Book Reviews for March 1990
BLUEPRINT by Paul Davies. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. 224 pages,
references, index. Hardcover; $17.95.
PSCF 42 (March 1990): 53. THE COSMIC BLUEPRINT by Paul Davies. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. 224 pages, references, index. Hardcover; $17.95.
PSCF 42 (March 1990): 53.
Paul Davies is Professor of theoretical physics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, with a doctorate from the University of London. He is a prolific writer with more than a dozen books in technical and non-technical aspects of physics. Recent popular publications include Superforce, God and the New Physics, and The Edge of Infinity.
Science has been dominated for centuries by the mechanistic paradigm of Newton which, coupled with thermodynamics, leads to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This has been interpreted to mean that the universe is winding down and will ultimately end in a heat death, an idea that Davies finds distressing. As an alternative he proposes a new paradigm, that the universe is progressively self-organizing, that there must be new general principles organizing principles over and above the known laws of physics which have yet to be discovered. These new principles cannot be deduced by reductionist methodology but refer to the collective properties of complex systems. Most of modern science and technology has been based on models derived from simple systems; linear systems that are at or near equilibrium. Living systems cannot be modelled in this traditional way for at least four reasons: (1) they are complex and complexity appears abruptly, not by slow continuous evolution; (2) they have a large number of degrees of freedom; (3) they are open systems; and (4) they are non-linear. In fourteen chapters, Davies introduces many concepts in his development of this central theme, that a general property of complex systems (living organisms) is that new qualities emerge that are not only absent, but simply meaningless at a lower conceptual level. Concepts that might be unfamiliar to the reader like dissipative systems, fractals, chaos, Feigenbaum's numbers, self-organization, and the inflationary universe are presented in an interesting and comprehensible manner.
Davies is an excellent teacher, but he has strong opinions which show up in his writing. For example, he is highly critical of most modern biologists who are mechanistic and reductionist. On the evolution of the eye, which Darwinists assume occurred by a systematic accumulation of myriads of mutations, Davies comments: "After all, half an eye would be of dubious selective advantage; it would, in fact, be utterly useless." If you are familiar with The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, you might find this book to be a rebuttal of his entire thesis. For example, Davies quotes Francis Crick for a picturesque description of DNA: "DNA molecules are the `dumb blondes' of molecular biology, well suited to reproduction, but not much use for anything else." Davies is convinced that complexity in living organisms has resulted from non-random abrupt transitions that occur when systems are forced away from equilibrium at critical points. In fact, this history of the universe could be summarized as a succession of symmetry breaks as the temperature decreased following the Big Bang.
I found Davies' writing to be filled with quotable statements:
"It should be stated at the outset that the origin of life remains a deep mystery." "A review of current thinking on the origin of life problem reveals a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs." "The very fact that the universe is creative, in other words has organized its own self-awareness, is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all."
Davies uses very interesting sub-headings for many of the topics discussed, for example: "What happened to time?", "A gambler's Charter," "Magic numbers," "The nearest thing to nothing known to man," "Matter with a will of its own," "Quantum weirdness and common sense,"and "Patterns that think."
I enthusiastically recommend this book to ASA members. While there are a significant number of points where I do not agree with Davies, the book is still challenging and well worth the time spent in reading it. For example, some of his philosophical interpretations of quantum theory do not square with my understanding from quantum chemistry. In a sense, the book is frustrating, since while Davies is overwhelmed by the impression of design in the universe, he is searching for an explanation that will eliminate the metaphysical. Yet Davies is aware that there is something going on behind it all. Readers of Perspectives well know the meaning referred to in the statement with which Davies concludes his book: "Science may explain all processes whereby the universe evolves its own destiny, but that still leaves room for there to be a meaning behind existence.
Reviewed by Bernard J. Piersma, Professor of Chemistry, Houghton College, Houghton, NY 14744.
CREATION AND SCIENTIFIC
EXPLANATION by W.P. Carvin (volume 10 in "Theology & Science at the
Frontiers of Knowledge" series). Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Academic Press, 1988.
(Distr. by Gower Pub. Co., Brookfield, VT.) 106 pages. Hardcover; $16.95.
PSCF 42 (March 1990): 53. CREATION AND SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION by W.P. Carvin (volume 10 in "Theology & Science at the Frontiers of Knowledge" series). Edinburgh, Scotland: Scottish Academic Press, 1988. (Distr. by Gower Pub. Co., Brookfield, VT.) 106 pages. Hardcover; $16.95.
PSCF 42 (March 1990): 53.
This book is about scientific cosmologies and their relationship to the biblical doctrine of creation. Cosmologies are attempts to build the widest and most comprehensive system of explanation for the universe which we observe all around us. Throughout recorded history the prevailing cosmologies have changed drastically; they are limited by observation, and are therefore likely to need modification as new modes of observation become possible. Despite these changes, Walter P. Carvin seeks to show that in each historical era, the current scientific cosmology appropriately serves as a jumping-off point for theological reflection on the nature of God, specifically God as creator of the universe. In the context of cosmologies, science and religion have some similar concerns (in fact, Carvin argues that this is one of the closest contacts between science and faith), since they both ask the questions: why are things as they are? and; what are their origins? While scientific and religious answers to these questions reflect alternate systems of explanation, occasionally they may inform one another. For example, cosmologies might well be partially shaped by religious faith, such as confidence in the biblical revelation of orderliness in the created world.
