Book review: The Mind of the Universe: Understanding Science and Religion by Mariano Artigas

On one extreme of the debate concerning science and religion today are those who mistake the stagnant and mechanistic view of the universe propagating by certain Enlightenment thinkers for the mainstream of Christian thought. On the other extreme are those who mistake the naturalistic methodology of modern science for a system of metaphysics. Both extremes, the creationists and the atheists/physicalists, ultimately undermine science itself. Each wants to reduce science to a state in which it cannot function and to undermine the two foundational pillars of Western Civilization: faith and reason.
In this book, Father Mariano Artigas sets the record straight, philosophically, historically, and theologically. He begins by giving us a tour of the history of science and where the ontological and epistemological presuppositions that underpin it emerged from. He moves on to demonstrating that without these presuppositions, which are being undermined by extreme movements within and around science, science itself must cease to exist as we know it and all scientific knowledge is undermined. Finally, he offers us a vision of a worldview that takes both science and religion, or physics and metaphysics, into account in a serious way and integrates the entirety of the human experience.
Throughout, Artigas is thorough in both his argumentation and his documentation. There is hardly a page in his book without references to some of the greatest thinkers of the modern era or of earlier periods, such as Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Popper. There is hardly an assertion put forward for which he does not provide a great deal of substantiating evidence and heavy argumentation.
Artigas’s book is a needed corrective both to those who posit an anti-scientific creationism and those who posit an overly scientific scientism. To the creationists, he shows that science is the natural outgrowth of Judeo-Christian thought and that its recent findings fit perfectly well in line with the traditional Christian view of the universe as evolutionary, emergent, and creative. To the scientistic naturalists, he demonstrates that such a view does not and cannot follow logically from science itself and even moves in opposition to the newest findings of scientific research. To all of us, he shows a vision of the universe as guided by a Great Mind with whom we must choose to come into communion and cooperation.
The Mind of the Universeis the best book that I have yet read on the subject of science and religion. It is thorough in its treatment of the topic and a must-read for all who are interested.

Book Review: New Testament Survey

New Testament Survey by Merrill C. Tenney & Walter M. Dunnett, ISBN: 0-8028-3611-9

This turned out to be much better than I expected it to be. As I opened it up for the first time and read in the preface that the author had written it to educate “evangelical believers” on the New Testament writings’ context, I nearly closed it permanently right then and there; it was very close to be returned immediately to the library shelf. I’m glad that I didn’t make that decision.

In spite of its evangelical Protestant bias, this book is actually a very good introduction to the writings of the New Testament, the events that inspired them, and the world around them. The authors did a very good job of abbreviating some very complicated information and presenting the reader with the necessary historical facts. They also did a great job, with a few exceptions, of correcting the liberal tendencies of some scholars as to the authorship of some of the New Testament writings, generally fairly presenting the arguments on both sides of the debate and examining their merits. Their case for Apostolic authorship of 2 Peter is the only instance of this that I take disagreement with.

Because of that same evangelical Protestant bias which I’ve already mentioned, there are also some rather strange statements in various parts of the book which must be ignored if the Orthodox reader is going to get a good experience from it. For instance, when addressing the Epistle of James, there is of course the mandatory (for Protestants) desperate defense that James doesn’t really mean what he says in James 2:24 (namely, that we are not saved by “faith alone”). There is also the nearly hilarious statement that 1 Peter 3:18-22, a very clear reference to the Harrowing of Hell and an affirmation of Baptismal Regeneration, “has always been a difficult passage to interpret” (pg. 353). To translate that from evangelical-protestant-speak to plain-speak, what the authors really mean is: “1 Peter 3:18-22 has always been one of the most difficult passages for us to interpret away!”

So, if you can get past the absurdities and ignore the evangelical Protestantisms, I do recommend this book as a good basic introduction to the New Testament writings and the history surrounding them.

Christ-myth hypothesis

… from the eighteenth century onwards, there have been attempts to insist that Jesus did not even ‘seem’ to exist, and that all tales of his appearance upon the earth were pure fiction. In particular, his history was compared to the pagan mythologies inventing fictitious dying and rising gods.

In the first place, Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths of gods seem so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit. But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies from one Gospel to another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms. That there was a growth of legend round Jesus cannot be denied, and it arose very quickly. But there had also been a rapid growth of legend round pagan figures like Alexander the Great; and yet nobody regards him as wholly mythical and fictitious. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihiliated by first-rank scholars’. In recent years ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus’ – or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary. (Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, pp. 199-200)

This book was published in 1977. Zeitgeist: The Movie — dead before it was even born.