A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature

MeaningfulWorldSuggested by Brad Nelson • A robust argument from evidence in nature, one that rests neither on religious presuppositions nor on a simplistic view of nature as the best of all possible worlds. In their exploration of the cosmos, Wiker and Witt find the mystery and elegance one expects from a work of genius.
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20 Responses to A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    First off, this is the best free sample portion of a Kindle book that I’ve ever read. If nothing else, do read the free sample. I’m just starting chapter 6 which is about halfway into the book.

    But I suspect this book is yet another case where the authors had a truly good essay-length idea and tried to stretch it into a book. The first part (including the free sample) is terrific apologetic regarding the need to deprogram ourselves from the materialist mindset. In doing so, the authors use the case of the genius of Shakespeare to show the clear absurdity of reductionism. This is a wonderful, non-dry, non-pedantic way of illustrating this. Very refreshing and very rare in a book like this.

    And this works stunningly well through about the end of chapter 2 or so. By chapter three this becomes more about Shakespeare and less about the prime philosophical tenet of the book, although the discussion of Shakespeare is so interesting, Who cares?

    And then in jumps chapter 4 (which I mostly skipped) which literally involved geometric proofs. And this proof is only tangentially related to the gist of the book. It feels like padding, a somewhat obtuse tangent.

    Chapter 5 brings us to a discussion of the periodic table and how this is an example of deep order in nature. This is much more readable than the chapter on geometry and connects better with the central theme, but still tends to get a little far afield.

    But there are some great comments in this book. Let me throw a few quotes at you:

    Materialist reductionism seeks to give an entirely material explanation of human intelligence, one that reduces it to a string of pointless material causes. It must kill the soul and, in the process, reduce all the evident genius of humanity to dust. To this end, some materialists have gone after Shakespeare with a tireless ingenuity. In the two chapters that follow, we will keep company with Shakespeare’s genius and consider whether news of its dissolution has been greatly exaggerated.

    Yes, remember how hard everyone was working on trying to prove that Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays? The authors make a terrific point that once you swallow down the tenets of materialism, there is little left to do but deconstruct and devalue everything.

    On materialist grounds, why should it? Why should there be any connection whatsoever between the highly abstract, formal relationships of numbers and figures and the order of nature? Why, in short, is nature amenable to mathematical analysis?

    I love this next thought in particular:

    It’s important to make clear at the outset that seeing the signature of genius in nature does not entail a Panglossian view of nature as “the best of all possible worlds.” One can recognize the hand of genius without turning a blind eye to disease and deformity, pain and suffering.

    And here’s somewhat the thrust of the book in a few words:

    In sum, the scientist who recognizes nature as a work of genius can explain-rather than merely explain away-our collective experience of repeatedly uncovering new mysteries and of repeatedly uncovering answers to those mysteries.

    Here’s an example of quite adroit philosophy:

    And what about the problem not merely of bad design but of evil? That subject isn’t the focus of this book, but our argument lends support to an orthodox view of evil as parasitic on good, in the same way that disorder is parasitic on order and meaninglessness on meaning. To view evil in this way does not eliminate evil or even render it a thing of little account; but it does put it in proper perspective. In some fundamental way, goodness, order and meaning are deeply related, and evil, disorder and meaninglessness are related in that each is a falling off from being.

    The authors do a superb job — much deeper and more thoughtful than even Stephen Meyer’s take — on Richard Dawkins bogus computer models of evolution (the one that simulates the monkeys at a typewriter trying to randomly write a line of Shakespeare). This commentary alone is worth the price of the book. And showing that they have a way with words, the authors sum up their critique thusly:

    When Dawkins, modern evolutionary theory’s most celebrated defender, has to prop up the Darwinian mechanism with a bogus computer model, it’s reasonable to suspect that something’s rotten in the state of Darwin.

    And whether talking Paulbots or Darwinists, this bit of advice from the authors is crucial in regards to not turning any investigation, philosophy, or thought into destructive simple-mindedness:

    DNA is only functionally meaningful in regard to the complex unity for which it is encoded, and in and by which it can function as DNA. Our consideration of it in abstraction from its actual context is only an abstraction, a reduction useful for certain kinds of investigation but misleading and pernicious when taken literally.

    And this is just a good overall thought to those who try to imagine that life is just a tweak here or a tweak there to some molecule that somehow magically began to reproduce. It’s a much bigger problem than that:

    The cell is not, contrary to common presentation, merely a biological afterthought, a convenient container in which to keep DNA; rather, the cell is the integrated, complex whole within which DNA as DNA can function. That is, its function requires untold layers of complexity that DNA itself does not provide.