Three-quarters of this book is given over to a very thorough analysis of Aquinas's theology of creation seen against the background of Aristotelian cosmology, and the thought of Leibniz against the background of Descarte's modified Cartesian cosmology. From these examples Carvin argues that when Christians today speak about creation and the created world they should specifically address the universe as currently understood; i.e., according to Einstein, and even now under some revision by Hawking et al. Christians should have a deep concern here because of the so-called cosmological and teleological arguments for the very existence of God. These arguments are posed by particular answers to the following respective questions: Why is there something here rather than nothing? And, why is there this something and not something else? That God the Creator is somehow part of the answer to each of these questions is a very powerful and significant Christian apologetic argument, although it does not of course constitute a logical proof for His existence.
Carvin is a Baptist minister and part-time college professor, teaching Religion and Philosophy. He received undergraduate training, and has an ongoing interest, in math and physics. He is anxious to pursue and develop a dialogue between science and theology, and in this book he has done an excellent job of bringing together scientific cosmologies and theologies of creation. While biblical faith in "God the Creator, Maker of heaven and earth, can never be tied to a particular cosmology, there is great benefit in thinking through the expanded general revelation of God available to us in scientific cosmology.
Reviewed by Ian Johnston, Associate Professor of Biology, Bethel College, St. Paul, MN 55112.
AND THE NATURE OF SCIENCE: A Philosophical Investigation by J.P. Moreland.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989. 263 pages, bibliography. Paperback.
PSCF 42 (March 1990): 54.
As a Christian working in science, have you ever thought about the dichotomy that has developed in the 20th century between our religious beliefs and the accepted practice of science? This is perhaps best illustrated in the well-publicized ruling of Judge William Overton in the Little Rock case in which he stated, among other things, that science must be guided by natural law and explained by reference only to natural law. I have been troubled for some time that naturalism and reductionism appear to have entered into science in an arbitrary way and now are the only acceptable ways to characterize science.
J.P. Moreland has been troubled enough to say something about it. As professor of philosophy at Liberty University with a B.S. in chemistry, graduate degrees in theology and philosophy, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from USC, he is well qualified to speak to us on this issue. Moreland does have in mind to demonstrate that creation science can, in fact, be science, but his book is much more than that. He has developed this attempt at integrating science and Christian faith by expanding a chapter from his previous book, Scaling the Secular City. Moreland attempts to defend three theses in this book: (1) that science cannot be defined in such a way that makes it distinct from other non-science fields of study; (2) that because of limits to science, scientism (science is the only rational way to obtain truth) is false and science is not dominant over other disciplines like theology and philosophy; and (3) that to assume a realist view of science (i.e., that scientific theories are true or approximately true models of the world) is not the best approach for integration of science and theology, and that an eclectic model of science is to be preferred.
This philosophical investigation is developed in five chapters. Chapter 1 is a discussion of attempts to define science, including a detailed critique of Judge Overton's definition, and concludes that questions of definition are really in the realm of philosophy, not science. This chapter also shows that theological concerns are important to science at several levels. Chapter 2 demonstrates that science uses a group of methodologies capable only of broad characterization, rather than the scientific method, which is fiction. Moreland maintains that science has no exclusive rights to knowledge by virtue of a special methodology which is not available to other disciplines. While I found reading this chapter a bit tedious, I found it very helpful and well done.
Chapter 3 discusses "The Limits of Science," and is the best presentation of this subject that I have read. Chapters 4 and 5 explore "Scientific Realism" with various objections raised by this view of science, followed by "Alternatives to Scientific Realism." I found much to think about in these chapters and some ideas that are difficult to accept. Perhaps most troubling for me is Moreland's proposal of an "eclectic approach to science that adopts a realist/antirealist view on a case-by-case basis." He suggests that "for example, when science and a theological statement or biblical interpretations came into conflict, part of the solution may lie in adopting an antirealist view of the scientific statement" (p. 205). Two criteria are suggested to determine when an antirealist view of a scientific theory should be adopted. Moreland maintains that when conflicts arise between science and theology (or any other discipline) it may not necessarily be adjustments that are required in the field other than science. Perhaps the science needs to be modified or viewed in antirealist terms.
Chapter 6, "The Scientific Status of Creationism," applies what has been developed in the preceding sections to the creation-evolution conflict. It is important to note that this discussion does not focus on evolution of the scientific evidence. Moreland states that the creation-evolution debate should be seen "not only as a difference regarding scientific facts, though it includes that, but also as a conflict over epistemic values" (p. 245). He views the debate from the 19th century up to the present as a "largely philosophical debate about how to view science, theology, man, morality, and the cosmos."
