Book Reviews for September 1991
REASON: Searching for a Rational Faith by Ronald H. Nash. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1988. 295 pages. Hardcover.
Faith and Reason is an introduction to some philosophical problems of religion designed to be read by an uninitiated reader and also used as a college textbook. As such, it starts from the level of definitions (especially in Part One) and a very good summary of Christian doctrine.
According to Nash, the philosophy of religion has recently revolved around five themes: 1) the problem of the existence of God and 2) of his nature, 3) the problem of evil, 4) miracles, and 5) the rationality of religious belief. The fifth theme is brought to the fore in Nash's book and is also reflected in its title. The presumption of atheism is often claimed to be more objective than any other one and nonbelief is held to be more rational than belief, especially religious belief. Nash subscribes to the Augustinian view that it is "arbitrary intellectual imperialism" (Plantinga) and says that it is "philosophically irresponsible" to do otherwise (p. 17). He discusses some objections to such a view, evidentialism and foundationalism (one being a form of another). The outcome of the discussion is that "it is perfectly rational, reasonable, intellectually respectable and acceptable to believe" (Plantinga, p. 87). Belief in God is "to be a properly basic" belief, a presupposition. Thus, natural theology's attempt, as the author argues at length, to provide more basic beliefs is unjustified. This closes the second part of the book and sets the stage for all other deliberations.
Part three presents some traditional arguments for the existence of God, for instance cosmological arguments, teleological argument, and argument based upon religious experiences (which, the author says, is used by most believing people, p. 143). Part four concerns the problem of evil. Part five discusses miracles, especially interesting in the context of our scientifically minded society.
The book reads very well, and being designed as a textbook, it does not shock the reader by any surprising or new view on any subject. Nash quotes several theological authorities, but he draws especially from Plantinga, whose solutions are in many instances a final word for him. The second author he quotes frequently is himself, to the extent that the reader is referred to his books ratherthan to those of philosophers or theologians whose views are presented (pp. 38, 253). It all means that the diachronic dimension is somewhat missing in this book. Nash makes only occasional recourses to history focusing rather on what seems to be en vogue in the most recent times. The only noticeable discussion in this context concerns Hume's opinion on the status of miracles. There are some minor slips, for instance, it is forgotten that already Husserl's phenomenology has been based upon the concept of the eidetic (p. 21), and logic certainly cannot be equated with the law of noncontradiction (p. 52). The author has also some tendency to be repetitious. Nevertheless, the book is a good introduction to the basic problems of theology, especially Christian theology, giving the reader a fair picture of the scope of problems, solutions, and discussions concerning the rationality of faith. The author quite clearly specifies his own position so that his deliberations are not divorced from his personal attachment to certain solutions. This adds to the value of the presentation.
Reviewed by Adam Drozdek, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
SOUL, AND LIFE EVERLASTING: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate by
John W. Cooper. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989. 262 pages. Paperback; $16.95.
The mind-body problem is as old as humanity and, as neurologist Roger W. Sperry phrased it, "much of man's religious dogma and his moral and even legal codes is deeply influenced in the final analysis by mind-matter concepts." It is also central to the Christian eschatology, since it determines the sense of life and hope for afterlife. "The central issue is whether the soul can survive and function apart from the human body" (p. 1). The problem, however, is that science is not much of a help in this matter; quite the contrary, it undermines traditional Christian theology concerning the immortality of soul by reducing it to bodily functions, by counting it as an epiphenomemon of the brain activities, or simply denying its existence. Therefore, science can hardly be useful in attempts to find a solution. On the other hand, there is no agreement among Christian theologians as to the nature of the soul either, and the traditional Christian view of dualism is also attacked by Christian philosophers. This antidualist opposition inspired Cooper to write his book which is "intended to be an analysis and refutation of arguments of the monists and at the same time a defense of dualism, the doctrine faithful to the Scripture and the traditional teaching of the church" (p. 5).
In the first chapter, Cooper presents scientific, philosophical and theological arguments, all concluding the same thing: "dualism is out, holism or monism is in" (p. 34). The core of the book is the next six chapters devoted to interpretation of biblical anthropology; he discusses the holistic emphasis and dualistic implication of Old Testament anthropology, the intertestamental eschatology, and New Testament anthropology. The conclusion is that "the intermediate state theory and its implied anthropological dualism are the most reasonable positions to hold in interpreting the New Testament" (p. 146).
The thrust of Cooper's splendid, knowledgeable, and scholarly argumentation is the desire to prove that dualism should be preferred over monism, that it fits better the scripture, Christian tradition and doctrine. The author also shows that many adherents of antidualism are, in fact, dualist on account of tacit assumptions they make. Besides, Cooper rather marginally and declaratively mentions the fact that the concept of dualism may cause problems of its own. The author does not want to accept "a strict division between the spiritual and the material, the essential disharmony between body and spirit" preferring what he calls "holistic dualism" (p. 179). However, he discusses very little the nature of the harmony between body and spirit. In fact, it is the most difficult problem. Monism disposes of the problem by rejecting one part of reality, thereby creating a one-dimensional, sterile image of man. However, if the existence of two parts of reality is assumed, there arise insurmountable problems of establishing their interplay. Science may support the view of dualism. However, as Cooper rightly states, its solutions cannot be decisive: idealism can devise ways of making all the brain events somehow dependent on the mental events ... And materialism has proposed numerous accounts of how mental properties are really identical with or generated by events in the brain ... The crucial point is that "the observable data from brain physiology and physiological psychology undermine all philosophical theories alike" (p. 227). This statement, however, is incoherent with the pronouncements that science undermines the basis for considering the soul as a separate substance" (p. 34) and "that science is needed for addressing the body-soul relation" (p. 179). Cooper seems to state that science can never solve philosophical problems, but it should not be neglected altogether, especially in our scientifically minded age.
Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting remains, however, an excellent exposition of debates concerning the mind-body problem. It presents a superb and thorough discussion of scriptural arguments truly indicating that, after all, "dualism is clearly the correct position" (p. 253).
Reviewed by Adam Drozdek, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
GREED, & SEX: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today
by L. William Countryman. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1988. 267 pages,
bibliography, indices of biblical passages, subjects, and modern authors. Hardcover.
This book had its beginning when Countryman, professor of New Testament at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, was asked to give a series of lectures on sexual ethics. He made a scholarly review of the biblical references to this topic and from that developed a sexual ethic for Christians today.
He proposes that what the New Testament writers say about sexual ethics has to be understood in the setting of the Old Testament ethics of purity (DIRT) and of property (GREED). He develops in great detail the purity ethic of the Torah regarding both food and sex and eventually helps us understand that "through Jesus, we are freed from the laws of physical purit...for the higher concept of purity of the heart."
