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A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature

Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt

, 2006

Item# B119
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In this groundbreaking book, Wiker and Witt show that nature offers all of the challenges and surprises, all of the mystery and elegance, we associate with design and, further, with artistic genius. They begin in Shakespeare and range through the fine-tuning of the laws of physics, the Periodic Table of Elements, the artistry of ordinary substances like carbon and water, the intricacy of biological organisms, and the drama of scientific exploration itself. In contrast to contemporary claims that the world is ultimately meaningless, Wiker and Witt reveal a cosmos charged with both meaning and purpose.

The book expands the intelligent design argument from the evidence of design to evidence for ingenious design. The authors argue that nature is a work of genius, like a Shakespearian play is a work of genius--both are rich, deep, and complex, full of meaning at every level.

Reductionism tears down human genius as unreal, as reducible to mere chemistry or biology. Wiker and Witt argue that our experience of genius is real. The genius of Shakespeare or Euclid or the chemist Lavoisier is something that should be explained--not explained away. And the same applies to the evidence of genius we find in nature.

This timely book reveals a universe of variety, artistry and meaning by taking an integrated look at both the arts and sciences?an amazing liberal-arts education in one volume.? This is ?required reading? for those interested in ARN?s ID Arts Initiative.

Reviews & Endorsements
"A Meaningful World cleverly integrates the intricacy found in literary classics with the aesthetic beauty of scientific discovery and the unreasonable ability of the human mind to comprehend meaning in both. In this interesting book, we discover that meaning is inherent in nature at every level."
?Gerald Schroeder, author of Genesis and the Big Bang, The Science of God and The Hidden Face of God

"I have been reticent to affirm the value of the cosmological argument from design, but no longer. Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt have convinced me that from literature to mathematics, physics to biology, the very phenomena of the world breathe intelligence. A Meaningful World is a masterful argument, a tour de force, framed with brilliance and wit."
?James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door and Why Good Arguments Often Fail

"A Meaningful World is simply the best book I've seen on the purposeful design of nature. In sparkling prose Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt teach us how to recognize genius, first in Shakespeare's plays and then in nature. From principles of geometry to details of the periodic table, the authors portray the depth, elegance, clarity and pure cleverness of a universe designed to nurture the intelligent life that one day would discover that design. A Meaningful World recovers lost purpose not only for science, but for all scholarly disciplines."
?Michael J. Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box

"A Meaningful World is a wise and witty romp through the fallacies of reductionism. It is illustrated by charming examples that show how literature and science both teach us that we live in a world full of meaning, not the spiritually dead world in which the materialists would confine us."
?Phillip Johnson, author of Reason in the Balance

"In a world where materialism fails and where intelligent design is evident, how should we think about ourselves in the grand scheme of things? A Meaningful World masterfully answers this question, ramping up the cultural revolution begun by Phillip Johnson in the 1990s."
?William A. Dembski, author of The Design Revolution

"Drawing on the works of Shakespeare, Euclid, Lavoisier and others, A Meaningful World draws parallels between the genius of these men and the genius evident in nature. I am not exaggerating much to say that A Meaningful World is in the same class as the works of human genius its authors describe. It displays rare depth and breadth. Scientists should read this book to regain their justification for doing science, and poets should read it to regain a ground for the meaning of their texts."
?Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of astronomy, Iowa State University, and coauthor of The Privileged Planet

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue

1. Meaning-fulness and Meaninglessness
2. Hamlet and the Search for Meaning
3. Shakespeare and the Elements of Genius
4. The Geometry of Genius
5. The Periodic Table: A Masterpiece of Many Authors
6. A Cosmic Home Designed for Discovery
7. The Genius of the Elements
8. The Reemergence of the Living Cell
9. The Restoration of the Living Organism
10. The End of the Matter: A Meaningful World

Index

Q&A with the Authors

Explain the book's title: A Meaningful World.
Our book takes on materialist reductionism, which tries to reduce everything to mere matter and energy, and defines everything strictly according to its smallest parts--cells, atoms, quarks. On this view, a human being is just an accidental assemblage of subatomic particles, nothing more. Materialist reductionism leads to nihilism, the view that life is pointless. It sucks the meaning out of life, flattens reality like a steamroller.

We counter this by showing that the world is meaning-full, a work of genius far beyond any work of human genius. In doing so, we're trying to help restore our culture's sense of the richness of everyday reality.

