Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010)
Alexander (Denis)
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  1. Editorial: Science and Christian Belief – Recent Developments (Denis Alexander) - 2
  2. Religion and the Early Royal Society (Peter Harrison) - 3-22
  3. "Richmond (Patrick) - Scientific Explanations of Religious Experience and Their Implications for Belief" - 23-42
  4. "Dias (Priyan) - Is Science Very Different from Religion? A Polanyian Perspective" - 43-55
  5. OBITUARY: Vladimir Betina
  6. "Turl (John) - Substance Dualism or Body-Soul Duality?" - 57-80
  7. "Jaeger (Lydia) - Nancy Cartwright’s Rejection of the Laws of Nature and the Divine Lawgiver" - 81-86
  8. "Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 - Book Reviews" - 87-112


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"Alexander (Denis) - Review of 'Why Us?' by James Le Fanu"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010)

Full Text
  1. As medic, writer and journalist, this author is tired of the attempts by scientists to extrapolate their science into theories of everything, and is critical of the arch-reductionists1 who promote scientistic understandings of the world. He also counters the triumphalist tone of science with the data of history, pointing to the extrapolations of Darwinism into racism and eugenics, indeed horrendous examples of the way in which science can be abused for ideological purposes.
  2. The book is broadly divided into two halves, the first half focusing on evolutionary biology and the second half on the neurosciences and the question of mind. Much of the science is well described and this book is certainly no diatribe against science itself. On the other hand, the author's unhappiness with the scientistic interpretations of science does spill over into a negative stance towards some of it, for unnecessary reasons in the opinion of this reviewer. In this respect the book is somewhat reminiscent of a similar book by another journalist, Brian Appleyard (Understanding the Present, 1992), who likewise failed to distinguish carefully enough between science and scientism, thereby running the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water.
  3. In the present volume this tendency is noticeable particularly in Le Fanu's stance towards evolutionary theory, which is partially hostile, though for reasons that remain unclear. In the account of human evolution, we are told that ‘there is nothing to suggest the major mutations that one would expect to account for the upright stance or that massively enlarged brain...' (47). But the relation between genotype and phenotype is a subtle one, and the extent of genetic variation bears no obvious 1:1 relationship with the extent of phenotypic variation. Darwin's On the Origin of Species is declared to be ‘in essence immune to criticism' (108). Really? The famous Chapter Six of Darwin's book shows how very aware he was of the criticisms that could sensibly be made of his theory right from the beginning, a theory now hugely strengthened by genetics.
  4. Assertions are made by Le Fanu about the ‘impossibility' of something having happened in the way that Darwinian evolution suggests, sometimes preceded by those immortal words: ‘It is difficult to imagine that....' or ‘conceive how', but solid scientific reasons are not supplied as to why something should not be the case. Imagination is an unsure guide when it comes to scientific realities. There is insufficient geological time, it is claimed, for evolution to account for the transition from a ‘small mammal to the extraordinary whale' (120). There must be some ‘prodigious biological phenomenon, unknown to science' that ensures that the bodily organs operate to such a high degree of efficiency (122). It is maintained that random genetic variations are insufficient to bring about a complex organ like the eye (124). Even enthusiasts for Intelligent Design, a group to which this author does not appear to belong, seem to have given up using the eye's complexity as an anti-Darwinian argument, so well are the various stages of the eye's evolutionary development now delineated.
  5. Far from viewing in a positive light the contemporary science of genomics and our increased understanding of how the information encoded into DNA is translated into an organism, the author believes that these advances only make clearer the inadequacy of DNA to explain ‘the diversity, form and attributes that so readily distinguish man from fly'. Enter something that sounds very like a revivified vitalism: ‘there must be some nonmaterial formative influence that, from the moment of conception, imposes the order of form on the developing embryo2'. ‘We cannot, by definition, know that formative "life-force" directly, only infer its reality as the missing factor that might bridge the unbridgeable gap....' (146). Because developmental biology is, as yet, unable to give a full description of the genetic information flow that builds living organisms ('how genes fashion those delicate drooping heads' of the snowdrops, 146), the author appears to feel that this ‘gap' in our present understanding can only be filled by appeals to some external ‘life-force'. This claim sounds very similar to the nineteenth century German Naturphilosophie, as propounded by natural philosophers of that era such as Blumenbach (1752-1840), who proposed that the embryo3 developed by the action of a special 'formation force', but the idea is unlikely to appeal to contemporary developmental biologists.
  6. The discussion of the neurosciences follows a similar line of argument, with the author underlining the non-materiality of the mind and the insufficiency of current science or philosophy to give a coherent account of qualia. Whilst this claim is surely correct, the immateriality of mind is overstated, with the author claiming that ‘contrary to every known law of nature, non-material thoughts and emotions directly influence the physical structure of the brain' (223-224). ‘Thoughts and emotions' are surely very material embodied entities, whereas their description in the language of the conscious agent provides a description complementary to that of physical embodiment.
  7. It is the author's contention that contemporary neuroscience has led to the rediscovery of the soul and of the ‘self', since qualia and the personal conscious language of the ‘knower' escape all attempts to comprehend scientifically. ‘We then link together the rediscovered soul and that life force with Newton's laws of gravity as the three forces of the non-material realm that impose order on the material universe and all within it' (228). The author goes on to suggest that if only biologists could wean themselves off their addiction to theories like 'materialistic' Darwinian evolution, then this would free up their minds to tackle some other scientific problems. One does gain the impression of a hope here that other manifestations of the ‘potent forces of the non-material realm' might thereby be uncovered.
  8. This reviewer can well understand why an active commentator on the present cultural scene might react against the arch-reductionists4 who engage in 'nothing-buttery' expositions of their science. Nevertheless, it is a pity that this has led the present author to invoke mysterious forces as a possible corrective, a strategy similar to that of the Intelligent Design proponents who invoke 'mysterious design' principles to ‘explain' biological complexity. But both concepts are notoriously fragile, based as they are on supposed gaps in our current scientific explanations for things, gaps that will inevitably be closed with the on-going march of science.
  9. If only this author had explored the traditional bulwarks against arch-reductionism5 — complementarity, emergence, parallel narratives — a little more thoroughly, leaving aside the invocation of ‘mysterious forces', then this book would have been much easier to recommend.
  10. Denis Alexander is Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund's College, Cambridge, and Editor of Science and Christian Belief.

"Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 - Non-specific Articles"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010)

  1. Editorial: Science and Christian Belief – Recent Developments (Denis Alexander) - 2
  2. Religion and the Early Royal Society (Peter Harrison) - 3-22
  3. Obituary: Vladimir Betina – 56

"Richmond (Patrick) - Scientific Explanations of Religious Experience and Their Implications for Belief"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), p. 23-42

    Leading contemporary philosophers of religion such as Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga have appealed to some sort of religious experience in defending the propriety of religious belief. Recently, best-selling atheistic books such as "Dawkins (Richard) - The God Delusion" and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell have popularised new scientific explanations that suggest that religious belief is a natural product of evolution. In this paper, I sketch the views of Plantinga and Swinburne, outline some of the recent scientific explanations of religious experience and belief and discuss their possible implications for the propriety of religious belief.

"Dias (Priyan) - Is Science Very Different from Religion? A Polanyian Perspective"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), pp. 43-55

    Polanyi argued that science had to be pursued as a personal passion within a fiduciary framework. His writings are used to demonstrate that science is not completely different from religion, although it is made out to be. Science and religion both use faith in order to act. Science, like religion, has indispensable subjective elements too, but that need not and does not preclude objectivity. In addition, science itself is often dogmatic and has a set of core commitments that do not change, similar to the core beliefs in religions. Finally, although science seeks the assent of all its practitioners while people are divided into many religions, there are times when science is and perhaps should be pursued within differing and even competing schools of thought.

"Turl (John) - Substance Dualism or Body-Soul Duality?"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), pp. 57-80

    The natures of mind and soul have been frequently discussed over the last decade in this journal. The trend has been to move from a dualistic account towards some form of monism, while attempting to avoid the extreme of materialism with its perceived threat to rational and moral freedom. This article queries whether dualism really is dead and whether the new soul to which we are asked to subscribe is the soul of biblical teaching. Philosophical and metaphysical arguments are used to support the thesis that some form of dualism is still scientifically respectable, but the distinction of substance may be based in our ignorance of the nature of both matter and spirit.