He also develops in detail the ethics of sexual property. He describes the family in biblical times as being strongly hierarchical. The patriarch had extensive rights of ownership of members of his family, and wives were regarded as not much more than slaves, property of their husbands. Acts of adultery and incest were therefore to be looked upon as violations of property rather than as sins per se. "Jesus upset that whole hierarchy and gave women equal property rights" to their husbands.
In his final section, entitled SEX, Countryman strives to outline an acceptable Christian ethic for today. Having placed the pertinent biblical references in their historical context, it is easy for him to claim they cannot be taken as direct, literal commands. He tries, however, to draw "generative principles" and "derived guidelines" from the previous study. It is at this point, however, that he seems to wander far afield from the Bible. He describes homosexual orientation as increasingly recognized in our time as a given of human sexuality...this orientation is normally inalterable..." (p. 244). He then draws his conclusions from those observations rather than from his study of the biblical references to homosexuality. He explains the Romans 1 reference to homosexuality (pp. 109-123), which most readers find to be an unambiguous denunciation of the practice, as a description of an unpleasingly dirty habit of the Gentiles, which God gave them over to because of their more serious sins of idolatry and social disruption." Nevertheless, he agrees that Paul described these acts "as unclean, dishonorable, improper, and `over against nature'" but not sin. That justifies, for Professor Countryman, his support of homosexual practices and marriages. In fact, he tells us that heterosexual lovers can learn something positive from some homosexual couples (p. 260)!
In his conclusion, he discusses "the gift of celibacy" (p. 264). Presumably, he's referring to Paul's proposal that those men who can live without lusting for women can give their whole attention to the spreading of the Gospel. To Countryman, however, the gift of celibacy, given to but a few, allows those few to remain virginal until marriage. The majority, however, without that gift, will have sex as desired before marriage. Again, he's concerned with seeing the situation as it exists rather than speaking to a sinful generation to say "Thou Shalt Not!"
With this type of reasoning, he can condone pre-marital sex, sex for older widows and widowers, and use of prostitutes in some (but not all) situations. He does condemn promiscuity, which he defines as "personal gratification at whatever expense to others" (p. 264). He also sees any exploitative use of another as a greater sin than violation of most of the sexual ethics rules of traditional Christianity. If you act free of falsehood and violence toward the partner and in some way be compatible with the Christian person's relationship with Christ," (p. 263), most anything is permissible.
On the positive side, he makes reference to approximately 750 biblical (and apocryphal) passages and 150 other ancient texts. He writes clearly and explains his position well. Most ASA members, however, will disagree heartily with most of Professor Countryman's conclusions.
Reviewed by Edward M. Blight, Jr., Professor of Surgery (Urology), Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA
THE TRANSFORMING MOMENT by James
E. Loder. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1989. Second Edition, paperback,
244 pages, index.
It will take more than a month to absorb the impact of this book. Its explication of the transformations inherent to the subject-object relation with the knowing of our being and the being of our knowing in this world is both profound and timely. The author, Professor of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary, in his preface has expressed a deep satisfaction in knowing that another decade of readers will have the opportunity to consider his argument. It is a carefully written and deeply probing effort to uncover the kind of complex dynamics involved in creating real correspondence between the reality of God's freedom to be present for us within the order and structures of this world and the reality of human freedom.
To appreciate the clarity and integrity of the form and content of the argument is to agree with the author that his book is important and ought to be read not only in the nineties but the in the decade that marks the beginning of a new millennium. "I myself could wish that I might have read it when I was a part of the silent generation" at Princeton University during the fifties, when I was well on my own way into a romance with the void."
Much of the agony, pain, and torment we can know when we face problems such as these might have been spared. Much of the self-destruction we can experience in the silence might sooner have been turned into the kind of convictional knowledge our author has explored with such great care and compassion. As it is, I must simply thank Professor Loder for his book now, and write more an appreciation than a review.
To compose a book about the way true knowledge is generated in human consciousness and the way that process affects human behavior is obviously no small task. But Loder's ability at integrating a life-long love of the works of Soren Kierkegaard along with his own experience of God, and his capacity to range among the great minds of the Western and Eastern traditions, gives his argument access to the transformations found in people like Einstein, Freud, and Jung, C.S. Lewis, Sartre, and Lao-Tzu.
With this kind of range, our author can confront us with the many real struggles in the race's effort to grasp the meaning and significance of its existence on the planet. In this way, he would have his readers face the truly ultimate questions in the vast mysteries and complexities that make up the history of the development of our thought.
And there is no lack of form and structure to the substance of his argument either! I believe any reader will easily appreciate the economy and consistency that have shaped Loder's purposes here. But, as I have said, it will take a while to evaluate his contribution to our on-going struggles to understand ourselves in a universe really made by God.
I found most immediately helpful the concepts of congruence and correspondence employed to explicate the knowing relation between divine and human realities. With these concepts, Loder is able to maintain a steady concentration upon the real intelligibility with which the relation has to do and upon whose freedom the fundamental principle of personal knowledge in the world must rely. This kind of penetrating attention is the constant enemy of any sort of reductionism that might be sought to determine the relation.
It is my belief that we would all be better poets and scientists in our various fields if we could indeed, with this kind of attention, seek to explore the depths with which we are confronted. It would go a long way towards avoiding the costly errors in our progress. We would more readily achieve that openness of being appropriate to a stance that is poised creatively in the true wonder of the miracle of real understanding.
With these concepts, then, our author attempts to show what is the nature of the kind of dynamics and kinetics inherent to the knowing relation. True knowledge is composed as human consciousness is transformed in such a way that the contradiction of existence on phenomenal levels of reality may be contradicted by the divine. Old habits of mind are made able to participate in what is truly new when the power to integrate is freshly and uniquely experienced. Here we must, argues the author, ultimately see the face of God as the One who knows or we must go blindly on our self-destructive ways.
Here, our freedom is understood as absolutely significant in the divine freedom to be present for us, and with much care and depth Loder allows his readers to participate in a number of cases he has himself experienced in his own counseling ministry. We learn we can understand within the frailties, errors, and the pathos of our woundedness the deepest need we possess to be known by God himself. To this end, Loder can write:
"Don't be afraid - trust and live. Live beyond the boundaries of the shelter you have built against the void. Live in the transparency of the self with the Holy." (p. 121)
The wholeness, joy, and freedom to which our author would point his reader cannot be known in these depths without the convictional knowledge that is appropriate to the transformed life. This is to know that, in the midst of our alienation, brokenness, and fragmentation, the Holy One is free to make us know that we are known and loved. Everything that would contradict our existence is here contradicted by God himself. I hope many will take advantage of this kind of intention in a book and read it prayerfully.
