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The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231115063
ISBN-10: 0231115067
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Our species is not the creation of design but the result of accumulated errors." Robert Pollack is a molecular geneticist and a Jew, who realizes that his two belief systems have a certain conflict: "Evolution through natural selection explains certain facts of life that touch on matters of meaning and purpose," but he finds that "the vision of the natural world these explanations produce is simply too terrifying and depressing to me to be borne without the emotional buffer of my own religion."

Pollack is not exactly trying to reconcile religion and science, but he's trying to show how each can illuminate the other, protecting them from their greatest weakness, dogma--thinking you have all the answers. He argues that "current practices of my religion of Judaism would contribute to an improvement in medical care." In particular, doctors should make room for patients to feel and express free will, to make their own choices and not bow to an illusionary inevitable. He also feels we should forsake the idea of a mind-body split, and give the placebo effect the respect it deserves--not as a way to "fool" the patient's body into getting well, but as an acknowledgement that treating the mind is part of treating the body.

Pollack's hope is that science and religion can pull together, so that medicine is practiced "when the doctor keeps all tools of science at her fingertips, when the meaning of those tools is given by the mysterious capacity for free will, and the choice to use them to preserve another person's life and health, and when the person who uses these tools for that purpose knows herself to be no different in any important way from her patient." --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

This fresh and unassuming look at natural selection and genetics from a Jewish perspective successfully departs from the mainstream theology-and-science literature, ringing true in spite of some theoretical gaps. Molecular biologist Robert Pollack, a recognized researcher and science commentator, wrestles with the disharmony between the "purposeless" worldview of evolutionary biology and the human need, reflected in both religion and medicine, to interpret life as meaningful. Pollack's goal is not to reconcile these competing claims, but to make room for both by cultivating "acceptance" of both scientific naturalism and religious or ethical feelings that grope beyond the limits of rational knowledge. After describing and defending a sphere of the "unknowable" that includes concepts of God, free will and the meaning of life, Pollack addresses more specific concerns about his field of molecular genetics, where what is technologically possible often runs ahead of respect for diversity and free will. Pollack's insights are original and often engagingly personal, conveying the authentic flavor of his passionate engagements with both biology and his Jewish faith. With disarming honesty, he admits to past missteps and the limits of his perspective. His thoughtfulness and candor should be appreciated by readers whose commitments to science, religion or medicine involve them in similar conflicts, although many will be uncomfortable with the cognitive dissonance he is willing to embrace. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Columbia Series in Science and Religion
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (November 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231115067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231115063
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,260,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Robert Pollack is an American biologist at Columbia University; he is also a professor of religion at Union Theological Seminary. He has written other books, Signs of Life: The Language and Meanings of DNA, The Sixth and Seventh Day Man: A Trilogy, etc.

He wrote in the Preface of this 2000 book, "I was invited... to give ... a series of three public lectures... I turned to a class of question that had been bothering me for some time, the ones arising at the junction of scientific and religious conceptions of the world..."

He begins by noting that he is a Jewish molecular biologist, then suggests that "a Jewish understanding of our appearance by evolution through natural selection introduces an irrational certainty of meaning and purpose to a set of data that otherwise show no sign of supporting any meaning to our lives on earth beyond that of being numbers a a cosmic lottery with no paymaster."

He later admits that "I must write from the heart and place feelings on a par with facts, something a scientist is ordinarily obliged to avoid." (Pg. 2) He argues that it is as much, or more, a matter of choice "to transcend balanced consideration and respond instead to felt right or wrong. Religions come into play at such moments... as a source of guidance, helping to assure that the choice is made with a full appreciation of irrational and inexplicable feelings as well as data." (Pg. 49)

He concludes with the observation that "medicine may give both doctor and patient the chance to share an experience of the Unknowable...
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Every manager or administrator who cares or wishes to care about the implications of her/his enforcement of our systemic rules rather than the needs of the patient first would find that "Faith" paints a picture for belief wrapped inside science, and science wrapped up inside faith.
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Format: Hardcover
It is much too rare to find a prominent scientist who does such a good job of explaining why he has become a strong theist. Pollack discusses his personal development of faith and the associated conflicts that came from that shift. I found the book to be an important contribution to building bridges between science and religion.
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Pollack's writing is a little disjointed but the overall thrust of the book is interesting. Pollack's distinction between rational and irrational is unclear. His book would be greatly helped by dilineating what he takes these two terms to mean. As far as I can tell, he equate rationality simply with science. But why think this is so? Why can't there be other kinds of reasoning than just scientific? Still, his position that there is an intuitional side to scientific thinking, and that religion is that same intuitional approach pushed as far as it can go, is interesting. Further, his examination of the placebo effect and its importance is ahead of its time. This book's strength is the examination of bio-ethics. Even though Pollack doesn't come out and say it, and it takes some putting the dots together yourself, his overall view seems to be that the placebo effect has some relationship to religion. That the power of trust is itself a kind of justification of faith, and that we shouldn't be scared of things that genuinely help people just because we don't understand it or have a methodology to study it. That strikes me as a very interesting position, and I think the other reviewers here seemed to have missed it. There is a good critique of this book in Lorenzo Albacete's GOD AT THE RITZ, I strongly suggest reading them as a unit.
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