of us are already vaguely familiar with this idea, mainly through the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments. His conclusion is Athat the placement of God in history, inevitably meant departure (p. 89).
The second mystery is the mystery of Nietzsche's struggle with the death of God, centering at Turin. In a provocative manner, the author suggests that, for Nietzsche, this means that God was alive, and that in a mighty struggle, a struggle so severe that it drove Nietzsche to insanity. Nietzsche brought about the death of God. This death results in all that is permitted and the chaos that moderns find themselves in.
While some treatment of the New Testament is given, it is only about 10 pages, with an emphasis on the idea that God is incarnate in Jesus whom humans kill. Here the basic pitch is that Christianity provides salvation and, like Judaism's Torah, an ethic for living.
The conclusion of the first two mysteries is that we are in a profound moral void. "Nothing has come to replace the direction and security that a more widespread reliance on God once provided" (p. 255).
Friedman then goes on to argue that Big Bang Cosmology and the Kabbalah offer an answer. They do this by asserting that we are all part of creation and that we therefore resonate with natural law. This is tied in with a Kabbalistic cycle of creation and consummation. The Kabbalah speaks of creation, beginning from a point and a Ashattering of the vessels that in some ways is like broken symmetry from which we are all derived. But morality is in all of us since we are all part of the same stuff. This section was weak with respect to answers.
I found much that was stimulating and much with which I disagreed. The Christian sees Friedman's thesis as implying that we need to use all of our intelligence to solve our problems and that if we don't, God will allow us to do what we will. He has given us enough information to solve our spiritual problems. God is our Father, and after a period of human infancy and growth, we have been taught by God, and are now, in many ways on our own. Just as our earthly parents give us ever greater freedom as we mature, so God treats humanity.
Reviewed by Fred Jappe, Professor of Chemistry and New Testament, retired, Mesa College, San Diego, CA 91911.
KINDER AND GENTLER TYRANNY: Illusions of a New World Order by D. Michael Rivage-Seul
and Marguerite K. Rivage-Seul. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1995. 161 pages, index.
The end of the Cold War eliminated familiar signposts for nuclear strategists, Kremlinologists, and peace activists alike. Berea College professors D. Michael Rivage-Seul and Marguerite K. Rivage-Seul argue in A Kinder and Gentler Tyranny that peace activists and educators must now turn their attention to World War III, a one-sided conflict being waged by the First World against the Third World even as leaders in the former tout a New World Order.
The global struggle between rich and poor began five hundred years ago when Europeans began to spread not only their political dominion but their economic ideas as well. Central to the Rivage-Seuls' analysis are the evils of free-market capitalism, a system that they contend Ahas failed miserably from the perspective of two-thirds of the world's people. Furthermore, capitalism is doomed to failure because, in the absence of the kind of regulation that most advocates of free enterprise reject, it inevitably produces massive unemployment, vast income disparities, and destruction of the environment.
Much of the Rivage-Seuls' analysis of the New World Order is based on the work of liberation theologian Franz Hinkelammert and other Latin American intellectuals. Hinkelammert, whose forward endorses the Rivage-Seuls' work, taught at the Free University of Berlin until 1965 when he moved to Chile to work with the Christian Democrats and, ultimately, the government of Salvador Allende. As one might expect from someone whose efforts to implement the tenets of liberation theology were interrupted by the CIA-sponsored overthrow of Allende, Hinkelammert has nothing positive to say about multinational corporations (MNCs), capitalism, or U.S. foreign policy. Neither do the Rivage-Seuls.
The authors' critique of free-market capitalism and its central role in the New World Order is organized into a discussion of six illusions. At the outset, the Rivage-Seuls point out that it is an illusion to think that everyone is better off without the Soviet. Instead, the triumph of capitalism means the poor have lost their staunchest ally (p. 3) and find themselves at the mercy of a system that requires their poverty and threatens an environmental holocaust that has its most significant effects in the Third World.
The second illusion, that the poor are to blame for their condition, stems from misperceptions held by most people in the First World concerning the causes of overpopulation, hunger, and poverty in the Third World. Land use policies geared toward the production of goods (including food) for export, foreign investments that benefit MNCs rather than the people of the host country, low-wage jobs, economic pressures for people to crowd into urban areas, and a variety of other factors implicate an internationalized free market as the root cause of the Third World's problems. The attack on the next illusion, that the market is the solution, not the problem, flows from this analysis. It is in this context that the authors examine the devastating impact of Third World debt and environmental degradation on the world's poor.
