Book Reviews for March 1993.
POLITICS OF EVOLUTION: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London by Adrian
Desmond. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1989, 503 pages.
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 60.
Recent writing on the history of science has undergone something of a sociological revolution. Rather than treating scientific knowledge as the objective distillation of a disinterested pursuit of truth, historians of science have increasingly come to regard science as itself a cultural product whose practitioners employ rhetorical devices of persuasion that embody social interests and political power. In such scenarios, claims to scientific knowledge about the world are to be understood less as descriptions about natural phenomena than as expressions of ongoing social debates about such issues as where intellectual authority should reside in our society, who controls the knowledge industries and how the maintenance of the social order should be secured. Of course, social histories of science come in a variety of interpretative styles, from those that take cultural networks as just the diffusion channels along which ideas migrate, to those arguing in determinist fashion that social circumstances condition the cognitive content of scientific knowledge itself.
Given this trend, it is hardly surprising that there have been growing calls for historians to place evolutionary theory in the social settings of its time. This is the project that Adrian Desmond takes up in The Politics of Evolution. The story he has to tell focuses on the internecine feuds over anatomy and evolution among the medical fraternities in London during the 1830s. It is a rich and complex narrative. Yet the heart of the argument is readily recounted: the transformist, law-bound, deterministic science that was imported into Britain from Paris in the 1830s spread like wildfire among certain young doctors. Marginalized within the medical establishment and outcasts from the gentlemanly science of the day, they mobilized it in the cause of radical assaults on professional injustice, political expediency, and a hierarchical social order bolstered by priestcraft, providence, and Paleyan natural theology.
Desmond specifically focuses on what he refers to as the scientific "low-life," namely those radicals hitherto ignored by students of the intellectual elite. In this underworld of medicine, serviced by secular anatomy schools and radical nonconformist colleges, Lamarckian evolution easily gained a foothold. It became a means of challenging the Anglican Tory stronghold of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. The migration tracts of this revolutionary scientific and social philosophy from Paris to Edinburgh and on to London, which Desmond uncovers with great skill, together with his mapping of the social topography of the anatomical factions in Edinburgh and London, thus expose a political geography of science for too long hidden beneath the abstractions of a disengaged history of scientific ideas. The consequence is a remarkably fine-grained account of the early history of evolution theory in Britain, so detailed as to all but overwhelm the reader from time to time. It is, if I may use Clifford Geertz's terms, "thick description" of the highest order: philosophical anatomy, strategies of management reform, the vicissitudes of career ambitions and personal loyalties, the casting of compromise measures, power strugglesCall these are interwoven to produce a remarkably variegated map of a hitherto ignored stretch of early Victorian science. Not, of course, that this is a piece of static cartography. A sense of historical dynamic pervades the volume: the decline of the radical Robert Grant, Peter Mark Roget's extracting the teeth of Grant's radicalism by divinizing organic unity, Richard Owen's taming French science by recasting it in Coleridgian idealist terms; all these reveal the biography-bound character of scientific practice.
Desmond's study, of course, has implications for the understanding of Darwin's hesitancy to publish his own theory of evolution by natural selection. Aware of the way in which evolutionary doctrines had fallen into the hands of extremists casts considerable light on Darwin's efforts to modulate his own materialism. As Desmond puts it:
"Darwin would not have wanted his evolutionary views associated with this fierce radicalism: indeed his mature Malthusian theory supported a far less destructive social program ..."Anetting" man and ape together in a materialist evolutionary sweep Darwin invited being identified with Dissenting or atheistic lowlife, with activists campaigning against the Afornicating" Church, with teachers in court for their politics, with men who despised the "political archbishops" and their corporation "toads." Ultimately Darwin was frightened for his respectability" (pp. 403, 413).
Certainly this is a persuasive sociological account of Darwin's publishing strategy; whether it can at the same time provide a sociological basis for the genesis of his theory remains to be seen.
