Book Reviews for June 1996
WRINKLES IN TIME by George Smoot and Keay Davidson. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1993. 331 pages, index. Hardcover; $25.00. Reissued in 1994 by Avon Pub. in paperback; $12.50. PSCF 48 (June 1996): 117.
On April 23, 1992 at 8:00 a.m. in Washington, DC, George Smoot and his team electrified the scientific community when they presented the results of their observations with the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE). Their data finally answered one of the long standing criticisms against big-bang cosmology: Where is the evidence for galaxy formation after the big-bang? Countless hours of observations and data reduction gave the answer. The evidence is in the minute fluctuations (wrinkles, in the otherwise uniform cosmic background radiation that impinges upon us from all quarters of the universe. Smoot's team had discovered what Stephen Hawking declared was "the scientific discovery of the century, if not all time."
Wrinkles in Time, with co-author Keay Davidson, an award winning science writer for the San Francisco Examiner, serves as a well written, popular presentation of the subject of cosmology. The book is also Smoot's autobiographical account of his scientific studies that led up to his historic results. Thus, the book is his personal odyssey as a scientist, which began when Smoot was a kid and dreamed of space research. Eventually, he pursued a career in nuclear physics at MIT where he studied under such luminaries as Dave Frisch, Steven Weinberg, and Victor Weisskopf. His work at MIT on quarks was fortuitous, for it gave him the tools to understand the melding of modern cosmology and particle physics.
In 1970 Smoot realized that the field of particle physics was becoming too crowded, so he left for Berkeley to work with Luis Alvarez. There he became involved in sending instruments aloft in balloon flights to study cosmic rays. His somewhat humorous account of several balloon accidents (not funny at the time) gives the reader insight into the kind of difficulties that can befall all experimenters. In time, however, he grew to dislike balloon flights intensely because of their inherent difficulties. Before moving on to the next project, his team in 1975 obtained the best results to date that contradict Hans Alfven's matter/antimatter cosmology. (Basically, they found far fewer antimatter nuclei than theory predicts.)
From balloons Smoot graduated to the use of converted U2 spy planes that carried scientific payloads to measure anisotropies in the uniform cosmic background radiation. This is a difficult measurement which he describes as like listening to a whisper during a noisy beach party while radios blare, waves crash, people yell, dogs bark, and dune buggies roar. In spite of the difficulties, he and his team announced in 1977 that our galaxy was moving approximately 600 kilometers/second towards the constellation Leo. Such a rapid motion on the part of our galaxy shocked astronomers, but these results still stand. This was the first inkling of the Great Attractor that was confirmed later by other astronomers.
The beginning of the universe has been one of Smoot's ongoing interests. He strongly believes that big-bang cosmology is correct, and this work gives an understandable explanation of the evidence on which he bases his belief: the dark night sky (Olbers paradox), primordial element abundance, the expanding universe, the general cosmic background radiation, and finally the wrinkles in the space-time continuum his team observed with COBE.
The book is loaded with interesting history. Smoot and Davidson discuss the well-known paradigm shift from Aristotelian to Copernican thinking, the modifications Einstein's relativity theories brought to the Newtonian world view, and the modern attempts to synthesize general relativity and quantum mechanics. They also discuss the important contributions of Galileo, Kepler, Bishop Berkeley, and Ernst Mach. Most of the history, however, concentrates on the personalities and on the events that led up to the formulation, discussions, and acceptance of big-bang cosmology. This includes the works of Slipher, Humason, Hubble, Ryle, and Penzias and Wilson. Also analyzed is Gold, Bondi, and Hoyle's steady-state cosmology, along with the reasons it was discarded in the late 60s.
The authors examine the necessity for dark matter as seeds for galaxy formation, along with the evidence that it exists. It appears that dark matter accounts for most of the material in the universe, and 90% of it is non-baryonic. That is, most of the universe exist in a form of matter that is different from that which comprises our everyday world. Dark matter may include such exotic species as WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles), axions, and strings.
Discussions of cosmology invariably bring in the question of God's role. It was Smoot who used the metaphor that the COBE results were like "beholding the face of God," a statement that landed him in hot water with some of his peers. The significance of a creator is downplayed in the book. Smoot entertains the possibility that God put the universe together, but he does not commit himself to this proposition. He disagrees, however, with Steven Weinberg that the universe seems more pointless the more we understand it. On the contrary, Smoot believes that the complex nature of the universe reveals an underlying unity that, in a sense, is programmed into the cosmos, but he does not discuss the origin of this program.
I have read many popular accounts of cosmology, and I would rate Wrinkles in Time among the best. The readable text and the large number of diagrams and photos simplify complex issues without dumbing down the science or patronizing the reader. And the book is personal. All along I felt that I was a friend, along for the ride, while Smoot explained his work. All in all, this is an enjoyable book that I highly recommend.
Reviewed by Perry G. Phillips, adjunct physics professor, Gordon College, Wenham, MA 01984.
CREATION: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship by Fred Van Dyke, David
C. Mahan, Joseph K. Sheldon and Raymond H. Brand. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
1996. 180 pages. Paperback; $14.99.
This multi-authored book is unique in that the authorship of particular chapters is not indicated. All four authors are affiliated with the AuSable Institute for Environmental Studies. The book originated as a project of their membership on the Global Resources and Environment Commission (GRAEC) of the ASA. Furthermore each author has had extensive teaching and research experience in forestry and/or field biology in several geographic areas.
The ten chapters of the book describe the various environmental crises and propose ways in which Christians can become involved as individuals, as part of the Christian church, and as citizens in a global environment. There is extensive attention given to the Bible as it relates to the original creation, to God-given stewardship responsibilities, and to the impact of sin in bringing about this crisis situation. But the authors constantly provide encouragement with real life experiences that have made them and others optimistic and even joyful as they contemplate some of the marvels of God's creation.
As might be expected in a multi-authored book, there is some repetition of themes. There are even some apparent contradictions. In Chapter 2 the author, while emphasizing the importance of the recognition of God as a truly awesome Creator, suggests that: "the church of Christ does not need another `ism,' like Christian environmentalism, to grow strong in faith." On the other hand, Chapter 10 states that Christians should act corporately "by forming and joining environmental advocacy groups that are explicitly Christian, such as the Christian Environmental Association and the Christian Society of the Green Cross." However, such differences are of value in stimulating Christians of a variety of backgrounds to think of what they should be doing and/or thinking in regard to a major area of crisis in today's world.
Each chapter has a central theme. Through biblical references, news items, and personal anecdotes, the authors bring together the major theme of the book: the biblical basis for environmental stewardship. The book deals with the following topics. Creation in Crisis outlines the problems. God the Creator focuses on the awesomeness of the Creator. The Value of Creation emphasizes the importance of creation as a work of God and its value to the human race. Out of the Dust describes the unity of creation as derived from God. Covenant & Redemption reminds us of God's covenants with humanity and all creation. Ruling and Subduing spells out our God-given human role in using, cultivating, and preserving the world around us. God's World Today elaborates on the current crisis with emphasis on population, resource depletion, and pollution. The Consequences of Disobedience summarizes from the Bible, from history, and from current events the serious nature of human involvement in the environment. A Christian Response and Ecology and the Christian Mind both deal with how Christians should be changing their attitudes, their worship, and their stewardship.
