March 1997 Book Reviews
THE ORIGINS SOLUTION: An Answer in the Creation-Evolution Debate by Dick Fischer. Lima, OH: Fairway Press, 1996. 382 pages. Paperback; $19.95.
Fischer received a BS from the University of Missouri, went into the Air Force (164 combat missions in Viet Nam), and upon return earned an MA in theology. Each of these defining experiences is manifest in this book.
There are 18 chapters which Fischer says are actually two parts, though this division is not evident in the table of contents. There is no overall bibliography, and all references are contained in notes following each chapter.
Fischer's main point is that the warfare between science and religion is basically stupid, characterized by mutual, willful misunderstanding and largely due to inaccurate transcription by Medieval scribes and the improper translation of some Hebrew words in the Old Testament. For example, 'adam is translated human when it should be son of Adam and 'erets is translated earth when it should be land. Fischer takes the position that If the revelations of the Bible appear to contradict the revelations of science, it is due to error that has crept in someplace a position that should find strong support in the ASA. These mistranslations produce three main themes in Part II: Adam was the first man under a covenant with God and was inserted into a populated world about 5000 B.C.; Eden was at Eridu; reduced life expectancy is the result of cross breeding of the Adamites with their neighbors; the Flood, which was local, occurred between 3128 B.C. and 2978 B.C. Each of these statements, and many others, is strongly supported by both biblical and scientific references, not to mention rigorous argument.
Fischer unequivocally rejects creation science, which he considers an oxymoron, for the science is dreadful, even the biblical exegesis is unsound. He devotes considerable effort to a critical examination of all (that I have heard of plus some) their arguments. He is concerned about them for they bring discredit to the Bible among secular scientists. The science is sound, for example, with regard to the age of the earth being greater than 10,000 years old. Continuing to maintain this patently absurd argument invites ridicule from all nonbelievers, but especially, and justifiably, from the nonbelieving scientists.
This is an important book due, not in the least part, to Fischer's ability to focus directly and clearly on specific issues and not entertain distractions. Certainly some will argue that his focus is wrong, but to me that is less important at this point than having issues presented in a manner simple enough that anyone can grasp them. For example, one of the reasons I drifted away from faith had to do with the interpretation that Adam was the first human. This was understood to mean that not only our spiritual but our physical being derived directly from Adam. This had come to have no sense. However, I was caught up in other things and never tried to think it through. Had I done so, I would not have succeeded for I simply do not have the necessary background in biblical scholarship. But it was clear that not only did Adam have neighbors but, upon leaving Eden, he had access to cultural implements (metal tools) and practices (agriculture) not present at the inception of bipedalism or at the beginning of the expansion of the brain or (probably) at the time of the origin of language. (Each of these attributes has been taken at one time or another to mark the line between Hominid and human.)
The writing of this book required extraordinary scholarship, clarity of thought, and courage. Fischer, being a unique blend of scientist, warrior, and biblical scholar is eminently qualified to have produced it. He wants to make biblical interpretation available to scientists as well as philosophers, theologians, logicians, etc. and argue that it does not contradict established scientific results. This seems a vitally important objective, and for my money he succeeded in spades. His writing is powerful, at times passionate, clear, and his arguments totally devoid of hair splitting.
There are some trivial problems a couple of typographical errors, the tables are not numbered or discussed adequately, and there is no index. Everyone will find something to disagree with; for example, I am not nearly as sanguine as Fischer about the rational status of macroevolutionary theory. However, with an open mind, there is great reward and challenge. Without qualification or hesitation, I highly recommend this book.
Reviewed by Braxton M. Alfred, Associate Professor of Biological Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1.
From PSCF 49 (March 1997): 68.
GENESIS TODAY: Genesis and the Questions of Science by Ernest Lucas. London: Christian Impact, 1995. 160 pages, bibliography.