The fourth and fifth illusions concern the belief systems that the Rivage-Seuls believe to be at the root of the world's present problems. The analysis of the last five hundred years of Western intellectual development in Chapter 4 is intended to persuade the reader that the world's social, economic, and environmental ills all flow from an erroneous effort to universalize the experience and viewpoint of one particular class. Like many postmodern analyses, this one is remarkable for both its boldness and its over-simplification.
Of particular interest to the readers of this journal is the theological discussion in Chapter 5. Here the authors argue that Judeo-Christian ethics have been inverted to justify an economic system that amounts to human sacrifice. Instead of requiring the payment of debt and delaying punishment and reward until the afterlife, God is subversive, always identifying with the downtrodden in their struggle against the ruling class. Like other liberation theologians, the Rivage-Seuls identify the Exodus as the central event in Scripture. In a real sense, they write, everything else in the Bible is commentary on that event, meant to illuminate that experience and to reinterpret it in various historical circumstances (p. 91). The problem, from this perspective, is that the Judeo-Christian system has routinely been set on its head, made to serve the interest of empire and become an enslaving rather than a liberating force (p. 112).
Many readers will no doubt be put off by the radical nature of the critique the Rivage-Seuls present in this book. It is, after all, a critique that labels free-market capitalism a form of totalitarianism, explicitly linking it with Stalin's communism and Hitler's national socialism. But the authors make no pretense about the nature and implications of their critique. In the conclusion, they argue that we must decide whether we are liberals, who think the world's needed changes can take place within existing political and socioeconomic frameworks or radicals, who, on the basis of deep historical, structural, and spiritual analyses have decided that the leaders of the world's rich nations, like the system they serve, are pathogenic (p. 135). What must be done is to subject the market to controls, forgive Third World debts, pay economic reparations to the Third World, and, in general, put human needs first. Christians can hardly argue against putting human needs above the demands of the market, but some will be reluctant to accept the implications of doing so.
Reviewed by Robert E. Williams, Associate Professor of Political Science, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA 90263.
THE SACRED CODE by
David L. Teuling. Privately printed, 1993. 106 pages. Paperback.
This book is intended to strengthen faith by showing that 'Someone" is seeking to communicate with us (Preface). To this end, the author presents data from the solar system, ancient structures, and numerology. One must be exceedingly naive to find trust in the Almighty bolstered by these evidences. For example, he argues that a square drawn around the earth has a perimeter of 31,680 miles. If one draws a circle with a diameter equal to the sum of the diameters of the earth and moon, it has a circumference of 31,680 miles. This is a special number because the number of feet in a mile multiplied by six also equals 31,680 (pp. 1-10). The obvious first question is why any of these numbers has any relevance. The second considers the derivation of these numbers. Teuling rounds off the 1964 IUGG value from 7919.77, and the moon's mean diameter from 2160.3, and uses 22/7 for pi. A later, better value for the earth's mean semi-diameter is 6371.315 + 0.437 Km (CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 76th ed., 1995), giving about 7917.88 miles for the diameter. If this is God's message, either he is ignorant of the value of pi or unable to make things correctly. How does this produce faith in him?
On pages 35-51, Teuling dabbles in gematria based on the numerology of the Jewish cabalists, but applied to Greek. They do it so much better that anyone interested in the esoteric will do well to follow them instead. Of course, their interpretations are thoroughly Jewish, a problem for even the quasi-Christian. In his exposition, he ignores the fundamental underlying principle of the Cabala, that the overt language must be abandoned as irrelevant or worthless and the true mystical message derived from the cryptic numbers. In this connection, he derives the number of Lord Jesus Christ (3168) from the Astronomical Unit, 93 million miles, reduced to inches and divided by the speed of light in miles per second, dropping zeros. Accurate values, known to eight or more places, give 3161694. Is the deity incompetent, or the author in error? The very text of the New Testament appears to undermine gematria. One of the most ancient texts, the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, spells out the numerals in John 21:6. (See The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible , 116.) The sole support for numerology is the number of the beast (Rev. 13:18), in a book whose apocalyptic symbolism has produced many incompatible interpretations.
Why is the English mile the standard? The only justification I find is that the foot is based on human proportions (p. 9). But which foot? The Spanish, about 11 inches? The ancient Roman, about 11 2/3 inches? The ancient Greek, about 12.14 inches? The French, about 12.8 inches? One of the others that has been standard someplace? Why not the Roman mile of about 4860 English feet? It alone has biblical authority (Matt. 5:41). Why the English furlong of 660 feet (p. 13) rather than the biblical stadion of about 606 feet? The answer seems to be that Teuling feels free to make anything fit. For example, he makes the 29.53059 day lunar orbit 28 days (p. 19) to match his combination of four seven-pointed stars in a circular pattern for the New Jerusalem. That he thereby contradicts the inspired declaration that the city is square (Rev. 21:16) does not disturb his faith-inspiring demonstration. Can he think that he has the divine blueprint and John got it wrong?