Although written by people with hands-on experience, this book is neither too technical nor too popular/superficial. I recommend this book for all who are interested in both the ecological and the theological parameters of the environmental problems facing the world today. Furthermore, it contains many practical reminders of how our lifestyles have contributed to the problem and some of the challenging suggestions of things we can do. At the end of each chapter there are Questions for Thought and Discussion that could be valuable in classes or small groups. Above all, the authors constantly remind us that Christians have a God-given stewardship role in relation to the awesome creation of our Almighty God who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Reviewed by Wilbur L. Bullock, Professor Emeritus, Zoology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824.
IN THE BEGINNING: The Birth of the Living Universe by John Gribbin. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1993. 288 pages. Paperback; $12.95. PSCF 48 (June 1996): 120.
"Two of my main scientific interests have long been cosmology and evolution," states astrophysicist and science writer John Gribbin at the outset of his book. Defending a version of the Gaia hypothesis, he attempts to synthesize these interests (in light of the COBE satellite discoveries) to show that the universe might, indeed, be alive literally, not metaphorically in its own right (p. viii). Gribbin expresses his desire for cosmologists to think more like biologists (p. 254).
In Part One (The Birth of the Universe), Gribbin briefly looks at Hubble's law and its implications [i.e., the expanding universe (based on galactic red-shiftedness), the length of the universe to be measured in billions of light years] as well as the Special and General Theories of Relativity (which point toward the emergence of space, time, and energy from a singularity 15 billion years ago). This discussion paves the way for COBE's significance: the discovery of ripples in the cosmic background radiation has strongly confirmed the Big Bang theory. The existence of massive amounts of dark matter in the universe, which underlay the ripples, keeps galaxies from flying apart from one another and actually comprise nearly all of the universe's mass.
Part Two (What Is Life?) is a discussion of the nature of life, DNA, biological evolution, and the interplay of various environmental and biological factors that give the appearance that the earth is somehow alive. Gribbin defines living things not only as having the ability to reproduce themselves, to grow, and to respond to changes in their environment (p. 45), but also as being complexly interdependent. Gribbin argues that evolution, which happens through the process of mindless copying [of DNA], with occasional [beneficial] mistakes along with natural selection, adequately describes our history.
In Part Three (What Is the Universe?), Gribbin gives a helpful summary of some of the remarkable phenomena in our universe the gravitational orbits of galaxies, the process of nuclear fusion, types of stars, black holes, and dark matter. He examines the Goldilocks effect in the universe everything seems to be just right for its order and life. Any slight altering of the delicate balance of the early universe's conditions would have made the formation of stars and planets, life itself, and the continued expansion of the universe impossible.
Part Four (Is the Universe Alive?") turns out to be quite speculative in parts, especially with regard to the origin of our universe. Gribbin believes that our own universe is just one of an infinite number of universes (a concept which itself is fraught with self-contradiction) that have come into existence out of nothing at all" (p. 247) that is, out of the activity of quantum vacuums. Since so many possible universes exist, at least a few will end up looking as finely-tuned as ours.
Although Gribbin's book is informative and lucid in many ways, its blanket assertion that the Gaia hypothesis is to be considered superior to the theistic model reflects Gribbin's underlying philosophical naturalism. Apart from metaphysical prejudice, why should a naturalistic cause be preferred over against a supernaturalistic one? Why can't the theistic hypothesis (God as creator, designer, sustainer) provide a simpler, more adequate explanation for the cause of the Big Bang itself, the origin and existence of life, and the universe's delicate balance?
Moreover, the belief that something can come into existence uncaused out of nothing is a metaphysical absurdity. Gribbin confuses the unpredictability of a quantum vacuum with uncausedness. Further, a quantum vacuum is not Anothing; it is a humming hive of activity. Moreover, according to relativity theory, no quantum vacuum could have possibly existed before the Big Bang.
What Gribbin has in effect attempted to do, and what should make the reader quite suspicious, is basically create the condition whereby no amount of evidence, no matter how intricate, could ever serve as evidence for an intelligent Designer. Thus, Gribbin's view, which appears Ascientific, is masking a broader metaphysic which excludes God from the outset.
Reviewed by Paul Copan, N49 W28661 Chardon Drive, Hartland WI 53029.
THE SEARCH FOR INFINITY: Solving the Mysteries of the Universe, by Gordon Fraser, Egil Lilliest»l and Inge Sellev┬g. Introduction by Stephen Hawking. New York: Reed International Books Ltd., 1995. 144 pages, index. Hardcover; $22.95. PSCF 48 (June 1996): 120.
If you are a scientist, and you have a coffee table, this book should be on it. It is not a scientific book. It tells about the history of modern science, especially history of discoveries in small particles, and in large stellar constellations and galaxies. The pictures are great.Explanations are in nontechnical language. You read about the discoverers. Your friends may begin to understand a bit about your work. If you leave it lying around, people will ask questions. They may even learn about the importance of your work. Or, if you do not want to talk about your work at home, you may display it in your office. It is even suitable for a staff room. Somebody will explain technical details to some newcomer. High schools and elementary schools should have this book in their libraries. The book's price is not excessive for what you get.
The original idea for the book came from Lilliest»l and Sellev┬g, who wrote a series of articles in the Norwegian newspaper, Bergens Tidende. They developed these articles further in cooperation with Gordon Fraser of The European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva. I heartily recommend the book.
Reviewed by Jan de Koning, Box 168, St. Michael's College (University of Toronto), 81 St. Mary Street, Toronto, Ont., M5S 1J4, Canada.
SCIENCE, RELIGION AND THE FUTURE by Charles Raven. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1994. 125 pages. Paperback; $9.95. PSCF 48 (June 1996): 121.
The lectures which form the heart of this book were first published in 1943 by Cambridge University Press. This new edition is one volume in Morehouse's Library of Anglican Spirituality, accompanying works by such well-known figures as Dorothy Sayers and William Temple. The inclusion of a book on science and faith in such a library ought to be encouraging to those who think that the science-theology dialogue should be a major concern of the Church.
The editor of this series, Susan Howatch, has provided a brief introduction to Raven's life and to these lectures. Trained in both the biological sciences and theology, he became Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in 1932 and was always an ardent proponent of dialogue between religion and science. He wrote well, and his language in matters of controversy, which he did not shy away from, is colorful but civil.
About half the book is devoted to the historical development of science and its relationships with Christian thought. Not surprisingly, the greatest attention is given to the biological sciences. The emphasis on the role of induction in scientific work seems a bit dated, but Raven was ahead of many of his contemporaries in his awareness that one could not simply trace Athe scientific method back to Bacon. His criticisms of amateurism in work on the history of science highlight one area in which there has been considerable improvement in the past half century.
Of course, a good deal of attention is given to the conflicts connected with evolution. Chapter III focuses on this, and should be very helpful today especially for Americans, who are likely to be unfamiliar with the scientific and theological aspects of British Victorian society and the personalities involved. It is only to be wished that for once Wallace would be given more than passing mention as the co-discoverer of the role of natural selection.
Evolution is central to Raven's view of the connection between science and Christianity and to his view of reality. His call for a new Reformation which would take seriously all the developments in modern science involves especially advocacy of a thorough-going evolutionism (p. 70). He saw the work of Bergson and Whitehead as pointers toward the future, and his ideas can profitably be considered in connection with process thought. Like Teilhard de Chardin, Raven believed the development of human personality, the life of Jesus, and the formation of community to be at the forefront of the evolutionary process. And, like Teilhard, Raven's views on evolution would be rejected not only by Christian fundamentalists, but also by the scientific fundamentalists who think that natural selection is everything and that design is nothing (pp. 106-110).