The Politics of Evolution is an impressive piece of historical probing, most persuasive in the details of the case. On page after page Desmond sketches fine-grained social topographies, exposes the juiciest of quotes to the light of day, and consistently writes in a spicy style. Yet when he surfaces to make grander philosophical claims he seems less sure, and soon recedes into what he is best at history. Thus the concluding remarks which begin with methodological prescriptions and general observations soon moves off into further detail on Grant's decline. That Desmond himself is committed to a relativist philosophy of science uninterested in eternal verities is clear. But whether this is an inevitable and necessary consequence of either writing sociological history or of suspending judgement on the truth or falsity of particular theories is, I think, a logically separate matter. That evolution theory has been - in the profoundest of ways, socially and politically impregnated, Desmond has clearly shown us; to sustain the claim that scientific knowledge is nothing but the epiphenomenon of social factors will require much further philosophical interrogation. The Politics of Evolution is an impressive piece of historical probing, most persuasive in the details of the case. On page after page Desmond sketches fine-grained social topographies, exposes the juiciest of quotes to the light of day, and consistently writes in a spicy style. Yet when he surfaces to make grander philosophical claims he seems less sure, and soon recedes into what he is best at history. Thus the concluding remarks which begin with methodological prescriptions and general observations soon moves off into further detail on Grant's decline. That Desmond himself is committed to a relativist philosophy of science uninterested in eternal verities is clear. But whether this is an inevitable and necessary consequence of either writing sociological history or of suspending judgement on the truth or falsity of particular theories is, I think, a logically separate matter. That evolution theory has been - in the profoundest of ways, socially and politically impregnated, Desmond has clearly shown us; to sustain the claim that scientific knowledge is nothing but the epiphenomenon of social factors will require much further philosophical interrogation.
That said, as a social constructivist study of the social topographies and scientific knowledge of the medical communities in early Victorian London, this book is simply splendid, an altogether worthy sharer of the History of Science Society's Pfizer Award for 1991.
David Livingston, School of Geoscience, The Queens' University of Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
RETHINKING GOODNESS by Michael A.
Wallach and Lise Wallach, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990. 149
pages, index. Paperback, $14.95. Cloth; $44.50.
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 61.
"There is a crisis in our ethics," begins this short, dense, and insightful discussion by two Duke University psychologists. Two opposing schools dominate our ethics. Both are wrong. First, what the authors term "ethical minimalism" holds that we shouldn't interfere with each other. Beyond that, morality amounts to whatever the minimalist feels is right. Ethical minimalism, they contend, is too small.
To illustrate this, the authors interviewed students at Duke. The responses are both fascinating and alarming. One young lady admits, "I'm not even going to waste my time any more with anyone or anything that doesn't have a certain value to me" (p. 18). Her "value"? Attending law school and becoming rich: "You could just kill me after I become a lawyer and I'd die happy" (p. 19).
The other ethical school is a "reactive authoritarianism," which could be embodied in Allan Bloom, Ronald Reagan, or Billy Graham. Western ethics went wrong when it discredited man's innate wisdom and judgment. What we most desired, eudaimonia, became seen as totally depraved. "Good" became whatever God, or the law, said. If the authors stopped at debunking these two schools, they would have an interesting long essay. But their vision extends to offering a third approach to ethics: autonomy, not some untenable relativism or feelings-oriented minimalismCbut an autonomy based on the hard work of finding the common good. They contend that the humanists forgot "the point that ethical conduct does not just spontaneously happen but requires thought and discipline" (p. 71).
Both minimalists and authoritarians agree that if there is any absolute morality, it must come from some external source: an authority, God, or laws. Authoritarians accept the external source; minimalists call any external source a fiction and conclude no absolute morality exists (beyond the ethic of non-intervention). The authors disagree with the premise of an external source of morality. They cite four classical sages in support: Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, and Buddha. All four agree that our innermost desires are congruent with what is wise and moral. But discovering our morality desires requires hard work, practicing philosophy, living virtuous lives, and meditating were among the disciplines required. Virtue, the sages warn, is easy to forget.
Using studies from a variety of fields, Wallach and Wallach argue convincingly that humans have at least some innate goodness. For instance, young, "unsocialized" children comfort other crying children for no apparent reason but sympathy. But they disagree with humanist psychology which says ethics amounts to searching out your own feelings, then becoming self-actualized. We have conflicting feelings. What basis do we have for following one set over another? What if murder honestly self-actualizes some people?
Their response, instead, lies closer to the Biblical concept of servanthood. "May the point of ethics be found in our desires for the common good, for ways we all really want the world to be...?" (p. 112). The discipline of finding the common good is similar to the that of the scientist finding truth. Geocentrism seemed reasonable until Copernicus and others proved it to be unreasonable. In a similar way, they appeal to scholars and citizens to evaluate our ethics and weed out theories advance ethics too, not just science.
This is not a "quick read." But the authors kindly avoid bogging down their prose with jargon. Their language is conversational, even clever. For example, in debunking evolution's "survival of the fittest" concept, they write, "Familiarity breeds not contempt but adoption" (p. 76). Though they spend much more energy on attacking the problem than on describing the solution, they offer challenging arguments from an atheistic or agnostic perspective. The authors seriously consider "religion," but not God. However, their "third way" could be useful to Christians. After all, how did we choose to follow Christ but from observation, introspection, and discipline? In the world of secular ethics, theirs appears to be the least agenda-ridden, and the most honest.
