Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives
Edited by Robert T. Pennock
MIT Press, 805 pages, $45
Advocates of Darwinian naturalism would like us to believe that the universe simply flashed into existence one fine day all on its own; and then, fifteen billion years later, after a lot of Lucretian swerving and careening, the cloudy cosmic dust left over from the Big Bang gathered itself under the aegis of natural selection (whatever that is)-and suddenly up pops the Taj Mahal, Mozart operas, Woody Allen movies, and I Love Lucy sitcoms. This arrant absurdity is so massively counterintuitive that it generates not just unease among the general populace but, more crucially for understanding this book, a certainty among members of several schools of natural theology that rationality and intelligence must be behind a universe as complex as ours. So far so good, but these “Intelligent Design” (ID) advocates go much further. Although they differ considerably in details, these proponents usually go on to specify a direct intervention by a transcendent intelligence. Although I disagree with this scenario, some of their arguments are not easily refuted, and let's say this for the ID movement: it certainly has awakened the Darwinians from their dogmatic slumbers, although on the evidence of this volume most of the Darwinians seem all too eager simply to grumble, roll over, and go back to sleep. Unfortunately, given the interminability of the debate, only a few voices in the book seek to find a tertium quid-that is, a wider outlook that could lift the debate off its current hinges and onto a more illuminative level. Although here, too, in the reconcilers' camp, embarrassments abound, as in Arthur Peacocke's insouciant discernment of divinity in Darwinian “process.” Only Howard J. Van Till seems to get it exactly right: “I have long been sorely vexed at the frequency with which the warfare metaphor has been employed in the discussion of the relationship of natural science and Christian belief. And my irritation seems to be irreversibly amplified each time I observe the proponents of ‘creation-science' or the preachers of modern Western naturalism resonantly encourage one another in the perpetuation of this conflict thesis in the service of their own polemical agendas.”
—Edward T. Oakes
The Ethics of Aquinas
Edited by Stephen J. Pope
Georgetown University Press, 496 pages, $39.95
Stephen J. Pope, associate professor of social ethics in the Boston College Department of Theology, asked twenty-six scholars to explain the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae. The result is a comprehensive guide that takes both student and scholar point by point through St. Thomas' introduction to the Christian moral life, raises questions for further study, and identifies the best resources available for further explanation. The scholars, who include Romanus Cessario, Jean Porter, and Martin Rhonheimer, are all veterans on Aquinas from various academic disciplines and are given ample freedom to address their respective topics as they see fit. Servais Pinckaers' essay on the sources of Christian ethics, a history of Thomas' life, and Pope's methodological overview of the Summa introduce the book's main subject. The nineteen essays in the major section of the book situate each treatise within the Summa and/or the Western intellectual tradition and then show how Aquinas' arguments build his position on a succession of disputed questions into a complete treatment of the subject. The third and final section, in six essays, outlines the legacy of twentieth-century Dominican, Redemptorist, and Jesuit schools of interpretation, Bernard Lonergan's understanding and use of Thomism, and interpretations of Aquinas' ethics since Vatican II. All of the essays contain extensive references, including to the relevant Latin texts. The distinctive merit of the book is that it allows both beginner and accomplished scholar to form a vision of the whole of the Summa's Second Part and also to inspect particular sections in the light of recent Thomistic scholarship. In one volume, it treats both the philosophical concepts at work in the ethics of St. Thomas and the theological purpose and depth of his doctrine. Whereas most modern ethicists single out one note-the sentiments or rationality; utility or duty; acts or rules; emotions or cognitions; logic or intuition-the philosophy of Aquinas plays all of these notes in several chords and even in several keys. Moreover, his ethics aspires to a truth that is valid for all peoples, Muslim as well as Christian, Jew as well as Greek, skeptic as well as believer. The global reach of Aquinas has gained a new potency in a global age.
