My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Short version: I want to believe Aczel’s arguments. However, some of the inaccuracies in nonscientific areas made me wonder if he was trustworthy in the science.
The purpose of this book is to defend the integrity of science.
Amir d. Aczel, mathematician and science journalist, was on stage listening to prominent biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins when he decided he’d had enough of hearing atheists misuse mathematics and science for their own agenda. The result is this book which examines the New Atheists’ claims that scientific progress has proven God does not exist.
Aczel devotes chapters to quantum theory, string theory, probability, chaos theory, and much more. Each time, he examines the New Atheists’ claim, explains the scientific theory involved, and then shows where the logic of atheists’ claims falls short. In so doing, Aczel quotes other scientists, some believers and some what we might call “friendly” atheists, to show that the loud claims of the New Atheists are far from being universally acclaimed by the scientific community.
In each case, he logically shows that a zealously pursued agenda is sullying the beauty of pure scientific truth.
I especially liked the way that Aczel didn’t strive to “recruit” scientists to his cause. He simply would point out when a fair minded scientist was leaving open the possibility that science didn’t have every fact locked down and God locked out. This was often really helpful in showing the methods of New Atheist scientists who were determinedly tweaking interpretations to support their own agenda.
“But wait,” I can hear you thinking. “Anyone who punches holes in the reasoning of so many atheists in order to stand up for the idea of God must have a vested interest. Right? Surely he’s Christian.”
Good news, everyone!
Aczel is so far from being a Christian or even a theist, as far as I can tell, that he just tosses out shallow sound-bytes of pop-history “everyone knows” about religion and, indeed, European history. A lot of the time it’s unspecific, inaccurate, and pounds the church whenever possible for being closed minded. So no need to worry that he’s on our side and just sticking it to the (science) man for the sake of his faith.
I’m not gonna lie. If you know about religion and history, you are going to do some serious eye rolling. And possibly have to struggle to not get insulted over some of Aczel’s unthinking simplifications.
In many ways I enjoyed Aczel’s early chapters about the development of science and religion. I especially liked thinking of the rise of nature cults as God speaking to the people through his creation, nature. However, I often struggled to give Aczel the benefit of the doubt, such as when he linked the Virgin Mary to fertility goddess worship. Perhaps, I thought, he was completely leaning on anthropological thinking in these instances.
However, that assumption was ruined by the next paragraph when he said that Catholic saints “resemble the Greek and Roman pantheons—each saint with powers and a specialty similar to a god.” A good anthropologist would know that is not how Catholic saints were viewed in the past or present. (I can’t help that we all seem to know some random Catholic lady who treats St. Francis just the way Aczel mentions. That lady? She’s in the same state as Richard Dawkins. Uninformed. I expect more from a book like this.)
I also expect more than this unthinking historical gloss from a book like this.
When this great culture [Greek civilization] declined and the Western world sank into the Dark Ages, Scripture assumed the role of the explanation of truth, and freethinking was shunned. This mode of thought continued through the late Middle Ages, when except for the development of crude notions about medicine … there were few attempts to pursue science. Deviations from established belief were not tolerated in a culture dominated by the church and Catholic Monarchs. Simply put, the “order of things” was not up for debate.
Right. Albert the Great who helped develop experimental science, Roger Bacon (a friar) who helped develop the empirical scientific method, all those Catholic universities and scholars and scientists. Pfft. Forget about them!
Historians like Paul Johnson, Regine Pernoud, and others have pointed out lately that what “everybody knows” about the Renaissance, the Dark Ages and the Middle ages is often quite wrong. When only the Renaissance guys are left to define how things fall out, guess who’s going to come out smelling like roses? In fact, this is well enough known that pop culture sites like Cracked have been telling us about it (Renaissance, Middle Ages).
And that brings us to the bad news. With such unthinking inaccuracies, can we trust the science?
That is a question only other unbiased scientists can answer. And I’d love to hear from some because, I admit, I wanna believe.
Aczel makes a great case for shallow, inaccurate, and tweaked science being used by the New Atheists. I didn’t get the feeling that Aczel is out to get religion. I just felt that he didn’t care enough about the religious side of the story to look any deeper. I really wish that someone, anyone, who cared about religion and history had taken a look at this book before it went to press.
I am trusting that Aczel’s stated goal of restoring scientific integrity is one that he cares passionately enough about to treat these subjects with integrity about details. After all, his peers are going to be zinging him about this book if they don’t agree.
On that basis, I am recommending it as a way to understand the false claims that are being made by people with atheist agendas. As a course in logic, it is superb and that is also a good reason to read it.