Reviewed by James G. Bishop, English Department, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO 80840.
THE WAY THE WORLD IS by John
Polkinghorne. London: Triangle, 1992. 130 pages, appendix, glossary and index.
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 61.
Readers of this publication will be familiar with John Polkinghorne. He was the former Professor of Mathematical Physics in the University of Cambridge until 1979, who resigned to pursue ordination to the Anglican ministry (ordained in 1982). This is the first of five books (it was first published in 1983) relating to Christian faith and science which he has written since then. The other four are: One World (1986), Science and Creation (1988), Science and Providence (1989), Reason and Reality (1991). Dr. Polkinghorne currently serves as President of Queen's College, Cambridge.
This book was written soon after Polkinghorne began his parish ministry. According to his preface, he wrote with his "physics friends particularly in mind, as I wanted to explain to them the basis of my religious belief" (p. VIII). To that end, the glossary includes many biblical and theological terms, as well as scientific terms. Polkinghorne comes across as an honest and independent thinker who weighs evidence for himself and draws his conclusions. His approach is both reasonable and cautious. Whenever possible he draws parallels between biblical/theological scholarship and science. He notes, for example, that "...New Testament scholarship is closely akin to observational science (as opposed to experimental science). We cannot return to first century Palestine to interrogate the authors or chief actors any more than an astronomer can take flight to investigate a quasar at first hand. In both disciplines, an understanding has to be reached on the available evidence interpreted in ways that are sensible and consistent" (p. 36). This defines the approach he uses.
Those who are interested in considered discussions of science and faith, however, will find this to be the least helpful of Polkinghorne's books. It is more concerned with a reasoned defense of the Gospel and an evaluation of the biblical evidence. In this area there are better books. For example, Polkinghorne rejects the "liar, lunatic or God" argument about Christ on the grounds that "the difficulty lies in establishing the premise that Jesus ever said he was God" (p. 48). For a much more positive discussion of Jesus' claims see Christopher Kaiser, The Doctrine of God, (pp. 29-41).
Evangelical readers will also find Polkinghorne's equivocations about the reliability of some new testament writings (Chapter 5) to be disappointing, as well as his accepting a 2nd century B.C. date for the book of Daniel. Furthermore, his discussion of the New Testament emphasis upon Athe strangely spirit-filled world" (p. 50) is entirely inadequate. He might have done better not to bring up the subject in a book of this type.
This book's credibility derives mostly from the scientific qualifications and visible Christian commitment of its author. It is a good source for following a scientist's quest for a credible Christian faith. For more interesting science and faith discussions, consult John Polkinghorne's other books mentioned above.
Reviewed by Daniel E. Wray, Pastor of Kinderhook Reformed Church Kinderhook, NY 12106.
THOMAS AQUINAS: An
Evangelical Appraisal by Norman Geisler (Baker, Grand Rapids, 1991), 195 pp,
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 62.
Professor Norman Geisler, a student of Aquinas for 35 years, believes the evangelical community is long overdue for a re-appraisal of the medieval Roman thinker, Thomas Aquinas. Noting from the outset (pp. 12-20) that most of the leading 20th century evangelical apologists have been critical of Aquinas, Geisler believes that he has been misappropriated, and is deserving of a second hearing. Except for C.S. Lewis, most of the evangelical stalwarts in apologetics, Van Til, Carnell, C. F. H. Henry, R. Nash, G. Clark, and F. Schaeffer reserved stringent critiques for Aquinas. Geisler believes all of the above have mis-read Aquinas. While he makes that accusation clear from the beginning, and fills this short treatise with numerous references to Aquinas' works, he never accounts for how this vast tradition of apologetic could have so consistently and thoroughly misread the Angelic Doctor.
Nonetheless, the evangelical public is given a fine survey of Aquinas' life (chap. 2), and an introductory overview of his thought (chap. 3), which serves as an outline for successive chapters. In subsequent chapters, Geisler reports Aquinas' views on scripture, faith and reason, ontology, metaphysics, the traditional proofs for the existence of God, the nature of God, religious language, the problem of evil, and law and morality. In these chapters, Geisler provides a service to evangelicals, who can now have a concise summary of the font of Thomism. The book also contains a Select Bibliography, two helpful Indexes, and Appendixes on Aquinas' writings and a chronology of his life.