"Jaeger (Lydia) - Nancy Cartwright’s Rejection of the Laws of Nature and the Divine Lawgiver"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), pp. 81-86

    Well-known for her thesis that the laws of nature ‘lie’, Cartwright argues for a return to the capacities, conceptually close to Aristotelian natures. The religious references so dispersed in Cartwright’s writings could, at first, lead one to think that her religious influences played a negligible role in the elaboration of her conception of natural order. However, when these few indications are considered alongside biographical information, it becomes clear that the absence of faith in God is of crucial importance, not only to her rejection of laws, but even more so to her adoption of the capacities, and to her preference for the ‘dappled’ world, that is, a world-view that sees unified scientific description as impossible. Thus, Cartwright gives us a significant example of what might well be the paradoxical situation of a certain number of philosophers of science writing in the analytic tradition: the (relative) rareness of references to their religious convictions hides their truly fundamental influence.

"Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 - Book Reviews"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), pp. 81-86

  1. Christ and Evolution: Wonder and Wisdom
    Celia Deane-Drummond (John Habgood), pp. 87-88
  2. Behind the Scenes at Galileo’s Trial
    Richard J. Blackwell (Ernan McMullin), pp. 88-89
  3. The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion
    Philip Clayton & Paul Davies (eds.) (Russell Re Manning), pp. 89-90
  4. Responsible Dominion: A Christian Approach to Sustainable Development
    Ian Hore-Lacy (Brian Heap), pp. 90-91
  5. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion
    Ronald L. Numbers (ed.) (Geoffrey Cantor), pp. 91-92
  6. A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology
    Alister E. McGrath (Rodney Holder), pp. 92-94
  7. Christology and Science
    F. LeRon Shults (Philip Luscombe), pp. 94-95
  8. God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens
    John F. Haught (Louise Hickman), pp. 95-97
  9. Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution
    Denis O. Lamoureux (Simon Kolstoe), pp. 97-98
  10. A Friendly Letter to Sceptics and Atheists – Musings on Why God is Good and Faith isn’t Evil
    David G. Myers (Meric Srokosz), pp. 98-99
  11. Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion and the Politics of Human Origins
    David N. Livingstone (Lawrence Osborn), pp. 99-100
  12. "Le Fanu (James) - Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves"
    (Denis Alexander), pp. 100-102
  13. User’s Guide to Science and Belief
    Michael Poole (John Ling), pp. 102-103
  14. "Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe"
    (Dr John Martin; see "Martin (John) - Review of Hartnett - 'Starlight, Time and the New Physics''"), pp. 104-105
  15. Creation: Law and Probability
    Fraser Watts (editor) (Mark McCartney), pp. 105-106
  16. "Hannam (James) - God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science"
    (Allan Chapman; see "Chapman (Allan) - Review of Hannam - 'God's Philosophers'"), pp. 106-108
  17. How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist
    Andrew Newberg, Mark Robert Waldman (Malcolm Jeeves), pp. 108-109
  18. The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion
    Jeffrey Schloss, Michael Murray (eds.) (Patrick Richmond), pp. 109-110
  19. Theology, Psychology and the Plural Self
    Léon Turner (Alun Morinan), pp. 110-112

"Chapman (Allan) - Review of Hannam - 'God's Philosophers'"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), pp. 81-86