This book is easy to read. Lucas, a biblical scholar who held research fellowships in chemistry at North Carolina and Oxford Universities, currently teaches at Bristol Baptist College. His intention in this book is to clarify Genesis 1-11 and its connection with science, the theory of evolution, and the second law of thermodynamics. He wants to disperse the fog that surrounds science in many people's minds. On the other hand, he says, some people are confused about the nature of the Bible and its interpretation (p. 6).
Lucas points out that scientists are always selective in the data they collect. He claims that they are becoming more aware that the line between facts and theory is fuzzy (p. 25). Still, every scientist must have faith in the rationality of creation and his own rationality, says the author. Religious faith is not irrational, as the writer correctly points out. The question is: how do we connect religious faith and rational science?
My only strong objection to the book is the way Lucas talks about human nature. Lucas claims, that the image of God is the spiritual side of man, and that dust is the earthly nature of man. I do not think that we can draw that conclusion from Genesis. Lucas' reasons are insufficient. We are not a mixture of the earthly and the heavenly. Though created from dust, we are images of God.
The book makes two valid points. First, it shows that science is not as unbiased as scientists want us to believe. Second, it argues that many people read the Bible as if everything should be understood literally. Lucas wants us to read each part of the Bible realizing its literary character. The beginning of Genesis is more a rejection of pagan religion and thinking than a historical record. Lucas shows that well. I recommend this well-written book for the general reader. ASA members may not find anything new in the 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.
RELIGION AND THE NATURAL SCIENCES: The Range of Engagement by James E. Huchingson, (Ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993. ix + 422 pages, glossary, index. Paperback; $34.91.
We are now in the midst of a proliferation of college, university, and seminary courses on religion and science, partly (I know) owing to a bold initiative from the John M. Templeton Foundation and partly (I suspect) owing to the increasing conviction among academics that higher education has too long neglected the synthetic disciplines (such as religion) in favor of the more analytic (such as science). This book is an attempt to meet the needs of students and faculty who are part of this commendable trend, by publishing under one cover a collection of short readings on a variety of topics related to the religion/science interface. The first half of the book deals with global concerns: ways to approach the whole subject; reflections on models and metaphors; and arguments about nature, supernature, and miracles. The second half contains essays about cosmology, quantum theory, evolution, sociobiology, and ecology. As the title implies, essays on the social sciences are not included.
An anthology such as this, aimed at students and faculty in a highly interdisciplinary field, should be judged by its balance, comprehensiveness, and clarity. On all three counts, Huchingson passes easily, though not always with flying colors. Two of my favorite essays are: Richard Bube on The Failure of the 'God-of-the-Gaps' and Ian Barbour on 'Ways of Relating Science and Religion.' There are also some very good essays by major thinkers like Langdon Gilkey, Mary Midgley, and John Polkinghorne; selections from important literary figures like C. S. Lewis, Annie Dillard, and John Updike; and lesser pieces by famous scientists like Albert Einstein and Isaac Asimov, nearly fifty items in all.
Conspicuous by their absence, however, are examples of the many fundamental contributions that historians and sociologists have made to understanding the complex interactions of religion and science. To that extent, this is a philosopher's book: Huchingson has chosen most readings based on their contribution to ongoing discussions of interest to people working in the field now. Though some selections are historically significant, such as those by Richard Niebuhr and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, none in my opinion could be called genuinely historical or sociological in approach. Certainly philosophy plays a crucial role in mediating the conversation between religion and science, but the role of history in explaining how we got to this pass is surely no less important. This is particularly puzzling in a book so deeply committed to the dialogue model for relating science and religion, since it is from historians of science more than anyone else (and not ordinarily from philosophers or scientists) that we learn how rich the interactions have actually been and how poorly the conflict model represents them.
