Meaningful World By Benjamin Walker and Jonathan Witt: A Review

With a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics, Benjamin Wiker lends his expertise along with the literary insights of Jonathan Witt, Senior Fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, to the question of just what kind of world we live in. Wiker and Witt do not simply disagree with the reigning paradigm of metaphysical naturalism found in science. They see it as harmful. They have written this book as an antidote to the “poison” that is “the assumption that science has proven that the universe is without purpose, without meaning—proven it so clearly that one need not even produce an argument.” (Wiker and Witt, Location 61.)

The question of meaning has implications for how all of reality is seen. For Christians concerned with preaching the gospel, juxtaposing a divine creator with a meaningless universe is incoherent. This is one of the reasons why the apologetic project is needed in order to make Christianity a live option in the marketplace of ideas. In this particular case, the meaningfulness of the universe needs to be recognized. The poison must be counteracted. Recognizing the fact that human beings are an integral part of the universe, and that we have lived, acted, and created as though the world has meaning, Wiker adds his analysis of the works of Shakespeare which are best understood if meaning were central to human understanding of the world, as well as a comparative analogy to the creativity found in nature.

“The book’s central claim is clearly stated: the universe is meaning-full.” (63) The authors make it plain that they reject the nihilistic paradigm that is claimed to be “proven” by science. They build their case beginning with a historical overview of how the idea of a random, meaningless world goes back to the ancient Greeks and found resurgence in Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx. The assumption of meaninglessness began to lose momentum as discoveries of order and specified complexity began to emerge such that even a hardened skeptic like Antony Flew was moved to theism. From this background, Wiker and Witt note that just as parts of the cosmos made sense in light of the whole, and perhaps only so, the same is clearly so in literature. Shakespeare’s works are examined to illustrate the point, showing that contrary to Dawkins’ illustration of “Methinks it like a Weasel,” the parts fit the whole, but also that the whole makes no sense if the works and their author are nothing more than matter in motion, or animals driven by the urge to procreate. The genius exhibited by Shakespeare is then used to illustrate the genius Euclid points to in mathematics. The authors show how on a materialist worldview, the existence of mathematics makes no sense, much less its applicability to the material universe. From mathematics, the order and intelligibility of the cosmos, chemistry (especially the periodic table) and biology is examined. Through each discipline, the antidote of structuralism is counteracting the poison of reductionism. Structuralism approaches these questions from the top-down, parts-to-whole view. Such a view is not even considered a live option if one starts from meaninglessness. In fact, it is the only way scientists can discern “the meaning of the data they gather.” Wiker and Witt present case after interrelated case for the meaningful whole of the created order into which each of its parts –matter, energy, chemistry, life in general, and humanity in particular– fits. While so many books of this type focus on particular arguments for God’s existence from specific areas such as cosmogony, fine-tuning, or information theory, Meaningful World looks at the big picture. If the other works study the trees, Wiker and Witt look at the whole forest. They show not only that these things fit, but also that they are made to be discovered as such. They do so with a clear, accessible style and a refreshing dose of humor. While their arguments are logically cogent, their discussion of Shakespeare’s literary acumen appeals to aesthetics. Moreover, while they mention some of the astronomically high levels of improbability of the world being the way it is by chance, they do not hang their whole case there. Another way the thesis of the book can be stated is, “Intelligent design? More like creative genius.”

The literary element they introduce by way of analogy and as a particular example is a rarity in books on this subject. Their use of Shakespeare to illustrate their point is not only a novel way to argue in this arena, but they inspire a new appreciation for the literature itself. Their presentation reaches the reader at the cognitive as well as the intuitive level. Moreover, they present a strong case in favor of their thesis, rather than simply relying on defeaters for its negation. They do more than show that reductionism is false. They present a powerful case for a meaningful world. More than merely meaningful, the authors offer a case for elements of genius in the created order that is analogous to the creative genius of Shakespeare. Wiker and Witt argue that the knowledge offered by the study of mathematics, cosmology, chemistry and biology have the depth, clarity, harmony and elegance one would expect to find in the works of geniuses. This is not design by a minimally intelligent mind, but a designing Genius.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the philosophy of science, or the history of the controversy over the Intelligent Design hypothesis. The book is accessible to the layperson without dumbing down the content. While the scholarship of the authors is evident in the content, the engaging style of the prose has none of the dryness that can come from the subject matter. The integrated approach will inform a more fully orbed apologetic than those books that focus on a narrower topic such as the origin of information or the complexity of the living cell. As important as these details are, this book will help you see the forest and the trees.

