Book Reviews for September 1995
CONTROVERSY IN AMERICA by George E. Webb. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky
Press, 1994. 297 pages, index. Hardcover; $34.95.
George E. Webb is professor of history at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee, where his teaching responsibilities include lecturing in the history of American science. The Evolution Controversy in America recounts the tumultuous conflicts that have characterized America's reaction to the Darwinian revolution, and, in particular, their impact upon science instruction in public education.
Chapters 1 and 2 trace the reception of Darwinism in late nineteenth century America. Cursory treatment is given to the emergence of neo-Lamarkian and neo-Darwinian schools of thought, the reaction to contemporary developments in scientific methodology by persons deeply committed to Baconian inductivism and Scottish common sense realism, the impact of evolutionary theory upon American religious life, and the attempts made by several social philosophers to use evolutionary concepts as the foundation for their theories of societal development and civic responsibility. The treatment of the reception of Darwinism by orthodox Christianity is very incomplete (pp. 15-23 and 47-52). For a more detailed treatment of the subject, readers should consult George M. Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture, and Ronald Numbers' The Creationists.
The remainder of the book gives primary attention to the controversies surrounding science instruction in public education. At the center of the conflict is, on the one hand, the increasing number of science teachers and parents committed to the teaching of evolutionary biology in public schools, and, on the other, the corresponding reaction of fundamentalist Christians to what they view as a materialistic and atheistic world view. Of crucial importance to this narrative is the development of the creation science movement (to which the writer is entirely unsympathetic) as a vehicle to give scholarly support to antievolutionists. As the twentieth century develops so do the tactics taken by opponents of evolution, which range from early attempts to exclude evolutionary theory from public education to more recent attempts to gain "equal time" or "balanced treatment" for evolution and creation science.
Webb chronicles a number of these battles as they are fought in local school boards, legislative assemblies, and the courts. The precedents set in recent Supreme Court decisions such as Everson v. Board of Education and Lemon v. Kurtzman are given some attention as are varying interpretations of the First Amendment establishment clause (pp. 201-106). Of crucial concern to the author is the negative affect that the controversy has had on the quality of American scientific education.
I made a number of interesting observations while reading this. Readers of PSCF will be interested in the author's comments on the ASA (pp. 157-158). Many readers will be unconvinced that the original intent of the framers of the Bill of Rights was for a broad interpretation of the establishment clause (pp. 205-206). Another source of concern is the lack of critical scrutiny given the Supreme Court's incorporation doctrine (p. 205). It may be argued that the incorporation doctrine and its subsequent application to the establishment clause have had precisely the opposite effect of that intended by the Constitution's framers, namely, that it has led to an enormous expansion in the scope of the federal powers (especially through its judiciary), a threat the framers greatly feared. The constitutional basis available to the federal court system in adjudicating disputes concerning the teaching of evolutionary biology and creation science in the public school systems needs much more careful approval than is given by Webb. The history of evolutionary science in American public education is the story of parents who are concerned about the effects of education upon the moral and spiritual well being of their children. A discussion of the concept in loco parentis as it relates to the public schools and present concepts of academic freedom is desperately needed. Despite the merits of creation science, the real or imagined threats that many parents perceive concerning evolutionary biology must be weighed carefully. The desire for more careful instruction in evolutionary biology must not be allowed to suppress these very vital parental concerns. When biology teachers use their positions to evaluate the nature and accuracy of biblical literature, or seek to use their evolutionary views as a foundation for pronouncements in the field of ethics, they have left the field of expertise for which they were hired and have invited upon themselves the just criticism of concerned parents. I found this book informative, and a helpful introduction to controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution and creation science in public schools.
Reviewed by Charles Wingard, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church North Shore, Ipswich, MA 01938
SOUL OF SCIENCE: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy by Nancy R. Pearcey and
Charles B. Thaxton. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994. 298 pages. Paperback; $10.99.
The Soul of Science is an excellent historical review of philosophical ideas associated with the growth of science. Authors Pearcey and Thaxton want to Areintroduce Christians to a part of our rich intellectual heritage," but their book will be instructive also to unbelieving scientists not turned off by its subtitle. What we have here is not so much a Christian apologetic as a compact education accessible to all comers.
Believers or not, most scientists are poorly trained in philosophy. Of the history of science we tend to know a few names and landmark discoveries from our own discipline. The Soul of Science gives all of us an opportunity to "bone up," a beneficent boost to believers bombarded by skeptical, cynical, agnostic, or atheistic opinions.
This reviewer gained insights from each of the book's four parts: "The New History of Science,""The First Scientific Revolution," "The Rise and Fall of Mathematics," and "The Second Scientific Revolution." When any complex history is condensed so readably, one expects a certain amount of oversimplification, yet I found nothing to quibble about on any point familiar to me. Extensive endnotes make clear that the authors could write with such confidence because they have read widely in the major sources and weighed all sides of disputed ideas. Acknowledgments name some two dozen experts in science, history, and philosophy who helped them get things right.
The Soul of Science identifies three broad philosophical approaches Aristotelian, neo-Platonic, and mechanistictracing them throughout the development of science. Individual scientists, such as Newton, may have straddled more than one tradition, but exemplars of each can be highlighted in various periods and branches of science. In chapter five, "The Belated Revolution in Biology," John Ray, Linnaeus, and Cuvier are cited as examples of scientists influenced primarily by Aristotelian thought, Buffon and Lamarck by neo-Platonism. Charles Darwin is, of course, everyone's exemplar of the mechanistic tradition in biology.
Clearly in the mechanistic tradition myself, but not much "worldviewer," I anticipated that in the last chapter, "A Chemical Code," I might get my philosophical come-uppance. In their final analysis, however, the authors argue that the DNA revolution "confirms the central insights of each of the three worldview traditions." Mechanists have been right to study living matter without recourse to Ametaphysical entities, mysterious substances, or psychic sensitivities." On the other hand, the neo-Platonist conviction that life is not finally reducible to physics and chemistry alone has also been right; we now know that information-bearing molecules exhibit organization not accounted for by purely material forces.
Aristotelian insistence on "an inner intelligible pattern or plan" has also been confirmedby messages encoded in DNA molecules. Creationists, say the authors, "take that insight a step further, arguing that an intelligent pattern is evidence of an intelligent source." Having cleared away the underbrush, the authors do not go on to expound an "argument from design." They do insist that the contemporary argument rest not on gaps but on "the growth of our knowledge" in biology.
Christians in science fall into one or the other category, though mechanism prevails as the dominant ethos of today's scientists. An older Anonmaterialistic form of mechanism" remains alive, held by some theistic evolutionists. Physicist Howard Van Till is cited as a Christian exemplar. Scientific creationists are said to have revived the Christian Aristotelian tradition, with more liberal Christian writers such as Ian Barbour and Teilhard de Chardin retaining neo-Platonic ideals.
Science writer Nancy Pearcey is a contributing editor for the Pascal Centre for Advanced Studies in Science and Faith in Ontario. Physical chemist Charles Thaxton, co-author of The Mystery of Life's Origin, is a Christian witness to academia, now based in Czechoslovakia.
The Soul of Science would be a great value at twice the price, so buy at least two copies and keep one or more circulating among your colleagues. It is also available as item BKJA0 at $7.50 per copy plus $1 s&h from BreakPoint, radio ministry of Prison Fellowship (P. O. Box 17500, Washington, DC 20041-0500), for which Nancy Pearcey is now executive editor and producer. The toll-free number for credit-card orders is 1-800-995-8777.
