My favorite science-religion books
|June 28, 2010||Posted by Steve Fuller under Evolution, Philosophy, Intelligent Design, Religion, Science, Ethics, Cosmology, Books of interest, Christian Darwinism|
In response to Thomas Cudworth’s request, these are the five science-religion books that I would recommend, or at least has influenced me the most — and help to explain my distinctive take on ID. You’ll see that some of these are available free on-line. Since my explanations are long-ish. They are located below the fold.
- Leibniz, Theodicy (1710). This is the work that Voltaire ridiculed in Candide for its ‘optimism’, i.e. that this is the ‘best of all possible worlds’ (despite being so bad in so many respects). It understands perfectly the challenge that any ID theory must face – namely, how to explain the world’s palpable imperfections as the product of a perfect deity. However, in Critique of Pure Reason Kant seriously undermined the project of theodicy (70 years before Darwin) by arguing that even if Leibniz managed to show that science (as the rational quest for a grand unified theory of everything) doesn’t make sense without presupposing God, it doesn’t follow that science actually takes us to God. Various forms of this argument are still used – by both theists and atheists – to challenge the very idea of ID (and natural theology, more generally).
- Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination (Princeton 1986). This book is probably the most sophisticated synthesis of all the scholarship done by historians and philosophers of science to show how personal attributes of the Abrahamic God gradually morphed into the impersonal attributes of the physical universe that Newton brought together in his world-system. A key element, stressed by Vincent Torley here, has been John Duns Scotus’ doctrine of ‘univocal predication’, whereby the difference in virtues between ourselves and God is defined as a matter of degree not kind. For example, it became possible to speak of ‘divine omnipotence’ as an infinitely extended version of the power we normally exert – and see exerted – in the physical world.
- Thomas Henry Huxley, ‘Evolution and Ethics’ (Romanes Lecture, 1893). This is not a book, strictly speaking, but a long essay in which Huxley defines human civilisation – and he means mainly developments in law, medicine, science and technology — as organised defiance of natural selection. (This is an explicit challenge to Herbert Spencer.) The essay is largely a comparative study of the world-religions as cosmologies, from which Huxley concludes that the imago dei doctrine of the Abrahamic religions was unique in giving people the confidence to think that they could fathom and even control the forces of nature. However, it’s not clear how after the species-humbling consequences of Darwin’s theory of evolution how that confidence – so vital for the expansion of science and technology in the 19th century – would survive in the 20th century.
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, The Biology of Ultimate Concern (New American Library, 1967). Dobzhansky, a Ukrainian émigré to the US with a foot in both natural history and experimental genetics, was perhaps most responsible for forging the ‘Neo-Darwinian synthesis’ in the 1930s and 40s. He was also an Orthodox Christian, a champion of Teilhard de Chardin and a president of the American Eugenics Society. This slim late work tries to put it all together by updating the biblical imperative that we are the earth’s stewards, in light of our growing powers to alter our own (and other species’) genetic makeup. Dobzhansky is quite clear that to be responsible is not necessarily to be timid in our attempts to provide intelligent direction to evolution. In this respect, the Nazis are faulted mainly for claiming that ‘nature’ (as in ‘natural selection’) was dictating their racist policies. People who think that there is a meaningful distinction between ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ should read this book.
- Norbert Wiener, God and Golem, Inc. (MIT 1964). The mathematician and father of cybernetics was raised a Unitarian and all of his popular works are peppered with biblical references, which have not been taken sufficiently seriously by those interested in understanding his philosophical orientation. This late work, which won the US National Book Award, argues that the design problems surrounding the creation of intelligent machines are high-tech versions of the problems that the Abrahamic God faced in creating beings in his image and likeness. Wiener’s understanding of the problem of evil is based on the Bible but heavily influenced by his reading of Paradise Lost and Faust.