I would like to question, however, the place Loder has given Rudolph Otto's concept of the mysterium tremendum fascinans." It was I believe Karl Barth who first asked this question. The great mystery of the eloquence of God's speaking with us is bound up with the substantiality of the Being of God himself. The silence" of the void" can never be thought of as essential to God. It must be bound up, therefore, with the alienation of the creature. How then can Otto's concept be employed to speak of the mystery? How can this fascination along with our dread be the same as the mediation inherent to the transforming moment?
It is a question I am sure the author would be glad to address with the same care and compassion with which he has treated so many others in this good book. Read it, and pray we shall be made able to answer many of them perhaps in ways that will help us grasp a truly new world. "The larger significance of the concern for self-worth is not to diminish superstition but to save the person from self-destruction." (p. 198)
Reviewed by John E. McKenna, Adjunct Professor, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA 91182.
DARWIN GET IT RIGHT? Essays on Games, Sex and Evolution by John Maynard Smith. New
York: Chapman and Hall 1989. 264 pages, index. Hardcover; $22.95.
Maynard Smith is an ardent defender of natural selection as central to the evolutionary process. He is also one who is not ready to accept that stasis and punctuation are typical. And, he describes his views as being in accord with the modern synthesis." Having said this much, it is clear that his answer to the question posed in the title can be summarized quite succinctly: Yes.
Smith, Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Sussex, has had a hand in developing group selection theory, and has written on the evolution of sex, ecological models and evolutionary genetics. He has also been much concerned with the use of mathematics in solving biological problems. Unlike many of Maynard Smith's writings, the essays here do not contain math. But they do make it clear he is a strong advocate of thinking mathematically. Did Darwin Get it Right? collects 28 pieces, ranging from a 1968 review of James Watson's The Double Helix to an article on the evolution of sex written for this volume. In five section introductions, Smith briefly places each piece in perspective. Most of the writings are fairly recent, all but five are from the 1980s, and exactly half are book reviews.
It might at first seem odd to reprint reviews from The New York Review of Books, The Listener, and The London Review of Books, side-by-side with essays first published in Nature, a Presidential Address to the Zoological Section of the Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Bernal Lecture delivered to the Royal Society. Indeed, thinking about what you are now reading, you may question the value of reprinting reviews at all. However, I found the book to have a reasonably consistent level of presentation, one quite suitable for a thoughtful general readership, the book's target audience. There are two reasons for this coherence. First, I quite agree with the dust-jacket assessment, that Smith has the ability to convey the excitement and complexity of science without baffling or boring anyone." When I first received the book, I opened it to browse a little and get a feel" for it. The next I knew, I had finished the first and second, and was turning the page to begin the third essay. Even the more scholarly papers, while not exactly light reading, are clear and lively. Second, he tends to use reviews as an excuse to explain some biological principle. In his review of Eric Charnov's The Theory of Sex Allocation, for example, he describes various theories attempting to explain the sex ratio of most animals. While he mentions Charnov's work, it is not until the end of page six (of a six-and--a-half-page essay) that he gets around to discussing the book in question. Whatever Charnov might have thought of a review that made so little mention of his book, the result is a piece of enduring interest quite apart from one's interest in the book being reviewed.
The essays comprising each section are meant to provide an overview of a broad subject. In Part 2, sociobiology is covered with a summary essay plus seven reviews. One is of Lumsden and Wilson's Mind and Culture, famous when it appeared for its complicated mathematics presumably supporting the main tenets of sociobiology. Smith spent several months trying to understand the maths" and concluded that the models certainly fail to demonstrate any synergistic effect between cultural and genetic processes" (p. 52). He notes that the review is hard to follow and recommends that unless you have a special interest in sociobiology... you should skip it, and get a bird's eye of the subject from the other essays" (p. 52). I suggest you ignore this advice. The claim that major conclusions of sociobiology have been demonstrated mathematically is significant, and it is worth some effort to know more about why the claim is not justified. But then, I have a special interest in sociobiology.
Taken together, these pieces introduce the major strands of Smith's work, and thus to many continuing concerns of evolutionary biology. This should appeal to those not familiar with the field, as long as the nature of the book is kept in mind. It is not a review of the current state of the field, and will not suffice, by itself, as a general introduction. These essays might also appeal to those with a good background in evolutionary biology, but for whom Maynard Smith's scholarly work is peripheral and better approached through brief, non-technical essays.
Some of the appeal of these essays for any reader is that they are not summaries, but rather arguments for specific ideas or perspectives. Part 3, for example, concerns punctuated-equilibrium models, but is not so much a review of the field as an interesting selection of arguments by a serious thinker who, for the most part does not embrace the idea. His is not a dogmatic rejection, but a skepticism that leads him to suggest the following about how the idea may be tested: it will be of little use to analyze the durations in the fossil record of particular named forms ... because this is to study the habits of taxonomists rather than the evolution of organisms. There is no alternative to a statistical study of populations" (p. 132). And concerning the impact of these ideas, he states: Punctuationist views will, I believe, prove to be a ripple rather than a revolution in the history of ideas about evolution" (p. 156). Perhaps they will, if you measure history on the right time scale.
Reviewed by Paul K. Wason, Assistant Director of Development for Foundations and Corporations, Bates College, Lewiston, ME 04240.
RISE AND FALL OF CIVILIZATION: From Creation Through the Flood by David Hocking.
Portland, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1989. 157 pages, index and bibliography. Paperback;
Hocking, the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Santa Anna, California, is the author of several books on theology and pastoral care. This work is of primary interest to high school and college students or adults who have some background in theology and science and an interest in theological cosmology. Hocking's presentation is a straight-forward discussion of the biblical account of creation in a very readable, flowing fashion. Although a theological discussion of the major events in Genesis, the author touches on science where he feels it will add to the discussion. It is not a polemical book but simply endeavors to understand the biblical record, accepting it largely at face value. Differences in interpretation are often covered. For example, the author notes that the plural form of the Hebrew, elohim, could refer to an emphasis of God's greatness (called the majestic plural) or to God's three-person tri-unity.
Although stressing that we should always be open to new discoveries and additional information, refusing to suppress scientific research or academic pursuit" (p. 26) the author concludes that at the present time, the Bible's account of the origin of all things is not compatible with the conclusions of evolution." He makes only limited efforts to reconcile the two, concluding that without the beliefs of evolution" there is no reason why God could not have created things quickly in adult, mature, self-reproducing forms that reproduce `according to their own kind.' " The work is not a critique of evolution, but a focus on the basic philosophical differences between those who look at origins from a theological versus a scientific viewpoint. He concludes, relative to the latter, that the facts are that the chief proponents of evolutionary thinking in our world do not believe in the existence of a personal God as described in the Bible" (p. 27).
