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Foster is a tutor at the University of Oxford, educated at the University of Cambridge. He writes here to analyze the reductionist bombasts of fellow British scientist Richard Dawkins, pointing out the logical errors and lack of evidence for many of Dawkins' claims for radical Darwinism against religious viewpoints as a whole.
He likewise critiques the related radical Rationalist reductions of "creationism," pointing out rightly that Dawkins and the creationists make use of the same errors of logic and sweeping avoidance of evidence. Foster reviews the viewpoints arising out of Genesis and related Hebrew scriptures to propose overlooked perspectives and imposed limitations from tradition and culture.
Specifically, naming his book in reference to a Dawkins title, The Selfish Gene, Foster points out that growing evidence does not in fact support the claim that self-interest accounts for the natural propensity of human individuals or societies. There is a consistent strain of self-sacrifice in societal patterns and recorded history of humans. Foster develops his arguments and examines the evidence very thoroughly. You will be intrigued.
Foster engages in a Philosophy of Science to cut through the smokescreens produced by the false dilemma of the "Science vs Religion" rhetoric. This will be a helpful study for those desiring to get beyond the rhetoric of the radicalized and simplistic terminology and discussions of recent history and really look into the facts of the matter.
Mainline or Radical
In this refreshing and engaging study, Foster attempts to inform us and moderate the known body of information and perspective for mainline science. He contrasts this with radical and embarrassing "fundamentalist" claims of Dawkins, and similar twists of the Christian point of view by creationists.
Dawkins starts from the premise that there is nothing but the natural processes. This by definition rules out any claims and automatically dismisses any arguments that some higher guiding entity might have been involved in any way in the development of life forms we know. Then Dawkins, like all fundamentalist approaches, deductively picks the evidence he likes to support his point.
Foster points out important instances where the evidence has, in fact, not been properly represented or interpreted.
"Science" and the scientific method have set out to investigate the material world. Foster points out that no metaphysical claims can be made from the perspective of "science," since science is a process of investigating and gathering information, accounting for the information discovered as we go.
A Materialist Religion
Foster's discussion of Dawkins' logical approaches follows similar lines as a recent focus by James C Peterson, which I read soon after reading Foster's book. In Genetic Turning Points, Peterson has a very focused discussion distinguishing "science" and scientism."
By trying to use the evidence from "science" to disprove the claims of religion, Dawkins violates the self-limiting stated domain of the Scientific Method, which is to investigate the material world.
Scientism is a belief structure that all that exists is the material world. Scientism, by making ultimate claims about God and the universe, becomes a religion. What Foster is talking about is this extended metaphysical claim Dawkins makes that science cannot allow for a Creator.
Dawkins makes metaphysical claims about the structure of the Universe and Ultimate Reality – the domain of Theology and Philosophy – producing a circular argument. This involves a logical fallacy by making claims from the observation of the physical world to leap to a claim about the unseen, metaphysical world, which was the premise he started from!
But Foster has done a good job describing the same logical error used by Dawkins' radical opponents in this war of words. The Creationists used the same syllogistic reductionism to insist that the evidence requires admission of an Intelligent Creator.
The biggest problem I see with "CreationISM" is that it, like Dawkins ScientISM, and other simplistic approaches, Creationism is an Ideology, developed to argue a premise, and thus evidence takes second place, only serving as "proof-texts" for preconceived claims.
This violates the Scriptures by using them as sources for proving scientific claims about the physical world from a modern analytical perspective. It violates the integrity of the ancient writings by ripping them out of their historical and cultural context to treat them like modern rationalist sources!
The most damaging factor in all this, for me, is that the Creationists grant the whole premise of modem reductionist science, that the scientific method and rationalist logic can discover ultimate structures. This very premise, deriving from the Enlightenment and later more methodical implementations or Reason, assumes the human intellect can discover ultimate structures of the universe.
Truth vs Perception
But Creationists, like Dawkins, have confused Truth with Our Perception of Truth. The unavoidable position of the human endeavour to understand is that we start from within our own thoughts and are limited to our own level of existence and experience. The Creationists seem unaware that the scriptures they purport to honour and defend came to a human culture in human history and had to make sense within the bounds of some human framework of thought and life.
Humility is required for non-ultimate creatures with non-ultimate points of view on the universe to address ultimate matters. A biblical humility to recognize that we are human, not God. God is God, We are not. However strong one's commitment to Revelation, one cannot obtain revelation by submitting the Scriptures to the dictates, methods, approaches and arguments of science, when they arise out of a totally different worldview.
Ancient Scriptures and Modern Reason
Modern rationalist science is not the context of the Holy Scriptures! The Creationists have already lost the battle, granting that Reductionist science can explain the unseen Ultimate Truths of Reality, and that the Bible must fit the terms of modern science. It won't work. Even mainline science does not claim to explain metaphysical reality! As Foster explains. The Bible stands on its own, and is not required to meet the demands of modern rationalist dictates.
Foster understands the errors of this short-sighted rationalism on both sides of the "Religion-Science" debate. He points out that only a very vocal minority within the "religious" or "scientific" camps actually raise all this ruckus and make all this noise. This astute observer suggests that we stay open to the full range of evidence as it continues to be discovered.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Biological Evidence for the Human Spirit
Did God Create the World?
Mapping Human Origins
Our Genetic Journey
Physics and Faith: A Logical Approach to an Irrational Objection
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Many other books have review notes with the reading list entry
Initial review notes written 11 May 2010
Review developed for Thoughts nad Resources 18 June 2010
Reviewed on Amazon 19 June 2010
Last edited 19 Junu 2012
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2010 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.