It would often be unreasonable to expect a writer to foretell the future, but it is perhaps not unfair to ask how well a book of half a century ago with the present title has done in discerning the way in which developments at the science-theology interface would take place. Certainly Raven did not always predict accurately the course of developments: his dislike of neo-orthodoxy shows him out of step with a major current of theology, and especially with its discernment of the radical character of sin and evil in the world (e.g., pp. 78-79). On the other hand, his modernism and insistence upon a holistic view of reality clearly presage much of what is said today in the science-theology dialogue. And, for all the casual attitudes which Raven shows toward some traditional Christian ideas, his look toward the future is inspired by basic Christianity. "The hour is coming," he says in conclusion (p. 125), "when we shall invigorate theology by recovering the Alexandrine doctrine of Christ as the Word of God, as being not merely the Saviour of men but the Redeemer of the whole creation which has been created through him."
Reviewed by George L. Murphy, Pastor, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Tallmadge, OH 44278.
REASON IN THE BALANCE: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education by Phillip E. Johnson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995. 245 pages, index. Hardcover; $19.99. PSCF 48 (June 1996): 122.
Phillip Johnson, a graduate of Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School, and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, is a scholar in criminal law. This is a sequel to his previous much-praised and debated book, Darwin on Trial.
Johnson protests the marginalization of religion in chapter one, AIs God Unconstitutional? There is a tendency for a religious viewpoint on an ethical issue to be disputed in the public arena because this viewpoint is based on a belief in God. This phenomenon is due to a change in the prevailing religious philosophy from a traditional theism to metaphysical naturalism. Johnson criticizes the scientific basis of this new philosophy, a purely naturalist account of creation. He points out that the proposal of Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time about the origin of the physical laws and the conjecture of Francis Crick in The Astonishing Hypothesis about materialistic theory of mind are metaphysical stories, not science. These philosophical speculations rest on the success of the Darwinian theory of evolution. Johnson then summarizes and updates his criticism of evolution in AIs there a Blind Watchmaker?
After the publication of Darwin on Trial, Johnson engaged in debate and defense of his viewpoint with scientists, Christian and non-Christian alike, and theologians. Here he bemoans theologians who accommodate theology to scientific naturalism and criticizes some Christian scientists in their espousing methodological naturalism as their epistemological base. This methodology holds, by definition, that there is no God of the gaps, and it is inconsistent with theistic realism. He further elaborates in the Appendix about the difference between methodological naturalism and theistic realism in their philosophy and possible scientific hypotheses.
Johnson argues that metaphysical naturalism leads inevitably to relativism in ethics and politics, ultimately to tribalism or partisanship. Also due to the influence of metaphysical naturalism upon law and education, welfare, sexual promiscuity, divorce, and abortion become problems of society. Johnson laments the phenomenon of the cultural war and praises the virtues of civility and open debate in a free and pluralistic society. He points out that conservative Christians are angry, not because of disagreement, but because of marginalization through a subtext of contempt.
Overall this is a learned and thoughtful book which depicts the troubles of American society. The author demonstrates his knowledge of science, literature, philosophy, education, and law.
Most of the book is accurate, especially about the description of problems. However, Johnson places too much blame on the scientific community for social ills. The limits of science regarding origin, purpose, and destiny of humankind are recognized by some eminent scientists. The metaphysical speculations of popular scientists have not been accepted by the scientific world in general. Good science journals are careful about their statements; e.g., the journal Science (14 July 95, p.164) reported about limitations of epidemiological studies. The scientific community also worries about exaggeration, misconduct, and fraud in science.
The author proposes that theistic realism can generate different hypotheses on the question of common ancestry from those based on naturalism. These hypotheses should be falsifiable in the language of Karl Popper. Christians hope that the data from experiment or observation can differentiate these two kind of models derived from theism or naturalism. If so, then natural theology will find its completion and people may recognize God. However, this does not lead to the Triune God as revealed in the Scripture. If natural theology cannot succeed, then Christians need to admit that science is in the realm of general revelation or common grace, and theology covers mostly special revelation or particular grace (Karl Barth also argued for the autonomy of theology). In their natural condition, people are not able to comprehend spiritual truth; similarly, observing the nature world and making logical inference may not open the eyes of faith (the created order is now under a curse, see Gen. 3:17-19).
To lead people to salvific knowledge requires more than natural theology (Ps. 19:7-14 complete verses 1-6). It requires Christian examples and the work of the Holy Spirit. Johnson blames liberal Christianity for leading the path to naturalism. Conservative churches may also be culpable in their neglect of social justice. To solve the problems of the society, Christians have to follow the example of believers in the early church who, according to T. R. Glover, out-thought, out-lived, out-died the adherents of the non-Christian religions in the Roman world. The only way to have a respectable voice in science and intellectual world is to nurture more good scientists and scholars from the evangelical fold.
Reviewed by T. Timothy Chen, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892.
BELIEFS AND VALUES IN SCIENCE EDUCATION by Michael Poole. Buckingham, Great Britain: Open University Press, 1995. 130 pages, notes and references, index. Paperback; ,12.99. PSCF 48 (June 1996): 122.
This book is a member of a series on Developing Science and Technology Education and is authored by Michael Poole, who for 20 years served as a lecturer in Science Education at King's College, London where he is currently Visiting Research Fellow. The series is designed to Aencourage teachers and curriculum developers to continue to rethink how science and technology should be taught in schools, what is the relationship between science and technology? The author's own purpose is summarized in the final words of the book: " I have argued in this book that science should be neither deified, denigrated, nor forced into demise. Rather it should be promoted as a fascinating and worthwhile human endeavor practiced by fallible people." It is his purpose to "help science teachers to show how spiritual, moral, social and cultural factors affect science." In the helpful way characteristic of his previous writings, he provides the reader with many examples of an attitude that understands the significance of genuine science and seeks to integrate insights gained from science and Christian theology.
In the first chapter, `Everybody needs Standards' bases of decision-making, Poole discusses beliefs (such as justice, truthfulness, and honesty) and values that typically involve thinking, feeling and willing. He starts early to describe a set of attitudes toward science and science-teaching that are much needed in today's general environment. One of the first of these is, "Some of the most important aspects of life are not amenable to scientific testing." Insights into the value of the book can be obtained simply by collecting a few of these basic statements that are often misunderstood. The following are collected from the first chapter. "The task would appear to be to try to discover these truths, `truth' being taken as some kind of correspondence to what is the case." "Relativism is only tolerant of relativists. It does not matter what you believe, except that you must believe that it does not matter." "Whereas social explanations of the origins of knowledge are logically possible, social explanations of the contents of knowledge are not." "Instead of taking truth as some kind of correspondence with the way things objectively are, independently of knowing subjects, they have taken it as the consensus of believing people." The book continues in this vein to set forth fundamental statements at critical junctures throughout its length.