His goal is to understand the biblical record and the various interpretations purported to relate it to our modern view of the world and to resolve internal contradictions as well. The author argues for a twenty-four hour creation day, yet concludes that God merely speaks the word, and it is done." He notes that both historical traditions of the church and biblical teaching conclude that no time is involved in the actual creation. Rather than a twenty-four hour creative day, the scriptures teach a zero second creative week. The author also notes that the long-age tradition was a common early church teaching. Josephus, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas all concluded that the days of creation were geological periods" at a time when no conflict existed between geology and Genesis. Thus, instead of reconciling the twenty-four hour creation days with long-age evolution, one must reconcile the biblical, instantaneous creation teaching with the long-age view held by many in the history of the church, and also with the evidence for the long-age view conclusion in fields as diverse as geology to astronomy.
The author also discusses specifically what happened during each of the creative days, using both the scriptural record and an analysis of the relevant biblical words. An example is his several page discussion on the firmament, concluding that it is outer space" because God created the sun, moon and stars and placed them inside of the firmament. The firmament thus already existed, and if the sun, moon, and stars were placed in such, the firmament" could only refer to the whole of outer space. As an introductory discussion of biblical cosmology, the author does not discuss in detail the many other possibilities for the firmament, such as the canopy theory, or the ancient metal dome theory.
The author notes that many of science's theories that have been contradicting the Bible's teaching have in time been proven to be false" (p. 35) but that Christians should not discourage scientific investigation or believe that all scientists are atheists and hostile to Christianity. The available scientific data is important for all of us to study carefully. At times we will not be able to give an adequate answer or explanation. More time is needed" (p. 35). Unfortunately, both our knowledge and time are clearly finite on earth and will always be so. In the end, the author stresses, our choice boils down to a belief preference. Pleasing a professor may require the right answers on a test, but pleasing God in no way requires right answers to difficult knowledge questions. Much of the faith-science issue debate is to help persons deal with their religious doubts and concerns. Intellectualizing the right answer to such questions is not a prerequisite for salvation.
It is also clear that the only way that the Genesis account could be understood is, first of all, if the entire record was taken together, and one relied heavily upon a tremendous amount of archeological, geological, historical, and textual analysis in understanding it. As is English, the meaning of a Hebrew word depends upon the writer, the context, and meaning. For example, Hocking notes that the land animals are put into three categories in Genesis: 1) the beasts of the earth; 2) the cattle; 3) everything that creeps on the earth. To discern the meaning of this statement is no easy task. Does cattle refer to domesticated animals, beasts to animals such as lions, and everything that creeps, to very small mammals? While reasonable, this is an interpretation which is neither perfect nor beyond criticism, and may not be correct. Things that creep could also be worms, insects, or even reptiles.
The author concludes that the greatest hostility between religion and science is essentially over the question were we created by God and thus, accountable to him, or are we the product of evolutionary process, mere examples of animals who have achieved a high level of intelligence and productivity" (p. 53). Often, the incessant debates, both among believers and between believers and nonbelievers, is over unanswerable questions such as the number of angels that can sit on the head of a pin. As it is often said, Christians are losing the battle because of their fighting among themselves. Much of this work is not devoted to speculation as to how we were created, but what kind of person was created. Although the focus is on the topic of creationism, much information and insight is provided in theology as well as psychology. The author discusses in depth in several chapters what Genesis teaches us about human personality. In short, knowing about the creation process helps us understand our psychology. It is here that the author shines and where a more valuable contribution is made.
This work will likely not cause the emotional response typical of many of the creationist's works. It is clearly theological and does not purport to prove the Scriptures by the discoveries of science. It simply tries to understand what the scriptural record states by endeavoring to achieve biblical consistency. Unfortunately, this approach does not always help those who are trying to read both the book of life and the book of nature. Nonetheless, the work makes useful contributions in endeavoring to bring a wide variety of material together on the creation account and the Genesis flood.
In summary, this volume is primarily an extensive interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis, covering the creation, the fall, the sanctity of life and related doctrines. The creation account, fairly literally read, is used as a spring-board to develop a theology and an understanding of humans and their behavior. The author presents what are probably the most common theological views among evangelical Protestants. Extensive scripture is quoted, and the theological presuppositions derived therefrom are discussed. The work concludes with a discussion on human depravity and divine judgment, and a section on the Noahian flood, focusing on the theological reason for such, and the implications of this event for today.
Reviewed by Jerry Bergman, Instructor of Biology, Chemistry and Physics at NWT College, Archbold, OH 43502.
NEW FAITH-SCIENCE DEBATE: Probing Cosmology, Technology, and Theology by John M.
Mangum (ed.). Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1989. 175 pages,
no index, occasional references. Paperback; US $9.95, Canadian $12.50.
This book contains material from a conference entitled The New Scientific/Technological World: What Difference Does It Make for the Churches?" Forty-five young professionals and students in church service or science came to the meeting in Cyprus during 1987. A parent body of what is now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America cosponsored the event with the Lutheran World Federation while senior scientists, theologians, and church leaders donated their time.
The conference organizers worked explicitly in the tradition of faith-science conferences sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the 1970s. Though dominated by Lutheran and first world" participants, an effort was made to broaden participation well beyond those roots. Theologically, voices ranged from Eastern Orthodox to Reformed to Asian world religions, from panentheism to liberation theology to evangelical thought. Although the diversity was fairly broad (17 countries among the young professionals), no claims can be made for completeness or representativeness on a global scale.
Mangum does not give us a set of academic proceedings. The presentations which make up the bulk of the book are clearly targeted for a lay audience, often without the usual academic paraphernalia (references, index). But we would make a mistake by evaluating this volume solely on these criteria. Its aim is, like that of the conference, to nurture young up-and-coming professionals into a strong awareness of the possibilities for dialogue between science and faith. The book can accomplish that important aim. In this context the diversity of personal background among the conferees becomes an asset by providing varied springboards for discussion, reflection, and reaction. This collection is less useful for sorting out substantive issues or for providing a coherent direction for living out faith and science today.
A major theme of the collection is reflected in the title: the new debate. Several writers argue that the newness of science-faith relations since World War II reflects the growing realization that contemporary science and technology are responsible for problems like the environmental crisis or nuclear weapons proliferation. Some of these assertions mislead by blaming science in a simplistic manner. But the conference epilogue, written by Robert John Russell, develops these concerns by suggesting that a new" debate follows from the mutual modification" between Christianity and science. Such modification shows up as value-sensitive technology, scientifically literate theology, and churches actively involved in developing science/technology policy.
Another thing that comes through clearly in this collection is the value of Christians around the world talking with one another about the place of technology and science in our age. I found myself intrigued by the juxtaposition of concerns and experiences from five different continents. The appendixes are especially helpful in this regard because they summarize recommendations and priorities for each continent raised by people who live there. The Bible studies written by a leader from an Asian Eastern Orthodox church are also stimulating, especially for Christians unfamiliar with Orthodox traditions. For most North Americans and Europeans, the opportunity to listen to these voices from Africa, Latin America, and Asia will be quite valuable.