Reviewed by Walter R. Hearn, Professor of Science and Christianity, New College Berkeley, 762 Arlington Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707.
OF PURPOSE: Scientists Discover the Creator by John Marks Templeton, Ed. New York,
NY: Continuum, 1994. 212 pages. Hardcover; $24.50.
In this volume, global investment guru John Templeton, familiar to ASA members as the co-author, with Robert Herrmann, of The God Who Would Be Known, continues his exploration of issues at the juncture between science and religion. In pursuit of his goal Ato bring a new scientific perspective to the age-old question of purpose," Templeton has compiled a collection of ten stimulating essays contributed by a distinguished group of scientists that includes Owen Gingerich, Russell Stannard, Paul Davies, Walter Hearn, Robert John Russell, Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, John Eccles, Daniel Osmond, and David Wilcox.
Although representing a broad spectrum of theological and philosophical views, these science-religion authorities are all persuaded that the universe bears abundant evidence of design and purpose. Gingerich claims that belief in "deliberate design is an almost intuitive response" and alludes to our sense of the "astonishing cosmic order" in the universe. Hearn notes that our own existence as purposeful actors constitutes evidence of purpose in the universe. Attention is predictably directed toward the anthropic principle and the recognition of the incredibly fine-tuned nature of fundamental constants. "If we have eyes to see it," says Polkinghorne, "the anthropic principle will speak to us of the signs of God's purpose present in the remarkable potentiality with which our universe has been endowed in the basic ground of its physical process." Davies, noting the success of science in explaining the universe, asks how we can explain science. For him, the"astonishing fact that science works" and that mathematics "works so stunningly well" when applied to the physical world bears evidence of guiding purpose undergirding the universe.
Negatively, the writers dispute assertions that science requires the rejection of a purposeful universe. Several of the writers stress that pronouncements about the ultimacy of purpose or chance transcend the legitimate boundaries of scientific inquiry, a fact that scientific opponents of a purposeful universe have failed to recognize. Gingerich maintains that "random opportunism (as opposed to design) has been raised to such a level of scientific orthodoxy that some of our contemporaries forget that this is just a tactic of science, an assumption, and not a guaranteed principle of reality." Osmond thinks that many scientists are thoroughly unaware of philosophical arguments regarding the existence of a purposing, designing creator. They have, he claims, never examined the Aenormous body of historical, textual, legal, and experiential evidence" for Christian belief. He suggests that Abelief in Chance says more about the ignorance of the one who believes than about how we got here. Science alone cannot answer all questions at all levels." As a counter to the claim that belief in purpose and design are incompatible with sound science, Gingerich presents Johannes Kepler as an example of a very creative scientist who used belief in purpose as an incentive to produce scientific work of exceptionally high quality.
Although Christian scientists will find much that is useful in the book, one may question if the essays will convince the skeptic. As several of the contributors observe, design arguments derived from current scientific understanding cannot be considered compelling proof for the existence of God, as the debate over the anthropic principle illustrates. As Gingerich suggests, "arguments from design are in the eyes of the beholder." Christians need to be extremely cautious about using current science to argue for purpose and design. Robert John Russell notes that when theologians of the past turned from religious to scientific data for their primary evidence, the result led "to deism, and, eventually to the rise of atheism as a modern phenomenon." And for Christians who think that modern science has established the existence of God, Russell rightly warns us that design arguments beg the question "whether the `Designer' one gets is worth the effort" and whether such a designer has any real relationship to the Triune God of Scripture.
The book is recommended for those who enjoy the philosophical dimensions of science. There is sufficient insight here for philosophically astute Christian scientists to sharpen their thinking about purpose and design. I suggest, however, that belief in purpose and design is not established at the conclusion of scientific investigation but at its beginning.
Reviewed by Davis A. Young, Professor of Geology, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.
RELATIVISM: Science and Human Values by Roger D. Masters. Dartmouth College:
University Press of New England, 1993. 248 pages, index and 77 pages of annotated
The thesis of the book is that science has been divorced from values. The author's intention is to Aassess this new naturalism, in which science and reason provide the foundation for standards of morality, justice, and sound public policy" (p. 10). The book is in three roughly equal parts:"The Nature of Science," "The Nature of Facts and Values," and "From Fact to Value."
Throughout the book, Masters delivers a call to return to the ancient Greek focus on form rather than reduction to smaller separate problems. "For ancients in the Socratic tradition, as in Euclidean geometry, it is possible to distinguish accurately among `natural kinds,' and therefore to knowin principle if not always in practicethe nature of a thing" (p. 41). Masters presents chaos theory as another example of the need to focus on form rather than algebraic relationships. By identifying deviations from scientific prediction in neural activity, population genetics, modern physics, chemistry, and cell biology, Masters indicates that a return to form is necessary. The impression is given that science should shed the presumed wisdom of the past twenty centuries and revert to a focus on form.
As a prelude to an attack on relativism, "The Nature of Facts and Values" examines three ways of obtaining knowledge. The first is intuition that contains an element of truth, according to Masters, but is plagued because Ahumans seek to construct [scientific] explanations or interpretations of their own behavior which can justify it" (p. 55). Masters then shows by example how intuition can lead to knowledge but is dangerous as the sole source of knowledge. Second is empirical verification, which is common to most scientists. Third is pattern matching, which differs from intuition in that the knowledge is scientific, but cannot be reduced to a hypothesis or algorithm for example; recognition of an animal as belonging to one species. Masters links pattern matching with form.
Masters then begins to counter relativism with demonstrations of nonverbal communication among people and animals. Arguing from a variety of sources, he shows that communication is innate and therefore not relative, though nurture and nature are inextricably linked.
Part three of the book, "From Fact to Value," illustrates that "modern scientific knowledge cannot establish the `ends' or purposes for judging human life" (p. 106). The philosophies of Locke, Kant, and Hume are said to have led to a divorce between scientific knowledge and value judgment. Masters then shows that Locke's theory of knowledge is not congruent with research from neuroscience, and similarly that Kantian metaphysics is inconsistent with recent results from artificial intelligence. Masters concludes that the "desirability of science is either an ungrounded value or derived from the fact that modern physical science is a success[neither of which are] an adequate theoretical justification" (p. 114).
The final chapter of the book is a conclusion in which Masters identifies the limitations of science and the need to bring values and a human dimension to science. Masters' answer is to return to "Greek thinkers [who] agreed that nature is the standard for judging human life" with some departure Afrom their usual or proper condition" (pp. 149-150). "The core of naturalistic values can be stated [as] those one would choose for a friend. These standards of right and wrong are not rigid. But prudence is needed to balance these different assessments, and some individuals will be more prudent than others" (pp. 154-156).
The book is welcomed for the thorough reply to relativism, particularly through the unique dialogue of philosophy and experimental science. Masters' style does not make light reading and often the ideas are introduced in an implicit manner, making the book rather difficult to digest. Sometimes the arguments are difficult to follow because of the sentence construction and the use of clauses.