Casting aside my own disciplinary bias, in other ways this is a well-balanced book. The section on Cosmology and Creation, for example, includes a very clear and fair analysis of the structure and limitations of the cosmological argument for the existence of God by philosopher Douglas Lackey; a famous selection in which the agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow doubts his religious doubts (taken from his book, God and the Astronomers); an argument for the legitimacy of Aorigins science by theologian Norman Geisler and creation scientist J. Kerby Anderson; and a previously unpublished essay on Cosmology and Theology, by physicist and theologian Robert J. Russell, who knows this particular cluster of issues as well as anyone. Other sections of the volume evidence a similar range of engagement between religious and nonreligious persons.
Overall, the success of this book will likely be determined by how many instructors choose it for their courses, as it is clearly intended for that purpose. It is more comprehensive in scope and more inclusive of various theological and disciplinary perspectives than most other books on religion and science, which suggests a favorable prognosis. Recommended strongly for academic libraries and individual readers interested in the religion/science interface.
Reviewed by Edward B. Davis, Professor of the History of Science, Messiah College, Grantham, PA 17027.
COSMIC WITNESS: Commentaries on Science/Technology Themes by George L. Murphy, LaVonne Althouse, and Russell Willis. Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., 1996. 183 pages, 5 Appendices. Paperback; $15.95.
It is the purpose of this book to help preachers to discern ways in which Scripture provides resources to address scientific and technological concerns. Principal author George L. Murphy has a Ph.D. in physics, an M. Div. degree, has taught at several Christian colleges, is the recipient of two awards from the Templeton Foundation for his papers on science and religion, and is currently pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Tallmadge, Ohio. He has been active in the ASA, and includes in comments on Heb. 1:3 that Upholding the universe by his word of power has been Used as a motto by the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Christians in various areas of scientific work. The book is intended as a contribution by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Work Group on Science and Technology, the Working Group on Science and Technology of the United Church of Christ's Board of Homeland Ministries, and the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science and Technology to the Church's ministry of proclamation. The book calls attention to over 150 texts currently used regularly in church three-year lectionaries to mark periods of the church year, and suggests applications of these texts to issues in the areas of science and technology.
A common theme in many of the comments deals with environmental and ecological concerns. In a listing of 31 scientific metaphors, analogies, or explanations referred to in the text, 13 relate to evolution and others refer, for example, to cosmology, light, nuclear processes, the anthropic principle, relativity, and the nature of science. Appendices at the end of the book give an Index of Texts by season; Index of Texts by Books of the Bible; Major Topics in Preaching about Science and Technology from the Lectionary, Technology, and Justice; and two Story Sermons intended to suggest an imaginative way of preaching.
Many of the suggested commentaries are helpful. In dealing with Gen. 1:1-2:4, for example, it is suggested that Ait is possible that the entire development of the material universe, back to the first instant of the big bang, can be explained scientifically in terms of natural processes, while it remains a work of divine creation. In connection with Ps. 96, it is suggested that We should ask about any of our activities, `Does this contribute to the praise of God?' In considering Ps. 139:1-17, it is pointed out that there is no need to think that God is eliminated by the discovery of scientific explanations for phenomena or that God is necessary as an element of scientific explanation. It would have been helpful in these cases to discriminate between explain and describe.
In connection with Jer. 1:4-10, Technology of redemption and renewal is technology which promotes justice, sustainability, and participation. Or in connection with Col. 2:6-15, The proper object of concern is the elevation of any philosophical or scientific system to a religious level, or Ps. 121, The popularity of some New Age thought, and especially of astrology, threatens to return people to that ancient bondage.
Other of the commentaries are more problematic. On Is. 44:6-8, for example, it is stated that Teilhard reminds us that we also have the opportunity to speak about the evolutionary process as one of the means through which God will bring about his ultimate future, Omega B Christ. Or again in treating Rom. 12:1-8, Teilhard de Chardin suggested that the Body of Christ is the next stage in evolution. In treating some texts, Murphy suggests that the preacher consider the possibility of developing a science fiction story with a time-travel theme. The fifth Appendix offers two examples for such stories, but I must confess that a science-fiction story in which the temptation of Christ is cast into the mode of a prehistoric creature being tempted by a dinosaur does not do much for me.
