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Origins + Science

Origins and Science

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

Intelligent Design

Go God does not play dice with the universe. He plays Scrabble." Part One gives an introduction to design and shows how modernity — science in the last two centuries — has undermined our intuition of this truth. The second and central part of the book examines "the philosophical and scientific basis for intelligent design." The final part shows how "science and theology relate coherently and how intelligent design establishes the crucial link between the two." This suggests that Dembski is not simply rejecting Darwin and naturalism on fundamentalist or biblical grounds. While grounded in faith, he wishes to show how "God's design is accessible to scientific inquiry."

David Hume on the Design Inference

Go If we see a house ... we conclude, with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely that species of effect, which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely you will not affirm, that the universe bears such a resemblance to a house, that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar cause; and how that pretension will be received in the world, I leave you to consider.

Total Truth

Go As a religiously adrift young adult in the 1960s, Pearcey found her way to the Swiss retreat, and the intellectually rigorous faith, of the Calvinist maverick Francis Schaeffer. This book continues the Schaeffer-inspired project that Pearcey and Chuck Colson began in How Now Shall We Live? — awakening evangelical Christians to the need for a Christian "worldview," which Pearcey defines as "a biblically informed perspective on all reality." Pearcey gives credibly argued perspectives on everything from Rousseau's rebellion against the Enlightenment, to the roots of feminism, to the spiritual poverty of celebrity-driven Christianity. She also provides a layperson's guide to the history of America's anti-intellectual strain of evangelicalism. ~ Publishers Weekly

Augustine on Science and Matters of Religion

Go When it is asked what we ought to believe in matters of religion, the answer is not to be sought in the exploration of the nature of things, after the manner of those whom the Greeks called "physicists". Nor should we be dismayed if Christians are ignorant about the properties and the numbers of the basic elements of nature, or about the motion, order, and deviations of the stars, the map of the heavens, the kinds and nature of animals, plants, stones, springs, rivers, and mountains; about the divisions of space and time, about the signs of impending storms, and the myriad other things which these "physicists" have come to understand, or think they have. For even these men, gifted with such superior insight, with their ardor in study and their abundant leisure, exploring some of these matters by human conjecture and others through historical inquiry, have not yet learned everything there is to know. For the Christian it is enough to believe that the cause of all created things, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, is nothing other than the goodness of the Creator, who is the one and the true God.

What Evolution Is

Go At age 97, Ernst Mayr is one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century, and here he delivers yet another valuable addition to the field of evolutionary theory. Mayr, who was also a curator at the American Museum of Natural History for two decades, guides lay readers through evolutionary thought from the book of Genesis and creationist theory through Darwin's theories and "soft" evolution and on to more contemporary, inclusive concepts. He takes readers on a whirlwind voyage from the scala naturae (the Great Chain of Being, in which everything in the world was accorded a position in a developmental hierarchy) to Mayr's own work, which builds on Darwinian theory and environmental factors. No one but Mayr could explain evolution so well, and though the text is peppered with many scientific terms, overall the author is triumphant in his goal to teach "first and foremost... biologist or not, [anyone] who simply wants to know more about evolution." While many authors suggest their tomes are the authoritative source, Mayr remains humble, reminding readers that "many details remain controversial." And the combination of his expertise, his elegant prose and the sheer pleasure of so many enthralling facts (the 145-million-year-old Archaeopteryx is a near perfect link between reptiles and birds, for example) means that studying the fossil record has rarely been so absorbing. Appendixes answer FAQs and respond to various objections to evolutionary theory, while a glossary offers entries from acoelomate to zygote. ~ Publishers Weekly

Darwinism Defeated?

Go In this provocative book, evolutionist Denis O. Lamoureux — a charismatic evangelical Christian who holds PhD degrees in both theology and biology — challenges some of Johnson's ideas about how Christians ought to respond to theories of biological evolution. Johnson, in turn, responds to his criticisms. The debate is assessed by several scientists, including well known contributors to the origins debate: Michael Behe, Michael Denton and Howard Van Till. Rikki E. Watts and Loren Wilkinson conclude the book by offering biblical and theological insights to the discussion.

