- Series: Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures
- Hardcover: 144 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press (November 15, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231115067
- ISBN-13: 978-0231115063
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,704,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith
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"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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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... (otherwise) we will all continue to suffer from an avoidable loss of meaning in our own lives." (Pg. 103)
This book is a valuable addition to the growing contemporary literature on the relation between religion and physical science.
The major falling of this book in this readers opinion: The absence of scientific explanation does not automatically prove that God exists.
The author is a molecular biologist, not an expert on behavior. Yet claims are made about behavior that are not supported by data, or ideas are suggested which have been solidly refuted by good data.
I went into this book very optimistically but left very disappointed. I did however enjoy some sharp insights the author made, such as a good education not only give one the facts but also teaches one how to argue against the facts.
The book offers too many radial ideas, which are not supported and are very unlikely to be supported by data in the future.
Overall read this book and decide for yourself. I thought it was in the bottom 25% of all books I have ever read.