One representation of effective preaching describes it as preaching with the Bible in one hand to provide the basis of exegesis, and the newspaper in the other hand to provide the application to life today. This book can be helpful in suggesting to the preacher insights or illustrations to make the exegesis come alive for the person in the pew.
Reviewed by Richard H Bube, Emeritus Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
GOD AND THE PHILOSOPHERS by Thomas Morris, (Ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 285 pages, no index. Paperback; $13.95.
This book is a collection of essays by philosophers who are also believers. In our secular, postmodern age this kind of book has great significance. It is a reminder that many intellectuals embrace religious faith. There are still those who affirm that anyone embracing God is intellectually uninformed. This book will serve as a corrective to that biased position.
This is a difficult book to summarize because of its nature as a collection of essays. While I resonated with some of the essays, there were others which made me wonder about the reality of the faith being claimed. Most of the contributors claimed to be Christian; some were Jewish. I appreciated the authors' willingness to share their own personal struggles with the great questions of life, and how they finally came to embrace Christianity, or God. Some had religious backgrounds while others came from atheistic homes. I was amused by one writer who grew up in a Unitarian Church but then became an atheist. He says the move was an easy one in that he did not have to give up any cherished beliefs because Unitarianism doesn't contain much in the way of Acherished beliefs. He finally ended up in a more orthodox church.
The authors come from a variety of religious backgrounds. One moved from fundamentalism to Pentecostalism; another from Protestantism to Catholicism; others from low church to Episcopalianism. They came to Jesus Christ (or God) in different ways, landing in different churches or religious traditions. All in all I found the book interesting. Most of us have struggled with the issues described by the authors, and to see how these intellectual philosophers came to faith was quite fascinating.
The book points out the importance of intellectual Christians writing about the faith. The names of C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer came up several times, along with other intellectual Christian writers. There is tendency on the part of some within the church to exalt experience over reason. Christianity is imminently reasonable, and the authors of this type of book serve to underscore that fact.
This might be a good book to give a young intellectual struggling with the great metaphysical questions. However, it should be understood that it is not a specifically Christian book. It would at least serve to remind young people that not all philosophers are atheists, and might encourage some to continue the quest for faith.
Reviewed by Richard M. Bowman, Director of Research and Publications, Disciple Heritage Fellowship, Box 109, Lovington, IL 61937
THEISM, ATHEISM AND BIG BANG COSMOLOGY by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith. New York: Clarendon Press-Oxford, 1993 (Paperback edition, 1995). 337 pages, index. Paperback; $19.95.
The two authors are both philosophers, Craig at the Catholic University of Louvain and Smith at Western Michigan University. The book is a debate concerned with the origin of the universe, especially whether the ABig Bang theory tends to support atheism or theism.
There are three main sections in the book. In Part 1, theist Craig argues for a finite universe which implies a Creator. Smith, an atheist, seeks to refute Craig's arguments. In Part 2, Smith argues that the Big Bang has no cause, making the idea of God unnecessary. Craig responds with his theistic counter-arguments. In Part 3, both authors react to Stephen Hawking's quantum cosmology, and how it relates to theism.
I found this to be a fascinating book. There is much wisdom in preparing a book in which two scholars interact from differing points of view. It allows for a quick comparison without having to hop around between several books in order to determine if one side is fairly reflecting the views of the other side.
There are really two main discussions in the book. Craig argues that an actual infinite cannot exist in space and time. Infinity is a theoretical concept which cannot be actualized in history. He uses many helpful illustrations to make his point. If an actual infinite cannot exist in history, then our universe cannot be an actual infinite; therefore, it had a beginning point, and thus it must have been created by God. The second argument has to do with the question of whether a finite universe must have a cause. Craig argues that everything which began to exist must have a cause. The universe began to exist, and therefore it must have a cause adequate to explain reality as we experience it. That cause is God. Craig interacts with Kant, Hume, and others in making his case.
