Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine July-August 2009

The Big Questions in Science and Religion
by Keith Ward, Templeton Press (available through Alban Books Ltd, Edinburgh), 281pp, £9.99

"The original problem with religion is that it is our first, and our worst, attempt at explanation. It is how we came up with answers before we had any evidence. It belongs to the terrified childhood of our species, before we knew about germs or could account for earthquakes. It belongs to our childhood, too, in the less charming sense of demanding a tyrannical authority: a protective parent who demands compulsory love even as he extracts a tithe of fear. This unalterable and eternal despot is the origin of totalitarianism, and represents the first cringing human attempt to refer all difficult questions to the smoking and forbidding altar of a Big Brother."

So wrote Christopher Hitchens in a typically blunt contribution to a series of articles published by the Templeton Foundation under the title "Does science make belief in God obsolete?" Hitchens, along with fellow militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins, speaks for many in our cynical, post-Christian society, and his vehement diatribes eloquently express modern secular attitudes towards religion, Christianity in particular.

We can be grateful to Keith Ward for so clearly exposing the fundamental misunderstanding at the heart of their arguments - that religion was invented by primitive people to explain natural phenomena such as floods and

earthquakes, and that the rise of modern science (inspired, of course, by Enlightenment values exalting human reason over divine revelation) has rendered religion obsolete. In a recent lecture delivered at Gresham College, London, Ward points out that the modern scientific establishment is committed to a programme "to propagate a reductionist, materialist worldview under the guise of 'proper science'." He then makes the crucial point that materialism and reductionism are philosophical theories "that are in no way entailed by the practice of evolutionary biology".

Religion, says Ward in his lecture, "seeks axiological explanation [ie an explanation of the universe in terms of moral and aesthetic values] and is grounded in existential self-understanding. Modern materialism does not accept the possibility of axiological explanation - all explanations must be non-purposive, just in terms of general and impersonal laws... all true understanding must lie in a dispassionate, experimental, publicly verifiable attitude to the world. It is not surprising, then, that materialists systematically misunderstand religion. They do not even see what it is about."

Ward, an Anglican minister who was once an atheist, is a philosopher by training and Professor of Divinity Emeritus at the University of Oxford. He has written numerous books on comparative theology and the interplay between science and faith. Some of them, notably God, Chance and Necessity are explicitly apologetic in tone. The Big Questions in Science and Religion is not. Instead, it offers a wide-ranging overview of the often contentious relationship between diverse religious views and new scientific knowledge. Ward emphasises the reasonableness of theism but his views are not always consistent with Catholic orthodoxy, particularly concerning the vital distinction between spiritual mind and physical matter.

Ward identifies ten basic questions about the nature of the universe and human life. Among these are: Does the universe have a purpose? Do the laws of nature exclude miracles? Can science provide a wholly naturalistic explanation for moral and religious beliefs? Has science made belief in God obsolete? Are there any good science-based arguments for God? Drawing on his expertise in world religions, Ward considers concepts from Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam and Hinduism, as well as Judaism and Christianity. He also comments on the speculations of cosmologists, physicists, mathematicians and philosophers, and evaluates the role of religious experience as evidence of a non-physical reality.

Below we will look briefly at the chapters dealing with meaning and purpose, evolution and creation, the soul, scientific justifications for belief, and the relationship between morality and religion.

In the first two chapters Ward asks how and why the universe began - whether it has any ultimate explanation and whether it has a goal or purpose. Of course, any talk of 'design' or 'purpose' is an anathema to writers such as Richard Dawkins, for whom causality has a purely natural basis. It's pointless to ask why the universe exists, they would argue - it 'just is'. One is reminded of A N Whitehead's remark that "those who devote themselves to the purpose of showing that there is no purpose constitute an interesting object for study".

Ward cites Boethius, who described God as the "infinite ocean of being", and introduces the idea of a Cosmic Consciousness that unites all possible states and chooses to actualise those that have, or can bring about, intrinsic value. Seen in this light, the ultimate explanation of the universe is a combination of necessity and value:

"The unlimited ocean of possibilities and the consciousness in which alone it can be contained is necessary. The coming into being of some possibilities is for the sake of their value. There can be no more complete an explanation for the universe than this."