Geisler sees his role as apologist for the apologist. He warns evangelicals not to throw out the baby with the bath-water, urging us not to reject Aquinas simply because of his Catholicism. Geisler surmises, "In our Reformation zeal we have thrown out the Thomistic baby with the Romanistic bath water. My plea is this: the baby is alive and well. Let us take it to our evangelical bosom, bathe it in a biblically based theology, and nourish it to its full strength. As a mature evangelical, Aquinas is a more articulate defender of the faith than anyone in our midst" (p. 23). Geisler intends to issue a positive assessment of Thomistic thought and does note that another admirable apologetic tradition within evangelicalism (exemplarized by the likes of J. Gerstner, S. Hackett, A. Vos, and R. C. Sproul) does not sever its connection to Aquinas. He regrets that "often stereotypical distortions [are] mediated through the teaching magisterium of our evangelical scholars" (p. 15). He further proposes that a proper understanding of Thomistic apologetic"can provide a needed mediation between opposing camps of evangelical apologetic" (p. 20).
Throughout Geisler is prone to overstate, e.g., when he claims that "in whatever sense we engage in Christian thinking, we are in the broad sense of the term indebted to Aquinas" (p. 15), or "Aquinas would heartily agree with virtually everything Van Til says" (p. 18), or AProtestant theology, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, is dependent on Aquinas's view that God is all-powerful and omniscient ... In fact, if the basic metaphysical attributes of God, as articulated by Aquinas, are not preserved, then all of orthodox Catholic and Protestant theology collapses. Herein is another powerful reason for not neglecting the major contribution of Aquinas to the contemporary discussion about God" (p. 117), and even on modern philosophy, "According to Wittgenstein, the distinctions among univocal, equivocal, and analogical expression are obsolete." (p. 147). If Thomism is to regain favor it will have a better chance to do so absent such tendencies to overstatement.
While this volume is a handy introduction to Thomism, it could have benefitted from more biblical evaluation of Aquinas' thought. Most readers of apologetics could stand to see even Aquinas subjected to biblical scrutiny. Also this is lacking in specific explication of the relationship of reason and science, although it does discuss matters of general apologetic interest to some scientists. Moreover, the volume could have been strengthened by reference to some of the other, excellent, modern studies of Aquinas, from a protestant view. One has only to think of Luther on Thomas Aquinas: The Angelic Doctor in the Thought of the Reformer by Dennis R. Janz (Stuttgard: Franz Steiner Wiesbaden, 1989), for example where it is noted that Luther, although admitting the hegemony of Thomastic thought in the Curia of the 1520s, only included one citation to aquinas in his whole written corpus. Perhaps, others may be forgiven their lack of appreciation of Aquinas, or their lethargy in re-appraising one who has already been found wanting, apologetically speaking.
Geisler's point about benefitting from the past without throwing out the good is definitely worth hearing:
"But can a seven-hundred-year-old thinker still be relevant today?" Students of logic will recognize the implication of the question as the fallacy of "chronological snobbery." "New is true" and "old is mold," we are told. Logic informs us, however, that time has no necessary connection with truth. Or at least, if there were any kind of connection, then the time-honored thought ought to have the edge." (p. 11).
Geisler confesses"that one of the highest compliment[s] that could be paid to me as a Christian philosopher, apologist, and theologian is to call me 'Thomistic'. This, of course, does not mean I accept everything Aquinas wrote naively and uncritically. It does mean that I believe he was one of the greatest systematic minds the Christian church has ever had, and that I can see a lot farther standing on his shoulders than by attacking him in the back. No, I do not agree with everything he ever wrote. On the other hand, neither do I agree with everything I ever wrote."(p. 14). Perhaps at a future time, Geisler will find himself in disagreement with Aquinas. Until then, we can benefit from the worthy contributions of Aquinas, without necessarily buying into his whole system, as does Geisler. Aquinas may be re-appraised in this work, but his own writings will still evidence much Aristotelianism, and at least lend themselves to interpretations which permit an autonomy of reason, the cause for which most 20th century apologists have criticized Aquinas all along, such strain still remaining despite any later appraisals or attempts at vindication.
Reviewed by David W. Hall, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Oak Ridge, TN 37830.
REAL SCIENCE, REAL FAITH by R. J.
Berry (ed.). Eastbourne, E. Sussex, England: Monarch Publications Ltd., 1991. 218
pages, bibliography, index. Paperback; ,8.99.
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 63.
Sixteen leading British scientists, including nine professors, the Director-General of The Meteorological Office, the Director of Kew Gardens, and the Secretary of the International Whaling Commission - 15 men and 1 woman - join here in producing a marvelous testimony to the possibilities for integration of insights from science and biblical Christian faith.
