Friday, November 02, 2007

The single book I would most like my friends to read

Well, other than the Bible. It's "A Meaningful World", by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt. I've already reviewed it, here. It had no reviews on Amazon in the UK, so I've just written one. Here's what I wrote:
The debate between theism and atheism has led to the publication of some outstanding written work over the last twenty years - probably some of the defining books of the era. Of all the books on the great debate that I have read - and there are a fair few on both sides! - this is probably the one I have enjoyed the most, and the one which ought ideally to have the most potential to influence.

The debate has been dominated by the field of biology - Richard Dawkins and Stephen Gould versus a variety of less well-known creationists and proponents of Intelligent Design. Astronomy and cosmology have also featured to a lesser extent, with people like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking more recently being matched against Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards ("The Privileged Planet"). But to the best of my knowledge, most of the books in the genre have focussed on one "specialist subject" - interaction more broadly with a range of human knowledge has generally been absent.

Wiker and Witt's thesis is that the universe is rich in "meaning" - the dominance of the materialist worldview has blinded us to this. And the "meaning" testifies to a creative genius. To make this case, they start in English literature, looking at Shakespeare, and then move into mathematics and chemistry before revisiting the world of biology. In the process, they identify depth, clarity, harmony and elegance as hallmarks of genius, and for good measure rehabilitate the study of Shakespeare and geometry!

They set their view against the reductionism of materialism - which, for example, talks about the evolution of the eye without recognising that sight is actually part of the whole organism, or talks about the fact that a panda's thumb (which not opposable: it is used by the panda to strip bamboo) is not the optimum structure from a design perspective without considering that there might be more to design than an optimum engineering solution to a problem.

Unsurprisingly, their conclusion is that the meaningfulness that is found at all levels in the universe is indicative of an underlying creative genius.

This book captured my imagination like only a few others that I have read before ("Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas Hofstadter, "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder, "How Should We Then Live?" by Francis Schaeffer). It took a discussion that had reached a sterile impasse and presented it from an entirely new perspective. For theists, this book has the potential to help them see beyond the wrangling over details of materialism again, and remind them of how rich the universe is. For atheists, this book has the potential to lift their eyes from narrow discussion about whether or not it is possible to prove that bacterial flagellum evolved, to take in again the vast panorama which once captivated and amazed them.