A Scientific Theology, Volume 1: Nature
By Alister E. McGrath
Eerdmans, 325 pp. $40
This is the first of three volumes exploring the possibility of a “scientific theology.” Such a theology, “nourished and governed at all points by Holy Scripture,” adopts the natural sciences as ancilla theologiae, seeking “a mutual cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches.” This dialogue has a “ministerial function.” Avoiding modernism, it exceeds the modest claims of Karl Barth, liberating “traditional credal Christian orthodoxy” from its “ghetto mentality” by identifying “‘points of contact' for the gospel within the created order.” In support of this approach, McGrath argues that the concept of nature, “shaped by socially mediated factors,” has, like rationality, “no self-evidently correct definition.” More sweepingly, McGrath claims, following Derrida, to deconstruct the very concept of nature, revealing its essential subjectivity; this argument awaits clarification in the second volume, which will deal with issues of realism. While affirming ontological dualism-God and nature are “wholly other”-McGrath nevertheless repudiates “radical [epistemic] dualism,” arguing that “the truth, goodness, and beauty of God . . . [can] be discerned within the natural order, in consequence of that order having been established by God.” On this basis, McGrath identifies three points of possible contact between science and Christian theology. First, the “significant connection between the world as we observe it and the nature of God”; in McGrath's view, the explanatory powers of the natural sciences depend upon the assumption that “the created order is held to be the work of the Christian God.” Second, as-yet-unexplored theological implications for doctrines of evil and sin of certain recent scientific hypotheses, such as chaos theory. Third, and most important, the “profound theological implications” of the concept of a “law of nature,” which is itself based on the fact that both science and theology presume “a fundamental convergence of truth and beauty.” While McGrath's proposals are often informative and insightful, much remains to be discussed and developed in the remaining volumes of his ambitious project.
Jew in America: My Life and a People's Struggle for Identity
By Arthur Hertzberg
HarperSanFrancisco, 463 pages, $32.95
Memoirs are, almost by definition, self-referential, although not all are so self-promotional. Rabbi Hertzberg has been an intermittently prominent figure on the American Jewish scene, noted especially for his “dovish” views on the Middle East, and he wrote an important book, The French Enlightenment and the Jews, documenting the perduring anti-Semitism among champions of modernity. As he tells it, his life has been largely derived from the lives of the politically powerful with whom he has come in contact over years of gravitating around what he calls “the action.” In a career of boldly “speaking truth to power,” he has met many important people in the U.S. and Israel. His and the Jewish people's “struggle for identity” are oddly conflated, finding final resolution in an insight drawn from Ralph Waldo Emerson, of all people, on the connection between individualism and community. Along the way he provides inside stories and settles personal scores that will be of interest to readers who are attentive to intra-Jewish conflicts.
Dynamics of World History
By Christopher Dawson
ISI, 500 pages, $16.95
Dawson, who died in 1970, was once hailed as a giant among historians and philosophers of history, but is almost forgotten today. This book, edited by John J. Mulloy, is part of a small but promising Dawson revival. Mulloy has put together essays and excerpts from Dawson's many books, dating from the 1920s and covering subjects such as the differences between culture and civilization, providential purpose in history, and perennial disputes over defining the task of the historian. On questions related to grand patterns in history, Dawson was in constant argument with figures such as Spengler and Toynbee, always insisting on the primacy of religion in defining culture and of culture in defining civilization. It is a form of historical thinking that many may dismiss as dated but is perhaps irrepressible, and surfaces today in studies such as Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. An unabashedly Catholic thinker, Christopher Dawson proposed bold answers to the question of “the meaning of history” and deserves a permanent place in our continuing arguments over a subject that will likely not lend itself to resolution before the End Time.
God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity
By Lorenzo Albacete
Crossroad, 203 pages, $19.95
While advising on a film about John Paul II, the eccentrically brilliant Monsignor Albacete stayed at the Ritz in Hollywood and was accosted by all kinds of people who asked, on location and at poolside and everywhere else, incisive questions about God, religion, evil, hope, and other matters that really matter. This little book joins their questions and his responses in a winsome apologetic that might be categorized as pre-evangelization. However categorized, it is thinking of a high order set forth with literary grace and humor, and all in the service of understanding the irrepressible human aspiration toward the infinite.