The second chapter `What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know'? deals with beliefs and values about science, and traces the heritage of positivism. " recognition of the failures of logical positivism lead to the need Ato help pupils recognize the limitations as well as the strengths of science as one important way of thinking about experience, but not the only one, and "the reinstatement of moral, theological and metaphysical questions as meaningful ones." A clear definition is given: "The doctrine of the omnicompetence of science belongs to scientism not to science." On their part, movements to denigrate science lead to arguments for subjectivism and relativism, which in turn, if accepted, Awould put in jeopardy the whole of the scientific enterprise. Arguing for a position of Acritical realism, the author states helpfully, Aalthough you can construct a theory, or a model, or a view of reality or an interpretation of the world, you cannot construct reality and you cannot construct the world!
The third chapter deals with the way in which evaluations and beliefs Aaffect the choices of analogies and models used in science and in science education. Examples of intrinsically valuable emphases may be seen from the following quotes: "When we try to describe something inaccessible or conceptually demanding, we make comparisons with the familiar, using similes and metaphors." After describing the various functions of a scientific model, the author points out also that "models are used within science, but there are also models for the activities of science itself; and both are important in teaching science." In drawing examples from evolution, he points out, "it could be said that evolution stressed God's continuous activity, and a theory of occasional intervention implies as its correlative a theory of ordinary absence."
The final four chapters of the book deal in turn with environmental beliefs and values, cosmology and creation, the Galileo affair, and the Darwinian controversies. Poole points out how many commonly used phrases all bear testimony to moral and aesthetic issues in science education which reflect people's world-views, their ideas about nature. He describes parallels between science and theology: It is the interpretive aspect of reading the Book of Scripture which I wish to compare with `reading' the Book of Nature, referring in particular to the hermeneutical circle. Other striking clarifications may be cited. So it is a form of category mistake to claim that an act of creation has not occurred because the process has been explained. The theological position of the `god-of-the-gaps' has probably done more damage to theology than anything else. But, more relevant to our study here is the damage it can do to science. To claim that mechanistic explanations displace explanations about plan and purpose, is to commit the explaining = explaining away fallacy. A clear distinction needs to be maintained between evolution, the biological theory, and Evolutionism, the philosophical system-building which has often been parasitic upon it.
This is an excellent book for use in science education in a Christian context, and as a book for adult consideration of these important topics.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
PERSPECTIVES ON TECHNOLOGY AND CULTURE by Egbert Schuurman. Sioux Center, Iowa: Dordt College Press, 1995. 164 pages. Paperback; $10.95. PSCF 48 (June 1996): 123.
As one reads this book, one gets the impression of listening in on only half of the conversation, or maybe that there were complications in translation from the Dutch. Schuurman brings impressive credentials to the topic as a widely published professor of philosophy at the technological universities of Delft and Eindhoven, a senator in the Dutch Parliament, and chairman of the Lindeboom Center for Medical Ethics, yet the book is filled with sweeping assertions without explanation or support. For example, "Engineers, instructors, and employees must all ask themselves whether their contribution to technology does justice to the plant and animal kingdom, to our sources for raw materials, to consumers, to society, to culture, to third world countries, and the like" (p. 99). The book does not unpack this sentence. It simply goes on to other points as if all is clear. What does Schuurman mean by justice? How does one do justice to culture or the plant kingdom? While Schuurman probably has clear ideas in mind, in this work they are often left unexplained.
There is a repeated conclusion. "We should actively use technology to serve people, while avoiding the pervasive pretension that human beings can bend all of reality to our will through technological control. Science maps reality. By such observation it abstracts patterns that can be manipulated and managed, but such abstractions do not capture the whole. Technology is useful, but only in its limited place. We are impoverished if we become completely absorbed in its pursuit as if it could answer all human needs and concerns."
That caution is well worth remembering.
James C. Peterson, Wingate University, Wingate, NC 28174.
WE ALONE? Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life by Paul
Davies. New York: Basic Books, 1995. 149 pages. Hardcover; $20.00.
With the recent discovery of 51 Pegasus, a planet orbiting a distant star similar to our sun, the subject of extraterrestrial life no longer seems the reserve of Steven Spielberg and The X-Files. Paul Davies, professor of natural philosophy at the University of Adelaide in Australia and recipient of the 1995 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, discusses the implications of alien communication for religion and philosophy in Are We Alone? The erstwhile mathematical physicist spent his early career working with famed scientist Stephen Hawking (author of A Brief History of Time), and has written over twenty books on modern physics and cosmology since the 1970s.
Are We Alone? comprises six chapters, the first of which briefly chronicles man's attempt to discover intelligent life in outer space. Reflecting on NASA's recent program to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) by way of radio telescopes, which scan distant star systems to detect radio signals of alien origin, Davies takes the next three chapters to consider arguments for and against the existence of extraterrestrial life, and the impact a discovery of alien intelligence would have on three theories of the origin of human existence C (1) miracle, (2) improbable accident, and (3) inevitable consequence. He proposes the discovery of alien life with novel biochemistry (e.g., left-handed DNA) to rule out panspermia, wherein material is conveyed from Earth to another planet by asteroid impact. Davies argues that the discovery of extraterrestrial life with an origin independent of the Earth would present the greatest difficulty for cosmologies based on miracles or strict Darwinian evolution.
Simply stated, religious folk see a special relationship between man and God, and hence would find their view of creation upset by the discovery of alien life-forms. As for strict evolutionists, who understand the development of complex life (i.e., intelligent beings) from simple origin as natural albeit highly improbable, the discovery of alien intelligence would shake the foundation of their reigning paradigm. Davies rejects the belief in non-teleological, non-progressive evolution, arguing instead for an evolution driven by natural self-organization. This theory renders a divine origin of the universe unnecessary, while accommodating if not anticipating the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
Davies devotes the longest and most problematic chapter to examining consciousness. Because nature has a propensity to self-organize, that is, simple physical states tend to arrange themselves into more complex states, entirely spontaneously and without the aid of any external manipulator, Davies concludes that consciousness represents the culmination of a trend that is part of the natural outworkings of the law of physics. He offers this as an alternative to a Darwinian interpretation of the development of life as a process of random, chance events. In short, Davies's project is to supply a teleological explanation of life C refuting the accidental universe theories of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould that can incorporate the existence of alien life without violating the principles of mathematical physics or evolutionary biology.
The problem with this approach stems from his belief in consciousness as an emergent property. Because the mind eludes description by an appeal to just its material embodiment or physical principles, Davies decides that consciousness must arise from a particular ordering or structure of a physical system when it reaches a certain level of complexity. Davies sees dualist attempts to explain how a nonmaterial entity the mind can influence a material entity the body as futile. Instead, he describes the mind in light of how it is organized as far as its functions are concerned, which sidesteps the mind-body nexus altogether. But describing an entity according to functionalism is not the same as defining what it is, i.e., its nature. To presume that man's intellect, a non-material entity, follows as a matter of course from the mere development of increasingly complex physical states of life is a philosophical non sequitur.
To his credit, Davies highlights the principle of self-organization, an important concept for theists to consider, especially as the artificial intelligence community makes increasing gains in devising simple computer programs (called cellular automata) that mimic plant and animal life. Moreover, his desire to inform the common man's notions of cosmology with the findings of quantum physics is commendable, though his descriptions of quantum mechanical properties like subatomic particle complementarity remain as daunting as this sentence!