Introduced by a Foreword by Philip Hacking (Chairman, The Keswick Convention) the book brings together the personal testimonies and experiences of its varied authors, who bring a common message: "Anyone who assumes that it is only possible for a scientist to be a Christian if his science and faith are kept separate must also think again" (p. 7). Having said this, the authors also are careful to avoid the pitfalls of distortion and revision of the Christian Gospel sometimes proposed to make its acceptance more palatable to a scientifically-nurtured society. Appropriately, the book concludes with a paper published in 1960, and not written specifically for this book, by the eminent champion of these views, Donald MacKay.
Since the book is a collection of personal reflections and experiences, the flavor of the book can best be given by a few brief quotations. Roy Peacock, engineer, writes about the physical laws:
"They aren't laws in the sense that they declare what is going to happen, prescriptive, as legislation on the statute books of nations - rather, they are descriptive, summing up the body of observation made by scientists"(p. 41).
John Houghton, meteorologist:"Because God's activity continually pervades the world, I do not like to talk about God intervening in our world" (p. 47).
Ghillean Prance, botanist:
"As my interest in Christian ecology has grown under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so has my sadness that the church has been slow to respond to this issue - the care of God's creation" (p. 61). "Perhaps one of the common temptations for an environmentally concerned ethnobotanist, who has spent considerable time living among indigenous peoples, is to embrace the animist beliefs which often make them strong protectors of the environment. This is where the New Age movement would have us go" (p. 62).
Robert Boyd, space scientist, includes a poem that he wrote about the Creation in 1972. It is a beautiful supplement for anyone expounding on Psalm 8 and related portions of the Bible.
Andrew Miller, molecular biologist, "Philosophy is not always a sound guide to reality...Our ideas must be regulated by reality and not vice-versa" (pp. 88,92).
Colin Humphreys, materials scientist:
"thus I believe that science and Christianity describe the same territory, the same building of truth, but from different viewpoints" (p. 111). "If conflicts arise it is therefore because either our understanding of Christianity, or of science, or of both, is incorrect" (p. 113). "Many aspects of reality can be known only by personal involvement". (p.113). "We owe our moment-by-moment existence to the upholding of God" (p.116). AThe key question to ask is not 'what could God do?' but "what did God do?'" (p.118). AThe notion of God intervening is inconsistent with the biblical picture of God upholding the universe moment by moment. God is not a passive God who sometimes intervenes: God is always active. On rare occasion he chooses to act differently from usual (p. 121).
Malcolm Jeeves, psychologist:
"Scientific models of man, by their nature, remain silent on questions of good and evil, sin, redemption, and eternal life - issues which are central to the Christian view of man". "The descriptions we give at the different levels are complementary, not identical or independent". "Thus it is possible for an explanation to be complete in its own terms but not to render superfluous another explanation given at a different level" (pp. 154, 155). AIf only we could accept Scripture for what it is and let it speak for itself, we could gain so much and avoid so many unnecessary time-consuming and energy-draining debates and conflict...this will make it even more important, I believe, to recognize increasingly the Hebrew-Christian emphasis on psychophysical or somatopsychical unity (p. 159).
Sam Berry, evolutionary biologist:
"If I draw one lesson from my experiences as a scientist and a Christian, it is that compartmentalisation of life, thought or worship is damaging and potentially dangerous". "Science and faith have different methodologies, but they are complementary, not contradictory; a faith without reason is as stultifying as a reason without faith (pp. 193-195).
Many of the above sentiments are found also in the article by Donald MacKay, which may well have been where some of them started. We can do not better than end with a quote from MacKay:
"Christian faith is not just a body of second-hand beliefs, however self-consistent - not even if acquired from the Bible itself. Its essence is an active, day-to-day relationship of personal dependence on and obedience to the Giver of our daily round as he has revealed himself and his will in Christ and Scripture, in fellowship with other Christians - a relationship which both illuminates, and is illuminated, by, the doctrines from which it is inseparable" (p. 215).
In brief this is an excellent selection of Christian witnesses, profound without being scholarly, full of content without lacking in inspiration. The ASA should take a major role in making it known.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
SCIENCE GAP: Dispelling the Myths and Understanding the Reality of Science by Milton
A. Rothman. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1992. 254 pages. Hardcover; $24.95.
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 64.
The Science Gap is a book intended to dispel some myths concerning the nature of science, such as nothing is known for sure, all theories are equal, or all scientists are objective. The author wants to defend science from such misrepresenting myths by using facts established by physics and his version of true philosophy. The Science Gap is a book intended to dispel some myths concerning the nature of science, such as nothing is known for sure, all theories are equal, or all scientists are objective. The author wants to defend science from such misrepresenting myths by using facts established by physics and his version of true philosophy.