The Fall of Berlin 1945
By Antony Beevor
Viking, 489 pages, $29.95
A carefully researched and fast-paced account of Berlin and the Nazi leadership from Christmas 1944 to the Führerdämmerung and its immediate aftermath. Military buffs will appreciate the detailed attention to the inner workings of the Red Army and the desperate flounderings of what was left of the Reich's war machine, and will argue over Beevor's generally negative assessment of Eisenhower's role in bringing the war to an end. Russian revenge, looting, and systematic rape provide yet another chapter in the annals of human animality.
Priestly Identity: A Study in the Theology of Priesthood
By Thomas J. McGovern
Four Courts Press (Portland, Oregon), 320 pages, $19.95
Who does the priest understand himself to be? There are innumerable ways of addressing that question, but Father McGovern insists that the identity of the priest is given, above all, by theology. And the division of theology most pertinent to the one who acts in persona Christi is Christology. Psychological, professional, and ministerial factors are not neglected, but McGovern draws chiefly on the Church's theological tradition, showing how it is not an imposition or merely one interpretation of priesthood among others but provides the foundational truth claims without which priesthood finally makes no sense. The book is a refreshing review, amply documented by magisterial teaching and historical reference, of what it means to be a priest.
Short History of the World
By Geoffrey Blainey
Ivan R. Dee, 463 pages, $27.50
From what is ordinarily called pre-history to almost the present, a distinguished Australian historian tells the story of the world with erudition and no little panache. The pace is uneven, interrupted with frequent excursuses and meditations on points of interest to him, and of likely interest to most readers, especially points pertaining to the “feel” of everyday life in remote times and places. Major attention is paid the influence of religions, and the author has a salutary respect for the surprising and contingent, a respect which precludes grand arguments about historical causality.
The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church
Edited by J. Neuner and J. Dupuis
Alba House, 1,092 pages, $24.95
The seventh revised and enlarged edition of an invaluable work. While scholarly libraries will have the Denzinger-Schönmetzer Enchiridion, the present volume is recommended to anyone with a deep interest in what the Catholic Church has taught and teaches today. One may well dispute over what has been left out and what included on this subject or that, but the editors succeed in packing into a thousand pages an astonishing number of texts from the early fathers and councils up to the present, and the publisher is to be commended for making the book available at such a reasonable price.
History of Lutheranism
By Eric W. Gritsch
Fortress, 346 pages, $29 paper
A fast-paced and reliable guided tour of the Lutheran movement over almost five hundred years, with the accent on the normative status of the theology that launched it in the first place. Recognizing that Lutheranism-or at least those parts of Lutheranism engaged with the larger Christian movement-is in danger of forgetting what it is supposed to be, Gritsch urges going back, or as he prefers, “forward,” to Luther.
By Gabriel Marcel
Fordham University Press, 296 pages, $20
A French Catholic philosopher of very considerable influence in the middle of the last century, Marcel was usually called a Christian existentialist, although he thought of himself as a neo-Socratic engaged in an open-ended and dialogical path toward the ever elusive truth. “Creative Fidelity,” which is also the title of an essay in this book (newly and pleasantly translated by Robert Rosthal), captures nicely Marcel's understanding of authentically Catholic inquiry, as does another essay in which, following Chesterton, Marcel pits orthodoxy against conformism. Those who read Marcel many years ago will be struck by how like a fresh breeze his thought seems now, and those coming to him for the first time are to be envied.
Feast of Friendship
By Paul D. O'Callaghan
Eighth Day, 150 pages, $13.95 paper
Friendship and its connections with agape and eros is a perennial subject and many Christian worthies have explored its inexhaustible mysteries. To modern writers on the subject, such as C. S. Lewis and Gilbert Meilaender, add the name of Paul O'Callaghan, who brings a distinctively Orthodox perspective to bear on the ways in which earthly friendships anticipate our inclusion in the Divine friendship that is the Feast of the Lamb.