I Read How To Be an Atheist, and Now I Believe In Moral Subjectivism

 

 

Mitch Stokes is a Senior Fellow of Philosophy at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho.  He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame under the direction of Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen.  At Yale, he earned an M.A. in religion under the direction of Nicholas Wolterstorff.[1] In fact, being trained by Plantinga, van Inwagen and Wolterstorff made J.P. Moreland positively gush at Stokes’ credentials. That is high praise indeed. Stokes is the author of A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, and the current book under review, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough.

Many militant atheists pride themselves on their reliance on reason and science to tell them the truth about the world. They are especially confident of their views of science and what it can tell us about morality. Stokes argues that if they were to put their skepticism where their mouths are, they would be a little more hesitant to assert that science has proven that naturalism is true (and therefore theism false) and that morality is real.

How to Be an Atheist is a short book of just over 200 pages, broken into three parts. In part one Stokes shows the problem of relying on reason and science as articulated by one of the “heroes” of the Enlightenment, David Hume. In part two, science is examined to see the limits of what it can tell us, especially with respect to what is unobservable. This section includes a helpful explanation of how theories, which are neither easily dismissed claims nor iron-clad laws, are inferences that try to make sense of what has been observed. (Stokes also holds advanced degrees in engineering, so there is no anti-science bias here.) Also noted is the fact that many of the areas of physics most often cited as evidence for naturalism are instrumental rather than realistic, which is to say, the theories involving quantum mechanics and such are models used to make sense of what can be observed, but do not even claim to accurately describe what cannot be observed. In the third section, Stokes argues that if naturalism is true, then morality, actual good, bad, right and wrong, does not exist. They are merely expressions of human likes and dislikes.

It is this third section that prompted the title of this review. Stokes argues that all values are personal. The thing that makes something good (in a moral sense) is a value holder. Likewise, a duty or obligation is only held between persons. Many atheists would affirm this. However, this is not to say that morality is ultimately grounded in human persons. After all, if all morality is mere human preference, which human? Why this one and not that one? Why yours and not mine? It is not hard to see why this can lead right back to a kind of moral anarchy. As Stokes notes, Christianity has held to what is called “Divine Command” theory of ethics which is the idea that which is good, and that which we are obliged to do and prohibited from doing, is good, obligatory, or prohibited because God has commanded it. He further notes that the common “Euthyphro objection” is resolved when we understand that God commands what he does because his nature is good.

All this is not to say that morality is relative. Moral standards are person centered (or on Stokes’ view, Person centered.) Whatever the standard, whether a behavior measures up is an objective reality. However, it is not the behaviors themselves that are intrinsically good or bad, but these values are derived from the Value Holder, God himself.

 

Stokes’ book is highly accessible, well reasoned, and fun to read. Stokes has a flare for mixing humor into a technical subject. He is generous in his treatment of those with whom he disagrees, and sets quite the example in this. I highly recommend this book.

 

 

[1] CV taken from http://www.mitchstokes.com/about.html

Dinosaur Blood and the Age of the Earth by Fazale Rana: a Review

 

Fazale Rana is the Vice President of Research and Apologetics at Reasons to Believe, a science-faith thinktank in Covina, CA. Rana earned his PhD in Chemistry (with an emphasis on biochemistry) at Ohio University. He is the author of The Cell’s Design, Creating Life in the Lab, and co-author of Origins of Life with Hugh Ross, in addition to the book under review.

