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An honest and enlightening tour of the natural scientific worldview
on January 21, 2008
Taner Edis has written a marvelously critical overview of where naturalism and supernaturalism collide. Books in this vein tend to be overly biased in favor of one side or the other, but Edis somehow maintains an edge of skepticism toward even his own viewpoints. Strength rests in this book where it points out the incomplete and weak areas of a fully naturalistic account of existence. The tactic utilized seemed to be very effective in that, generally speaking, he shows why naturalistic accounts are the best explanations, why their supernaturalistic rivals are woefully inadequate or just plain wrong, and then he points out the potential weak spots for those who hold to naturalism. I found this approach especially refreshing seeing that this method invites critical reflection on the issues at hand - something that the epistemological methodology of supernatural belief often lacks.
Chapter 1: Science, Philosophy, and Religious Doubt
This chapter is a very good overview for framing the thesis of the book. It contains the historical background of science, philosophy, and doubt and traces their beginnings in ancient Greece, their revitalization during the Enlightenment and how this trend is (and isn't) being carried into today. This chapter also gives a good introduction to the meta-representational differences between naturalism and supernaturalism.
Chapter 2: An Accidental World
Providing a primer on our current and mature physical picture of the universe, Edis explains why "commonsense" notions of believing in a Designer-god such as the "anthropic principle" are inadequate when one has a good understanding of physics. I especially enjoyed the exposition of "symmetry breaking" and how this very simple principle accounts for much of the "design" often pointed to.
Chapter 3: Darwinian Creativity
Makes the case for evolution and its centrality to understanding biology. Edis tackles a wide range of topics ranging from entropy to the ways in which evolution has been reconciled with religious beliefs, from pseudo-scientific Intelligent Design to the propagandist-driven American and Islamic creationism.
Chapter 4: Minds without Souls
Utilizing neuroscience, this chapter explains why the dualistic notion of a soul or non-material essence is superfluous to a complete understanding of the human mind.
Chapter 5: The Fringes of Science
Following in the grand tradition of debunking nonsense, UFO's, psychics, parapsychology, and miracles are judiciously dealt with.
Chapter 6: Explaining Religion
Drawing from the burgeoning and related fields of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, Edis successfully shows why a naturalistic account of religious psychological phenomena is effective, even if incomplete. It is also correctly pointed out that a cognitive-scientific account of non-belief is needed to complement our understanding.
Chapter 7: Morality and Politics
Edis takes the exceptionally large issues covered in the book and expounds on their political environment and outlines some of the most common methods and tacts utilized. Covered here as well is explaining both the strengths and weaknesses of morality without a Heavenly Watcher, contrasted with the strengths and weaknesses of traditional transcendental schemes. The author concludes on a stark note, one that I won't spoil for the potential reader.
These annotations on the chapters do not and cannot do the volume justice. Edis weaves the thematic content of each chapter into a very coherent whole of a very readable and intellectually rich book.