Among other errors are the confusion of the medieval frame for holy figures, vesica pisces (fish bladder), with the much earlier Christian fish symbol (p. 23). In addition, he consistently makes the fish bladder into a pitch (pices) bladder or blister (see also p. 55). He apparently confuses the five- and six-atom rings of the purines, pyrimidines, and sugars of DNA and RNA with the structure of geodesic domes or buckminsterfullerenes (p. 31). Any similarity apparently means identity to him. In explaining Aencrypting he ties the term to grave, a derived meaning, rather than to secret or hidden (p. 35). Presumably he does not believe in consulting dictionaries, but spins meanings as freely as truths. But even such egregious errors can hardly detract further from the misguided content of the work.
The book has a single value: demonstrating the degree to which one may deviate from rationality by not accepting the plain message of the Bible. The bibliography is replete with works from the occult and metaphysics bookstore shelves. All this is unfortunate, for the fellow writes well and describes himself as an evangelist.
Reviewed by David F. Siemens, Jr., 2703 E. Kenwood St., Mesa, AZ 85213-2384.
GOD: A Biography by
Jack Miles. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1995. 446 pages, index. Hardcover.
The author is a former Jesuit and currently noted journalist with a penchant for events in the Middle East, past and present. Although his book has received some acclaim, it has come more through the novelty of his perspective than through substantive content. Rather than drawing on more traditional historical and theological sources and interpretations, Miles relies almost exclusively on the forms and methods of literary criticism. For him, God becomes the protagonist in a cosmic play. He explains in the Prelude that the God of Scripture should be treated much the same as a Shakespearean character. Just as Shakespeare's characters take on a reality of personality development beyond mere words on paper or actors in dialogue when the play is actually performed, so God experiences progressive character development through interaction with his imaged creation as portrayed in Scripture. (Shakespeare is much better at this.)
Miles's God is a comedy of errors on a quest of self-discovery, having no life other than the one he lives through mankind. Though almost omnipotent, he is strangely, severely myopic, being continually surprised and frustrated with the direction his prized creation takes:
"After each of his [God's] major actions, he discovers that he has not done quite what he thought he was doing, or has done something he never intended to do. He did not realize when he told mankind to be fruitful and increase that he was creating an image of himself that was also a rival creator. He did not realize when he gave them the law that where there is law, there can be transgression and that, therefore, he himself had turned an implicitly unbreakable covenant into an explicitly breakable one. He did not realize when he began to withdraw from his alliance with Israel, after Israel's first, minor infidelities, that the aftermath would be the rise of a king, David, whose charisma would draw the Lord almost despite himself into a quasi-parental relationship with his semiabandoned ally" (p. 250).
For the author, it is not appropriate to try and explain God's character through metaphor, allegory, or anthropomorphisms. Anger, jealousy, regret, fear, and, much later in his turbulent relationship with mankind, love are all accurate explanations for the divine attitudes. Following the tripartite division of the Hebrew Scriptures (to which he limits his biography), the Tanakh, (Law, Prophecy, Writings), he portrays God progressively from turbulent teen, to mature adult (at last learning to love), to retiring grandfather. After the age of Prophecy, God becomes strangely quiet, less talking than talked about. In fact, things became so confused for God, that Miles would have us understand that the cosmic comedy was very nearly a tragedy. Job, the first of the Writings, whose strength of character and righteous defense out-God's God so clearly that God very nearly gave up on himself: Knowing himself to be what Job teaches him that he is, the Lord should find it impossible to go on; and this is almost what happens (p. 405). What happens in the remaining books of the Writings is nothing less than the saving of God from himself, from oblivion; however, he no longer takes as active a part in the play, being retired to the grandfatherly status of a motivating force, where he evidently remains forever.
Jack Miles is knowledgeable about literary criticism and Old Testament theology, and he writes well, weaving his literary analysis skillfully within the fabric of the Hebrew Scriptures. He does, however, distort both literary criticism and theology by attempting to keep them far more separated than a fair scholarly analysis would allow, and in so doing, misses the main point of Scripture. The Tanakh is not cosmic theater. Jack is nimble, Jack is quick, but Jack has mistaken a candlestick for Light. Candlesticks are much easier to jump over.
Reviewed by Wes Harrison, Professor of History/Political Science, Alderson-Broaddus College, Philippi, WV 26416.