"Whether or not there is a God," says Ward, "I think we can see how the universe could have a goal and roughly what it would be - the existence of intelligent life with understanding, wisdom and happiness, free of suffering, disease and death." The problem of suffering, of course, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of faith, and in chapter 3 Ward asks how the cruelty and waste of evolution can be reconciled with creation by a good God. His view, with which your reviewer would concur, is that an evolutionary process necessarily involves suffering and destruction:

"The physical laws of this universe depend upon destruction, mutation, conflict and therefore destruction and death if intelligent persons are to evolve in it. If we understood the laws of nature fully, we would see that such destruction and the suffering conscious beings feel ... are inevitable consequences of a universe like this."

He has an interesting take on original sin, which, from an evolutionary perspective, he suggests, can be seen as a trigger for certain genetic mechanisms predisposing us to selfishness and aggression. As a result, human beings have "immeasurably increased the sum of suffering and brought spiritual death, the death of the sense of God, into the world." The qualitative distinction between physical suffering (of animals) and spiritual suffering (of humans) is not drawn out.

In chapter 6, Ward asks if it is still possible to speak of the soul. Neuroscience, he says, has shown the dependence of conscious experience upon the brain but it has not reduced consciousness to observable states of the brain. His view is that human

consciousness is generated from and remains dependent upon a physical brain, though it can also influence neural states. He comes down in favour of a theory of "integrative dualism", in which consciousness is seen as "an emergent reality that is logically but not (in this world) causally separable from a physical brain and body." In as much as this view sees body and soul as distinct but complementary it is harmonious with the approach fostered by Faith movement (e.g. March 2008 editorial: Body and Soul -Rediscovering Catholic Orthodoxy) but Ward's approach falls short of the Catholic understanding of the soul as being immediately created by God, rather than "emerging" from a gradual process of complex development.

We're used to hearing atheists and agnostics saying that you don't need religion in order to lead a moral life, but can science provide a wholly naturalistic explanation for moral behaviour? Ward examines this question in chapter 8, where he points out that in Judaism and Christianity morality is inspired by a vision of a God of supreme goodness, whose nature is meant to be reflected in human society, and whose final goal is "the transfiguration of the cosmos by a fully realised personal unity with God". Critics of religion often claim that its adherents grovellingly obey moral laws, not for the sake of leading a good life or behaving altruistically, but for fear of eternal punishment at the hands of a vindictive God. Ward's answer is that morality is a "reasoned response to Supreme Valueand neither a wholly autonomous decision about how to live nor blind obedience to a set of arbitrary divine commands".

"Serious religious believers", says Ward, "have a reason for altruistic conduct that is not available to non-believers, and that reason has overwhelming force. It is not that, if you disobey God you will go to hell ... it is that loving God and enjoying the Divine Presence is the most reasonable and appropriate aim

of human life. Loving God fulfils the highest human potentialities and brings the greatest happiness. And it entails following the commands God gives for attaining such ultimate human well-being."

In chapter 9 Ward asks if there are any convincing arguments for God from modern science. Perhaps surprisingly, he suggests that the Enlightenment can be seen not as a rebellion against religion but as a product in Europe of religious thinking driven by an understanding of Jesus as the eternal Logos, or Wisdom of God, in whom all things are destined to be united. Such an understanding certainly leads us to expect a rational universe patterned on divine wisdom and accessible to human beings made in the image of God. However, it's a belief that inspired Christians long before the Enlightenment. Indeed, according to writers and scientists such as Pierre Duhem, Stanley Jaki and Peter Hodgson, science in the modern sense of the word took root in the late Middle Ages, fuelled by a heady mix ofChristian theology and the newly rediscovered riches of Greek philosophy and mathematics.