The call to return to a more holistic way of approaching science is welcomed, but ASA readers may not agree with Masters' conclusion that Amodern science needs to be complemented by, if not subordinated to, the methods and assumptions of ancient science" (p. 46). The end of the essay leaves the impression that Masters has contributed a valuable criticism of "scientific man" but has little idea of how to impart values to science. Perhaps his return to Greek thought has some validity, but the conclusion did not present this as a viable option, at least to this reviewer.
Reviewed by Fraser F. Fleming, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
COURTIER: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism by Mario Biagioli.
Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1993. xiv, 402 pages, illustrations,
references, index. Hardcover; $29.95.
Mario Biagioli is associate professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. In this book, he argues that Galileo's courtly role was integral to his science and career. He wants to present a thesis which sees no sharp distinction between science and society, and sees the court as having a beneficial effect on the development of science. He provides evidence that court culture of early 17th century absolute rulers legitimated the new science by recognizing its practitioners and boosting the status of the new discipline. He also describes the self-fashioning of Galileo to promote himself from a lower socioprofessional rank of mathematician to the grand duke's philosopher and mathematician.
According to Biagioli, this book is neither a biography nor a social history of Galileo's career. He admits that Galileo's work on mechanics cannot be fitted into a courtier's framework, and that court culture was not the only force available to legitimate the new science and cosmology. Biagioli limits this study to the period from Galileo's invention of the telescope and becoming "Philosopher and Chief Mathematician of the Grant Duke of Tuscany" (1609) to his trial before the Vatican court (1633). By 1610, Galileo was already 46 years old and passed his most creative scientific career.
In Chapter One, "Galileo's Self-fashioning," the author describes the background of the patronage system. In this culture, the future for the client was precarious, and he had to retreat to the starting point if his patron died. Chapter Two, "Discoveries and Etiquette," explores Galileo's successful move to court. Chapter Three, "Anatomy of a Court Dispute," continues the analysis of Galileo's scientific activities at the Medici court in Florence, especially about a dispute on buoyancy of bodies in water. Chapter Four, "The Anthropology of Incommensurability," shows that the Copernican theory can shed new light on the Kuhnian view of incommensurability between scientific paradigms. The Intermezzo, ARome Theatrum Mundi," depicts the cultural and academic environment of Rome and its relationship to the papal court. Chapter Five, "Courtly Comets," offers a contextual analysis of the disputes over the interpretation of the comets of 1618 between Galileo and Jesuit mathematician, Orazio Grassi. Chapter Six, "Framing Galileo's Trial," analyzes the peculiar patronage dynamics and generation cycles of the Roman court, and suggests that the fall of Galileo in the papal court of Urban VIII in 1633 was the result of a clash between the dynamics and tensions of baroque court culture as well as the outcome of a clash between Thomistic theology and modern cosmology. The Epilogue, "From Patronage to Academies: A Hypothesis," argues that an understanding of the process of the court offers important insights about the evolution of the later scientific manners and institutions.
This book provides an interesting interpretation of the Galileo affair in its social and political context. It depicts the scientific discovery as a human event, with flesh, blood, and emotion. Galileo is viewed as a courtier, as well as a scientist seeking for truth. Readers of Perspectives, who believe in "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork," can rejoice in the fact that truth always prevails despite human weakness and frailty. To Christians the task of approaching the unreachable goal of complete knowledge is very fascinating.
Reviewed by T. Timothy Chen, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892.
DEFENSE OF GALILEO, THE MATHEMATICIAN FROM FLORENCE by Thomas Campanella.
Translated with an introduction and notes by Richard J. Blackwell. Notre Dame, IN:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1994. 157 pages, bibliography. Hardcover; $27.95.
The preface mentions that this book was an important book in the Galileo case. However, the English-speaking world paid little or no attention to the book. Campanella wrote the manuscript in 1616 while in prison and it was published in 1622. Grant McColley's translation of 1937 is thought to be inaccurate.
Blackwell gives us the historical context in the introduction. Campanella had a photographic memory. He quoted many books from memory, often giving chapter and page. Blackwell checked these quotations. If necessary, he corrected them in the notes at the end of the book.
The book is of interest to historians, who are interested in the Church court case against Galileo. Others can use the book as an example of a debate between the established church (faith), and the new interest in astronomy and other physical sciences. In some respects this debate is still going on, even if most people now believe that the earth circles the sun. In our time many still use a reasoning based on Greek thinking to try to smooth perceived difficulties in the Bible. The arguments may change, but not the basics.
The Roman Catholic Church judged the Galileo case, but the theologians in the reformation churches were arguing in the same way. During that time, the Calvinists condemned the Armenians. Their reasoning was not Aristotelian because many were followers of Petrus Ramus. Still, they took propositions out of the Bible and, by logical reasoning, came to reject opponents. They forgot that as humans our logic is imperfect. Have we passed that stage? I do not think so.
Reviewed by Jan de Koning, Instructor of Mathematics, Box 168, St. Michael's College (University of Toronto), 81 St. Mary Street, Toronto, Ont., M5S 1J4, Canada.
IS GOD THE ONLY REALITY? by
John Marks Templeton and Robert Herrmann. New York, NY: Continuum, 1994. 190 pages,
references and index. Hardcover; $22.95.
John Marks Templeton, the founder of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, has been described by the New York Times Magazine as Athe dean of global investing" and by the late Norman Vincent Peale as the Agreatest layman of the Christian Church of our time." Robert L. Herrmann is well known to ASAers as our former executive director and a professor of chemistry at Gordon College. Another book written by these men is The God Who Would Be Known.
The expressed goal of this book is to demonstrate how "science points to a deeper meaning of the universe." It reviews some of the latest findings in physics, cosmology, the origins of life, evolution, and anthropology. In each case, we find a greater than expected complexity and less than hoped for simplification of our understanding. In some cases, we find that non-linear systems that are far from equilibrium exhibit an amazing tendency toward self-organization, without apparent limits in their creativity. These are seen to point toward the existence of God and, in at least one case, reflect the character of God. At the conclusion of the book is a call for a more open exchange between science and theology.
If I have any quibble with the book it is this: I normally look to the theology of my faith to help me understand the world I live in. Only after that do I see how the world around me confirms my faith. In a similar way, a flower is an amazing statement about properties of and relationships between its constituent molecules, biological structure, and environment. You could not predict the existence of a flower from looking at the factors which support its existence, but the flower's existence adds to the appreciation of the things which went into it. This book focuses on science, knowledge about the creation, and points out the possible clues to the Creator. Since the book abounds in examples where a higher level of complexity in nature (a flower) could not have been foreseen and understood in terms of the things that support its existence (molecules, cell structures, etc.), I conclude that its authors had a reason for writing the book as they did. I think it is meant to lead a person who normally sees the world in terms of science or naturalism to consider the possibility of yet a higher order of reality.
Since Templeton and Herrmann cover some of the most recent thinking about new findings in science, I found the book useful in bringing my understanding of fields far from my usual scientific disciplines up-to-date and for counteracting claims by some scientists that the self-organizing tendencies we see in nature are proof there is no God. I would recommend the book on that basis alone. However, you may well want to share the book with a colleague who is seeking God but thinks science and nature are the only realities. It is not overtly evangelistic but seems meant to open opportunities for frank discussions about the creator God and the Christian faith.
Reviewed by E. Eugene Hartquist, Research Support Specialist, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
EX NIHILO: The Doctrine of ACreation Out of Nothing" in Early Christian Thought
by Gerhard May. Translated by A. S. Worrall. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994. xvi, 197
pages, index. Hardcover.