Davies glories in his walk across the cosmological tightrope without the use of a divine safety net, but must the rope subsist sans deus ex machina? Ironically enough, Davies discusses alien communication and the Incarnation in a chapter entitled Alien Message without exploring the Incarnation as the alien message that mankind should consider above all others. His concluding chapter suggests that the search for alien life can be seen as part of a long-standing religious quest as well as a scientific project. However, instead of searching for the Creator behind creation, the motivation for Davies remains the search for answers within Acreation itself the majestic process of cosmic self-knowledge. For starters, ASA members would do well to consider Davies's offerings alongside C. S. Lewis's Religion and Rocketry, which reminds physicists and non-physicists alike that What we believe always remains intellectually possible; it never becomes intellectually compulsive.
EVOLUTION IS NOT
SCIENTIFIC: 32 Reasons Why by Albert Sippert. Mankato, MN: Sippert Publishing
Company, 1995. 448 pages, bibliography, index. Paperback; $6.00.
This is an enlarged edition of an earlier book entitled From Eternity To Eternity. The author is a Lutheran pastor who totally rejects the idea of macroevolution. He has clearly studied this issue carefully and seeks to present the basic arguments against evolution, writing in the language of the average person. The book does summarize the basic arguments against evolution quite well. While I agree with the basic position of the author, I am sure evolutionary scientists would dismiss this book out of hand. They would correctly affirm that the author is biased and that his opinions concerning evolution are simply hearsay. Far more persuasive are books written on this subject by Christians who are also scientists, or even those non-Christian scientists who have written and called into question the theory of evolution.
The author begins with a discussion of the early history of mankind leading up to the flood of Noah. He then tackles the main evolution arguments, addressing such issues as dinosaurs, evolutionary hoaxes from the past, the missing link, Archaeopteryx (the creature supposed to be a link between reptiles and birds), geology, fossils, the Big Bang, scientific dating methods, the laws of thermodynamics, etc. He concludes that the theory of evolution has no basis in the scientific data. He categorizes evolution as a humanistic theory designed by godless persons. He then reviews the teaching of evolution/creation in the public schools from the Scopes trial on through more recent legal battles in Arkansas, Louisiana, California, Alabama, and Tennessee. He concludes with a theological postlude entitled A Tribute to our Creator- Redeemer God.
This book probably will not receive much attention from the scientific community. On the other hand, many persons are quickly confused (myself included) when reading technical scientific data concerning evolution. Non-scientists who want a good summary of the basic arguments against evolution will find this book to be very helpful. I believe Rev. Sippert has done an adequate job of summarizing a complex subject in language readable for the average person.
While I found nothing new in the book, I believe the author has done us a favor by amassing under one cover the arguments against evolution. His 32 reasons are given in summary form on pages 404-411. This material is discussed in greater detail in the body of the book. For those unfamiliar with the evolution debate, this book would be a good place to begin.
Reviewed by Richard M. Bowman, Director of Research and Publications, Disciple Renewal, Lovington, IL 61937.
THE DESCENT OF THE CHILD: Human Evolution from a New Perspective by Elaine Morgan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 197 pages, index. Hardcover; $19.95.PSCF 48 (June 1996): 126.
I have recently reviewed the book, The Scars of Evolution: What Our Bodies Tell Us about Human Origins, by Elaine Morgan, for Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. In that book, the author presents the arguments to support the aquatic theory of human evolution which suggests that humans evolved from the arboreal apes in an aquatic environment or wetland ecosystem, instead of savannah.
A pre-publication announcement of this book, The Descent of the Child, states that the same author Aadds new evidence to support the Aquatic Ape Theory. I was, therefore, anxious to have a chance to review this book. However, after reading it, I became disappointed, because this book is mainly a comprehensive description of child development from conception to puberty, and provides only weak or no new evidence to support that aquatic theory. For example, the hairlessness and subcutaneous fat layers in our bodies have already been mentioned in the earlier book, The Scars of Evolution, and so are not new evidences. The other evidences, namely: (1) large brain from plentiful nutritious foods and from three-dimensional locomotion in water; (2) speech capability as a result of voluntary breath control and the descended larynx; and (3) accelerated growth rate and slow development rate due to a decrease in gravitational pull in water, are, in my opinion, weak in supporting the aquatic theory of human evolution.
Nevertheless, this book is well written and organized. The author points out many interesting biological, physiological, and sociological features during child development that are different from the apes, other primates, and other animal species. The book should be refreshing to read for parents and definitely educational for parents-to-be.
As in her previous book, The Scars of Evolution, the author cites many works of others, but again fails to provide the exact references to these citations in this book. Thus, the literature sources of 42 out of a total of 104 citations are missing from the list of references in The Descent of the Child. Such a deficiency in bibliography may be acceptable to those readers who either are quite familiar with the citations, do not bother to read the original works, or do not care to check for accuracy. But, for me, and perhaps other members of the American Scientific Affiliation, reading a citation without knowing its exact source can often be frustrating.
Reviewed by James Wing, 15212 Red Clover Drive, Rockville, MD 20853.
MYTH OF NATURAL ORIGINS: How Science Points to Divine Creation by Ashby L. Camp.
Tempe, AZ: Ktisis Publishing, 1994. 133 pages, annotated bibliography and index.
Camp indicates in the preface that he has been interested in the subject of origins since he became a Christian in 1978. This book is an outgrowth of his desire to provide an alternative for his daughter to the Aevolution propaganda flooding our society. He began collecting and organizing evidence that contradicts the notion that natural processes are an adequate explanation for our existence. Camp earned a degree from Duke University School of Law in 1977 and worked as a trial attorney for ten years. In 1990 he graduated with a degree from Harding University Graduate School of Religion and currently ministers at University Church of Christ in Tempe, Arizona.
The intent for this book is to present a concise and scientifically credible critique of the naturalist's theory of origins. The author acknowledges that this book is based largely on the research efforts of other people and he is very careful to reference his extensive quotation of other work. In fact, a main strength of this work is that it presents an up-to-date summary of much of what has been published in the last ten years on origins from a creationist perspective. The book is divided into four main chapters: Origin of the Cosmos (12 pages), Origin of Life (18 pages),Diversification of Life (46 pages) and Origin of Humans (36 pages).
I think the author has well accomplished his goal of presenting a clear and concise summary of creationist arguments for a Creator and against naturalist theories of origins. For anyone interested in the subject but who has not had opportunity to read many of the books published from a creationist world view over the last decade, this is an excellent place to begin. While I have read nearly all the works cited, I still found this book by Camp a very helpful summary with good arrangement of topics and quotations. I will enthusiastically recommend this book to my students and to others who do not have strong science background in this area.
Reviewed by Bernard J. Piersma, Professor of Chemistry, Houghton College, Houghton, NY 14744.
DARWIN: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory by Niles Eldredge.
New York: Wiley, 1995. 244 pages, bibliography, index. Hardcover; $27.95.
Niles Eldredge is a curator in the Department of Invertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History. With Stephen Jay Gould, he formulated the theory of punctuated equilibria in the early 70s. Based on observations of fossil distributions in the geologic column, Eldredge and Gould concluded that the dominant pattern of evolution is long periods of stasis interrupted by brief periods of rapid evolutionary change. While the punctuated equilibria model appeared to fit the geological data better than the gradualism of conventional Darwinism, it was not received with great enthusiasm by the evolutionary biology community.
In this book Eldredge describes many of the skirmishes which have occurred between the geneticists in the evolutionary biology community whom he refers to as ultra-Darwinians and the community he calls naturalists mostly paleontologists who prefer the punctuated equilibria model. He delineates the points of disagreement between the two camps, and explains why, in his view, the punctuated equilibria view is superior to the conventional population genetics view.