Those seeking a purely physical explanation for all that exists are often drawn by the idea of a 'multiverse' consisting of all possible universes, including our own. Such an idea purportedly allows us to dispense with the notion of a Creator, but Ward is rightly sceptical:

"If your choices are between the existence of a huge number of universes, all of which exist for no particular reason, and a Supreme Intelligence, existing by necessity, that selects contingent universes from the realm of all possibilities for the sake of their value, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that God is the simpler and more rational hypothesis." (our emphasis)

The fact that, in the multiverse theory, the hypothesised universes are necessarily inter-connected, by being defined relative to each other, makes the first option an even less viable escape route for atheists, we would think.

Ward shows that modern cosmology provides good arguments for the existence of a wise Creator, but considers that such arguments are only convincing if we accept the existence of Spiritual Reality in the first place. As he sees it, it is personal experience that leads someone to think there is a personal God. All science can do is help us to describe God in a reasonable and coherent way.

Those of us who are familiar with Faith's vision of creation would argue that we can go much further than that. All knowledge, including scientific knowledge, comes ultimately from personal experience (though scientists cannot, for example, directly observe the subatomic particles whose existence they infer from their experiments).

Science and technology have shown that our minds can master aspects of the cosmic unity of matter-energy -a unity over which only a greater mind (God) can have complete mastery. The "spiritual realities" of our own minds, and supremely the mind of God, are affirmed by our own ability to know and understand the physical.

Moreover, it is foundational to Catholic orthodoxy that God, the origin and end of all things, "can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason from the things that he created". These words from Vatican I are fully supported by many passages of Scripture, from the Book of Wisdom to the Letter to the Romans.

So, rather than believing in God because of our spiritual experiences, the fact that we have such experiences confirms and deepens what reason and science can lead us to believe, namely that God exists as a transcendent and

personal being who wills to reveal himself to us - and does so supremely in Jesus Christ, who is not only Lord of the universe but also Lord of our hearts.

Ward writes in his introduction that his main purpose is to convey the "depth, difficulty, intellectual excitement and importance of these big questions" There's no doubt in this writer's mind that he has succeeded. He has also provided a clear and fair summary of some of the most impressive achievements of the human mind, which amply vindicate Plato's belief that "the unexamined life is not worth living". Finally, it is a pleasure to read a book on science and religion that is not only well written and informative but refreshingly free of the point-scoring belligerence that often mars such debate.

Adrian Read

Human Goods, Economic Evils -A Moral Approach to the Dismal Science
by Edward Hadas, Foreword by Stratford Caldecott, ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware USA, 400pp, $22

It is generally forgotten that until the late eighteenth century economics was a branch of ethics. Indeed, Adam Smith, whose 1776 book The Wealth of Nations founded modern economic analysis, was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University. Since that time of course it has wriggled free to such an extent that its claims of expediency are often used to inhibit ethical discourse and action. For example, the World Bank advises against providing aid to developing countries, arguing that the pressures of poverty will force them to build 'the market solutions' which it claims are the only effective answer.

Should, and indeed can, economics be put back into an ethical framework? That is the ambitious task taken on by Edward Hadas in his new book, Human Goods, Economic Evils, whose aim is to

"combine economics with philosophy and theology". From a Christian point of view the author deserves praise for his repeated emphasis that economics is about living, breathing, people, not the disembodied rational ego of classical economics, and therefore that it must have a spiritual dimension. As he says, "Economic activity is part of the life of men, those creatures who are described in the Bible as being made both from 'dust from the ground' and a 'breath or spirit from God' (Genesis 2:7)."

The need to keep this spiritual dimension constantly in mind when considering economic activity is one of the main themes of this book. Another is a key distinction between the economic system under which we live, and the economic theory which seeks to explain it. In conventional terms we might call them 'capitalism' and 'classical economies'. The author points out that the former works out very well, as the current standard of living in developed countries is way beyond anything even princes could have dreamt of just a century ago. In other words, the productive ability of the system to produce goods and services, what Hadas colloquially calls "stuff", is very high. He points out that economic theory considers itself as the science of scarcity, whereas "the economic problem has been morethan solved among the rich sixth of the world's population. They live in plenty."

This is a good and valid point, but I wish the author had looked at it in a more nuanced way. Human Goods, Economic Evils seems to take it as axiomatic that this massive increase in physical wealth can be credited to capitalism. Might it not be attributable to advances in science and technology? {Editor, see Michael Flynn's article in this issue) The book also gives little consideration to the damage our modern industrial system may be doing to the capacity of the earth itself to support life.