In 2005 a team of paleontologists led by Mary Schweitzer discovered 70 million year old fossilized dinosaur eggs that contained soft tissue. This controversial discovery has led to mixed reactions from the scientific community, since it has long been thought that no such tissue could survive such long periods of time. There are skeptics who think the discoveries reflect contamination, and therefore not tissue that was original to the fossilized organisms. There are those who accept the findings on their merits and are seeking to make sense of how it could happen. Another group are Young Earth Creationists (YECs) who accept the findings and see them as evidence that radiometric dating methods are unreliable when they date the fossils as older than a few thousand years. Rana offers arguments that the findings could be genuine and that they in no way prove radiometric dating to be unreliable.

Dinosaur Blood and the Age of the Earth is just four chapters long. In the first chapter, Rana catalogs some of the soft tissue discoveries in the fossil record. In chapter two, Rana cites the best work put forth by YEC researchers seeking to show how soft tissue is best explained by a young earth. In chapter three, Rana notes the problems with the arguments against radiometric dating, explaining how it is done and why it is trustworthy. In chapter four, Rana explains a number of mechanisms by which soft tissue could be preserved over long time periods. In his conclusion, Rana encourages readers to consider all the evidence before making a judgment.

Three appendices follow the core content, with a defense of the Day-Age interpretation of Genesis, which Rana holds to along with Hugh Ross, as well as addressing the science fiction of the Jurassic Park movie franchise, and the work done on reverse engineering and estimates of dinosaur genomes.

The discovery of soft tissue remnants (and make no mistake, these are remnants, not large chunks of meat) has been the “go-to” for many people in the YEC community when they argue for a young earth. Rana’s work shows how weak this argument is. Moreover, Rana’s explanation of radiometric dating techniques is very helpful in seeing how easy it is to misuse them to defend a point of view. While the jury is still out on whether these are genuine soft tissue remnants, or if there is a better explanation, Rana thoroughly defends their plausibility. These scientific issues and their theological implications are areas where Rana excels.

With respect to Rana’s defense of the Day/Age view of Genesis 1, I especially appreciate Rana’s humility in his presentation. I was personally first convinced that the 24 Hour view held by YECs was false by the Reasons to Believe Scholar team. However, I don’t find the Day/Age view compelling. The repetitive structure of Genesis 1 strongly suggests something other than plain historical narrative. For a highly plausible alternative, called the Analogical Days view, can be found here in a commentary by C. John Collins. I have noted here my disagreement with the strong concordism of RTB scientists’ approach. Another weakness I see to the argument is, “There are a number of passages throughout the Old and New Testaments that make direct statements about the antiquity of the earth and its features.” (Kindle Location 1248) These passages use words like “long ago,” “ancient,” etc to describe these features. While I am not a YEC, I could easily imagine one saying, “So what? A 16-year-old thinks a 30-year-old is ancient. Why wouldn’t the Bible writers think a thousands of years old planet was ancient?”

Rana gets a little technical in his explanations of the science, but it does not require an advanced degree in science to get the gist of his case. He makes a compelling case for the plausibility of the discoveries, as well as a solid refutation of the claims YECs make about their implications. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these issues.

 

 

Science or Theology: Must We Choose?

 

Have you ever gone one Amazon.com to look at a book, looked at the reviews and saw a lot of one-star reviews, which when you read them you know the reviewer did not read the book? I hate that. If you are going to post a “review,” it should reflect the book and your interaction with it. Having said that, it is with all due respect that I comment here on a book I have never read. Actually, it is not about the book, but about the approach the author took, which I have seen before, and I think it is problematic.