The book takes its title from the British practice of reserving a high table in college dining rooms for the academic elite. Eldredge relates that the elite who dominated evolutionary theory from the 1950s were mostly geneticists who did not take paleontology seriously. In 1984 John Maynard Smith, in an article in Nature, invited paleontologists to rejoin the metaphorical High Table of evolutionary theory. (1)
According to Eldredge, the dominant view in evolutionary biology today is that all evolutionary development can be explained in terms of the competition among individuals to leave the maximum possible copies of their genetic material for the next generation. According to this view, all entities in biology above the organism level species, genera, orders, etc. up to and including ecosystems are merely epiphenomena of reproductive competition, as are all forms of competition other than the fundamental competition to leave more of one's own genes. The extreme of this view is represented by Richard Dawkins' claim that the genes themselves are the real players in this contest. Eldredge sees this as a peculiar reversal of cause and effect, which makes selection an active force rather than a passive recorder of what works and what doesn't in the struggle of organisms for survival. This reductionist view has the advantage of permitting geneticists to focus on development of a rigorous, mechanistic physics of biology, but what is sacrificed is the ability to explain much of the fossil record.
Eldredge provides a rich overview of what paleontologists see of the dynamics of species development. He sees a species as a distinct entity which appears at some point in the fossil record and persists with little change for perhaps several million years. Changes in environmental conditions are more likely to lead to migrations and extinctions than adaptive change (evolution). Periods of adaptive change, when they occur, cluster around environmental changes that lead to migrations and extinctions. To explain this pattern, Eldredge considers the distributions of species observable in nature, both in the fossil record and extant. His conclusion is that ultra-Darwinians, by concentrating on reproduction almost exclusively, are missing the importance of economic interactions exchanges of matter and energy among organisms and between organisms and their environment. Indeed, he points out that reproduction is a luxury in that many organisms don't reproduce unless their other needs are met. Eldredge argues for a science of evolution which endeavors to account for the complex interactions in nature rather than narrowly focusing on genetics and reproduction.
Reinventing Darwin will provide little comfort to young-earth creationists. Eldredge aims not to destroy evolution, but to show how it must proceed to be consistent with observable patterns in the fossil record and among species living today. However, Eldredge's view of evolution acknowledges the complex web of interconnected nonlinear dynamical systems which comprise nature. Such a model is chaotic and exhibits sensitive dependence on initial conditions and disturbances. In principle, infinitesimal disturbances can cause significant redirection of the system trajectory. Such behavior may explain how an omniscient Creator influences nature undetected. Whether or not God uses the properties of nonlinear dynamics to direct nature, a model which aims to account for all relevant natural influences seems more satisfying than one which simply claims that all phenomena result from the drive to reproduce.
The book is written for a nontechnical audience and will be of interest to anyone wanting to understand the debate over punctuated equilibria.
(1) Smith, John Maynard, 1984. APaleontology at the high table, Nature, vol. 309, pp. 401, 402.
Reviewed by William E. Hamilton, Jr., General Motors Research and Development Center, 30500 Mound Road, Warren, MI 48090-9055.
SCIENTISTS: Their Convictions, Their Activities, and Their Values by Gerard M.
Verschuuren. North Andover, MA: Genesis, 1995. 273 pages, index. Hardcover; $34.50.
This book aims to help those in the life sciences to identify the philosophies that are inherent in their work. Verschuuren does this by defining and explaining the domain of science in the first section of the book (Foundations). The second section (Methodology) examines how ideas and inferences become transformed into scientific theories, culminating in the third part of the book Ethics. A section entitled Further reading contains references to relevant articles, but the text itself is not referenced.
All the examples come from the life sciences, but the sections are of interest to scientists in general. For example, Verschuuren clearly separates functionality from the related idea of purpose. What was created for a purpose may or may not actually serve the function for which it was intended, and what has a function may or may not have been created for that purpose. If a biologist asks the purpose of some feature, it is better to say that he wants to know its function. Eye patterns on butterfly wings have the effect of warning enemies; that is the function of eye patterns, not a purpose of butterflies (p. 45). The entire book follows this style.
New ideas are introduced clearly, followed by excellent examples that illustrate the concept. Using this approach, Verschuuren explains the intricacies of several topics such as objectivity, falsification, ethics, experimental animals, and responsibility in science.
The section on ethics begins with a clear discussion on ethics, freedom, and determinism that are again illustrated with poignant examples. This final section is easy to read and entertaining, but after reading the entire section the reader is left with few practical guidelines for making ethical decisions.
The value of the book lies in identifying experimental parameters that may be influenced, unknowingly, by a scientist's presuppositions. The book could be a great asset to upper level students for instilling a more realistic vision of science, and would be a good book for stimulating discussions with colleagues.
Reviewed by Fraser F. Fleming, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
EARTH: Catholic Approaches to Ecology by Albert J. LaChance and John E. Carroll,
(Eds.). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994. 280 pages. Paperback; $18.95.
This book is a diverse collection of essays edited by Albert LaChance, a counseling psychologist and adjunct faculty at the University of New Hampshire, and John Carroll, professor of environmental conservation at the University of New Hampshire. It offers the chance to listen in on the Catholic conversation regarding the environmental crisis. Most of the contributors have been influenced by Thomas Berry, but the book encompasses a bewildering array of intellectual projects of uneven worth. The book could be recommended to those looking for spiritual resources within the Catholic tradition to help with environmental problems and for innovative socioeconomic analysis. It is weak, however, on the integration of science and religion and on biblical exegesis.
Reviewed by C. R. Boardman, graduate student in environmental studies at UW Madison.
WHEN ELEPHANTS WEEP: The Emotional Life of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan MacCarthy. New York: Delacorte Press, 1995. 236 pages, notes and index. Hardcover; $23.95.PSCF 48 (June 1996): 132.
The theme of this book is unsophisticated. As ordinary people, that is, as people not Apracticing science, we understand that animals, at least some animals, have feelings and emotions. But, ABy dint of rigorous training and great efforts of the mind, most modern scientists C especially those who study the behavior of animals Chave succeeded in becoming almost blind to these matters. This theme, set out in the first paragraph of the prologue, is repeated, again and again. Anecdote after anecdote is told, usually with great story-telling expertise (there are some exceptions) to drive home that assertion.
In one sense, the book is a naive plea for credulity. But to ignore it on this account, or because it is frustratingly repetitive, is to miss its value. One value lies in the examination of the statements of certain biologists/philosophers, and asking oneself if they might constitute, in the words of George Orwell, Anonsense so bad only an intellectual could believe it! The Selfish Gene comes in for such criticism, particularly where the author, Richard Dawkins, insists that altruism something that has no place in nature and pictures animals as robot survival machines. One example given is two swans, mating for life, where the scientist sees gene transference maximization mechanisms and the rest of us see animals expressing monogamous affection, which in the human species we recast as love.
Emotions come in many kinds fear, hope, friendship, love, grief, joy, anger, compassion, shame, appreciation of beauty, and others; all these are discussed as the book progresses. Frequent references are made to a little-known work by Charles Darwin titled The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, although most of the references are to much more current works. The issue of anthropomorphism, Aa form of scientific blasphemy, is met head on, and compared with the equally grievous sin of anthrocentrism. In an interesting aside, the concept of zoomorphism (animals seeing themselves in humans) is explored.
