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New Books About Science And Religion: Same Old Arguments, So Here�s A New One
Once in a while, there�s a proliferation of new books about the junction or disjunction of science and religion. Here are seven new ones by people with distinguished scientific credentials but constrained capacities in the philosophy of religion. So we�ve added an eighth which, to us, is the book the modern world needs to heal the rift and move on from imbecilic discussion to getting something important done, like saving life before we annihilate it.
Here are the first seven in alphabetical order, which may be the aspect of them that makes the most sense:
1. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and theorist of cognition at Tufts. He champions �brave� researchers, among them himself, who challenge religion.
2. Evolution and Christian Faith by Joan Roughgarden, a child of Episcopal missionaries and now an evolutionary biologist at Stanford. She explains her efforts to fit the individual into evolution � a saga complicated by the fact that she is a transgender marvel and differs with conventional evolutionary ideas about sexual ID.
3. God�s Universe by Owen Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, who explains why he is �personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos.�
4. Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor by E. O. Wilson, a biologist at Harvard, who refers to himself as �a secular humanist.� Wilson maintains that religion and science should join together to advocate respect for and the protection of nature, which makes a great deal of sense. It�s difficult to take the opposite position, that is, that the two should be at odds over it, but, with science primarily focused on the affairs of this life and religion on the affairs of the next one, the place where they might get together remains uncertain.
5. Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Lewis Wolpert, a biologist at University College London. He evaluates the way people think about cause and effect and is looking into what he calls �causal belief,� by which he means that events or conditions we experience have a cause, possibly a supernatural cause. Apparently, he never looked into David Hume�s demolition of cause and effect as perhaps merely usual sequence. He is accurate, to say the least, when he says that human reasoning is �beset with logical problems that include overdependence on authority, overemphasis on coincidence, distortion of the evidence, circular reasoning, use of anecdotes, ignorance of science and failures of logic.�
6. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford. He considers religious faith a disease and atheism �a brave aspiration."
7. The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who describes his journey from atheism to committed Christianity.
While it�s encouraging to see intelligent discussion about such subjects as intelligent design, it remains astonishing that none of the books get to the real nub of the traditional dichotomy between science and religion. It�s not about whether one can be a scientist and have faith or whether one must dismiss the evidence of science to have faith. The question, which none of the books addresses incisively, is can a spiritually satisfying religion be placed on a scientific foundation?
Of course, it can. And to show you how, we present an eighth book.
8. Life Itself As A Modern Religion by Charles Blaise, a scientist and philosopher who describes a way for scientists and clerics alike to find redemptive agreement in a refreshing combination of unassailable logic and inspiring spirituality.
If you�d like to know more, go to www.toreasonpublishing.com, where the entire book is a free read.
Just to entice you to go enjoy it, here are a few excerpts, first from the Foreword:
"The purpose of this book is to provide intellectually rigorous people with a credible, modern religion � a religion based on the appreciation, care, and enhancement of life itself, while it embraces individual freedom as a precious part of the natural expression of life. Free of superstition, it seeks to be entirely in agreement with truth as we know it and regards that imposing value as more than beauty; it is sacred � and no truth more so than that on which we base our religion.
"Let us begin, in a manner similar to Descartes� often-referenced Method, with what we know for certain: we have life. Then let us derive from that foundational reality all of our beliefs. I suggest that the basic tenet of such a religion would be Faith In Life � a trust in its greatness and logic � and that it contains within it the religious expression of Faith Through Life, that through the natural care and fulfillment of life we may not only preserve it and find considerate joy in it but also express our truest reverence to its ultimate source�.
"Such a religion can satisfy our minds, nourish our spirits, and inspire us to be knowledgeable advocates of life. It can impel us to devote ourselves, with mutually considerate freedom, to its care, preservation, and enhancement. It can enliven us with the will and wisdom to rescue life from nuclear war and incendiary terrorism, the diminutions of pollution and overpopulation, and the depredations of ignorance. It can inspirit us to accomplish the transformations necessary to secure an enlightened daily life for ourselves and our children and a promising future for as long as the earth may support humanity."
Later in the book, the author even includes a contemporary parable, as follows, without, if you'll excuse the indiscretion, double quotation marks:
"Here is, actually, a parable. It came to me, unbidden, as a present from my imagination:
There is a knock at your door. You open it, and there stands a proactively benevolent old soul in a white robe, who says, �I have a gift for you.�
�Thanks,� you reply, �what is it?�
�It�s called life.�
�Really?� you comment, and dare to inquire, �Can I ask you a few questions about it?�
�Sure?� he consents, seeming a bit troubled.
�Does it ever break down?�
�Well,� he admits, �sometimes it develops problems � diseases, injuries, that sort of thing.�
�OK,� you reply, and then become more demanding. �Does it last forever?�
�Not really,� he concedes. �It has a certain lifespan, and then it comes to completion.�
�Oh,� you say, weighing two responses: You can reply, �It sounds as if it comes with certain problems, so, if you don�t mind, I�ll decline it and wait for something better to come along. It�s just not good enough for me.� Or you can say, �Thank you. I�ll take it, despite the drawbacks you�ve noted, and do the best I can with it.�
Now, which of the two responses is more likely to endear you to your patient visitor?"
Finally, we�ll indulge the author by presenting his innovative answer to the question of the existence or nonexistence of God:
"Religious discussions inevitably remind me of Voltaire�s invocation to �define your terms."
A believer demands of a suspected atheist, �Do you believe in God?� without himself defining what he means by God.
The atheist will retort, �No, I don�t,� a profession that, William James advises us in The Will To Believe, requires as much knowledge as belief.
The skeptic does not realize he may define God in a way he himself can accept, for lack of further verifiable knowledge, as simply the source of all that is, without more detail, personification, or other unverifiable accretions.
Meanwhile, the believer has leaped from the tenets of his own faith to a conception of God he assumes to be accurate, as if the two are coincident.
So the swirl of undefined terms has been wafted about from speculation immemorial. But belief and unbelief proceeding in such ways have become, not only unworthy of genuine religious sentiment or acute philosophical intent, but downright troublesome for those who believe in the urgency of a more complimentary focus for religion and philosophy and hope for credible content for receptive adults and our frequently skeptical children."
The book is persistently logical, spiritually nourishing and, at times, winningly witty.
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