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Origins + Science

Origins and Science

Charles Taliaferro on Ultimate Explanations

Go In contemporary particle physics, objects without mass are posited with primitive charges or spins, which are presumed to be the basic foundations for explaining more complex events. Positing a basic power, terrestrial or divine, is not, ipso facto, explanatorily empty. ... In the sciences, we may well claim that with respect to any explanation, further questions can be asked of it, but this is not the same thing as claiming that science does not or cannot posit basic powers and accounts that are not themselves explained by further powers or scientific accounts. If the sciences can allow that subatomic particles have basic powers, it is hard to see how we can rule out that intentional agents have basic powers.

Helen Gardner on Annihilating the Author

Go More disturbing than this wilful and self-indulgent use of language was the dismissal of the author as the creator of the work and the denial of objective status to the text. The author gave place to the reader, on the ground that the text has no existence as 'an object exterior to the psyche and history of the man who interprets it'. Since the reader may be any and every reader from now to the end of time, texts were to be regarded as susceptible of an infinite number of meanings, and, since no criteria were proposed by which any meaning could be rejected or accepted, were in fact meaningless. The critic, therefore, regarding it as impossible to fulfill what has always been regarded as his prime duty — to illuminate the author's meaning, now declared to be totally irrecoverable — created meanings within the void (le vide) of the text, or, to put it another way, imported meanings into a text that had no determinate meaning of its own.

Christianity and the Nature of Science

Go 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. ~ "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

The Universe Next Door

Go When The Universe Next Door was first introduced nearly thirty years ago, it set the standard for a clear, readable introduction to worldviews. In concise, easily understood prose, James W. Sire explained the basics of theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern monism and the new consciousness. The second edition was updated and expanded to include sections on Marxism and secular humanism, as well as a completely reworked chapter on what is now widely known as New Age philosophy rather than new consciousness. And the third edition offered further updating and revisions, including a thoroughly revised chapter on New Age philosophy and, perhaps most importantly, a new chapter on postmodernism. Now the fourth edition refines the definition of worldview itself, incorporating Sire's thinking and teaching during the past decade. The Universe Next Door has been translated into several languages and has been used as a text at over one hundred colleges and universities in courses ranging from apologetics and world religions to history and English literature. With the publication of the fourth edition, this book will continue to aid students, teachers and anyone who wants to understand the variety of worldviews that compete with Christianity for the allegiance of our minds and hearts. ~ Product Description

The Case for a Creator

Go Strobel, whose apologetics titles The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith have enjoyed strong popularity among evangelicals, approaches creation/evolution issues in the same simple and energetic style. The format will be familiar to readers of previous Case books: Strobel visits with scholars and researchers and works each interview into a topical outline. Although Strobel does not interview any "hostile" witnesses, he exposes readers to the work of some major origins researchers (including Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe) and theistic philosophers (including William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland). Strobel claims no expertise in science or metaphysics, but as an interviewer he makes this an asset, prodding his sources to translate jargon and provide illustrations for their arguments. ~ Publishers Weekly

Richard Swinburne on Singularities

Go From time to time various writers have told us that we cannot reach any conclusions about the origin or development of the universe, since it is (whether by logic or just in fact) a unique object, the only one of its kind, and rational inquiry can only reach the conclusions about objects which belong to kinds, e.g. it can reach a conclusion about what will happen to this bit of iron, because there are other bits of iron, the behaviour of which can be studied. This objection of course has the surprising, and to most of these writers unwelcome, consequence, that physical cosmology cannot reach justified conclusions about such matters as the size, age, rate of expansion, and density of the universe as a whole (because it is a unique object); and also that physical anthropology cannot reach conclusions about the origin and development of the human race (because, as far as our knowledge goes, it is the only one of its kind). The implausibility of these consequences leads us to doubt the original objection, which is indeed misguided.

Nassim Taleb on the Unpredictability of History

Go The Levant has been something of a mass producer of consequential events nobody saw coming. Who predicted the rise of Christianity as a dominant religion in the Mediterranean basin, and later in the Western world? The Roman chroniclers of that period did not even take note of the new religion — historians of Christianity are baffled by the absence of contemporary mentions. Apparently, few of the big guns took the ideas of a seemingly heretical Jew seriously enough to think that he would leave traces for posterity. We only have a single contemporary reference to Jesus of Nazareth — in The Jewish Wars of Josephus — which itself may have been added later by a devout copyist. How about the competing religion that emerged seven centuries later; who forecast that a collection of horsemen would spread their empire and Islamic law from the Indian subcontinent to Spain in just a few years? Even more than the rise of Christianity, it was the spread of Islam (the third edition, so to speak) that carried full unpredictability; many historians looking at the record have been taken aback by the swiftness of the change. Gorges Duby, for one, expressed his amazement about how quickly close to ten centuries of Levantine Hellenism were blotted out "with a strike of a sword." A later holder of the same history chair at the Collège de France, Paul Veyne, aptly talked about religions spreading "like bestsellers" — a comparison that indicates unpredictability. These kinds of discontinuities in the chronology of events did not make the historian's profession too easy: the studios examination of the past in the greatest of detail does not teach you much about the mind of History; it only gives you the illusion of understanding it.

Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge

Go We live in a time of moral confusion: many believe there are no overarching moral norms and that we have lost an accepted body of moral knowledge. Alasdair MacIntyre addresses this problem in his restatement of Aristotelian and Thomistic virtue ethics; Stanley Hauerwas does so through his highly influential work in Christian ethics. Both recast virtue ethics in light of their interpretations of the later Wittgenstein's views of language. This book systematically assesses the underlying presuppositions of MacIntyre and Hauerwas, finding that their attempts to secure moral knowledge and restate virtue ethics, both philosophical and theological, fail. Scott Smith proposes alternative indications as to how we can secure moral knowledge, and how we should proceed in virtue ethics. ~ Product Description

Can a Darwinian be a Christian?

Go 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

The Everlasting Man

Go As always with Chesterton, there is in this analysis something (as he said of Blake) "very plain and emphatic." He sees in Christianity a rare blending of philosophy and mythology, or reason and story, which satisfies both the mind and the heart. On both levels it rings true. As he puts it, "in answer to the historical query of why it was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life." Here, as so often in Chesterton, we sense a lived, awakened faith. All that he writes derives from a keen intellect guided by the heart's own knowledge. ~ Doug Thorpe

Gilbert Highet on Overestimating Science

Go There are many naïve people all over the world – some of them scientists – who believe that all problems, sooner or later, will be solved by Science. The word Science itself has become a vague reassuring noise, with a very ill defined meaning and a powerful emotional charge: It is now applied to all sorts of unsuitable subjects and used as a cover for careless and incomplete thinking in dozens of fields. But even taking Science at the most sensible of its definitions, we must acknowledge that it is as unperfect as all other activities of the human mind.

The Myth of Junk DNA

Go According to the modern version of Darwin’s theory, DNA contains a program for embryo development that is passed down from generation to generation; the program is implemented by proteins encoded by the DNA, and accidental DNA mutations introduce changes in those proteins that natural selection then shapes into new species, organs and body plans. When scientists discovered forty years ago that about 98% of our DNA does not encode proteins, the non-protein-coding portion was labeled “junk” and attributed to molecular accidents that have accumulated in the course of evolution. Recent books by Richard Dawkins, Francis Collins and others have used this “junk DNA” as evidence for Darwinian evolution and evidence against intelligent design (since an intelligent designer would presumably not have filled our genome with so much garbage). But recent genome evidence shows that much of our non-protein-coding DNA performs essential biological functions. The Myth of Junk DNA is written for a general audience by biologist Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution. Citing some of the abundant evidence from recent genome projects, the book shows that “junk DNA” is not science, but myth. ~ Book Description

The Darwinian Revolution : Science Red in Tooth and Claw

Go Originally published in 1979, The Darwinian Revolution was the first comprehensive and readable synthesis of the history of evolutionary thought. Though the years since have seen an enormous flowering of research on Darwin and other nineteenth-century scientists concerned with evolution, as well as the larger social and cultural responses to their work, The Darwinian Revolution remains remarkably current and stimulating.

God’s Philosophers

Go The adjective 'medieval' is now a synonym for superstition and ignorance. Yet without the work of medieval scholars there could have been no Galileo, no Newton and no Scientific Revolution. In "God's Philosophers", James Hannam traces the neglected roots of modern science in the medieval world. He debunks many of the myths about the Middle Ages, showing that medieval people did not think the earth was flat, nor did Columbus 'prove' that it is a sphere. Contrary to common belief, the Inquisition burnt nobody for their science, nor was Copernicus afraid of persecution. No Pope tried to ban human dissection or the number zero. On the contrary, as Hannam reveals, the Middle Ages gave rise to staggering achievements in both science and technology: for instance, spectacles and the mechanical clock were both invented in thirteenth-century Europe. Ideas from the Far East, like printing, gunpowder and the compass, were taken further by Europeans than the Chinese had imagined possible. The compass helped Columbus to discover the New World in 1492 while printing allowed an incredible 20 million books to be produced in the first 50 years after Gutenberg published his Bible in 1455. And Hannam argues that scientific progress was often made thanks to, rather than in spite of, the influence of Christianity. Charting an epic journey through six centuries of history, God's Philosophers brings back to light the discoveries of neglected geniuses like John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Thomas Bradwardine, as well as putting into context the contributions of more familiar figures like Roger Bacon, William of Ockham and St Thomas Aquinas. Besides being a thrilling history of a period of surprising invention and innovation, God's Philosophers reveals the debt modern science and technology owe to the supposedly 'dark' ages of medieval Europe. ~ Product Description