Smith seeks to refute Craig's arguments, and presents his case for an uncaused universe. Both authors seem to agree that the Big Bang probably took place as the event which brought our universe into existence. Smith argues that the Big Bang was a singular event which has no cause. He used some rather complex mathematical arguments to support his argument.
The much shorter third section is a reaction to Steven Hawking. Craig argues that Hawking's theories are compatible with theism, and that Hawking himself does not rule out theism as a possible explanation for reality. Again, Smith argues that atheism is more compatible with Hawking's quantum cosmology.
While I am admittedly biased, it seemed to me that Craig's arguments were much more cogent. I found his arguments concerning an actual infinite to be compelling, and I must admit to being somewhat surprised to read Smith's argument for an uncaused universe. To speak of the universe as uncaused strikes me as absurd, and I did not realize that some atheists were trying to make such an argument. An eternal universe is a somewhat rational idea, but Craig destroyed it with his arguments concerning an actual infinite. Smith, however, was not arguing for an eternal universe, but an uncaused finite universe. To say that something began to be, yet there was no cause, appears to me to be irrational. I simply cannot conceive of anything beginning to be without a cause.
Craig was careful not to say (as we did in the past) that every event must have a cause. If that is so, then God must have a cause. His argument is that God is an eternal being who thus never began to be. Therefore, one cannot speak of God as having a cause.
The main arguments of the book are rather easy to follow even though there are difficult sections. I highly recommend this book to intelligent readers interested in the origin of the universe.
Reviewed by Richard M. Bowman, Director of Field Services, Disciple Heritage Fellowship, Lovington, IL 61937.
THINKING CLEARLY ABOUT GOD AND SCIENCE by David Wilkinson and Rob Frost. East Sussex, UK: Monarch Publications, 1996. 209 pages, index. Paperback; ,10.00.
This book is part of a series that is designed to help Christians gain a better understanding of their faith and show how Christian truths can shed light on a variety of matters that are of crucial importance to society. In this instance, a scientist (Wilkinson) and a theologian (Frost) come together to reflect on the apparent concordism between religion (Christianity) and science. Following a brief introductory chapter in which the authors state that all truth is God's truth, the book consists of six chapters. Each chapter addresses a different issue through which the authors demonstrate how religion and science can and should work together to address the larger questions of existence and meaning.
Chapter two (Frost) examines the question of whether God's existence can be proven scientifically. Various historical proofs for the existence of God are presented along with an examination of some underlying assumptions made by scientists, as they seek to explain the universe. At the heart of both religion and science is a quest for meaning that reflects the apparent order of creation. While neither can prove the existence of God, both avenues of investigation point to some creative intelligence behind the world and some overriding purpose in all that we see.
The third chapter (Wilkinson) deals with the dichotomy: science is about proof; Christianity is about faith. The key issue here is methodology. Therefore, much space is devoted to examining rationalism, empiricism, and the success of science. While science and theology may ask different questions of the world, both rely on evidence and interpretation in their attempts to make sense of the world. At the same time, both approaches have limits. Consequently, there is much to be gained through cooperative interaction between scientists and theologians that would replace isolated examinations of the world from conflicting standpoints.
The next chapter (Frost) examines whether science can provide a foundation for morals. Ethical issues have arisen around research in areas like energy, ecology, and medicine, and the issue of whether scientists, politicians, or the public are to be held responsible and accountable for the social impact of those developments is largely unanswered. Frost suggests that the answers may be found in the Bible and the development of a Christian mind. The adoption of an attitude towards wholeness and the betterment of human life by all concerned parties will bring Christians and scientists together to ensure a better future.
Chapter five (Wilkinson) examines whether advances in the scientific understanding of the origin of the universe eliminates the need for a creator. The author emphasizes the central place of Jesus Christ in God's creation, as a key to understanding the purpose of creation. At the same time, we should be clear about what the biblical account of creation actually says and what scientific theories like the Big Bang actually claim to explain. Part of the success of science is that it limits its range of questions. Through Christianity, as a complement to science, we can gain insight into why there is a universe at all, where scientific laws come from, why the universe is intelligible, and what our significance in the universe is.