Much stronger, it would seem to us, is the author's attack on classical economics as being fundamentally misguided, and lacking in relevance to the real world. The book's chapter on "The Problem with Conventional Economics" is brilliant, and should be required reading for any Catholic beginning to study economics. As it says "the economists' most basic problem is anthropological", in other words the subject is based upon a narrow and restrictive concept of rationality which ignores the richness of human relations in favour of an obsolete utilitarianism. Whilst increasingly pontificating (I use this word deliberately) on social issues, it excludes any discussion of ethical or religious values. The book also points out the narrow focus of conventional economics, which ignores large parts ofthe real economy, such as people caring for each other.

I should point out that while most books on economics are fairly turgid, and often full of graphs and complex equations, there is none of this in Human Goods, Economic Evils. Indeed, it is written with a crystal clarity which is rare these days in any work of non-fiction. However, it is not simplistic. Indeed, the wealth of references and large bibliography illustrate the huge amount of research, and the amount of thought, that went into the writing of the book. On the other hand, I think that it would have been helpful to have a chapter on the evolution of economic thought. This would explain the increasing mathematical sophistication of the economic models from the 'political economy' of Adam Smith to the marginal analysis of Marshall in the nineteenth century, and the complexmathematics of modern economics, but at a cost of decreasing relevance to the real world.

We probably would not be in our current economic mess if governments had not believed in the economists' models based upon theorems of rationality and perfect information. People often criticise mediaeval

scholastic philosophers for allegedly considering angels dancing upon the end of pins, but nobody seems to denounce modern economics' fatuous obsession with game theory. Edward Hadas has never formally studied economics, and I believe his negative arguments would be stronger if he had, for he would known that within the discipline there are elements of a cult, i.e. that there is a sense among economists that their narrow outlook is the only true way of seeing the world.

The book is also to be commended for sketching out Catholic Social Teaching (CST) as the only valid alternative that fully captures man and economic society. There are two points the book makes that I would like to emphasise here. First how CST's conception of the common good is so much broader and deeper than the shallow theoretical basis of 'utility' used by economists. Second, to stress the Catholic concept of the person, whose basic idea, in effect, is relationship to other people, in contrast to economics' inadequate foundation of individualism, whose basic idea is that everybody is considered to be in opposition to other people. (Think of economics' obsession with the word 'competition'.) Or to end with some words of author's, "As usual, conventional economistsstart out from the wrong ontological place. Like many contemporary philosophers, they do not like to talk at all about the Good-the transcendental, mysterious, divine ultimate that should be at the centre of economics."

Russell Sparkes

What Happened at Vatican II?
by John W. O'Malley, Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, xi, 380pp, £19.9J

In The Pastoral Office, printed for the private use of his clergy after the First Vatican Council, Cardinal Manning forecast that, if the Council was to be reassembled, its first duty would be to build upon the work already achieved "and to define the Divine powers of the Episcopate and its relation to its Head". He considered the definition would be: "In virtue of consecration, every Bishop receives the apostolic power of the keys," and "in this Divine grant resides the power of governing the Church," (pp. 218-219). While, of course, the Second Vatican Council did not make formalised doctrinal definitions, the issue raised in Manning's statement, the relationship between the papacy and the episcopate (usually identified as the issue of 'collegiality'), in O'Malley's viewconstitutes "the lightening-rod issue of the Council".

In this new study there is a danger that collegiality assumes undue dominance in analysis and argument, nudging from centre-stage John XXIII's more fundamentally spiritual ideals of renewal and the search for ecclesiastical unity at a time when the Church seemed to be exuding a renewed sense of strength and self-assurance. The generic character of John XXIII's original intentions for the Council, of course, was essentially responsible for much of the subsequent struggle between the Council Fathers and the Roman curia, the latter being accustomed to dealing with 'live issues' rather than with general goals of development. An anticipation that the Council was going to exceed one or two years in time was a direct consequence of this tension as was the rise to prominence andleadership in debate of particularly forceful prelates and/or national groupings. The duration of the Council in turn presented severe financial strain on Vatican resources at the beginning of its fourth year and influenced Paul Vl's determination to seek closure.