Tell about the subtitle: How the Arts and Science Reveal the Genius of Nature.
Our book expands the intelligent design argument from the evidence of design to evidence for ingenious design. We argue that nature is a work of genius, like a Shakespearian play is a work of genius--both are rich, deep, and complex, full of meaning at every level.

Reductionism tears down human genius as unreal, as reducible to mere chemistry or biology. We argue that our experience of genius is real. The genius of Shakespeare or Euclid or the chemist Lavoisier is something that should be explained--not explained away. And the same applies to the evidence of genius we find in nature.

At the end of the prologue (involving a fictional space alien!), you describe your book as an antidote? What do you mean by that?

By denying genius at the level of nature, materialist reductionism eventually denies it at the level of human culture as well. This view is poisonous. We also describe it as a spell cast over all too many people in our culture. Our book is written to help break that spell.

Can you offer some examples of materialism poisoning our culture?
Our culture still has tremendous things going for it, in part because the average person rejects nihilism. But the signs of nihilism are all around us. In the book, we begin in Shakespeare and show how there are prominent literary critics bent on explaining away the genius and worth of Shakespeare, critics who claim that Shakespeare is just a dead white male trying to propagate the patriarchy, or just the product of Darwinian sexual selection. This attack on artistic genius is widespread. Materialism denies genius and, in the process, levels our culture. One university, for instance, offers a choice between studying Shakespeare or Tupac Shakur. This should give us pause, even those of us who never understood Shakespeare. In certain quarters we're seeing a slide into a kind of barbarism tarted up as nihilistic sophistication.

Does the book offer any positive evidence for intelligent design?
Throughout. Historical scientists look for something in the present with the demonstrated power to produce an event from the past. Take the origin of life. We now know the first self-reproducing cell not only required an elaborate and intricate structure, but a tremendous amount of new information in its DNA. As design theorists we ask, "What in the present produces new information?" Our uniform experience tells us that there is only one type of thing that does this--intelligent agents. But we also have uniform experience at detecting a high category of intelligence, genius. In the book we apply that experience to the evidence of creative genius we find throughout nature.

Do you deal with the problem of suffering and apparent bad design?
Yes, but it's not a simple answer. You'll have to read the book.

Does A Meaningful World suggest a research program?
Reductionists strive to describe wholes strictly according to their parts, to identify ultimate reality with smaller and smaller parts, all the way down to the atomic and subatomic levels. We argue that reductionist science is misguided. As the best biologists now realize, the living wholes are just as real as their parts. And as we demonstrate in our treatment of the history of chemistry, the best science has always assumed that nature was a work of genius possessing an underlying elegance and harmony.

Reductionism is being overturned in a variety of fields by the latest evidence in favor of a kind of wholism--the living cell over the parts; the living animal over its material parts. And stepping back further, we find that the fine tuning of the physical constants of physics and chemistry find their greatest meaning in the drama of biology.

Where would it fit in a college curriculum?
The book would make an excellent resource for a capstone course, pulling together the arts and sciences to demonstrate the rich interconnectedness of our world. Since we cover so many different fields, we strove to make every chapter readily accessible to non-experts.

About the Authors

Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary's University (MN), and Thomas Aquinas College (CA).

He is now a full-time, free-lance writer. Dr. Wiker writes regularly for a variety of journals, including Catholic World Report, New Oxford Review, and Crisis Magazine, and is a regular columnist for the National Catholic Register.

He has published three other books, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (InterVarsity Press, 2002), The Mystery of the Periodic Table (Bethlehem Books, 2003), and Architects of the Culture of Death (Ignatius, 2004).

He lives with his wife and seven children in Ohio.

Jonathan Witt, Ph.D., is a senior fellow with Discovery Institute?s Center for Science and Culture and co-author of Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision. He has written on aesthetics for Literature and Theology and The Princeton Theological Review, and currently he is exploring how Darwinists employ widely discredited and even contradictory aesthetic presuppositions in their arguments against a creator. An article on this subject, ?The Gods Must Be Tidy!? appeared in a July/August 2004 issue of Touchstone and was nominated by its editors as Best Theological or Scholarly Article for The Associated Church Press Awards. His essays also have appeared in such places as The Seattle Times, The Kansas City Star, and Philosophia Christi. His narrative writing has appeared in the journals Windhover and New Texas.

He lives with his wife and three children in Western Washington. He blogs Darwinism, design and culture with his wife at wittingshire.blogspot.com; media coverage of the evolution controversy at www.evolutionnews.org; and intelligent design at www.idthefuture.com.


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