Most helpful critical review
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1Not a serious book; an embarrassment to Christians
ByPeteron September 5, 2009
In the Introduction, the authors write:
"Our main purpose in this book is to reintroduce Christians to a part of our rich intellectual heritage." (p.xiii)
So right away, the authors admit that the book's intended audience does not include people who are not part of Christianity but still hope to learn something about Christianity's influence on science. The introduction ends with this exhortation:
"In this book we introduce readers to people whose 'secular' accomplishments flowed from a deep commitment to their faith, who understood that Christianity is meant to be developed into a complete worldview. May their example rekindle the same vision in us and inspire us to go and do likewise." (p.xiii)
So it's a book of advocacy, not scholarship.
Let's look at what the authors' vision and inspiration have given us that will surprise various scholars.
HISTORIANS:
We learn that "Descartes objected strongly to Newton's theory of gravity." (p.90)
Actually, Descartes died before Newton's 8th birthday.
THEOLOGIANS:
We learn that "natural theology was not a 'god-of-the-gaps' argument. It did not argue from _ignorance_ of natural causes but rather from an expanding _knowledge_ of the complexity exhibited by living things -- and from their similarity to human artifacts." (p.100)
But this is a non sequitur. The expanding knowledge of the complexity of living things was _accompanied_ by ignorance of natural causes of that complexity: that's where natural theology invoked God, and that's what made it a "god-of-the-gaps" argument.
MATHEMATICIANS:
We learn that "Professional mathematicians show a marked preference for pure as opposed to applied math. They devote themselves to problems suggested by the logic of mathematics alone, without asking whether the problems (or their solutions) bear any relevance to the physical world. This growing isolation of 'real' mathematicians stems from a change in the philosophy of mathematics." (p.123)
No, it doesn't. It's just that most people who use mathematics in their everyday work on applied problems are not called "mathematicians" anymore. The only change is that we're more restrictive now in labelling someone a mathematician.
Then we learn that "The amazing 'fit' of mathematical concepts to the physical world cries out for explanation -- but without the assumption of divine creation by a reasonable God, there _is_ no explanation. Mathematicians must act on sheer faith -- a faith that lacks any basis." (p.159)
Note the contradiction with p.123, where we learned that professional mathematicians show a marked preference for working on problems that aren't relevant to the physical world. Obviously here they're referring to mathematicians working on problems in the physical world. These mathematicians use formulas that have been discovered by physicists: the mathematicians have "sheer faith" that these formulas will work because they've worked before, within experimental error. And the amazing fit of (some) mathematical concepts to the physical world is not even relevant to mathematics itself -- it's a phenomenon of physics.
The main chapter on math actually ends with a section on "Redeeming Mathematics": "Mathematics does give truth. But it is not a closed or autonomous order independent of God. It is contingent and open. Hence Christianity can restore to mathematics its proper dignity -- not as an autonomous and apodictic source of truth but as a reliable means of gaining knowledge and working creatively in the world God made." (p.161)
Whatever this means, is it actually going to make a difference in the way anyone does math?
BIOLOGISTS:
We learn that "at a symposium held in 1966 at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, the computer revolution caught up with the biologists. Using high-speed computers, mathematicians simulated the trial-and-error methods of chance. The outcome was devastating. Computers showed that the probability that life arose by chance processes is essentially zero, no matter how much time is allotted." (p.229)
Far out, man! No mention is made of the way in which the results depended on what the computers were programmed to compute. In this case, which chance processes were modeled, and how?
COMPUTER ENGINEERS:
We learn that "The DNA molecule stores and transmits vast quantities of information, more than any computer invented by human technology. And the reason is that each of its bases -- each of its chemical letters -- is almost equally likely to be followed by any other." (p.231)
No numbers are given, but they're easy to look up: the longest DNA molecule in humans is chromosome 1, which has 300 million base pairs. With 2 bits of information per base pair, and 8 bits per byte, that's 75 megabytes. This book was published in 1994, but there were certainly computers back then that could store that much information; were they not invented by human technology?
INFORMATION THEORISTS:
We learn that "Computer buffs sometimes like to create wrapping paper by commanding the computer to print 'Happy Birthday!' again and again until the page is filled. The result is a repeating pattern that conveys very little information; the entire page conveys no more information than the first two words." (p.231)
I might suggest that if you printed "Happy Birthday!" 29 times for someone's 29th birthday, the recipient could interpret this message to contain more information than the first two words. Under any sensible theory of information, some information is conveyed by the _number_ of repetitions.
CHEMISTS:
We learn that "Experiments simulating conditions on the early earth have produced small amounts of organic material -- notably amino acids. But the initial excitement created by these experiments has largely died down among the scientists in the field. The organic materials that form are quite meager (about 2 percent of the total yield). They are generally swamped by large quantities of tarry sludge." (p.230)
Two percent! That's infinitely larger than nothing, so what is the relevance of the fact that a whole lot of sludge comes with the organic material we're interested in? If an alchemist turned 100 pounds of lead into 98 pounds of sludge and 2 pounds of gold, that would be pretty impressive, wouldn't it?
CLASSICAL PHYSICISTS:
We learn that "The law of addition of velocities provides a means of transforming motion calculations from one reference frame to another. The Galilean principle of relativity explains how people in different frames of reference can have different observations and yet both be right." (p.171)
We also learn that "From the days of Galileo, mass and velocity had been reckoned as primary qualities, objective properties that characterize the object itself and do not depend on the observer." (p.183)
If Galileo reckoned that velocity doesn't depend on the observer, then how could his principle of relativity explain how people in different frames of reference can have different observations of velocity and both be right?
MODERN PHYSICISTS:
We learn that "Einstein's theory of relativity has very limited impact experimentally. Its empirical effects are restricted to the realms of the superfast and the superlarge. Everywhere else -- which includes virtually all our normal activities -- its effects dovetail with those predicted by classical physics. What attracts scientists to relativity, therefore, is not a superior fit with the facts so much as its mathematical elegance and conceptual simplicity." (p.181)
Read that argument over again. If theories A and B make the same predictions everywhere except in "the realms of the superfast and the superlarge", where theory A beats theory B, then wouldn't it make sense to say that theory A has a superior fit with the facts?
In conclusion, this is not a serious book. As a practical matter, you can't quote from it and hope to be taken seriously. I'm surprised that a real scientist (Thaxton) is one of the co-authors. It's also sad that all of the other reviews here (except for one unhelpful one) give the book four or five stars. Is this what Christian scholarship has come to? That not only do Christian "scholars" publish bad books, but Christian readers either can't or won't say anything bad about them?