In the prologue, Masson and MacCarthy pose the question this way: "how can anyone know that an animal feels nothing if the question has never been investigated? To conclude without study that it has no feelings or cannot feel is to proceed on a prejudice, an unscientific bias, in the name of science comparative psychology discusses observable behavior and physical states of animals, but shies away from the mental states that are inextricably involved in that behavior. Again, the causal explanations center on theories of ultimate causation, the animal pairs because this increases reproductive success as distinguished form `proximate causation,' the animal pairs because it has fallen in love. The authors point out that this policy of ignoring animal feelings and emotions makes it easier to support animal experimentation, particularly experimentation involving pain, loneliness, and mental anguish. Such an argument is not their main thrust, though the book does conclude with a chapter written by Masson on this subject.
I must confess that I find the idea of two animals falling in love a little hard to swallow. Yet, I do know what falling in love means, first as an adolescent, then as a man in my mid-20s, in marriage, then as a first-time father, now as one of a settled pair with offspring independent. That one phrase covers a wide range of emotions and feelings. Not being a sophist, it is simple to extend that concept to human friends, to say, for instance, that Doug and Jean are in love. It would sound ridiculous, of course, for me to sayDoug and Jean behave as a tight bonded pair. Yet this appears to be the only descriptive way some scientists (the book argues) will allow people to describe birds mated for life, female elephants nurturing their young, and the like.
Love, of course, is not the only emotion discussed, nor even the most controversial. Dolphins inventing games, a bear enjoying a sunset, an elephant who keeps a pet mouse, sadness, shame, compassion, and most all of the other feelings we know to be part of our own (human) life, and by extension grant to other humans, are shown to be logically part of the animal kingdom as well. Pet owners, speaking as real people, usually say It's obvious. Scientists, speaking as such, declare It's an enormous claim. This book attempts to bridge the gap between these two groups. To the extent it raises the issue, it is successful. To the extent it tries to solve that issue, it is not. Too much reliance on anecdotes; too little science of measurement. But then, isn't that where most new ideas begin? What is anecdotal? the authors ask. AIt's a careful description of an unusual event. The discovery of penicillin was so initiated!
The book suffers greatly from one curious omission. Although there are well over 200 footnotes, these are nowhere noted in the text! A bibliography of about 200 citations is offered, alphabetical by author name, with no indication of which the authors thought to be important vs. secondary.
With all its failings, however, this book is highly recommended, for it does three things well. It educates one about the complexity of animal behavior, it raises an important issue concerning the fuzzy boundaries between anthropomorphism and anthrocentrism, and, most importantly, it is fun to read! Kudos to the authors.
Reviewed by John W. Burgeson, 6715 Colina Lane, Austin, TX 78759. E-mail: Compuserve 73531,1501
SOUL SEARCH: A Scientist Explores the Afterlife by David Darling. New York: Villard Books, 1995.PSCF 48 (June 1996): 133.
Darling holds degrees in physics from Sheffield University and in astronomy from the University of Manchester. He is the author of Equations of Eternity and Deep Time where he discusses the philosophical and metaphysical implications of quantum mechanics and celebrates the pantheistic view of cosmology. In Soul Search, the author attempts to answer the questions: What happens when we die? Does everything we are just stop? Is consciousness lost forever? As with many contemporary scientists who have rejected ontological naturalism, but have refused to adopt the Judeo-Christian world view, Darling attempts to answer the above questions introducing near-death experiences from the perspective of robust pantheism. In that sense, he is in good company with the authors, Moody (Life After Live) and Kubler-Ross (Death: the Final Stage of Growth), who made near-death experiences (NDE) popular. The important contribution of this book, however, is Darling's critical analysis of the various phenomena common in NDE. Darling argues persuasively that two of the NDE phenomena, i.e., going through a tunnel and the brilliant light, are identical to experiences under drug induced hallucinogenic conditions (see Siegel's article, Hallucinations, Sci. American, Oct. 1977).
Two other phenomena, however, remain outside known natural explanations. These are: (1) the ability by the patient to describe in detail, events in the operating room in spite of recorded brain wave cessation; and (2) an extraordinary sense of deepening and broadening of consciousness experienced by the patient when there is no perceptible brain wave activity. This is what Darling calls the Acore enigma of NDE, and attempts to provide an explanation in his book, drawing mostly from Zen and Tibetan Buddhist philosophies (in the monistic, non-dualistic Shankara tradition).
The book has a long introduction and ten chapters. In the introduction, Darling discusses the question, What happens after death? from both naturalistic and religious perspectives. He then proceeds to show the inadequacy of the purely naturalistic explanation. To get a comprehensive answer to the question of consciousness continuing after death, Darling states, AIt is time that we looked at the question through the eye of a scientist and a mystic, by synthesizing science, religion and mysticism. The remaining ten chapters are an elaboration of this premise.
Chapter 1 discusses the biological origins of death, that evolution of self-awareness in Homo sapiens has made death something to be feared, and has led to man's eternal quest for survival after death, which he then covers in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, the author shows that death is a black hole, with no possibility of any information coming back, except through the event horizon which he identifies with NDE. He dismisses paranormal phenomena associated with mediums and channels as deception, and avoids discussing the belief in reincarnation. However, in spite of his attempts to be comprehensive in treating the problem of death from physical, psychological, and spiritual angles, the author completely ignores the concept of resurrection, so pivotal to three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and believed in by three-fifths of the world population. His only mention of monotheistic beliefs in an afterlife is a quick dismissal of visions of paradise where the soul experiences eternal bliss with his/her loved ones and a mention of Paul's experience of being caught up in the third heaven, which he categorizes as a Pauline NDE.
Chapter 4 is devoted to analyzing the various phenomena associated with NDE with its core enigma (mentioned above) as the residue with no possible naturalistic explanation.
The rest of the book attempts to develop a thorough monistic/pantheistic view of nature, reality, and self in an attempt to explain the core enigma. Here, the author shows great kinship to Capra (Tao of Physics, Turning Point), but goes even more forcefully into the self awareness and the physical world as illusions, with Achange, impermanence and undividedness as the onlytrue qualities of the universe. Darling spends two chapters studying very rare, but very abnormal case histories of brain damage as ammunition to question the reality of the self and our perception of the flow of time as real.
Descartes' famous insight "I think therefore I am," is thus replaced with the Eastern-Pantheistic-Monistic version "I think as if I am!" In the final three chapters, linear time, objective reality, the individual self, and analytic thinking undergo the traditional monistic lashing by a scientist (the author himself) whose very scientific credentials depend on the reality of linear time, objective truth, and analytic thinking. It seems like Darling is killing the goose that laid the golden egg!
In his attempt to emphasize the importance of losing one's self as key to conquering man's ubiquitous fear of death, the author quotes the second great commandment "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," then proceeds to chastise self-awareness as inimical to cosmic consciousness, that it should be eradicated through meditation and mystical experiences. Oddly, most of the deep experiences sought by religious mystics, especially Indian gurus, often represent acts of extreme selfishness themselves.
The core enigma is thus resolved when the I, the inner self is dissolved in the Great Cosmic Consciousness, transcending rational thought, in an ineffable state. Darling concludes, "Only when there is no self left is there no one who can die."