Rothman makes a distinction between idealism and realism reminding the reader on almost every page that he is a realist, that realism is the only acceptable approach to reality, that realism is the way, the truth, and the light. However, realism is defined as Athe assumption that things exist outside of us independently of our thoughts" (p. 20). But in this sense, Plato is also a realist, since to him the world of ideas is in no way dependent on his thoughts. What Rothman seems to have on his mind is materialism rather than realism, the latter term being an opposite of nominalism and not idealism.
The materialist (realist, in Rothman's terminology) sees nothing beyond the tangible, beyond the sphere of matter that can be observed and measured by empirical means. The supernatural is discarded since it cannot be observed and measured, as required by science. Rothman is right in defending the purity of science by not admitting in it what is not of empirical nature or what flatly contradicts its principles (e.g., perpetuum mobile or flat Earth). However, he makes philosophy out of methodological principles by saying that what science analyzes is real, and what cannot be C at least potentially C accessed by its means is fantasy, figment of mystics' imagination. Whoever says that science is not the only way to true knowledge is worthy of at least verbal admonition. Therefore, the author is very critical of everyone who does not embrace science (physics) entirely and dares to have a dissenting opinion. Everyone who is guilty of that is treated equally, even if he is a scientist. Therefore, no distinction is made between the New Age movement, philosophers, idealists, or perpetuum mobile constructors. It is a black-and-white presentation in which very few people are positive figures.
Thus, we read that a "dyed-in-the-wool idealist" Werner Heisenberg contributed to "a grand outpouring of pseudoscientific and pseudo-philosophical writing" (p. 22-3); James Jeans is a scientist with "a penchant for mysticism" (p. 132), Donald MacKay conspires to combine science and religion (p. 225); and Roger Penrose makes an impression as "a mystic trying to break out of the unconscious areas" of his mind (p. 134). It can be seen in these epithets that mysticism is not a descriptive term for Rothman; it rather is an equivalent of unreasonableness, a lack of realism, or an expression of outright stupidity. He chooses to be oblivious to the fact that great mystics are known as great philosophers, theologians or scientists and not simply as madmen (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas and Pascal). Rothman's assumptions cannot allow anything going beyond physics, since "pragmatism is a decisive factor." Interestingly, William James, a pragmatist, wrote that "it must remain an open question whether mystical states may not possibly be superior points of view, windows through which the mind looks out upon a more extensive and inclusive world." Rothman's pragmatism does not see here any question, much less an open question. For him it is obvious that the mind is just a result of the activity of the brain, and the claim to the contrary "is not accepted by any contemporary neuroscientists" (p. 11), regardless of the fact that such distinguished neuroscientists as John Eccles, Wilder Penfield, Donald MacKay, or Roger Sperry go beyond this simplistic conception of the mind.
Scientists cannot admit that there is no certain knowledge. The author takes great pain to prove that such knowledge exists, if only for practical purposes. But on the same page he states that although we are 98% sure of the existence of three classes of particles, "it cannot be denied that forces can exist that are so weak that they have until now avoided notice" (p. 60). Yet, certain knowledge exists. However, as Rothman admits, such a statement is merely a rhetoric catch, since "by saying 'we don't know anything for sure,' the scientist leaves himself without a defense against the theories of the UFO, ESP, and astrology enthusiasts" (p. 61). It suffices to remark that if this dogmatic statement were the only defense scientist have against pseudoscience, then science would truly be worth very little.
"We cannot say a priori that miracles are impossible. But for us to believe that these miracles exist, we need unambiguous empirical evidence" (p. 107). One can wander what this evidence would be. A miracle could always be explained away by reference to natural causes temporarily being out of sight. Realist assumptions are incompatible with the existence of miracles. Therefore everything that is, is a result of natural forces. An "unambiguous empirical evidence" of miracles is simply impossible; after all, "neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
Rothman distinguishes ontological reductionism from theoretical reductionism. The former claims that the whole of reality is built from a certain set of objects, such as particles. This claim is of philosophical nature and science is not very helpful in denying the claim of the existence of a supernatural realm. Science by nature is confined to natural, empirical means and as such has little relevance to the discussion concerning whether there is something beyond nature.