Ian Barbour, the noted philosopher of science, once asserted that creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) is not a biblical concept; it was a "post-biblical development" to defend God's goodness and absolute sovereignty over the world against prevalent gnostic ideas. Thus, while the well-accepted Big Bang theory points us to a Creator and demands the creation of matter, allegedly the Bible doesn't demand thisonly that the cosmos somehow depends on God.
Gerhard May, professor of theology at the Johannes Gutenberg Universitat in Mainz, subtly reinforces this idea in his book, which explores the context of the formulation of creatio ex nihilo in early Christianity. May's main thesisC correct in my viewis that the doctrine of creation did not become a matter of debate for Christian theologians until its confrontation with gnosticism and Middle Platonism in the latter part of the second century. Gnostics generally had a negative view of the world, believing it to be the result of a disturbance of the original divine plan by the fall of some "eon at the bottom of the emanation ladder. Around the middle of the second century, the Christian gnostic Basilides (who believed Jesus was a mere man on whom the heavenly light descended at his baptism) was the first to formulate that God created matter (although in seed form) by a single act of creation (although he played no further role in creation). Then, independent of Basilides' influence, the Christian church came to formulate the doctrine of creation out of nothing in reaction to gnostic emanationism and Platonic pre-existent matter, and to defend the unity and absolute sovereignty of God.
With Tatian, we have the "first Christian theologian known to us who expressly advanced the proposition that matter was produced by God" (p. 150); shortly thereafter, Theophilus of Antioch asserted it more forcefully: "God has created everything out of nothing into being." With Ireneaus, the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was well established.
May's book is in many ways a fine work of scholarship (freely using Latin and Greek primary sources and a wealth of documentation) and gives an excellent history of the formalization of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. However, I should add that this book can be misleading in two related ways: (1) it asserts that the clear biblical evidence for creatio ex nihilo is lacking and (2) it at times implies that since creation out of nothing is a post-biblical development, it is not biblical in any strict sense.
Regarding the first caveat, May believes that the biblical evidence for creation out of nothing is Anot demanded by the text of the Bible," (p. 24) such as Romans 4:17 or Hebrews 11:3. Early on, in fact, the best-educated Christian theologians/philosophers like Justin and Clement of Alexandria seemed to believe that God created from pre-existing matter (e.g., Genesis 1:2). Justin, in fact, claimed that Plato got this ideas on creation from Moses' writings.
We should be careful, however, about attributing ambiguity to the biblical text simply because certain theologians did not overcome a strong Platonist influence on their thinking. F. F. Bruce has written that Athe idea of imposing form on pre-existent matter is Greek rather than Hebrew in origin." Genesis 1:1, Old Testament scholar Walter Eichrodt has argued, speaks of "the absolute beginning of the created world;" he considers the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo "incontestable." May virtually ignores a key text, Hebrews 11:3, which "denies that the creative universe originated from primal material or anything observable," according to commentator William Lane. In fact, this passage was probably a subtle response to Platonic cosmology. A few other passages implying that the totality of creation has had its ontological origination in God are Psalm 33:6, 9; Proverbs 8:22-26; Isaiah 44:6; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16, 20; and Revelation 4:11.
Furthermore, May also completely ignores the implications of creatio ex nihilo found in various relevant extra-biblical sources: Joseph and Aseneth ("Lord God of the ages, who created all [things] and gave [them] lifewho brought the invisible [things] out into the light"); the Dead Sea Scrolls ("From the God of Knowledge comes all that is and shall be. Before ever they existed He established their whole design" [1 OS 3.15]); 2 Enoch ("I commanded that visible things should come down from invisible" [25:lff; also 26:1]); 2 Baruch ("thou that hast fixed the firmament by thy wordthat hast called from the beginning of the world that which did not yet exist" [21:4]; 2 Maccabees ("God made [the sky and the earth] out of nothing" [7:28]. Although May disagrees, this passage, according to church historian Jaroslav Pelikan, explicitly states for the first time that God created creation out of nothing).
Second, May's subtle implication that creatio ex nihilo is merely a theological formulation rather than a biblical one is also troubling. It seems that in many ways, May's argument parallels the historical development of the doctrines of the Trinity and the hypostatic union of Christ , biblically-based doctrines that needed critical development in light of threatening heresy. Many major Christian doctrines have been forged in the fires of heresy and controversy. So we should not be surprised by the same phenomenon taking place with regard to the doctrine of creation.
With these two major caveats in mind, I believe that May's recently-translated book furnishes us with a fine scholarly survey of the development of creatio ex nihilo.
Reviewed by Paul Copan, First Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 6, Schenectady, NY 12301.
WITH CONTROVERSY: Conflict, Censorship & Freedom within Christian Circles by D.
Gareth Jones. Dunedin, New Zealand:Vision Publications, 1994. 198 pages. Paperback;
Jones, Professor of Anatomy and Structural Biology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, turns his hand in this book to an exposition of biblical principles applicable to Christians involved in areas of conflict and censorship on secondary or peripheral issues of the Christian faith (sometimes called adiaphora). Since those involved with the interaction of science and Christian faith often find themselves in situations such as those considered in the book (Jones writes out of personal experience with the responses to and treatment of his book, Brave New People), it is an appropriate book for readers of Perspectives to be aware of and to profit from in similar circumstances.
Jones asks the fundamental question:
"How do we cope with those Christians with whom we disagree over the role of women in society and in the church, the legitimacy or otherwise of the use of conventional or nuclear weapons as deterrents, economic policies and attitudes toward the poor, the status of the human embryo and fetus, the age of the earth and the role of evolutionary explanations in biology and geology, the necessity or otherwise of tongue speaking or healing as a manifestation of God's blessing, and many other aspects of prophecy, church government, and church affairs (p. iii)?"
The response is usually a divisive one: "the easiest path is that of separation and isolation."
The central purpose of this book is to argue against this response as disastrous, "fragmenting the body of Christ and destroying the unity that should be ours in him." Jones does not, in this book, consider the details of the specific issues that give rise to challenges such as this, but instead focuses on the biblical patterns and guidelines for response in general. He is concerned not with the rightness or wrongness of specific attitudes toward any issue, but rather "the ways in which we treat each other within the body of Christ."
He is careful to avoid self-righteousness or dogmatism, and states instead that
"What is crucial is that a conservative stance tends to view any moderately conservative position as liberal, whereas a liberal stance views all moderately liberal positions as conservative. Whenever this approach is adopted confrontation is inevitable" (p. 29).
He suggests that neither of the two extreme types of response to many issues, legalism at one end of the spectrum and libertarianism at the other, is an appropriate general response. "I reject this `either-or' answer; for me, the two approaches, and the two sets of theological truths, are complementary, and both are essential in order to function as a Christian in a secular society" (p. 34)."
In the major part of the book, Jones deals with a variety of critical situations and draws guidelines for Christian response from some 90 biblical passages. The topics considered include judging others, forgiveness (God's and ours), unity in the Body of Christ, humility, quarrels and dissension, judgment and rebuke, and being salt and light. Under the heading of living with controversy, he considers the scope of Evangelicalism, public polemic and serious debate, pressure groups, the dangers of dogmatism, freedom of expression, censorship, and mutual interdependence. Under the heading of "Where Should Lines Be Drawn?" he considers "central or peripheral?", single-issue divisions, "Am I making matters too complex?", and knowing where to draw lines.