Full Text
  1. One of the many groundless myths that litter the path towards a more balanced understanding of the historical relationship between Christianity and science is the one which states that, between the close of antiquity and the Renaissance, science was suppressed by the Church. The source of this myth constitutes a study in itself, which particularly fascinates me; though over the past few decades the work of now sadly deceased scholars of the calibre of Alistair Crombie and John North has done much to counter it.
  2. James Hannam's God's Philosophers provides us with a major new resource in the rehabilitation of medieval Europe within the scientific fold of intellectual and spiritual history. Hannam's book, moreover, is sweeping in its range, covering 1,100 years of history, from Boethius to Galileo. Its value lies in its power of synthesis, bringing together as it does, and as its notes and references testify, a large corpus of published specialist scholarship, and presenting it in a well-organised and very readable form.
  3. Central to the book is the creative dynamic that existed in medieval Europe between Greek pagan philosophy (especially that of Plato and Aristotle), the world of nature, and Christian theology. For as Hannam shows, one of the tasks that occupied many early Christian theologians, such as St Augustine and the twelfth-century William of Conches, was the reconciliation of what might be called ‘proto-Christian' Greeks, such as Plato, with the Bible. For if God was the Creator of all things, then he could not have made truths that contradicted each other. And by way of an object-lesson for modern-day fundamentalists is St Augustine's treatment of the flat earth suggested1 in Genesis with regard to the spherical cosmology of his own Graeco-Roman world.
  4. Things really got going in western Europe when the mathematician and astronomer, Gerbert of Aurillac, was crowned Pope Sylvester II in 999 — a scientific pope on the throne of St Peter at the millennium. But what is really fascinating is the way in which a rediscovery and re-exploration of Greek philosophy stimulated a true Renaissance in the twelfth century. Hannam traces this development, and how the new techniques of critical reasoning unleashed a fresh approach to theology and natural philosophy (science). Could God's existence be proved intellectually, and could reason even limit the power of God? This whole radical movement is delineated, from St Anselm and Peter Abelard, to the new Aristotelianism of St Thomas Aquinas, to Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa.
  5. Another major theological and philosophical puzzle with which medieval thinkers wrestled was how far physical research and mechanical analogy could give true and meaningful insights into how God had built his Creation. For if the Heavens2 alone were perfect, and the earth was flawed because of sin, how could the divine mathematics of God be traced out in the fallen physical world? Hannam deals with several case studies touching upon this problem, such as Friar Roger Bacon's optical experiments, and Abbot Richard of Wallingford's mechanically-powered astronomical clock in the early-fourteenth-century St Albans Abbey.
  6. But of both contemporary and enduring significance were those Oxonians known collectively as the ‘Merton Calculators'. Hannam reminds us that these men were the initiators of many of those mathematical and physical studies later brought to fruition and published — without any acknowledgement — by Galileo. These include mathematical investigations into the acceleration of falling bodies, the geometrical curves in which projectiles such as arrows move, and even the possible properties of the vacuum. For if two contiguous flat surfaces are suddenly pulled apart, how does the air rush into the resulting space? The Mertonians, moreover, were also pioneers of the graph as a mathematical technique.
  7. And all of this work and much more besides was taking place beneath the spiritual and academic umbrella of the Catholic Church, and all the key figures were clergy. And unless one's inquiries led to a deliberate denial of God, such as in the case of the Amalricians in 1210, or Giordano Bruno (an ex-Friar) in 1600, then a remarkable toleration prevailed.
  8. God's Philosophers supplies a powerful, accessible and very much needed corrective to the myth that the medieval Church suppressed science. Indeed, it shows quite the opposite to have been the truth. The book is beautifully written, wholly free from jargon, and astonishingly modestly priced for such a hardback.
  9. Allan Chapman lectures in the history of science in the History Faculty at Oxford and lectures extensively on the history of science in England and abroad.

COMMENT: Review of "Hannam (James) - God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science".

In-Page Footnotes ("Chapman (Allan) - Review of Hannam - 'God's Philosophers'")

Footnote 1: Does Genesis suggest any such thing? It’ll be interesting to read (Hannam’s account of) Augustine on this matter.

Footnote 2: Does this not signal a confusion (or an equation) of “heaven” with “the heavens”? Just what does orthodox Christianity suppose “heaven” to be? This (I suppose) is the point of the Gagarin comment that he didn’t see God in space. Of course, Christians no longer make this equation, but presumably the Medievals did, which is presumably why pointing out imperfections in the heavens caused a theological problem. But what is the current view (if any)?