O'Malley is especially single-minded in eschewing the use of terminology such as 'liberal' or 'conservative', making the valid point that such broad groupings were not easily identifiable at the time and were often marked by a certain fluidity in connection with particular issues. More frequently he uses the terminology aggiornamento, development and resourcement to represent major aspects of the work on the sixteen final documents of the Council. They are terms that can be modernised as 'updating', 'unfolding' and 'returning to sources' respectively. Taken together, they argue for 'change' but, in the hands of O'Malley, with a wary glance upon the inherited tradition of the Church, earlier conciliar authenticity and the authority of papal teaching.

O'Malley seeks to produce an even-handed introduction to the Council and its work but it is obvious his sympathies lie with 'progressive' teaching rather than with those papal or curial interventions that seem unduly influenced by traditional approaches. His personal warmth lies with John XXIII rather than with Paul VI, with Augustin Bea rather than with Michael Browne, with Cardinals Frings, Konig and Suenans rather than with Ottaviani, Siri or Mclntyre. He does point out, however, that when the wrangling is over, the sixteen final documents of the Council "give no sense of before and after; nor do they indicate, except occasionally, in a soft way, that what they are saying changes anything that earlier seemed normative".

Paul VI differed substantially from his predecessor in attitude to the Council. He is shown as intervening with a certain regularity, even in minor matters, usually relating to procedure or presentation. Sometimes he became involved in matters of substance. He was as determined, for instance, to remove reform of the curia from the Council's jurisdiction as he was

to retain the teaching about marriage in his own hands. He saw himself as the guardian of orthodoxy of the Council. He intervened on the schema On Religious Liberty and contributed a preliminary explanatory note to Lumen Gentium. He promptly met the issue of collegiality by establishing the Synod of Bishops by means of a motu proprio; it was to be a strictly advisory body and subject directly to the Pope. National bishops' conferences also needed Papal authority. O'Malley sees the establishment of the Synod of Bishops, in particular, as an expression of papal primacy, designed to uphold the work of the First Vatican Council.

In the eyes of the faithful the loss of Latin in the liturgy is perhaps the most clearly defining outcome of the Council and one of the most criticised aspects of its aftermath, despite its laudable intention to create greater, truer participation of the laity in public worship. Pope Benedict XVI is on record as stating that he is convinced "that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a great extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy" that began to be evident in particular countries following the Council. There is now a growing desire for 'a reform of the reform'.

O'Malley's account of the Second Vatican Council is a dramatic presentation of events and is a valuable resource. It exemplifies his view of the complexity of the Council "and therefore the complexity of saying anything valid about it that does not die the death of a thousand qualifications".

Professor V. Alan McClelland
University of Hull

Reginald Cardinal Pole 1500 -1558 The Last Archbishop of Canterbury
by Michael Hutchings, The St Joan Press, 116pp, £13.99

This life of Cardinal Pole is an important and beautiful book. Pole is not treated to hagiography; but that is unnecessary: his life is most edifying. Had he been put to it, the evidence is that he would have rejoiced in martyrdom and would be in our list of saints. Hutchins quotes others on Cardinal Pole including an enthusiastic endorsement from none other than a certain Cardinal Ratzinger.

This book is worth buying just for an appendix that gives various prayers: the dedication of England to the Mother of God and St Peter; the litany of intercession for England; prayer from the Mass of English martyrs; an old prayer for the Conversion of England; and a prayer to beg the prayers of the saints. How splendid it would be if this book leads to the re-introduction of these prayers or even, dare we hope, that the English bishops would once again dedicate our country to Our Blessed Lady and St Peter, as was done annually in every Catholic church in England until the Second Vatican Council.

The book is on high quality paper, generously printed and beautifully illustrated. It should be a great help in enabling our schools to fulfil their important task of disseminating our history - a must, then, for their libraries.

Eric Hester

Faith Magazine

July - August 2009