Perhaps one can benefit most by taking this book as a collection of sermonettes on science, technology, and the church in today's world. There are many lessons" we could take away from this preaching." Several contributors emphasize the necessity of denominational commitments to examine science and technology on an ongoing basis. A minor theme is the indispensable place of social science and social technology in practically addressing the questions raised at the conference. Different readers will enjoy specific topics examined in various chapters: genetic engineering; mutual challenges among science, theology, and the church; admonitions to not take science too seriously though we can also see it as our vocation; the pace of technological change; and the importance of indigenous science and technology in contrast to traditional development models. While no one will agree with all the sermons, most ASA/CSCAers can agree that the debate" should be transformed and widely disseminated.
So most Christians interested in science and the church can benefit from this book. When we disagree with certain authors, we can become inspired by developing constructive criticism of their views. Other chapters will support our concerns about church-science interaction and yet others will challenge us to greater commitments. Whether or not we support the WCC or Lutheranism per se, the Christian community cannot afford to ignore the range of issues raised at this conference. For certain uses, someone will have to provide background and guidance for bridging and evaluating the different parts of the collection. But we can all gain by facing the diversity of voices presented here and by taking seriously the challenges for contemporary churches ministering in the world transformed by science.
Reviewed by Marvin McDonald, Assistant Professor of Psychology, The King's College, 10766-97th St., Edmonton, AB, Canada T5H 2M1.
OPENING OF THE CHRISTIAN MIND: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ by David W.
Gill. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989. 142 pages, bibliography. Paperback.
This book sums up the educational philosophy of David W. Gill, one of the founders of New College Berkeley (CA), a graduate center for Christian education founded in 1977, where he served originally as Dean and currently as President and Professor of Ethics. I was struck by the coincidence when I first saw this book: at the same time I was engaged in a two-year series of discussions at my church, which I had entitled, The Open Mind," and I found our purposes to be remarkably similar. Gill states it this way:
"By the term Christian mind I refer to the giving of our minds to Jesus the Lord (and not practicing a mindless Christianity having to do only with our emotions or tradition). ... Let me also warn (reassure?) you that The Opening of the Christian Mind is not a manifesto for intellectualism in any sense. It is crucial that a Christian mind be properly located in a richly textured life of worship, evangelism, friendship, mutual care and all other aspects of the Christian life" (pp. 13,14).
The book consists of nine chapters with titles such as "Six Marks of a Christian Mind," "The Christian Mind at Work," "Environmental Requirements for a Christian Mind," and "Strategies for Building a Christian Mind."
In a chapter entitled, "The Challenge of a Techno-Pluralistic World," Gill deals with many of the challenges that Christians face as they strive to integrate their faith and life in the midst of a pluralistic and technology-oriented society. He points out how much more difficult it may be for Christians to live out the message of the gospel in their everyday lives, rather than simply keeping these two aspects of life compartmentalized. Secular Christianity, not secular paganism, is the great enemy of the Christian mind and the gospel." A critical part of this whole situation is the powerful technological infrastructure with which a Christian mind must contend. Jacques Ellul calls it Technique" (p. 41). Although this may be a particular problem for Christians who are also scientists and engineers, it is a general framework within which our culture rests.
"Technique is the method of reducing every phenomenon to rational analysis, reducing what is qualitative to quantitative consideration, thinking and working only in relation to measurable results. It is the worship of measurable effectiveness. ...Invisible, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and not open to criticism: sounds like a god to me. ...Our lives are crushed and directed by the quest for quantifiable growth, measurable success, and rational efficiency (the Technical Trinity)" (pp. 41-43).
An overly fastidious reader might notice that the power of technique (the almighty How To") is so great in our lives, that even Gill himself speaks of the various techniques" that Christians can use to help us grow toward personal health and wholeness" (p. 95). This is certainly an area for mature Christian reflection and evaluation. Any attempt to plead for a necessary schedule" for achieving basic goals such as an open mind must leave room for unexpected surprises from God. Any effort to prescribe methods for achieving a disciplined life must deal with the paradox that, whereas discipline is essential to be free and creative, blindly followed discipline can be enslaving and deauthenticating.
A Christian mind, according to Gill, should have six dimensions; it should be a mind that is theological, historical, humanist, ethical, truthful and aesthetic, with each pervaded by a deep sense of Christian joy. One of the most significant factors in faithful Christian living is the clear recognition of the priorities in one's life. You can make all the other motions of a Christian mind, and work hard for personal health, but you will lose in the end if you don't make family and friends a priority" (p. 97).
Finally, Gill lists the five major components of an open mind that are essential if Christians are indeed to be the salt of the earth:" (1) the conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord of the whole of life; (2) the courage to act on our conviction that Jesus is Lord of all; (3) the creativity to discern or invent ways of being faithful to our convictions; (4) competence in carrying out our creative alternatives; and (5) involvement with a community to support and correct our discipleship in the world.
This book would make an excellent study guide for a group committed to helping one another achieve an open Christian mind, one that takes every thought captive to Christ. Members of the ASA will be happy to note that Gill recommends participation in the American Scientific Affiliation (p. 126) as one of the ways for a young person involved in science or engineering to share in a community dedicated to expressing Christian commitment in professional life.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
SKEPTICS ASK: A Handbook on Christian Evidences by Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks.
Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989. 348 pages, glossary, suggested readings, and topical persons
and scripture indexes. Hardcover; $17.95.
Geisler is Dean of the Liberty Center for Research and Scholarship in Lynchburg, Virginia. A capable debater and a well known lecturer, Geisler has a national and international reputation for ably defending the Christian faith. He is the author of over 30 books, some of which have become texts in seminaries around the country. Brooks is the President of X-Press Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas.
Taking as their guiding text, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (I Peter 3:15, NIV), the authors address the general field of Christian evidences. Disavowing extreme fideism and Van Tillian presuppositionalism, these authors believe that the mind really matters.
Chapter 1 describes the main purpose of the book as pre-evangelism. The chart (p. 10) shows the differences between evangelism and pre-evangelism. (I would make a minor change in the chart and say that pre-evangelism is based on reason and revelation.) Also, the importance of logic (use of the law of noncontradiction) is stressed.
Chapter 2 concerns the classic arguments to prove God's existence. Although this line of reasoning has fallen out of vogue lately, the authors feel this is a legitimate apologetical approach. Geisler shows remarkable restraint in only referring to Thomas Aquinas (whom I know to be his favorite philosopher/theologian) only once (p. 16) in the entire volume.