"Martin (John) - Review of Hartnett - 'Starlight, Time and the New Physics''"

Source: Alexander (Denis) - Science and Christian Belief 22.1 (April 2010), pp. 104-105

Full Text
  1. Near the beginning of Chapter 1, we read: ‘The Bible tells us (in Genesis 1) that the earth was created four days before the creation of the stars in the universe… God created Adam only two days after the stars…’ Clearly, this book is going to be a presentation of a Creationist- Young-Earth viewpoint of cosmology. Two sentences earlier, we read: ‘I don’t dispute the commonly held view that the visible universe is about twenty-eight billion light-years across…’. A few sentences later: ‘For creationists this has been one of the most difficult problems to solve.’ Although I am not a Young-Earth man myself, I consequently expected an unusually interesting presentation of the Young-Earth position.
  2. One valuable aspect of the book is its useful review of recent observational developments in cosmology. Being retired, I was largely out-of-touch with details of topics like ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’, anomalous features in galaxy rotation, apparent irregularities in the distribution of galaxies throughout the visible universe, and so on. The book was a worthwhile remedy. Dr Hartnett seems to be a competent observational cosmologist.
  3. On the other hand, the work in this book is of very uneven quality. The following notes deal with a small selection of specific examples of inadequacy.
  4. First, however, there is a general principle to be followed. Any adequate theoretical description (a model, usually mathematical) of a body of observation must embody features known to occur, must exclude features believed not to occur, and must have a logical structure which would satisfy William of Ockham: ‘It is wrong to use a lot where less will do.’ When a model is proposed, it may involve an attempt to predict hitherto unnoticed behaviour. If experiment confirms that the prediction is valid, the model is provisionally acceptable. Otherwise the model is revised or, in the worst case, rejected.
  5. Einstein’s general relativity provides a very precise model for the universe as a whole. In particular, it labels ‘events’ with the ‘points’ of a 4D-structure (spacetime) with a metric whose matrix everywhere has one positive eigenvalue and three negative. This straightforwardly yields the concepts of time and 3D space. The past and future of any typical observer are clearly distinguishable, and are separated by the observer’s present. On the other hand, the ‘New Physics’ of this book’s title (the Carmeli-Hartnett ‘spacetimevelocity’ model) is a 5D-structure (2 positive/3 negative). No significance for the nature of each individual ‘point’ is offered. No significant distinction between past and future exists – the topology is wrong – and one’s future can re-enter one’s past without difficulty. The extra dimension in this context has introduced a looseness which defies Ockham’s razor (28), and which prohibits any reliable correspondence between model and reality. All are substantial flaws.
  6. The author uses the words ‘the rate at which time flows’ (108), and similar phrases (111). It is difficult to decipher any meaning here. In Observer A’s immediate neighbourhood time flows at precisely one second per second; it has no other option. Similarly in Observer B’s neighbourhood. If A and B are separating, it may well happen that both may see the other’s clock as running slow. This ‘clock paradox’ rules out the notion of ‘absolute’ time in standard relativity, and for the same kind of reason will rule it out in the Carmeli-Hartnett model also. Inserting an extra timelike dimension will not help. If any writer believes that ‘absolute’ time is essential to physical reality then he must be prepared to discard altogether theories such as Einstein’s. Otherwise six days (93-95) will be unhappy alongside a billion years.
  7. A final comment: ‘He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.’ (Ps. 104:2, author’s italics, 91,92) This text was offered as a primary justification for an expanding universe. I provisionally believe in an expanding universe. However, I remembered times when I camped in the Scottish Highlands. I would stretch out my tent. Then I would admire the starlit heavens stretched out like a tent. Then stretch out on my airbed, and sleep while the night stretched out to day. I cannot include expansion in any of these thoughts. I sincerely believe that we must not use Scripture like that.
  8. Normally, on finishing a book like this I would casually place it on one side and get on with other business. But not here. My worry is summarised in a quotation from another writer: ‘If [unbelievers] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books,’ [presumably the books of the Bible] ‘how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven?’ (St Augustine, in Latin, c.400) Over the last sixteen centuries, the ‘foolish opinions’ have regularly changed. The underlying problem has not.
  9. Dr John Martin was Reader in Physics (retired 1996), Kings College London, and is author of General Relativity (Prentice Hall Europe 1995).

COMMENT: Review of "Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe". Click here for Note and Click here for Note for my thoughts on Hartnett & Carmeli, together with "Carmeli (Moshe), Hartnett (John G.), Etc - Scientific Papers of Moshe Carmeli, John Hartnett & Others" for further material.

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