August 26, 2002

Fall Reading


By Mark Hartwig

As the ID movement has grown, more and more scholars have contributed their talents to the cause. One happy result has been some hot new books that are now rolling off the presses. Here are a few to look for:

Michael C. Rea, World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

If this sounds like a philosophical treatise, it is. So you probably won’t see it on The New York Times bestseller list. But coming from Oxford University Press (OUP), it’s a bit out of the ordinary. Why? Here’s OUP’s own summary of the book:

Philosophical naturalism, according to which philosophy is continuous with the natural sciences, has dominated the Western academy for well over a century; but Michael Rea claims that it is without rational foundation, and that the costs of embracing it are surprisingly high. Rea argues compellingly to the surprising conclusion that naturalists are committed to rejecting realism about material objects, materialism, and perhaps realism about other minds. That is surely a price that naturalists are unwilling to pay: this philosophical orthodoxy should be rejected.

Even more extraordinary, after examining the alternatives, the author argues for a supernaturalist view that embraces intelligent design.

Want to learn more? You can read the first chapter of the book on OUP’s Web site. The book is due out in the United States next month.

Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002).

Ever since Darwin published his book, On the Origin of Species, his theory has been both praised and blamed for changing Western morals. In his new book, Benjamin Wiker, a lecturer in the history and philosophy of science at the Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), argues that Darwin has gotten too much credit for that accomplishment. He advances the claim that Darwin’s theory, far from being a revolutionary discovery, was actually the culmination of a longstanding moral and metaphysical movement that originated with the ancient Greek materialist and hedonist, Epicurus.

Epicurus was an early advocate of studying nature. But his purpose was not the pursuit of truth. Rather, it was to free oneself from the inner turmoil that comes from believing in the wrath of gods and an afterlife. Toward that end, nature had to studied in a special way. In particular, Wiker observes, Epicurus urged his followers to “meditate continually upon nature … as a closed system, closed to any possibility of the existence of an immortal soul that could live after death.”

This was science for a therapeutic goal. As Epicurus himself stated, “If our suspicions about heavenly phenomena and about death did not trouble us at all and were never anything to us … then we would have no need of natural science.”

Wiker traces the trajectory of Epicurus’ ideas as they spread through the ancient world, were refuted by early Christian thinkers, and then revived during the Renaissance. His historical account convincingly demonstrates that the moral and metaphysical “implications” of Darwinism were actually its guiding spirit.

If you’re looking for a readable book that unriddles our puzzling moral culture, this book is a solid choice. A word of caution, though. As Wiker explores the impact of moral Darwinism (i.e. moral Epicureanism) on American culture, he takes the reader down the seamy avenue of Alfred Kinsey’s “research” on sex. This is necessary, but in a couple of spots the descriptions of Kinsey’s life and work are a bit graphic.

That problem aside, however, this book is a winner.

This book is now available on-line from ARN.

Phillip E. Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning and Public Debate (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002).

“In a lifetime of studying and participating in controversies, I have learned that the best way to approach a problem of any kind is usually not to talk or even think very much about the ultimate answer until I have made sure that I am asking all the right questions in the right order. When I am too eager to get to the answer, I may overlook some of the preliminary questions because I do not stop to reflect on why they are important and assume carelessly that I must have already answered them.”

So begins what may well be Phillip Johnson’s most important book, due out in Sept. from InterVarsity. In this new book, Johnson argues that today’s naturalistic orthodoxy has harmed us not so much by giving us the wrong answers, but by keeping us from asking the right questions.

Johnson explains it this way: “If I start with the right beginning question, and let the answer to that first question suggest the next question and so on through each succeeding step, then the irresistible power of logic will eventually take me home to the correct conclusion, even if that conclusion seems to be a very long way off. I use a railroad metaphor to explain how it works. If the train is up to full speed, and it is on the logical tracks, nothing can stop it from getting to the end of the line except a derailment. The logical train may also be irresistible when the tracks point in the wrong direction, and the destination at the end of the line is something no one wanted to reach or ever anticipated reaching when the tracks were laid down and the train started to move very slowly ahead on them.”

Johnson lays down a new logical track by asking questions that naturalistic orthodoxy has obscured, dismissed or prohibited. These include such questions as:

If such questions ever come to the forefront of public debate in America, we will be well on our way to an intellectual and social revolution. Of course, that is exactly what Johnson is hoping for.

Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery.

In academic circles and elite popular culture it’s a truism that the Earth is nothing special. Far from being the center of the universe, our planet is little more than a speck of dust in an indifferent universe.

Typical of this view is a remark by the late astronomer Carl Sagan in his book, Pale Blue Dot. Commenting on the famous “Earthrise” photo taken by Apollo 8 astronauts from space, Sagan declared, “Because of the reflection of sunlight … the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world. But it’s just an accident of geometry and optics … Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

In a fascinating volume that is still in the editorial pipeline, Iowa State astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosopher and theologian Jay Richards, of the Discovery Institute, argue that this truism is wrong. To the contrary, they say, scientific advances of the last century show that our planet is not only uniquely suited for life, but also for viewing and studying the universe. In short, it seems tailor-made for curious, intelligent beings.

There’s no word yet on a publication date. Check for announcements on the Discovery Institute Web site.

Copyright 2002 Mark Hartwig. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date:8.26.02