Finally, in a discussion of" Dilemmas in the Workplace and Beyond," he considers dilemmas between 8:30 am and 5:00 pm, towards a Christian response: the prophet and the servant, when we suffer unjustly, making oneself vulnerable, and in praise of dissent.
The message of the book can be summed up in the value of vulnerability and controlled dissent. Concerning the first, he writes, "Every specific recommendation I've put forward leads to vulnerabilitywhether this be dialogue, openness, mutual interdependence, accountability, servanthood, refusing to question the motives of our opponents, and praying for those who criticize us.it is the sine qua non of the Christian life." (p. 188) Concerning the second, he writes, "Throughout this book, I have argued that dissent can be a positive virtue. I've strictly limited my discussion to dissent over peripheral beliefs, and not over central tenets of the gospel itself.We need to learn that authoritarianism and suppression are worse than dissent" (pp. 190, 191).
This is a valuable book for the development of a Christian awareness of the kinds of issues and the responses they generate, which characterize much of living in the modern world. Unfortunately, it is often only a minority position, but with concern and understanding perhaps we can contribute to a change in that.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
THE ORIGIN OF
THE UNIVERSE AND THE ORIGIN OF RELIGION by Fred Hoyle. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell,
1993. 91 pages. Paperback; $9.95.
AWhenever the word `origin' is used," Sir Fred Hoyle urges, "disbelieve everything you are told, even if it is I who am telling it"(p. 18). Such a statement does not bode well for the convincingness of a book devoted to the topic of origins. However, Hoyle does seem to thrive on presenting controversial and creative ideas. His book is essentially the transcript of a lecture, which is followed by the brief comments of various respondents. It is thematically divided into two parts, as suggested by the title, but the "origin of the universe" actually refers to the earth's pre-history. (It has no index, footnotes, or bibliography.)
As one reads some of Hoyle's previous works, one is struck by his apparently deliberate attempt to avoid belief in God (such as his positing the steady-state theory of the universe and the continual creation of matter back or an Aevolution from space"). This book only adds to that impression. Hoyle's central thesis is that periodic cometary impact with the earth could well have been responsible for the rise of religion and myths as well as a host of other notable phenomena: "The whole of history and civilization has been caused by the arrival of a periodic giant comet in an Earth-crossing orbit some 15,000 years ago" (p. 31).
Hoyle attributes the disappearance of the various ice ages, the extinction of herds of wooly mammoths within moments, and the discovery of smelting to occasional cometary collisions with the earth: something like a comet could turn the cold ocean into a warm one (p. 29); wooly mammoths perished due to the sudden melting of permafrost, causing them to become immersed in icy water, which refroze within a matter of hours (p. 40); the origin of smelting could best be explained by the heating of veins of metallic ores from a cometary impact, which nomadic tribes began attempting to duplicate (pp. 35-36). Hoyle admits he could be wrong about his cometary hypothesis, but such a phenomenon seems to explain these data.
Hoyle, however, runs into problems with his reductionistic statements about religion. It was a comet that struck Sodom and Gommorah, and it was an earthquake that caused Jericho's walls to fall (p. 40)not some miraculous act of God. But Hoyle overlooks the fact that it is not the means (a comet or an earthquake) that are significant, but rather the timing of these events, which would indicate their having been divinely engineered.
"The bad periods [of human civilization] generated religions," Hoyle claims (p. 48) bad periods being the times when "no human leader could stand against the power of natural events" (p. 50). The dissolution of a large comet six or seven thousand years ago generated the belief of gods at war (such as Zeus with his lightning bolts), which challenged the power of absolute rulers. The notion of a pantheon of gods eventually led to the return to the dominance of one god like Jehovah, "an angry god" (p. 52). Then, thanks to St. Paul, Christianity sprang upwith all its mythical accretions (p. 53).
Besides merely conjecturing, Hoyle commits the genetic fallacy by attributing the truth of religion to its origin, but this says nothing at all about whether God exists or not. One respondent noted Hoyle's obvious "prejudice against the Christian tradition as an intellectual tradition" (p. 78), and another pointed out that the "Old Testament God" is slow to anger and plenteous in mercy; not only does he judge, but he saves the nations and punishes the sins of Israel (p. 76). Furthermore, Hoyle says nothing at all about the emergence of religions in Asia (pp. 74-75). Did comets give rise to them too? He is also unaware of the impossibility of the emergence of myth ("Christianity") within just one generation, as Greco-Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White has argued.
Although Hoyle acknowledges that science has at times imprisoned itself (pp. 59, 61), he is incorrect to presuppose that science and religion clash (pp. 58-59). As John Polkinghorne has argued, the clash is merely an historical one, not a necessary or logical one. He also does not acknowledge the great debt that modern science owes Christianity, a point which Stanley Jaki forcefully argues in The Savior of Science.
Speaking from his own experience as a youth in the church, Hoyle came to believe that Christians embraced the contradictions of "Christian miracles" as well as those of Abehaviour and psychology" (p. 42); Hoyle wanted a life free from contradiction, which affects clear thinking. Yet Hoyle himself seems unwilling to admit to the universe's theistic implications: "How such a structured world came into being remains unexplained" (p. 18); "There are very many aspects of the universe where you have either to say there have been monstrous coincidencesor, alternatively, there is a purposive scenario to which the universe conforms" (p. 83). Disappointingly, Hoyle says nothing about the universe's actual origina phenomenon which resounds with theistic implicationsand also opts for the dubious and conjectural Anthropic principle (p. 31).
Hoyle's book is provocative and creative, and his ideas about the impact of comets on the earth's atmosphere are not necessarily far-fetched. His discussion of religion's origins, however, tend to be wildly speculative, unhistorical, and unsubstantiated.
Reviewed by Paul Copan, First Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 6, Schenectady, NY 12301.
IN THE NEW AGE: The Paranormal and its Defenders and Debunkers, and American Culture by
David J. Hess. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1993. 176 pages,
appendix, notes, bibliography, index. Hardcover; $42.50; Paperback; $17.95.
This is not a book about science and Christianity or even about science and religion. Hess, an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, makes this clear when he writes:
"In a society that is increasingly characterized by a diversity of ethnic and gender perspectives, the white male Judeo-Christian God not to mention most of the biblical narrative appears less and less as the universal truth and more and more as the gendered story of a segment of a particular cultural tradition "(pp. 175, 176).
The book is written for professionals in a particular segment of academic studies. In the words of the author: "I write primarily for other scholars situated at the intersection of disciplines known as `cultural studies': anthropology, literary studies, cultural history, the sociology of knowledge, and other related fields" (p. x). In brief, it is not a major concern or even desire of the author to penetrate and reveal Athe truth," but rather to understand, empathize with, and reflect on the ideas and backgrounds of those who may think differently from one another. "I do not presume," he writes, "to judge one or the other view point as the most `truthful': instead my fragmented and contradictory experiences have led to a personal position of reflexive skepticism that is a skepticism that is skepticism of its own skepticism" (p. xi).
The author focuses on three groups of advocates: the New Age at one extreme, skeptics at the other extreme, and those involved in the paranormal in between. He seeks to show the similarities in general outlook that embrace all three groups, as each is caught up in the defense of the "Self" against the attacks of the"Other."