But scientists are often guilty of theoretical reductionism, which is a claim that everything can be explained by a particular theory. There were attempts to explain everything by classical mechanics, by quantum physics, or genetics. Even assuming that only elementary particles underlie all that exists, not everything can be explained by physics, despite Rothman's promulgations. Psychology and sociology may admit that man is a cloud of particles, but this level of explanation has no relevance to the type of explanation these two branches of science submit. Positivists of the Vienna Circle tried to do exactly that and failed. Reality is too complex to be encompassed by one branch of science, let alone by one theory. Rothman himself admits that "scientific methods do not work well ... outside the domain of science: aesthetics, ethics, literary criticism" (p. 16). But even restricting our attention to science, reductionism is an unfeasible program. There always have to be different theories irreducible one to another. Putting them together to form one theory would not help either, as proved by G–del: a theory's consistency cannot be proven by the same theory, unless it is a contradictory theory. This classical result shows the impossibility of a total theoretical reductionism.
Rothman's book intended to denounce certain myths to defend the integrity of science, but it creates new myths of certainty, reductionism or impossibilities. It is poor propaganda in favor of science attained by the means of thumping the table and using a rich name-calling catalog. True, there is a great deal of pseudoscience, and science has to prevent its invasion, but it hardly can be successful by Rothman's means.
Reviewed by Adam Drozdek, Professor of Computer Science, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
REVISITED: Is Modern Science Catching Up with Ancient Knowledge? by Zecharia Sitchin.
Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company Publishing, 1991. 343 pages. Hardcover; $21.95.
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 65.
This is another example of the genre typified by Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods and Baumann's The Bermuda Triangle. Sitchin proposes to show that the conflict between evolution and Creation is baseless, and that "Genesis and its sources reflect the highest levels of scientific knowledge." He attempts to do this by taking the Genesis account of Creation and the ancient Mesopotamian myths, such as The Creation Epic (Enuma Elish), as a symbolic description of the activities within the solar system of a highly advanced people from a wandering planet (equated with Marduk of Mesopotamian myth), which he calls Nibiru. The people of Nibiru needed gold to place in their dwindling atmosphere as a shield "to reverse the loss of heat, air, and water" (p. 228) and they came to earth to get it. Since mining is hard work, they used genetic engineering to produce the first true humans from the early hominids on earth.
Sitchin's training is in economic history. He was an editor and journalist in Israel for many years before coming to New York. Nothing is said of his training in Semitic and Biblical studies, but the book jacket says that he is "one of the few scholars able to read and understand Sumerian," a non-semitic language. While advances have been made in Ancient Near Eastern Studies by people outside their field, the work of these people was presented to the scholarly world for all the normal give-and-take of the scholarly process. In contrast, Genesis Revisited is presented in a popular format with no bibliography, no footnotes, few usable references within the text, and a number of problems. I looked up three references with sufficient information to be useful, and found that two of them were erroneous. The book does have an extensive index. It is the latest in a series of books on this subject by the author.
The word "Anunnaki" is said (p. 19) to literally mean "Those Who from Heaven to Earth Came" in Sumerian, and to be identical in meaning with the Hebrew "Nefilim" (Sitchin's spelling). I don't have the resources to check the Sumerian, but nephilim in Hebrew does not mean "Those Who from Heaven to Earth Came." While the meaning is not certain, reasonable suggestions include: beings that are wonderful, strong, or mighty; or even a separated or distinguished people.
Another example is found on pp. 298-299, where Sitchin is discussing the Biblical narrative of the tower of Babel reaching to heaven, "in which a Shem - a space rocket - was to be installed." Shem comes from the last half of the verse, in which the builders express the desire to establish a name for themselves. The Hebrew word means simply "name"; although the meaning is extended to include "reputation" or"memory," as in English. He does give a drawing of a Hellenistic coin depicting a temple in Babylon with a conical object in it, implying that this supports his contention. He does not identify the coin or give any information about it. However, it is obviously Hellenistic and therefore must be at least 2,000 years younger than the supposed event he describes! It completely escapes me how even a hint of Aspace rocket" can be obtained from the Biblical story, even with this anachronistic and irrelevant Aevidence."
One example of the fantastic way that the Sumerian/Akkadian myths are interpreted will suffice. In the Creation Epic, Tiamat was making war against the other gods and they couldn't stand up against her, so they called in Marduk to fight for them. Marduk used the four winds (plus some others) to help subdue her. Sitchin says that the four winds were satellites of the planet Nibiru/Marduk, that collided with Tiamat and split her into the earth and moon and created the Asteroid Belt. Tiamat's general, Kingu, was a satellite that was growing to planet size and threatening the solar system with further instability. This kind of allegorical interpretation, with a little imagination, can produce anything out of anything.
This fantastic interpretation is aligned with New Age thought when Sitchin asserts that the Sumerian view of planets as Aalive" is being borne out by recent research. He cites the Gaia Hypothesis approvingly, AEarth is not just an inanimate globe ... it is a coherent if complex body that is itself alive ..." (p. 106).