Character, Virtue Theories, and the Vices

Go This book argues that the question posed by virtue theories, namely, "what kind of person should I be?" provides a more promising approach to moral questions than do either deontological or consequentialist moral theories where the concern is with what actions are morally required or permissible. It does so both by arguing that there are firmer theoretical foundations for virtue theories, and by persuasively suggesting the superiority of virtue theories over deontological and consquentialist theories on the question of explaining morally bad behavior. Virtue theories can give a richer account by appealing to the kinds of dispositions that make certain bad choices appear attractive. This richer account also exposes a further advantage of virtue theories: they provide the best kinds of motivations for agents to become better persons. ~ Product Description

William Lyons on Evolution as a Seamless Garment

Go Physicalism] seem[s] to be in tune with the scientific materialism of the twentieth century because it [is] a harmonic of the general theme that all there is in the universe is matter and energy and motion and that humans are a product of the evolution of species just as much as buffaloes and beavers are. Evolution is a seamless garment with no holes wherein souls might be inserted from above.

But Is It Science?

Go 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.

Evolution: A Theory in Crisis

Go In a penetrating account of features of the natural world that mutation and natural selection are simply inadequate to explain. From biochemistry to the fossil record, Denton systematically demolishes the "fact" of evolution as a sufficient explanation for the world as it is. Denton doesn't deny that evolution occurs; he is, for example, sanguine about the "horse series." He claims, however, that evolution, taken as mutation and natural selection, is no more than a partial answer. His his explication and analysis of the avian respiratory system is as convincing as anything in Mike Behe's book. Some have tried to explain away problems in evolution as owing to the paucity of human imagination, but Denton doesn't merely ask, "How could this have evolved?" e.g., the feather, avian respiration, etc. He argues positively that certain features cannot have evolved, that intermediate forms are not just difficult to imagine, they are impossible.

The Scientific Revolution

Go TThere was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it," says Shapin, a professor of sociology at U.C., San Diego in his introduction, "There was, rather, a diverse array of cultural practices aimed at understanding explaining, and controlling the natural world." Shapin's treatise on the currents that engendered modern science is a combination of history and philosophy of science for the interested and educated layperson, and it is indeed considerably more readable than many of the other philosophy of science books currently available. Several puzzling aspects of the writings of 16th- and 17th-century scientists are put into new perspective in his section titled: "Science as Religion's Handmaid." There are three basic sections of the book: "What Was Known?" covers major differences between the "new knowledge" of the scientific revolution and received wisdom of the ancients. "How Was It Known?" covers sources of authority (e.g., books or experience) and some of the experimental groundwork of major players such as Boyle and Galileo. And "What Was The Knowledge For?" explores the interactions of the new science with the political, religious and cultural dimensions of the European society in which it was embedded. This slim book would have benefited from a deeper consideration of the rivalry between English and Continental science (and scientists) and the relationship of the new science to the design and production of war machines. But Shapin does help the reader understand the direct intellectual link between that time and our own. Illustrations, all taken from original sources, add a nice touch.  ~ Publishers Weekly

The Design Revolution

Go Dembski, a philosopher/mathematician who has been an important theorist for the intelligent design movement, handles a wide range of questions and objections that should give both fans and detractors of ID plenty to chew on. The book's timing is appropriate; it is only in the past few years that ID, initially dismissed by some scientists as "creationism in a cheap tuxedo," has also begun to attract a more sophisticated brand of criticism. These critiques come not only from evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology, but also from Christian theologians who have made peace with Darwinian evolution. While most of the core arguments of this book will be familiar to readers of the ID literature, they are presented here in (if one may say so) more highly evolved form: explanations are clearer, objections are borne more patiently, distinctions and concessions are artfully made. ~ Publishers Weekly

Mere Creation

Go Nineteen experts trained in mathematics, mechanical engineering, philosophy, astrophysics, ecology, evolutionary biology, and other disciplines challenge the reigning ideology of materialistic naturalism on both scientific and philosophical grounds, as they press their case for a radical thinking of established evolutionary assumptions. ~ Synopsis

The Soul of Science

Go I consider The Soul of Science to be a most significant book which, in our scientific age, should be required reading for all thinking Christians and all practicing scientists. The authors demonstrate how the flowering of modern science depended upon the Judeo-Christian worldview of the existence of a real physical contingent universe, created and held in being by an omnipotent personal God, with man having the capabilities of rationality and creativity, and thus being capable of investigating it. Pearcey and Thaxton make excellent use of analogies to elucidate difficult concepts, and the clarity of their explanations for the nonspecialist, for example, of Einstein's relativity theories or of the informational content of DNA and its consequences for theories of prebiotic evolution, are quite exceptional, alone making the volume worth purchasing." ~ Dr. David Shotton, Lecturer in Cell Biology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

Augustine on Christians Talking Nonsense

Go Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds as certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

Darwin’s Black Box

Go 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

A Fine-Tuned Universe

Go 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