Michael Guillen has published a book called Amazing Truths. As I stated above, I have not read it, but I heard Dr. Guillen discuss the book with Eric Metaxas on the Eric Metaxas Radio Show. Guillen seeks to show how the Bible and science are compatible. I have no quarrel with the idea that there is no conflict between the Bible (rightly understood) and science (rightly understood.) My concern is how authors like Guillen will display really poor theology and even philosophy in their arguments. In Guillen’s case, he argues that the idea that absolute truth exists is a point of compatibility between science and the Bible. Well, it is true that both scientists and theologians affirm absolute truth, neither science nor the Bible tell us this. The Bible and science both presuppose objective truth. You can’t do either without it. Granted, this is a nit picky point. However, of a more serious nature is Guillen’s attempt to explain how God who is “far away” can hear prayers immediately by appealing to quantum entanglements. It is not necessary to understand what quantum entanglements are. The idea is about instant communication over great distances. If you understand some basic theology, you would not even go there. If God is omnipresent, which he is and he has been understood to be for, oh I don’t know, the last 3000 YEARS, then he is never “far away.” Moreover, if he knows the end from the beginning, which he does, he does not need to wait until you pray to know what you will ask for or how he will act in response. In fact, you can find a wonderful story that illustrates this on pages 17-18 of Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power.[3]

I don’t mean to take away from what Guillen is trying to do. He is trying to show Christians and non-Christians alike that choosing Christianity does not entail rejecting science. However, if he is going to write as an expert, he needs to be sure he covers all his bases. What he does here is similar to other scientists who are Christians. Hugh Ross has also made similar errors in trying to use his scientific background to explain God’s capacities. In Ross’ case, he appeals to multiple time dimensions to explain prayer. This is unnecessary for the same reasons stated above.[4]

Scientists who wish to employ their expertise in the service of Christian apologetics would do well to become better informed theologically. At least they should consult with a theologian they trust to get feedback.

/rant

 

 

 

 

 

Lydia McGrew’s review of The Lost World of Genesis 1 by John Walton

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2015/03/review_of_john_h_waltons_the_l.html

John H. Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One has (I understand) been very influential among evangelicals in leading them to believe that Scripture is compatible with a full acceptance of whatever mainstream science happens to declare concerning the origin of the world and biological life, including humans. In point of fact, this book says little about human origins; that subject is the topic of The Lost World of Adam and Eve. I have just received a copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve in the mail and will be reviewing it next.

Was early Earth’s atmosphere suitable for creating the building blocks of life?

WINTERY KNIGHT

Do the Miller-Urey experiments simulate the early Earth? The Miller-Urey experiments

Biochemist Dr. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe offers some evidence.

Excerpt:

Today, the Miller-Urey experiment is considered to be irrelevant to the origin-of-life question. Current understanding of the composition of early Earth’s atmosphere differs significantly from the gas mix used by Miller. Most planetary scientists now think that the Earth’s primeval atmosphere consisted of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor. Laboratory experiments indicate that this gas mixture is incapable of yielding organic materials in Miller-Urey-type experiments.

In May 2003 origin-of-life researchers Jeffrey Bada and Antonio Lazcano, long-time associates of Miller, wrote an essay for Science (May 2, 2003, pp. 745-746)commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Miller’s initial results.They pointed out that the Miller-Urey experiment has historical significance, but not scientific importance in contemporary origin-of-life thought. Bada and Lazcano wrote:

Is the “prebiotic soup” theory a reasonable explanation for the emergence of life? Contemporary geoscientists tend to…

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Walter Bradley: three scientific evidences that point to a designed universe

WINTERY KNIGHT

Dr. Walter L. Bradley Dr. Walter L. Bradley

Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here) is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor.

Here’s a bio:

Walter Bradley (B.S., Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) is Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor. He comes to Baylor from Texas A&M University where he helped develop a nationally recognized program in polymeric composite materials. At Texas A&M, he served as director of the Polymer Technology Center for 10 years and as Department Head of Mechanical Engineering, a department of 67 professors that was ranked as high as 12th nationally during his tenure. Bradley has authored over 150 refereed research publications including book chapters, articles in archival journals such as the Journal of Material Science, Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites, Mechanics of Time-Dependent Materials, Journal of Composites Technology and Research, Composite Science and Technology, Journal of Metals, Polymer Engineering and Science, and Journal of Materials Science, and…

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