Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars Science and religion in stark contrast, but not as the author intended, 19 Jan 2014
This review is from: Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Paperback)
Whilst disagreeing with the author on many points (more later) I did respect both the scientific and biblical learning that he brought to this book. His love of science and his Christian faith clearly come out in the book. I daresay few Christians are prepared to go back to the original Hebrew to further their understanding and interpretation of Scripture. Paradoxically, I can imagine it was his scientific training that drove him to want to read the original Hebrew. The book gives a very readable and informative account of genetics and how this is extending of understanding of the process of evolution. I have to say that the sections of the book concentrating on religion seemed particularly focussed on dismissing the arguments of Deists, Creationists and the Intelligent Designers. This is a shame as it leads to a muddle; and, criticisms that could be equally levelled at the author's own `strong theist' views. To be fair to the author does say at the start that this is a book for Christians, but, clearly, one particular constituency of Christians.

Considering Alexander's arguments in more detail, the book presents the reader with a huge methodological conundrum. On the one hand, we have the scientific method as applied to the theory of evolution. Here, the arguments are backed up by evidence and testable hypotheses. References are to peer-reviewed scientific publications - this does not mean they are correct, but does demonstrate an intellectual process by which scientific inquiry expands our knowledge. On the other hand, we have the religious method, if it can be described such. Here, the arguments are untestable assertions based on an acceptance that the Bible is the Word of God. References are either to Scripture or to the opinions of other Christian authors. The author simply does not provide an intellectual framework upon which the question of choice in the title can even begin to be answered.

My abiding memory of this book is the stark contrast between the scientific and religious sections. The book is almost schizophrenic - for me, at least, I could find no common ground between the science and the religion. The author posits a model where Adam and Eve were not the first humans and were not the only humans alive at the time. However, by God's grace they mutated (there is no better word for it) into Homo Divinus. Unfortunately, the evidential approach that was so meticulously used in the earlier parts of the book is now dropped in favour of assertion and Scriptural inference. If you are not aware of Stephen Jay Gould's Non-Overlapping Magisteria look it up. Alexander's book is a perfect case study of NOMA, as it's abbreviated. I'm sure his intention was the exact opposite: to cast science and religion as complementary Overlapping Magisteria. The author's argument goes that God's creative power is immanent in the world/universe and every time science yields some new insight and understanding it is by God's grace. Unfortunately, the majesty of science requires evidence, deductive reasoning and testable hypotheses. Assertions based on faith have their place and many have led to the moral codes by which we live our lives. It is not the faith based assertions, per se, that are the flaw in this book. It is the attempt to appose religious assertions with scientific assertions that is flawed.

This juxtaposition is no more apparent than in the final section on intelligent design where the author gives a tour de force dismantling of the ID argument of irreducible complexity. This includes the example of a Ph.D student claiming `irreducible complexity and therefore design' being sent back to the lab to try harder. In regard to ID, the author states "Second, labelling a biological entity as `designed' leads to no experimental programme that could be utilised to test the hypothesis." Exactly, the same argument can be applied to Alexander's strong theism - that an immanent God is responsible for maintaining, say, the weak nuclear force is not a testable hypothesis.

Alexander is also no friend of the `Blind Watchmaker' view of evolution. In the penultimate chapter, we get to his view on how God has `directed' evolution rather than intervened. This is based on evolutionary convergence which is the observation that key features have evolved independently multiple times; and, that the emergence of intelligent life on earth was inevitable. He inverts the anthropic principle to say life was destined (my word), rather than designed, to happen as ordained by God. That intelligence confers an evolutionary advantage is a perfectly reasonable claim; but, a claim that this was somehow ordained is, again, an untestable hypothesis.

Alexander is attempting to reconcile a distant (deist) God that works through the laws of physics with an immanent (theist) God that shows his love for his creations by sustaining the material world. His attempts to support his thesis by showing the muddle in the Creation and Intelligent Design theses just highlight the muddle in his own attempts to reconcile theism with science. I am sure many will share Alexander's world view, but not me. If you're an atheist, I highly recommend this book. It demonstrates the superiority of the rational, scientific approach over the irrational faith based approach for explaining our world much better than anything Dawkins has written.
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