In spite of some minor distractions, like seemingly forced use of the feminine personal pronoun, I am enthusiastic about this book. I think it presents some important ideas that we, as Christians working in science, need to explore and discuss. The book should be very suitable for use as a text in a science course for non-science students, and I intend to use it for such a course. I strongly encourage you to read this book, even though you'll probably not agree with everything that Moreland says. What he has to say is well worth the hearing.
Reviewed by Bernard J. Piersma, Professor of Chemistry, Houghton College, Houghton, NY 14744.
TREAT OR NOT TO TREAT: Bioethics and the Handicapped Newborn by Richard C. Sparks,
C.S.P. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1988. 337 pages, index. Paperback; $9.95.
PSCF 42 (March 1990): 57.
Sparks, a Paulist priest and currently Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at the College of St. Thomas and St. Paul School of Divinity in St. Paul, Minnesota, has written an admirably thorough and complete analysis of the ethical considerations relevant to problems concerning the treatment of the handicapped newborn.
Recognizing that there is a broad spectrum from the anencephalic baby on the one extreme whom almost everyone would agree should be exempted from further life-sustaining efforts to a Down's Syndrome baby with digestive blockage whom almost everyone would agree should be treated on the other, the author poses the difficult questions that have to be faced in treating the wide range of cases inbetween. He also recognizes that there are several fundamental questions regarding the medical treatment of non-competent patients, such as: (1) Who decides? (2) On what basis is the decision made? (3) What is the next step if therapeutic efforts are abandoned? and (4) What should be public policy? The author focuses in this book almost completely on the second of these questions, by asking the fundamental question: "On what basis is it moral to forego or cease further treatment for a handicapped newborn?"
The book focusses on four major approaches to the answers to this question in four major chapters of about equal length: (1) "A Medical Indications Policy," (2) "A Means-Related Approach to Ordinary/Extraordinary Means," (3) "Projected Quality of the Patient's Life," and (4) "Socially-Weighted Benefit/Burden Calculus." In each chapter, the author brings together the writings of a number of pertinent scholars, offers case applications to illustrate the principles, and offers a critique of the major strengths and weaknesses of that position. In a concluding chapter, the author offers his own position, developed in the interaction with the positions previously discussed. The book presents an extremely complete review and synthesis of the literature on the subject, with notes and references at the end of each chapter, the total length of these notes being about 20% of the whole book.
Given the completeness of the treatment, it is virtually impossible to offer an adequate summary of the major points. If one were to attempt a brief characterization, it would go something like this.
The advocate of a "Medical Indications Policy" argues that "access to society's health care facilities and resources ought to be based solely on biological need" (p. 21). Perhaps the leading advocate is Paul Ramsey, whose perspective the author attributes to his "Barthian-influenced, Protestant-based theology" (p. 54). Ramsey argues that "the anthropology adopted by Thomas Aquinas and accepted in large measure by the Roman Catholic tradition espouses a more dynamic, multi-faceted concept of the human person and of his/her well-being" (p. 55).
Advocates of "A Means-Related Approach to Ordinary/Extraordinary Means" follow a developing construct of Roman Catholic medical ethics.
"The ordinary/extraordinary means standard in its contemporary expression is an attempt to ride a middle course between a medical indications policy, which it sees as restricting the patient's right to refuse excessively burdensome means, and a "slippery slope" quality of life ethic, which it sees as jeopardizing an individual's right to life by judging persons as "extraordinary" and expendable as opposed to judging means in relation to given patient-persons." (p. 100)
Advocates of a "Projected Quality of the Patient's Life," raise the fundamental question, "When, if ever, is the quality of one's life so inordinately wretched for the patient, regardless of potential medical benefit and regardless of whether the means cause or merely perpetuate such burden, that death or at least a shorter life span is to be welcomed, not forestalled?" (p. 156).
Most advocates of a "Socially-Weighted Benefit/Burden Calculus" exhibit a "willingness to over-ride a given newborn patient's individual interests in the name of a socially-weighted benefit/burden calculus" (p. 268). While recognizing the legitimacy of some of the concerns, the author expresses the conviction that such advocates "give too little significance to the inherent or intrinsic value of human beingness, opting to hinge personal rights and corresponding moral responsibilities too heavily on one's functional potential or social utility" (p. 258).
Walking carefully on the tightrope that spans these options, the author argues cogently for a position that centers at about the median of the third position described above. He defends "a nontreatment approach hovering between that espoused by the `more restrictive' and the `broader' interpreters of the projected quality of the patient's life standard" (p. 278).
Readers of this book may be overwhelmed by the constant references to large numbers of writers and experts in the field. But they will come away with a new appreciation for the nuances of the opinion, the wide range of proposed options, and a sense of the complexity of applying any simple position consistently in the real and complex world. The author has performed a genuine service, and the book deserves to be widely read and discussed.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Professor of Materials Science & Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.