Chapter 3 considers world views that are at odds with Christianity. A good chart detailing these views is included (p. 36). Of special interest is the treatment of Pantheism, which is the epistemological core of the New Age Movement, and a lesser known position - Panentheism. This later view believes that God is to the world as sap is to a tree. A current devotee of this position is John Cobb, Clairmont School of Theology, whom Geisler has publicly debated on the subject.
Chapter 4 addresses what is arguably the thorniest problem facing the Christian, the problem of evil. The authors say, Evil is, in reality, a parasite that cannot exist except as a hole in something that should be solid," and Evil is a lack of something that should be there in the relationship between good things." C.S. Lewis is quoted to good effect throughout this chapter.
Chapter 5 deals with miracles. The baleful influence of Bultmannianism is examined and found wanting. First, it does not follow that because an event is MORE than objective and factual that it must be LESS THAN historical" (p. 85). The topic of miracles, magic and myth is treated at length in Geisler's book, Signs and Wonders (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1988). Also, Danny Korem's books, mentioned in the Suggested Readings Section, are helpful in this area.
Chapter 6, Questions about Jesus Christ," deals with the most vital aspect of the Christian faith: The Person, Nature and Work of Christ. Topics such as the Nicene Creed, Docetism, the disciples' claims about Jesus, the Passover Plot hypothesis and the nature of Jesus' resurrection body are ably addressed. The last topic is dealt with at length in Geisler's book, The Battle for the Resurrection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), written mainly in response to Murray Harris' Raised Immortal.
Chapters 7, 8 and 9 concern topics about the Bible. First the question, What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired? is addressed. The secretary model," elsewhere known as the dictation theory, which I have never known any evangelical (or fundamentalist for that matter) to hold, is disavowed. Inerrancy (meaning no errors) incorporates both divine and human elements. A helpful chart is included (p. 147) contrasting the neo-evangelical and evangelical views of scripture. (This chart indicates no acceptance of higher criticism by evangelicals; I would exempt only the destructive portions of the criticism, allowing for the possibility of some positive elements accruing from this discipline.)
The apocryphal books and New Testament textual problems are examined and questions such as, Is the Bible meant to be a science text? are addressed. The authors encourage readers not to confuse error with imprecision. No one was going to grade the biblical authors on their form as if they were writing research papers" (p. 165). Also, Don't confuse falsity with perspective" (p. 166). Two excellent books by Geisler dealing with this important topic are Inerrancy and Decide For Yourself, published by Zondervan.
Chapter 10, dealing with science and evolution, will be of special interest to ASA members. Geisler (who is an ASA member himself) and Brooks discuss their understanding of the difference between operation" and origin" science. Origin science studies past singularities, rather than present normalities. It looks at how things began, not how they work" (p. 215). The distinction between young earth" and old earth" creationists is explained. (The authors are of the later persuasion.) One might have wished for some discussion of the theistic evolutionist position and perhaps mention of Bernard Ramm's classic work, The Christian View of Science and the Scripture.
Chapter 11 deals with the afterlife; Chapter 12 looks at truth; the 13th and last chapter deals with morals: abortion, gay rights, sex education - all serious contemporary problems facing Christians.
The amount of material Geisler and Brooks have included in a relatively small volume is impressive. It's a distinct pleasure to read a work such as this - presented in a popular format - without a subsequent loss of intellectual integrity and nuance. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Ralph MacKenzie, graduate studies, Bethel Theological Seminary West, 5051 Park Rim Drive, San Diego, CA 92117.
LIVING ETHICALLY IN THE
NINETIES by J. Kerby Anderson (Ed.). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990. 229 pages.
Essays from Dallas Theological Seminary's Bibliotheca Sacra provide biblical insights for Christian responses to a representative sampling of today's ethical dilemmas. The premise is that, while the believer is not of the world, the dedicated Christian is necessarily in the world, for the Lord's purposes.
The Foreword attributes to the Lord a job description: Govern his world and develop and regulate the earth for his glory and to the benefit of his people. Believers strive to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8). In performing we confront three kinds of dilemmas: Issues of moral and social concern, of law and of medical practice. This volume seeks actively to provide biblical guidance for resolutions.
Initially the tone is set through acknowledgment of the pervasive crisis in morality perceived by many. Examples ranging from misjudgments through outright abuses are attributed to substitution of individual concepts of love for a universa "divine" standard. The thesis is that one ultimate, intrinsic good cannot be denied in seeking out any ethical right.
The theme proceeds in recognition of an ongoing battle for the human mind. Where once we were moved by tradition and reason, we are now guided by science and reason. But what is needed is attendance on revelation and reason. Reasoning, then, remains a universal ethical prerequisite; the emerging imperative is abolishment of theological ignorance, indifference and intellectualism.
Reflection on compelling similarities among ethical codes suggests a sole source lodged beyond individual intellect or culture. Ultimately it is the Creator's character which provides an absolute moral standard, a standard implanted in the human conscience.
From these precepts of Christian morality the anthology turns to specific issues in contemporary society. Salient among these are homosexuality, pornography and drug abuse. In this social arena Micah's injunction is reaffirmed. Indeed, today's societal issues have much in common with those of the prophets' timesand the responses advocated share a biblical foundation. Words like repent," justice," righteousness," loyalty" are hardly obsolete. Moreover, the prophets, it is pointedly recalled, did not cloister themselves from society and its dilemmas. Neither should the modern Christian; the New Covenant continues to provide both guidance and spiritual power. The evolving instruction recognizes that Christians are living in two countries:" First and foremost, the Kingdom of God and, not insignificantly, an earthly nation. Christians are to fulfill the responsibilities of both realms simultaneously. Thus, the anthology enters the legal (or political) arena.
In dealing with contemporary politico-legal systems, there are two divergent lines of theological thought each with a crucial bearing on Christian ethical belief. Postmillenarians hold the Church to be obligated to usher in the Kingdom of God, while Premillenarians believe only Christ can inaugurate it. Between these two extremes are the Amillenarians, inclined more toward Premillenarians.
These are distinctions with a profound difference. Postmillenarians constantly strive to effect the Kingdom through universal Christian perfection. Premillenarians, denying human capacity to establish the Kingdom, turn their energies to evangelism. The substance of ethical responses to politico-legal dilemmas flows from the individual Christian's place on this continuum. Desired ends and suitable means for their attainment will be so defined, suggesting that a single Christian ethos on either is unlikely. Given the anthology's exploration of viewpoints, the reader should expect disagreement among believers on everything from the place of Mosaic Law to the propriety of accepting medical advances in societal or personal application. The concluding medical area evaluated innovations in artificial reproduction (with the one jarring lapse in scientific precision) and provides a biblical appraisal of the levels of treatment for the terminally ill where professional intervention ranges to the extreme of involuntary, active euthanasia. Ethical issues falling between birth and death are addressed in essays on abortion and AIDS, both characterized as epidemics.