David Bentley Hart on Defaming History

Go Hence modernity’s first great attempt to define itself: an 'age of reason' emerging from and overthrowing an 'age of faith'. Behind this definition lay a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale. Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma. All was darkness. ¶ Then, in the wake of the ‘wars of religion’ that had torn Christendom apart, came the full flowing of the Enlightenment and with it the reign of reason and progress. The secular nation-state arose, reduced religion to an establishment of the state and thereby rescued Western humanity from the blood-steeped intolerance of religion. ¶ This is, as I say, a simple and enchanting tale, easily followed and utterly captivating in its explanatory tidiness; its sole defect is that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail. This tale of the birth of the modern world has largely disappeared from respectable academic literature and survives now principally at the level of folklore, 'intellectual journalism,' and vulgar legend.

Reflective Knowledge

Go Reflective Knowledge argues for a reflective virtue epistemology based on a kind of virtuous circularity that may be found explicitly or just below the surface in the epistemological writings of Descartes, Moore, and now Davidson, who on Sosa's reading also relies crucially on an assumption of virtuous circularity. Along the way various lines of objection are explored. In Part One Sosa considers historical alternatives to the view developed in Part II. He begins with G.E. Moore's legendary proof, and the epistemology that lies behind it. That leads to classical foundationalism, a more general position encompassing the indirect realism advocated by Moore. Next he turns to the quietist naturalism found in David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and P.F. Strawson. After that comes Thomas Reid's commonsense alternative. A quite different option is the subtle and complex epistemology developed by Wilfrid Sellars over the course of a long career. Finally, Part I concludes with a study of Donald Davidson's distinctive form of epistemology naturalized (as Sosa argues). The second part of the book presents an alternative beyond the historical positions of Part I, one that defends a virtue epistemology combined with epistemic circularity. This alternative retains elements of the earlier approaches, while discarding what was found wanting in them.

A Secular Age

Go In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age. Challenging the idea that the secular takes hold in a world where religion is experienced as a loss or where religions are subtracted from the culture, Taylor discovers the secular emerging in the midst of the religious. The Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on breaking down the invidious political structures of the Catholic Church, provides the starting point down the road to the secular age. Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance.

Achieving Knowledge

Go When we affirm (or deny) that someone knows something, we are making a value judgment of sorts — we are claiming that there is something superior (or inferior) about that person's opinion, or their evidence, or perhaps about them. A central task of the theory of knowledge is to investigate the sort of evaluation at issue. This is the first book to make 'epistemic normativity,' or the normative dimension of knowledge and knowledge ascriptions, its central focus. John Greco argues that knowledge is a kind of achievement, as opposed to mere lucky success. This locates knowledge within a broader, familiar normative domain. By reflecting on our thinking and practices in this domain, it is argued, we gain insight into what knowledge is and what kind of value it has for us.

Uncommon Dissent

Go If you've never heard the term "post-Darwinian," welcome to the world of thinkers who reject evolutionary theory and its reliance on the notion of chance (i.e. "random mutation"). In this provocative volume, biologists, mathematicians and physicists as well as theologians and other intellectuals — many affiliated with the Discovery Institute, which espouses the concept of intelligent design — argue, as editor Dembski writes, that "the preponderance of evidence goes against Darwinism." The contributors invoke mathematics and statistics to support their theory that an "intelligent cause is necessary to explain at least some of the diversity of life." In other words, the degree of diversity and complexity in life forms implies the need for an intelligent designer. The nature and identity of this designer is not discussed by all the writers; others call this intelligence God. ~ Publishers Weekly

Jay W. Richards on Design in the 21st Century

Go At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we look out at an utterly different world from that envisioned by the science of the late nineteenth century. It is a world charged with design, a cosmos that points beyond itself to a transcendent and intelligent cause. But the word is not out! On the contrary, the materialistic definition of science inherited from the nineteenth century still prevents us from considering this new evidence. The problem is so acute that some scientists are willing to posit an infinite panoply of unobservable universes, just to explain away the fine tuning in our universe... ¶ The materialistic definition of science is no mere philosophical trifle. It dictates what may be discussed, funded and published, at least within official circles. This cultural and institutional power makes materialistic science look like an unyielding structure, extending invincibly into the clouds like Jack's Beanstalk. But if the evidence is as I have described it, then that monolith must surely have its weak spots. So it must and does, just where it doesn't fit the natural world.