The sixth chapter (Wilkinson) deals with the question of whether science rules out miracles. Whether we examine the biblical accounts of miraculous events or look at some of the unanswered questions around scientific oddities like quantum mechanics or chaos theory, there are many things that we just cannot explain. To extract these unknown elements from the context of the larger message of which they are a part is to misrepresent them and invite misunderstanding. Many aspects of religion and science appear equally as miraculous. The author concludes that scientific objections against miracles are weak and that a scientist studying the resurrection may find strong evidence for its truth.
The final chapter (Frost) deals with whether a scientist can also be a Christian. Both scientists and Christians are seekers after truth, who at various times in their lives grapple with ultimate questions of meaning and existence. Many big names in the history of science (Kepler, Boyle, Newton) have held a strong faith, and in more modern times continued seekership may be best expressed by astronaut James Irwin's observation that there may be more significance in the fact that God walked upon the earth, than that man walked upon the moon.
This book is not intended for the specialist, or for those who have devoted sustained attention to the issues raised. It is designed for the faithful Christian who may be wondering whether the relationship between religion and science is in any way problematic for them. The major strength of this book is that it exposes the reader to the personal thought processes of a scientist and a theologian as they try to grapple with the world view of the other. Apart from some sloppy editing, for example, there is a section on Paraclesus (sic), this book is a very readable and engaging introduction to the debate between religion and science.
Reviewed by Robert A. Campbell, University College of Cape Breton, Sydney, NS, Canada BIP 6L2.
THE ARTFUL UNIVERSE by John D. Barrow. Oxford: Clarendon Press-Oxford, 1995. 274 pages.
Barrow, an astronomer at the University of Sussex, has written several books, perhaps the best-known is The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, with F. J. Tipler. Apparently not one to shun grandiose subjects, he has written this book to explore how the universe has influenced the existence of the arts in humans.
I suppose that the usual Christian answer to the question of why the arts exist is that humans are in the image of God. Since God is creative, humans are too. Barrow doesn't explicitly reject that view (or consider it), although he seems aware of some Judeo-Christian viewpoints, and has a certain sympathy for them. Basically, his reason for the existence of the arts is that the perception of things artistic is adaptive.
The book is fascinating. Barrow touches on many subjects, including the origin of language, why humans respond as they do to different types of landscapes, why there are years, months, and weeks in the current human calendar, the question of whether mathematics is manmade or not, why we perceive constellations, and what makes certain patterns of sounds music.
Not surprisingly, he doesn't know everything about his subjects. For example (although I am not a linguist, either), it is my understanding that Noam Chomsky's belief in a universal grammar isn't as universally accepted as Barrow thinks it is, and Barrow's argument is fairly dependent on this view. Also not surprisingly, Barrow has been selective in his explanation of the arts. There is very little about dance or sculpture, and no explanation for why poetry exists, or what (if anything) makes it different from prose.
Though Barrow doesn't explain everything, he does explain some things. He has given an explanation for why we can only see about one octave of the electromagnetic spectrum, but can hear several octaves, namely, that it is dark almost half the time, so we have been selected for greater aural sensitivity than visual. (That doesn't explain why we can't see infrared, which could be seen in the dark.)
Perhaps the most important thing Barrow doesn't explain is why, if the capacities that lead to art are so important to survival under current terrestrial conditions, other organisms have so little artistic expression, and we so much. Certainly Barrow is at least partly right humans who can make fine distinctions in the appearance and sounds of their surroundings would be expected to have more offspring than those who can't, but explaining perception isn't the same as explaining creativity. I think that the image of God explanation is even better.
All educated persons, and those seeking an education, would profit from this book. There are a number of illustrations at appropriate places throughout the text, and several plates. The book includes notes, an adequate bibliography, and an index.
Reviewed by Martin LaBar, Southern Wesleyan University, Central, SC 29630.