This rich anthology fully explores, at least in the abstract, ethical quandaries before contemporary Christians. It weds practical approaches to pure theology for a full complement. The intent is not to provide precise answers to individual dilemmas. Instead the selection and structuring of the essays work together to articulate a biblical foundation for contemplating those issues on the social, political and personal scales and for making decisions as citizens of earthly dominions who would serve the Kingdom of God.
Reviewed by Dorothy J. Howell, Adjunct Visiting Professor, Environmental Law Center, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT 05068.
PERSIA AND THE BIBLE by Edwin M.
Yamauchi. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990. 578 pages, indexes. Hardcover;
The cultural blight inflicted upon Iran (ancient Persia) by the present regime has affected archaeology as well; there have been no excavations since 1979. This is exceedingly unfortunate because there has been such a dearth of tangible evidence for Persian history. While scientific excavation at Susa goes back to 1897 and there were a scattering of other excavations in the pre-World War II years, it was not until the 1970's that a great proliferation of excavations" (p. 9) began.
Yamauchi notes that, even though publication has gone on unabated since the shutdown of archaeological field work, there is now no authoritative and dependable survey ... especially for students of the Bible" (p. 9). The last such survey was Robert North's Guide to Biblical Iran (1956). Persia and the Bible was written to remedy this lack. Yamauchi is eminently well qualified to undertake this task. He is an internationally recognized authority in Bible and archaeology with eleven books to his credit, including: Pre-Christian Gnosticism, New Testament Cities in Western Asia Minor, and Greece and Babylon. He has an extensive bibliography in scholarly journals as well as contributions to Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and other collected works. He was one of a dozen American scholars participating in the Second International Congress of Mithraic Studies, held in Tehran.
The book is copiously illustrated with more than 100 black and white photographs, numerous maps, and several drawings and tables. The photographs are all well-chosen and generally very clear, although a few are a bit murky. While the maps are quite helpful, they would have been more useful if there had been a table of maps or references to them in the text. The discussion of geography on pp. 20-22 would have benefited greatly from a good overall map. Also, a chronological chart of Persia and surrounding kingdoms would have helped the target readership of this book keep track of kings, civilizations and empires. Too often, a familiarity with the history and geography of the surrounding areas is assumed. Finally, a pronunciation guide would have been very helpful, especially with the strange Persian names.
These criticisms are relatively minor, however; the book does succeed admirably in its stated purpose. While Persia and the Bible, of necessity, has far more to do with Persia than it does with the Bible, the points of contact are discussed fully and fairly. The full Index of Scripture References" will greatly enhance the value of the book for anyone interested in the Bible. The Index of Authors" is an invaluable guide to the extensive footnotes throughout the text; it eliminates the tediousness of searching the preceding twenty pages of crowded footnotes for the full reference to a source that has suddenly become vital. This is a feature that should be added to all scholarly books produced under style manuals such as the APA Style Manual! An Index of Subjects," an Index of Names," and a 23 page Selected Bibliography" complete the scholarly apparatus.
The organization of Persia and the Bible is interesting and effective. After the brief introduction, the book can be described under three groupings; the first provides a chapter for the Medes and a chapter for each king from Cyrus through Artaxerxes I. The available information on the various capitols is summarized in the next four chapters, and, finally, four topical chapters describe Persia and the Greeks, Zoroastrianism, the Magi, and Mithraism.
The extent of uncertainty still remaining in things Persian is truly remarkable. This is no doubt due to the tremendous reliance that must be placed on the writings of Classical authors of varying degrees of reliability and varying distances from the scene of their pontifications. Interestingly, Herodotus is increasingly rehabilitated as quite reliable, as far as he goes and as far as his sources will allow him. It should be noted that Herodotus frequently didn't trust his sources, either. The inscriptional and literary evidence from Persia is minimal, and the area is still very inadequately excavated. However, Yamauchi moves through it all with a deft and sure pen. He very carefully summarizes both (or all!) positions to the question and concludes with the current condition of scholarship as he sees it. His personal position on Biblical matters would be characterized as evangelical or conservative.
This is an excellent book and can be well recommended for anyone interested in Persia or Persia in the Bible.
Reviewed by Eugene O. Bowser, Reference Librarian, James A. Michener Library, The University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639.
DICTIONARY OF SCIENCE
AND CREATIONISM by Ronald L. Eckert. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1990. 263
pages including references and index. Hardcover; $32.95.
I found this to be a useful book, specifically because of its topical format. It offers a broad interdisciplinary scope which makes for a handy quick reference, but it is not very comprehensive. For a similar perspective with much more detail on earth-science issues, see Strahler's Science and Earth History, also by Prometheus Books. The overall perspective is pro-evolutionism and anti-creationism. A reasonable understanding of the issues is demonstrated in spite of Ronald Eckert's background as a librarian and co-translator of the Canterbury Tales into modern English.
Eckert's prime objective can be paraphrased from the preface as a desire to help counter the pseudoscientific wave that contributes to the dismal state of science education in the U.S. This is a clear reaction to scientific" creationism with each dictionary entry worded to oppose the viewpoint of Henry Morris et al. In the book's foreword, Martin Gardner sees politicians, educators, and the media as the dictionary's primary audience. He also expresses a hope that this may serve as a scientific apologetic among open minded" conservative Christians. The effort would be better served without an overdose of scientism and reference to the close-minded likes of Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan and William Benetta. I do appreciate the distinction that is made between creation science and other creationists (p. 8) and between the questions of origins and evolution.
Of the more interesting entries, the first, Abiogenesis, exposes a significant area of naturalistic faith. Old, weak explanations attend citations to studies by Fox, Miller, Walker, Cairns-Smith, etc. So what if amino acids and nucleotide bases form under manipulated experimental conditions (simulated" pimitive-earth)? The total lack of free oxygen is specified as an essential starting condition for life. Should the absence of O, therefore, be assumed even if inconsistent with the better interpretations of geology? Eckert's final statement may be wishful thinking, if not simply naive: "And all present evidence supports the view that the precursors of life arose naturally, and that life's subsequent emergence ... was a probable if not inevitable event." Respected investigators such as Kenyon and Shapiro express little of this certainty.
Under Adaption, Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying that natural selection has provided only the illusion of design and planning." Similarly, the entry Life quotes Douglas Futuyama: Tapeworms were not put here to serve a purpose, not by design but by the action of impersonal laws." The reasoning continues elsewhere, as under Design Argument. One is assured that an intelligent designer would have done so with perfection and not with extinction, vestigial organs, pain/suffering, and so on. Creation-science advocates argue against evolution with almost the same rationale, that natural selection is too cruel and impersonal. Perhaps both opposing isms" presume much about the nature of the designer that need not be true.