Sitchin is a skillful and entertaining writer; anyone interested in this genre of writing will no doubt enjoy it, but do not expect a reliable commentary on either the biblical or scientific accounts of Creation.
Reviewed by Eugene O. Bowser, Reference Librarian, James A. Michener Library, The University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639.
AND THE BIG BANG: The Discovery of Harmony Between Modern Science and the Bible by
Gerald L. Schroeder. New York: Bantam Books, 192. xi, 212 pages. Paperback; $10.00.
PSCF 45 (March 1993): 66.
Schroeder, a physicist, brings Jewish insights to bear on the relationship of Scripture and science. He cites the twelfth-century sage, Maimonides: "Conflicts between science and religion result from misinterpretations of the Bible." He goes beyond a literal reading of the sacred text as, he says, science goes beyond literal appearance to interpretation. Yet he has Adam living about 3800 B.C.E., approximately fourteen centuries before Tuval-Cain began the bronze age (Genesis 4:2). Since the continuous tradition of metalworking began shortly before the Deluge, he argues, the Flood could not have torn the earth apart.
He claims that the six days of Genesis 1 and the 15 billion years since the Big Bang are both literal. The former is God's time, springing from relativistic motion. He clearly explains the history and meaning of relativity, with its consequences for cosmology. The gigayears involve our time, extrapolated back on the basis of our zero velocity relative to our frame of reference. Unfortunately, this ingenious explanation works only if the deity is within space-time.
The impossibility of knowing what preceded the Big Bang is biblical. The first verse of Genesis presents the creation of all things. The first letter of this verse, beth, is open only in the forward direction. It is also demonstrated in the reference to "day one" in verse 5. Already in the seventh century, a Jewish commentator had noted that there was no time before the creation. Maimonides also held that there was no prior space. The later cabalists theoried that the universe began when the infinite God contracted, providing a place for the universe to expand. This is an interesting anticipation of the Big Bang. But it seems to place the universe within some sort of spatio-temporal deity, as noted above.
In Chapter 4, Schroeder outlines the Steady State, oscillating and expanding universe theories, indicating that the last is correct. In the following chapter, he notes that the Big Bang gave only hydrogen and helium. The other elements were produced later, in stars. Or, as Talmudic Rabbi Abahu explained the appearance of the sun on the fourth day: "From this we learn that during the first three days, the Holy One Blessed Be His Name used to create and destroy worlds." This requires a process, clearly expressed in the contrast between the instant of Genesis 1:1 and the time of Exodus 2:11. He argues that the universe at the moment of the Big Bang was the ultimate black hole, requiring the spirit's intervention to produce our familiar cosmos (Genesis 1:2.) In the following chapter he explains "evening" and "morning" etymologically: mixed up or disorderly and discernible or orderly, respectively.
Chapter 7 tackles the impossibility of random events producing life. Chapter 8 argues similarly from the suitability of the earth for life. I see two problems with these arguments. First, they are a God-of-the-gaps ploy. Second, they misuse probability. For example, there are 2,598,960 hands possible in poker. But no poker player can rationally claim, "Because the odds are 2.6 x 106 against it, I cannot have this hand." However, Schroeder shows his openness by noting, at the start of Chapter 9, that the origin of life requires guidance"by phenomena, natural or divine, which have yet to be discovered by human inquiry."
He solves the problem of plant life (day 3) before the luminaries (day 4) by arguing that the latter were first hidden by dense clouds. These thinned because of the effects of photosynthesis. But this would seem to indicate that plants began to grow some three or more billion years before the earth came into existence. Unless getting through the six days involved marked changes in God's relativistic speed, the third day ended about 7.5 x 109 years ago.
He argues that the fossil record excludes gradual evolution. This ties into a further God-of-the-gaps explanation. It also ties into a view new to me. Homo sapiens had existed for some 300,000 years when, about 5700 years ago, one member uniquely received God's image and became human. But this raises the question: What happened to all the widely distributed humanoids? Schroeder has excluded a world-wide Flood to destroy them. So Homo sapiens today must be a mixture of men, humanoids and, probably, hybrids. Since people have been in the New World for over 10,000 years, isolated for millennia from the Old World, the natives of the Americas must be humanoid, not human. If Acts 17:26 is true, then this view cannot be.
A review cannot do more than suggest the value of this introduction to a biblical tradition of which most Christians know nothing. Despite the problems I have noted, it is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. Christians interested in the connection between Scripture and science will profit from reading it.
Reviewed by David F. Siemens, Jr., 2703 E. Kenwood St., Mesa, AZ 85213-2384.