Origins & Science
Alister E. McGrath (Westminster John Knox Press: March 2008), 288 pages.
Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them — above all, the question of the existence of God. So how can Christian theology relate to these new developments? In this landmark work, based on his 2009 Gifford lectures, Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God. The celebrated Gifford Lectures have long been recognized as making landmark contributions to the discussion of natural theology. A Fine-Tuned Universe will contribute significantly to that discussion by developing a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with the intellectual and moral complexities of the natural world. It will be essential reading to those looking for a rigorous engagement between science and the Christian faith. ~ Product Description
Geoffrey Simmons M.D. (Harvest House: Feb 15, 2007), 288 pages.
Dr. Geoffrey Simmons focuses on the millions of structures and systems on the Earth that came about all at once, entire... with no preceding links, no subsequent links, no “sideways” links. To illustrate, he surveys examples like... the hummingbird and its circulatory system, insects and insect–eating plants, the role of the thousands of species of viruses, chemical signals and the sensory apparatus that detects them, the self–regulating capacity of the Earth’s ocean/air/soil system. It’s clear: Nature contains only leaps, not links. Only the intelligence and purpose of an all–powerful Designer can explain the intricate creatures, connections, and “coincidences” everywhere.
Daniel C. Dennett (Penguin : February 6, 2007), 464 pages.
In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion. ~ Publishers Weekly
Michael Ruse (Prometheus: Mar 1, 1996)
This is in effect an anthology of selected writings dealing with the science vs. creationism issue. The author starts with Bishop Paley's famous blind watchmaker argument for a creator and brings the arguments up to date. As other reviewers have noted, the quality of the reading depends in some cases on the original author. However, Ruse has done a good job of including a variety of styles and levels, and a complete reading should give you a good overview of the arguments over the years. This makes a good reference book or a good reader for someone trying to familiarize themselves with the controversy. The extensive philosophical analysis of the trial arguments are indeed fascinating.
Michael Ruse (Cambridge University Press: Sep 6, 2004)
The author, a professor of philosophy and zoology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, writes with bracing candor ("Let me be open," he begins. "I think that evolution is a fact and that Darwinism rules triumphant.") and sophisticated sympathy to Christian doctrine ("if one's understanding of Darwinism does include a natural evolution of life from nonlife, there is no reason to think that this now makes Christian belief impossible."). Writing this book, he also clearly had a hell of a lot of fun (disarming skeptical Christian readers at the beginning, he asks, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?"). Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? answers its title question with heady confidence - "Absolutely!" - but the book journeys towards that answer with circumspect integrity. Covering territory from the Scopes "Monkey Trial" to contemporary theories of social Darwinism to the question of extraterrestrial life, Ruse applies an impressive wealth of knowledge that encompasses many disciplines. Readers may or may not be swayed, but they can't help but be challenged and edified by this excellent book ~ Michael Joseph Gross
J.P. Moreland (Baker : 2nd edition, 1999), 270 pages.
Anyone who is interested in science should be well aware of its philosophical underpinnings. Moreland's book is an excellent place to find such understanding. Though this title is out of print, it is well worth tracking down a used copy. ~ Afterall.net "Moreland has undertaken to give Christians a clear-eyed conception of science that does its legitimate authority full justice but is sharply resistant to contemporary tendencies to take that authority as ultimate, global, and autonomous.... Christianity and the Nature of Science is a nice piece of work.... I can recommend the book very highly." ~ Del Ratzsch
E.O. Wilson (Vintage: Mar. 30, 1999), 384 pages.
The biologist Edward O. Wilson is a rare scientist: having over a long career made signal contributions to population genetics, evolutionary biology, entomology, and ethology, he has also steeped himself in philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences. The result of his lifelong, wide-ranging investigations is Consilience (the word means "a jumping together," in this case of the many branches of human knowledge), a wonderfully broad study that encourages scholars to bridge the many gaps that yawn between and within the cultures of science and the arts. No such gaps should exist, Wilson maintains, for the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give understanding a purpose, to lend to us all "a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws." In making his synthetic argument, Wilson examines the ways (rightly and wrongly) in which science is done, puzzles over the postmodernist debates now sweeping academia, and proposes thought-provoking ideas about religion and human nature. He turns to the great evolutionary biologists and the scholars of the Enlightenment for case studies of science properly conducted, considers the life cycles of ants and mountain lions, and presses, again and again, for rigor and vigor to be brought to bear on our search for meaning. The time is right, he suggests, for us to understand more fully that quest for knowledge, for "Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us.... Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become." Wilson's wisdom, eloquently expressed in the pages of this grand and lively summing-up, will be of much help in that search. ~ Amazon.com
Phillip E. Johnson, 2nd ed. (InterVarsity Press: Nov 1993), 220 pages.
In his own era, Darwin's most formidable opponents were fossil experts, not clergymen. Even today, according to the author, the fossil record, far from conclusive, does not support the presumed existence of intermediate links between species. A law teacher at UC-Berkeley, Johnson deems unpersuasive the alleged proofs for Darwin's assertion that natural selection can produce new species. He also argues that recent molecular studies of DNA fail to confirm the existence of common ancestors for different species. Doubting the smooth line of transitional steps between apes and humans sketched by neo-Darwinists, he cites evidence for "rapid branching," i.e., mysterious leaps which presumably produced the human mind and spirit from animal materials. This evidence, to Johnson, suggests that "the putative hominid species" may not have contained our ancestors after all. This cogent, succinct inquiry cuts like a knife through neo-Darwinist assumptions. ~ Publishers Weekly
Michael Behe (Free Press: Mar 20, 1998), 352 pages.
Charles Darwin's theory of life's evolution through natural selection and random mutation fails to account for the origin of astonishingly complex biomolecular systems, argues Behe, associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. In this spirited, witty critique of neo-Darwinian thinking, he focuses on five phenomena: blood clotting; cilia, oar-like bundles of fibers; the human immune system; transport of materials within the cell; and the synthesis of nucleotides, building blocks of DNA. In each case, he finds systems that are irreducibly complex?no gradual, step-by-step, Darwinian route led to their creation. As an alternative explanation, Behe infers that complex biochemical systems (i.e., life) were designed by an intelligent agent, whether God, extraterrestrials or a universal force. He notes that Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA's double-helix structure, proposed that life began when aliens from another planet sent a rocket ship containing spores to seed Earth. Perhaps Behe's plea for incorporating a "theory of intelligent design" into mainstream biology will spark interest. ~ Publishers Weekly
Daniel Dennet (Simon & Schuster: June 12, 1996), 586 pages.
Darwin's idea is very very simple; it goes like this: 1) Organisms pass their characteristics on to their descendants, which are mostly but not completely identical to their parent organisms. 2) Organisms breed more descendants than can possibly survive. 3) Descendants with beneficial variations have a better chance of surviving and reproducing, however slight, than those with non-beneficial variations. 4) These slightly modified descendants are themselves organisms, so repeat from step 1. (There is no stopping condition.) That's it. That's all there is to Natural Selection: a simple four step loop; a mindless algorithm that displays no intent, no design, no purpose, no goal, no deeper meaning... Dennett devotes the major portion of his book to aggressively arguing the above. He reviews how the algorithm could have "primed life's pump" eons ago and spends some time on describing evolution and biology. He argues that biology is engineering and thus reducible to algorithms. He also explains how simple algorithms can lead to computers that play brilliant chess and here he makes an important distinction: brilliant chess doesn't have to be perfect chess. ~ Vincent Poirier @ Amazon.com