Appearance of age cites Henry Morris as a proponent of this concept. Of course, it does not articulate well with a major scenario dependent on the Genesis flood as creative agent. Eckert has shown here one of many significant inconsistencies in the Institute of Creation Research descriptions of how all came to be. Were geological complexities spoken into place or were time and process responsible? Eckert also easily refutes creationist efforts to explain Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel on a scientific basis.
The Bible is described from a typically liberal (for lack of a better word) viewpoint. For example, there are kind words for the documentary hypothesis of Genesis authorship, which most biblical scholars accept" and a denigrating comparison of the biblical text with other creation and flood stories. The section on God is a bit more even-handed. Eckert endeavors to make a clear separation between faith in a deity, even a fundamentalist Christian one, and science.
Big Bang exhibits discomfort with the teleological implications of the theory. Here the argument against creation science is of secondary interest; the real intrigue comes in the need for disclaimers where the Big Bang leaves room for a true singularity and its philosophical first cause (see p. 41).
Skipping through the alphabet, I rest briefly at several entries including Humanism. Eckert somewhat misses the point that humanism in the broader sense is no threat to religion. It is really only the secular" variety that attempts to dethrone God and replace him with enlightened intellectuals. Polonium Halos corrects the misinterpretations of Robert Gentry who is accused of invoking the god-of-the-gaps" as an explanation. Science provides a good description of the scientific method in practice and problems in science education. World View helps to finish the entries with a tone more conciliatory to all but the young-earth creationist. A spectrum of creationist perspectives is described. Theistic evolution might actually be other than an oxymoron!
This dictionary is concise, nontechnical, and is cross-referenced. The bibliography is large, even though it excludes important publications that fall between the ideological extremes. The efforts of John Wiester, Dan Wonderly and Dave Young are glaring omissions in geology. I recommend the book for general use only if it is balanced with other pertinent information.
Reviewed by Jeffrey K. Greenberg, Geology Department, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187.
AND PROVIDENCE: God's Interaction with the World by John Polkinghorne. Boston:
Shambhala Publications Inc. 1989. New Science Library. 114 pages, notes, index. Softcover;
Is a personal God, one who interacts lovingly with his Creation, interacts with individual people in specific situations, a credible concept in our scientific age? This is Polkinghorne's central question. A Fellow of the Royal Society, John Polkinghorne left his post as Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University to train for the Anglican priesthood. He is now President of Queens' College, Cambridge. With the demise of the 19th-century view of the universe - especially through consideration of complex dynamic systems - Polkinghorne can say, "The future is no longer contained in the past; there is scope for real becoming" (p. 2). His starting point is the acknowledgement of human freedom. "And if we have some manoeuvering room, we should not be surprised that God has left for himself some such opportunity also" (p. 1).
He begins by outlining the problem, raising for example the question of what would constitute evidence of God's activity. Assuming God is both consistent and the ground of all there is, it will be impossible to contrast results with and results without God as an isolated cause. Polkinghorne believes the world would cease to exist if God's activity were removed; the atheist would expect no change. Acknowledging these problems with empirical verification, and admitting that no side has a knockdown" argument, "it remains that without some recourse to the particular there is a danger that the God who does everything will be preceived as the God who does nothing" (p. 17). Characteristically he does not end here, but notes that "to the problem of God's particular action we must add that of his particular inactivity on those occasions when his powerful presence seems most needed and desired."
In chapter 2 he develops a general view of God's action in the world, and in seven further chapters addresses, briefly but with maturity of thought, providence, miracle, evil, prayer, time, incarnation and sacrament and hope. These rich discussions are not easily summarized, but two brief examples might help give a sense of the work. Example one concerns evil. About the evil that arises from the willed choices of people, he uses the classic free-will defense. He then applies the same idea to natural evil: "God accords to the processes of the world that same respect that he accords to the actions of humanity" (p. 67). Quite the reverse of some inevitable mechanical functioning, the open flexibility of the world's process affords the means by which the universe explores its own potentiality, humankind exercises its will, and God interacts with his creation."
Example two concerns prayer. He begins with this central question: if God is not ignorant, forgetful, or open to magical manipulation, just what does prayer do? Perhaps we view it too abstractly; "prayer is an encounter between God and a person, through which new possibilities could come into existence; prayer is not a mechanical operation, predictable in advance, but ... a personal encounter with God, whose character and outcome are only revealed in the event itself" (p. 73).
At least one reader has remained unconvinced that any of this is credible in our scientific age - former Cambridge professor Sir Fred Hoyle, whose review of Science and Providence - in Nature (v. 339, May 4, 1989 pp. 23-24) does not display the same level of enthusiasm for the book as the present review. It is not that one would expect a positive response from this deeply committed materialist, but Hoyle provokes additional frustration by making it clear that he does not intend to engage the basic question. Neither side, says Polkinghorne, has a knockdown argument. To continue the analogy Hoyle has responded by drawing himself up in disdain and declaring that (as everyone knows) only the unenlightened even go to the boxing matches at all.
This posture is established early with such statements as: The procedure adopted by all religions is to postulate the existence of an entity or entities with a full understanding of the purpose of the Universe..." Is it Science that gives Hoyle the confidence to rule out revelation right from the start? Is it then Hard Science that permits him to ignore also the social (lesser) sciences, brushing aside the many findings of anthropology that contradict what he says about all" religions? This is at best a just-so story" designed to rule out any possibility that religious thought is other than human wish fulfillment. The irony is that Polkinghorne has here built a strong case that such a stance cannot claim support from science, while Hoyle persists in believing,on firm empirical grounds, no doubt, that the case has already been made, and one no longer need trouble oneself to answer the imaginings of Polkinghorne. And for Hoyle, even if people listen, it still has nothing to do with any truth content in what Polkinghorne says. Hoyle ends his review: "By eschewing issues that most people feel deeply about, science has produced a situation in which it has few friends outside itself. Polkinghorne may turn out to have far more."
Not everyone will be at such pains to insulate themselves from the substantive issues, and the book is written with the skeptic in mind. Nevertheless, it may have its greatest impact on those already open to the possibility of God's existence, and thus for whom the questions of whether and how he interacts with the world have become important. This book will likely be of interest to many Perspectives readers, for it treats several central questions of science and theology with great insight. Because of the progression of thought from general questions to the God of Christianity, there would be some value (for anyone, but particularly for the open-minded skeptic) in reading Polkinghorne's three volumes on the subject (One World, Science and Creation, then Science and Providence) in order rather than starting with this work. Which brings me back to my main disappointment with this book, encountered in the very first sentence; This is the third volume of a trilogy..."
Reviewed by Paul K. Wason, Foundations and Corporations Officer, Bates College, Lewiston, ME 04240.