It is gratifying to see more and more scientists like Darling, reject the sterile world of ontological naturalism, and start seeking holistic, integrated answers to life's deepest secrets, including the nature of the soul and the spirit. However, it is deeply disturbing that great twentieth century scientists like Einstein, Shroedinger, Heisenberg, and many contemporary scientists of repute such as Hawking, Penrose, Wheeler so readily embrace pantheistic views of truth, in spite of its glaring philosophical inconsistencies. They forget the fact that modern science owes its very existence to the Judeo-Christian view of a transcendent God and contingent creation.
Reviewed by Kenell J. Touryan, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO 80401.
BIBLE, VIOLENCE, AND THE SACRED: Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence by
James G. Williams. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995. 288 pages,
index, endnotes. Paperback.
Author James Williams' primary objective in writing this book was to shed light on the violent structures in society, and to show how the biblical witness to the innocent victim and the God of the victims demystifies and unmasks these structures. He aims to show how the God of Scripture stands against these universal structures of violence, and unravels man's mysterious bent on rivalry and violence. Although he does it by methods of biblical interpretation unacceptable to evangelicals, the author accomplishes his objectives. As a Christian, Williams argues that God enters into the picture precisely for the purpose of defending victims. Unlike sinful humans, God refuses to participate in the pathology of scapegoating. God is there to free us from our enslavement to rivalry and the violence which flows from it.
I read The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred during the final days of the O. J. Simpson trial. The attitudes of most Americans toward the O. J. Simpson trial and the scapegoat theory espoused by author James Williams were fascinating. Both agreed upon public discontent, the identification of a scapegoat, dealing with the scapegoat, and presumably re-establishing harmony in society.
While complaining about the ridiculousness of the trial, why did most Americans remain glued to their television sets as the trial unfolded? Why did thousands of Chinese crowd around a local courthouse last month to witness the execution of three bank robbers? Why were 3000 men killed at the installation of the first Levitical priests (Ex. 32)? Why this universal fascination with violence? These are the types of questions which led author Williams and his ideological mentor, Rent Girard, to develop their Amimetic, Ascapegoat, or Avictimage theory of religion.
Girard's theory, as defended in this book by Williams, sees culture itself as rooted in rivalry. Ever since the time of the hominids, men have tended to imitate one another (from which comes the word mimetic). As the imitator becomes more successful in imitating his model, competition ensues. The more like his model he becomes, the more violent becomes their rivalry. Eventually the only resolution to the conflict is group identification of a scapegoat who is then expelled or killed. Williams and Girard find this description of reality to be the common denominator of all cultures, including the biblical culture. In The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred, Williams sets out to defend this thesis from a biblical angle.
Williams is professor of Hebrew Bible and New Testament at Syracuse University. His approach to Scripture was a challenge to me and should be to any diligent ASAer. He implies that any biblical truth must accord with the theories of other sciences (in this case, anthropology). But what are we in the ASA to make of Williams' imposing extra-biblical meanings on biblical texts? For example, Williams suggests that the meaning of kingship in Ex. 4:22-23 must be understood from the viewpoint of Egyptian myth and culture. From the lips of Williams, we hear Carl Jung on Job, Egyptian mythology on Moses, Freud on Jewish identity and oppression, and Shakespeare on nearly everybody. The Bible has no authority except when it receives it from Williams and his chosen authorities.
The struggle I had with Williams was the same one I have with every myopic theology; they read everything in Scripture through one lens. We've had liberation theology, feminist theology, and now we've got Ascapegoat theology. Quoting and endorsing Girard, Williams writes: AThe Word [Scripture] that states itself to be absolutely true never speaks except from the position of a victim in the process of being expelled. I do not have the theological qualifications of Williams, but I know better than to muzzle the voice of Scripture. Williams's desire to harmonize Scripture with social theory has cost him a great deal in terms of Christian orthodoxy. It was clear that he was first convinced of his theory from the conclusions of anthropology, and then as a biblical scholar, set out to show how the Bible confirms his theory.
While challenged by The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred, I really only enjoyed the last chapter which focused on contemporary American culture from the vantage point of scapegoat theory.
Reading this book requires a solid background in Bible and social theory. A theologian who knows anthropology or a sociologist who knows his Bible might appreciate it. Personally, I could not recommend this book to anyone I know.
Reviewed by Mark A. Strand, Medical Team Director, Evergreen Family Friendship Service, Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China, 030002.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GOD by
Richard Elliott Friedman. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1995. 284 pages, notes,
bibliography, index. Hardcover; 24.95.
Friedman is Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego. He also wrote the book, Who Wrote the Bible. In the opening chapters the author reviews materials in both the Old and New Testaments. He then switches to some analysis and comparison of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and ends up with a discussion of the big bang theory of creation, comparing it to the Jewish Kabbalah. The theme running throughout the book is the idea that God, at times, seems to disappear from history. He was clearly present early in Old Testament history, then seemingly disappeared. He was manifested openly in the ministry of Jesus, but again seems to fade away in the later New Testament writings. This is presented as a new observation, but one that many Bible scholars have noted in the past (e.g., Sir Robert Anderson's book, The Silence of God).
The shift to Nietzsche and Dostoevsky was initially puzzling to me. I later assumed that Friedman used these two authors as examples of persons who wrestled with the idea of an absent God. His comparison of the two, especially the pointing out of some striking parallels, was new information to me and quite interesting. They seem to represent, in philosophy and literature, how man tries to cope with life in a world where God is absent.
The author also finds a parallel between the big bang theory and the Kabbalah, a Jewish mystical system formulated by certain rabbis in the Middle Ages. Both see the origin of the universe in terms of a single point. While that was an interesting observation, the author said nothing else about the Kabbalah and its relationship to science. Is he suggesting that we should embrace Kabbalah based on this one point in harmony with modern science?
The book wrestles with the idea that if there is no God (or if God is absent from history), there is no basis for morality. If there is no absolute moral standard beyond the competing human moral systems, it is difficult to find a reason to pursue morality at all. The author reflects some concern that we in the twentieth century, perhaps more than any other time in history, are a generation that lives as though God were absent or irrelevant. We are the generation where the death of God theology originated from within the believing community.
The book suggests that while science may initially have contributed to the idea that God is unnecessary in today's world, science today may be pointing us back to the reality of God. His comments about Stephen Hawking and other scientists were of interest to a scientific layman, such as this reviewer. In some ways, says Friedman, Hawking's A Brief History of Time is a religious book. Carl Sagan admits as much in his introduction to Hawking's book, and the book itself ends on a religious note. (The famous final sentence is, "Then we will know the mind of God.")
Friedman is an excellent writer and the book was full of interesting facts and ideas, but I struggled to answer the basic question, What is the point? The book was an interesting survey of how several societies and individuals have viewed God (or the absence of God), but the hard hitting conclusion I searched for was never found. The book ends with the statement, "There is some likelihood that the universe is the hidden face of God. An entire book only to end up with some likelihood?
Further, as a believing Christian, I thought the book more or less ignored the fact that there are millions of Christians who will testify to the presence of God in this world. While Nietzsche and those influenced by his writings may act as if God is dead, those who have found new life in Christ live in a world where God is very real. The author's bias may be in the direction of Kabbalistic pantheism rather than in Christianity. True Christians are not searching for an absent God, but abide in the presence of the Living God.
Reviewed by Richard M. Bowman, Director of Research and Publications, Disciple Renewal, PO Box 109, Lovington, IL 61937.