The favorable comments on the book jacket also help to clarify the structure and focus of the work. Reviewer Gary Downey of Virginia Tech writes:
Hess helps us realize that, by reconstructing scientific knowledge in new contexts, we all do science. From this perspective, a book on New Age science is no longer a book about pseudoscience or the peripheries of the scientific community. It is a book about how people construct discourses about science to make it meaningful in their lives.
As much as anything else the book unintentionally illustrates the pitfalls in forsaking experience-honored definitions of authentic science. At a certain point, the author bemoans the observation that all three of the communities he has chosen to describe take as "their representation of `science', `natural science.'Rarely does `science' ever include or mean the social sciences or humanities" (p. 158). By the "human sciences" he means "anthropology, history, sociology, literary/cultural studies, feminist studies, and science and technology studies." If we work with as weak and indefinite a definition of science as this, we might as well forsake at the beginning any claim that science has the power to guide us into an insight into the nature of objective truth. We find ourselves ensnared in the intellectual exercise recommended by the author in another place: "Instead of attempting to settle truth claims, they (Collins and Pinch) view and represent their work as `that of the participant observer building up the background for good sociological fieldwork.'"
I am sure that the properly equipped and oriented reader could gain considerable useful information and insights from this book as an anthropological study of three modes of thought in modern society. Readers of Perspectives, however, will not find it a useful source of insights about the interaction between authentic science and authentic Christian theology.
Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.
Rethinking Our Place On Earth by Peter Marshall. Paragon House, June 1994. 513
pages, references and index. Hardcover; $29.95.
Peter Marshall, who has a doctorate in the history of ideas, has taught philosophy and literature at several British universities. His previous books include William Goodwin, Journey Through Tanzania Into Cuba, Cuba Libre: Breaking the Chains?, William Blake: Visionary Anarchist, and Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. He lives in Gwynned, Wales.
I cannot recommend this book to readers of Perspectives as either scientific or Christian. It is a review of the philosophy of ecological and environmental ethics written by a person having largely Taoist beliefs.
Written in four sections, its style is to explain a religion or philosophy that has some bearing on environmental issues and then point out those aspects of its beliefs which are either helpful or unhelpful to ecological thinking.
The first section deals with religions. We find out right away that pantheism and animism are conducive to ecological thinking because they promote a holistic and harmonious viewpoint where man is embedded in nature, whereas monotheism is not because of its anthropocentric, sexist, and speciesist viewpoints. Similarly, anarchism, as a Taoist ideal, is to be preferred over hierarchical social structures because it is unfitting that one being should dominate another.
The book's second section traces the histories of a number of philosophies while its third, entitled "Green Visions," emphasizes fairly recent thinking about evolution, utopian visions, chaos, Gaia, etc. Throughout the middle of the book, I had the feeling that Marshall was hauling out a lot of trendy environmental thinking which he was going to try to synthesize into some absurd philosophy, but I was wrong. Marshall consistently judges each of the beliefs from his Taoist viewpoint and is quite frank about the failure of particular beliefs which one might have otherwise expected him to endorse.
A couple of avant-garde environmental ethics discussed in the fourth section come under the same scrutiny as the rest. In the final chapter, Marshall discussed his own version of an ecological utopia (ecotopia) which again draws heavily on his Taoist beliefs. His ecotopia is communal but allows for individualistic behavior. Group decisions, when really necessary, are arrived at democratically. Individuals are invited, but not coerced, to follow the decisions of the group. The same respect for the rights of the individual extends naturally to other entities which make up the environment.
Marshall puts the blame for the ecological crisis on "institutionalization of domination and hierarchy and the authoritarian mentality which sustains it" rather than on "inappropriate technology, overpopulation or industrial growth." Given that, I can see why he rejects monotheism since it assumes a hierarchy of at least two at the outset. What is interesting is that C. S. Lewis in his space trilogy has a remarkably similar vision of a utopian society: Malacandra, where three intelligent non-human corporeal species live peaceably, respectful of each other and their environment, in a world of diminishing resources. The differences are that Lewis' utopian society is theocratic and unaffected by the Fall.
While I wouldn't recommend this book for its scientific or Christian insights, I could recommend it to anyone who would like to peer into the mind of the environmental movement. Read it with an understanding of Marshall's own mindset and you should find the book informative, well written, and not too threatening.
Reviewed by E. Eugene Hartquist, Research Support Specialist, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
BROKEN DICE, AND OTHER MATHEMATICAL TALES OF CHANCE by Ivar Ekeland. Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 193 pages. Originally published as Au
hasard, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1991. Translated by Carol Volk.
Ivar Ekeland wrote this book to show his readers the richness of the many faces of chance. He begins by showing chance to be fundamental to our conception of the universe. It is the one certain thing (!) because "in quantum mechanics, to measure means to draw at random." Of course, this leads to a question about who is doing the drawing. It also leads to a consideration of fate: are the events we observe determined? Even if we assume they are not, we are not left without some kind of discernible pattern: "We can't get away from determinism. Chase it out the door, by postulating total incoherence, and it comes back through the window, in the guise of statistical laws."
These patterns are, in fact, discerned in the universe, not imposed upon it. Mathematicians "have more a sense of penetrating nature's secrets, of drawing eternal truths from the conglomeration of incomprehensible matter, than of crafting humble, homemade objects." This observation is consistent with the experience of many: there does seem to be a "givenness" to the abstractions with which we deal.
Yet we find that these patterns are not enough to let us reliably predict or anticipate many things about our lives. If there is someone who does the quantum mechanical drawing, "we are engaged in a game against a Player whose greatest feat is in dissimulating not only his strategy but his existence and what he expects of us." Even in our analysis of systems we understandhave models forwe are unable to isolate subsystems that effect particular events and thus we may leave out important factors in our analysis. So we see apparently chaotic behavior, with high degrees of sensitivity to small perturbations that might appear meaningless to observers.
Often we are driven to statistical models to make sense of what happens around us. These cannot prove anything, but can give criteria for falsification. By assuming that events with "too slight a probability" do not happen, we can live and make decisions in an uncertain world. "Until now, experience hasn't proven us wrong, but who knows what the future may bring." This seems a reasonable and even necessary view. But how do we hold this very realistic belief in tension with an openness to a broader reality than we now conceive ofan openness to our assessment of probabilities being incorrect? How should we think, for example, about the resurrection of Jesus? What event could have a slighter probability than the resurrection from death and continuous subsequent life of one man? Could any evidence be accepted as convincing for events of a priori "too slight a probability?" If observers in the past cannot be trusted by us, could we be trusted by those who come after us? Or could it be that there is some patterning in the universe that derives from a creative mind behind it, which provides the explanation for some of what we observe?
In his conclusion, Ekeland sees ultimate reality as retreating the closer we come to it, but affirms a desire to see a unifying principle that goes beyond chance. AThen beauty will be our guide." At first this might seem a large step beyond a dependence on chance. But it is an unsatisfying affirmation of an undefined principle. What is beauty? How will we make judgments about it? Why do we believe it to be a good metric?
This book can be recommended as a stimulus for meditating about the patterns observable in the world in which the creator has placed us. It is a tribute both to the author and to the translator. But those who affirm the statement of faith of the American Scientific Affiliation cannot be satisfied with the path of "ascent" that Ekeland takes to integrate the raw data of experience into a model to use as a basis for living.
Reviewed by David T. Barnard; Department of Computing and Information Science, Queen's University, Kingston.
AND MEDICINE IN THE EVANGELICAL TRADITION: Not by Might nor Power by Leonard I. Sweet.
Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1994. 242 pages, index. Hardcover; $20.00.
The book would be more accurately titled, Health and Medicine in l9th Century Wesleyan Preaching. In that it succeeds quite well. The author states in his preface that Athis book is really a greeting card to my ancestors in the form of a report card on how well I have mastered what they have taught me." As such Sweet refers regularly to his own upbringing, the preachers in his ancestry, and his own Methodist tradition. In fact the text is best described as an exposition of anecdotes and quotations from Wesleyan preachers in the l9th century on topics related to physical health. Even the style of organization and description is sermonic in its cadence. Such interest and style fits with Sweet's work as the publisher of a journal for preachers and as chancellor of a United Methodist seminary.
The book's strength in l9th century Wesleyan preaching is its weakness in meeting the apparent claim of the title. It is not a comprehensive or rigorous introduction to the thought of evangelicals on health. The frequent statements that evangelicals believe or read or use reflect a particular time and subgroupnot the movement as a whole nor sometimes even the majority. For example, Sweet states that evangelicals often cry in worship. Certainly some do, but I am skeptical whether that is an identifying feature of the wider movement.
There are many points of interest. It can be useful to know that the health and wealth gospel was a problematic influence in the 1800s, not just a recent invention. Some may be surprised to find that a dance was held in honor of Jonathan Edward's ordination or that a major issue for churches in the 1800s was how to address the new germ theory while saving the meaning of the common communion cup.
Evangelicals have a wide and rich history to their tapestry. Sweet offers an evocative window into the past preaching on health found in one important strand.
Reviewed by James C. Peterson, C. C. Dickson Chair of Ethics, Wingate College, Wingate, NC 28174.
EVERYBODY DOES IT! CRIME
BY THE PUBLIC by Thomas Gabor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. 378
Although it is comfortable to think that some persons are criminals ("them") and others are not ("us"), this study argues that criminality is prevalent: the majority of citizens tend to break rules when they feel there is a fair amount of support for doing so. A large body of literature and research is summarized in support of the argument that rather than most crime being carried out by the criminal stereotypically described to the public by the media, most citizens can be dishonest under the appropriate circumstances. If we will all break the law, then it is important to focus on why we have this potential, and what circumstances or conditions lead to the realization of it.
The author further argues that dishonesty can be contagious, so forms of dishonesty at the borderline of the criminal are pertinent to the discussion of crimes by the public. In particular, it is important for society that its leaders have high standards of conduct. The failure of leaders in many spheres, and the scandals associated with these failures, are important in shaping the thinking of the larger social group about crime and morality. We cannot expect our human leaders to have a superhuman morality, but continuous exposure to scandals can lead citizens to believe that deception, power, and political influence, rather than morality, are the key ingredients to achieving status and material success.
The book includes discussion of corporate crime, theft, violence, sexual crimes, and other categories. The author may go further than some readers would want to go with him, though, with his identification of some examples of widespread behavior that should be avoided, including corporal punishment of children and the use of animals in laboratory experiments.
The author goes on to develop a predictive model. In this model, the degree of readiness to commit crime is combined with situational or instigating factors which give rise to a decision to commit a crime. The model can be used to predict in which situations crimes are most likely to occur, in order that these situations might be changed to make them less conducive to crime.
One of the important approaches suggested is to involve citizens in plans for crime prevention and in accountability mechanisms, rather than relying on professional enforcers who are often perceived as adversaries at a distance.
The goal of the book is laudable, and both the main argument and the goal are certainly consistent with traditional Christian teaching about the sinful propensity in persons, although that teaching is given an extremely brief discussion and dismissal in the book. In fact, for those who believe with the Apostle Paul that we all have sinned, and that we continue to struggle with the problem of sin, the main argument cannot be a surprise. All people have the potential to commit crime or sin, under appropriate circumstances, and need to avoid the circumstances that are particularly tempting. A sober recognition that "everybody does it" can help society in dealing with crime even if, as is the case with the author of this book on the one hand and readers of this journal on the other, we do not all see the problem in the same terms. Those of us who see the problem in specifically Christian terms will want to go further, as the church has always done, in dealing with the moral realities and the root causes of immoral or criminal behavior.
Reviewed by David T. Barnard; Department of Computing and Information Science, Queen's University, Kingston.
WHY SHOULD ANYONE
BELIEVE ANYTHING AT ALL? by James W. Sire. Downers Grove, Ill.:
InterVarsity Press, 1994. 239 pages. Paperback.
Growing out of a college lecture entitled "Is Christianity Rational?," Sire's latest book takes the reader through an examination of why and how people believe in general, to why people believe in Christianity. From the title question, "Why should anyone believe anything at all?" to the closing sentence of the book, "Come and see," Sire hopes that the reader will not only have good reasons to believe, but also find the best thingor rather, personin which to believe.
He divides the book into two parts: Part I, "Why Should Anyone Believe Anything?" and Part II, "Why Should Anyone Believe Christianity?" Writing in a conversational prose that belies the sophistication of his analysis, Sire uses the universal question that man poses about the world, belief or unbelief?to point to an answer to the specific question that God poses to man "Who do you say that I am?" Culling from his experience as an evangelical campus lecturer, Sire orders the chapters so as to lead the reader through a series of notions, or first approximations, of how people adopt their beliefs. Through successive refutations, clarifications, and affirmations of various reasons people give for their beliefs, he develops a layman's epistemology for belief: to wit, "any argument for our beliefs should (1) be based on the best evidence, (2) be validly argued, and (3) refute the strongest objections that can be made." This prepares the reader for Sire's real concern, presented in Part II: the gospel as "the one thing needful," i.e., the one thing in which a person should believe.
Part I, six chapters prefaced by epigrams comprising the responses of college students to the question posed in the title of the book, examines various reasons people give for their beliefs. Sire distinguishes social influences, i.e., parents, friends, or society, from individual considerations, i.e., personal experience and information individuals reflect upon to form their beliefs. He also examines religious reasons (e.g., authoritative divines and texts and spiritual experience) and philosophical reasons (e.g., reason and logic) for belief, concluding that personaleven religiousexperience is not enough to establish a reasonable basis for belief. Instead, "the fittingness of all the data and reasonable arguments that confront us should carry the most weight." For Sire, "truth is the real issue" (recall Pilate's last question to Jesus). He asks, "Why should anyone believe anything at all?when the `anything' is a fundamental notion is not a question to be answered lightly. Too much is at stake."
Part II (nine chapters) addresses the reasonableness of biblical faith by proposing that "the identity of Jesus, the historicity of the Gospels, the foundation for morality, the possibility of miracles and the actuality of at least one (the resurrection of Jesus), and the experience of Christian believers" can be best explained by Christian faith. True to his evangelical purpose (and no small virtue of his book), Sire incudes "the experience of Christian believers" as a legitimate part of the search for belief. Part II asks, "Why Should Anyone Believe in Christianity?" Sire answers that Christianity offers the "best explanation" of "some of the most basic issues," and therefore deserves serious consideration by the non-believing reader.
Since Jesus ecce homois the answer to the book's real question (Why believe in Christianity?), Sire examines the reliability of the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life to establish their credibility. The chapters deal with the reliability of the texts, their authors' "memories" and "motivations," their translations, miraculous accounts, and apparent contradictions. Sire then presents in the central chapter of the book (entitled "Jesus the Reason") "the outlines of a portrait of Jesus." This begs a discussion of the life and purpose of Jesus detailed in the balance of the book. Of the remaining chapters, chapter 11 (the central chapter of Part II) highlights the resurrection of Jesus as "at the top of the list of reasons for accepting Christianity as true;" it dispels alternate explanations of the disappearance of Jesus and offers reasons for believing in the resurrection. The historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus serves as the answer Sire gives for any sound belief: it "gives the best explanation for the tough issues of life."
As senior editor of InterVarsity Press, the publishing arm of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Sire has ample experience writing for an evangelical college audience (The Universe Next Door, now in its second edition, defended "Christian theism" against the claims of other world view "-isms"). His latest work addresses the concerns of college students of all persuasions in a manner that is neither pedantic nor condescendingquite a feat given the abstruseness of his topic. Sire presents a number of scholarly assessments of "belief" in a manner that is quite readable and generally persuasive. ASA members interested in exploring a philosophical apologetics of the faith will find the variety of scholars and sources cited make for an engaging and challenging read. Those desiring additional information on a specific issue raised, be it epistemology or the authenticity of the New Testament, will find that the footnotes and bibliography point them in the right direction. Moreover, his didactic presentation of the gospel in the context of a philosophical discussion of belief versus unbelief treats the reader seriously but sympathetically. In the final chapter, entitled "The Challenge of Belief," Sire does just that, challenging the reader to consider the claims of Christianity as a reasonable basis for thinking and living.
One point of contention: This reader finds Sire's defense of Christian ethics as based upon a "presupposition" which Francis Schaeffer aptly defined as "a belief or theory which is assumed before the next step in logic is developed" (emphasis mine)comes closer to nihilism than realism (despite claims to the contrary). His error follows from an insufficient exploration of the "fact-value" distinction, which he presents earlier in the same chapter. His rejection of the power of human reason in concert with the senses to grasp reality qua reality, a rejection hinted at in the preface ("We are both finite and fallen, and our mental equipment is flawed") and insufficiently defended in chapter 12 ("The Rationality of the Christian Faith"), poses problems for a book devoted to a rational defense of Christianity. This quibble notwithstanding, Sire's overall project provides sufficient grist for the skeptic and Christian in their respective search for reasonable belief.
As the American university has fallen captive to moral relativists (both in thought and character), Sire has seized the timely subject of "believing" as a logical starting point for getting non-believing college students to consider the claims of Christianity. He informs the Christian college studentwho faces perhaps the most trying environment of his spiritual life (if attending a secular university)and the non-Christian roommatewho will borrow the book when he's not lookingthrough a carefully reasoned, evangelical discussion that should lead any reader to a more honest and credible approach to a life of believing.
Reviewed by Lucas E. Morel, Assistant Professor of Political Science and History, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, AR 72761.
FUZZY THINKING: The
New Science of Fuzzy Logic by Bart Kosko. New York, NY: Hyperion, 1993. xvii, 318
pages, glossary, bibliography, index. Paperback; U.S. $12.95; Can. $15.95.
Kosko wrote several articles on fuzzy sets and two textbooks: Neural Networks and Fuzzy Systems: A Dynamical Approach to Machine Intelligence and Neural Networks for Signal Processing, both Prentice Hall, 1992. The book under review is autobiographical, though Kosko is still young. He tells about his research, his difficulties, how he got his ideas, and the people he met. When I read that marketing may have been involved when Zadeh chose the name "fuzzy sets," I thought that Kosko does a good job of marketing himself (p. 148). In the Preface we read:
"This book is my statement of the fuzzy world view. The point was to show the fuzzy world view in the mind and in the flesh. To do that you have to have lived the field and fought the fights. You have to have doubted the God of science and felt a little of Her wrath."
That world view made him write on page 142: "Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven."
Kosko felt attracted to Eastern ways of thinking because they do not accept the law of the excluded middle. He does, however, mention Awesterners" like Kleene and Lukasiewicz, who propagated multivalued logic. Even before Lukasiewicz wrote his book in 1910, Brouwer wrote his objections against the law of the excluded middle in Dutch in 1907, and in English in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society in 1913. Brouwer is considered to have started the Intuitionism school. Heyting wrote a formal treatment of Intuitionism in 1955: Intuitionism, An Introduction, republished in 1971. E. W. Beth writes, The Foundations of Mathematics, A Study in the Philosophy of Science, Harper Torch, 1966, p. 413:
" One of the most spectacular features in Brouwer's Intuitionism is, of course, his rejection of the unrestricted application of the principle of the excluded third in mathematical reasoning."
Although Kosko mentions Kleene and Lukasiewicz, he does not mention them in his bibliography. Neither is the book, Philosophical Problems of Many-Valued Logic by A. A. Zinov'ev in his bibliography. Kosko lists Nicholas Rescher's book Many-Valued Logic but misspells his name as Resher. Peirce's name is misspelled as Pierce in the text, and Lukasiewicz as Lucasiewicz.
In 1932 D. H. Th. Vollenhoven published, in Dutch, De Noodzakelijkheid eener Christelijke Logica (The Necessity of a Christian Logic). He showed how the law of the excluded middle was based on ancient, pagan Greek philosophy. Vollenhoven objected to the law because it is only applicable under certain conditions. Mathematics and logic are different disciplines. Mathematics uses logic, but is not based on logic, nor logic on mathematics. Vollenhoven based this conviction on his Christian principles. Not accepting the law of the excluded middle is certainly not based on Eastern religions. My mathematics professor Koksma used the same example as Kosko in a public lecture in 1948: "not warm" does not equal "cold" (see Interfacultaire Colleges, published by the Free University in Amsterdam).
Kosko's faith is clearly anti-Christian. On page 253 Kosko tells us that he signed up to be frozen. He hopes to live again several hundreds years from nowmanmade eternal life. He writes about cryonics on page 288:
" In the 1980's the rise of nanotechnology showed how cryonics might work. Thaw a dead brain and then rebuild it a molecule at a time with tiny nano-robots or nanobots. As of 1993 there were over 30 patients in cryonic suspension. Most have only suspended their brains. The idea is that if nanotechnology can repair freezing damage and rejuvenate the dead brain, it can grow a lean young body from the head stump too."
Kosko's rejection of alternate scientific views is not very gentle. His is the optimism of Eternal Man who can engineer everything.
In his propaganda for the fuzzy set-theory, I think he contradicts himself. For example, when he talks about an adaptive fuzzy system, he claims that no human expert has to tell what the rules are. That is not even true for the human brain, since errors are made as long as we are still living under the effects of the Fall. Any machine has to be given rules on how to find rules and relationships. Kosko probably exaggerates the controversies between the artificial intelligence people and the "neural-network" scientists.
Despite my criticism I recommend reading the book. The book is easy to read as an introduction to multivalued logic. Secondly, it is an example of modern man trying to save himself from eternal destruction.
Reviewed by Jan de Koning, Instructor of Mathematics, Box 168, St. Michael's College (University of Toronto), 81 St. Mary Street, Toronto, Ont., M5S lJ4, Canada.