    Anyway, that’s enough to give you a taste for the book. I’ll report back when I’ve read some more chapters. I’m anxious to see if the authors are able to elegantly come back to their main theme and weave it in a little better.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I mentioned a while back that (as we prepared to go to Half-Price Books, where we had a coupon for 50% off one book as well as a more generic 10% of everything) that I had finally gotten around to listing books I wanted to get (including several listed at stubbornthings, either from reviews or the Bookshelf). As it happens, I found none of them there, but I still have the list and add to it when something else comes up that sounds worthwhile. I just put this on the list.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Chapter 6, “A Cosmic Home Designed for Discovery,” picked up the theme of the book (not yet read, but I’ve seen the video), The Privileged Planet. (And at 16 bucks for the ebook, it may be a while until I get to that one.)

    The good news is that this chapter does a very nice job of touching on many of the built-for-life features apparently hard-wired into the universe, from big to small. The details about each item are about right and briskly paced. You’ll find it hard to resist the authors’ argument that the universe wasn’t a put-up job, to quote David Berlinksi.

    And the authors do an absolutely forthright and bold job of crushing such feeble attempts to deny teleological aspects, such as the absurd multiverse theory. Again, how refreshing not to meet namby-pamby. These guys aren’t rude, but they do call a spade a spade. This was a good chapter and well worth reading.

    I’m about 90% into Chapter 7, “The Genius of the Elements.” This chapter is a little weaker in the way that some of the previous chapters have been. Yes, it’s all well and good to learn about the elements, but the authors slightly gloss over what one presumes are the crucial aspects. Yes, they note that carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen are the big four in regards to life. And I will say this chapter kept my attention. But I needed more detail as to why the elements as they are are somewhat miraculous. They touch on it, but it’s a light touch at best in many places. Perhaps this will come together more in the next chapter, “The Reemergence of the Living Cell.” After that only two more chapters to go.

  4. GHG says:

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned yet, but Michael Denton has a 30 minute Youtube titled Privileged Species that I found pretty informative and interesting.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/03/privileged_spec_3094651.html

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks, Mr. Lesser. Certainly Michael Denton’s name has been mentioned in this book more than once. I’m going to block out some time to watch that video soon.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Chapter 8, “The Reemergence of the Living Cell,” was a very readable chapter. It was a brilliant refutation of the materialist/reductionist paradigm. The authors talk, more in general, about the integrated systems of the cell. You’ll get more out of it if you’re a bit familiar with the biology and mechanics of it, either from other books or especially from view a few videos of the cell in action online.

    The authors do a very good job pointing out how the materialist/reductionist paradigm kills everything it touches. There’s a humorous section in it wherein they talk about how scientists are coming to terms with the idea, for instance, that there really is something called a “cow.” The authors say it would be a laughable thing to tell a farmer. He’d see it as obvious. But it’s the scientists who need to re-learn this. Their reductionist paradigm has scrambled their brains and blinded their vision to the totality of what life is.

    The authors spend some time on the absurdity of the “primordial soup” idea, and how such ideas have everything to do (as was Darwinism’s prime purpose) with forwarding the naturalist/atheist vision of the universe.

    The authors do a good job de-bamboozling the bamboozlers with thoughtful, careful, and a not-too-clever-by-half summations of things. This next quote is of that type:

    Surely, one plain lesson to be read in the prevalence of cellular architecture [in all living things] is that organized complexity is one of the essential characteristics of life. From this viewpoint, the significance of cells is that they represent the minimal level of organization capable of displaying the activities we associate with life, including self-reproduction.

    Materialists/reductionists have finally (even if they have not admitted it) hit the wall. Their materialism has dug down and finally brought itself, via its excesses, to a disproof of itself. Indeed, it is certainly looking as if the cell itself is irreducibly complex and cannot be understood by grinding it up and measuring the chemical content. The materialist paradigm is all but dead. It’s official, if not quite admitted by all.

    The authors are suitable harsh to the dark triumvirate of materialism/atheism: Marxism, Freudianism, and Darwinism:

    Such reductionism displays the kind of bluntness of soul we found in Sigmund Freud, which could reduce the glory of Hamlet to the irrational gurglings of sexual desire. It is the precise bluntness of soul that led Charles Darwin to reduce the origin of music to mating calls and, hence, to the sexual desire that drives sexual selection.

    What a horrible path civilization has put itself on by believing what these guys had to say.

    One of the main themes of this book is that art and creativity are central not only to the human experience, but to the creation of the Creator. And this is certainly consistent with my philosophy. Life is tough and is often a bitch, but it is a marvelous (sometimes horrible) creation. And the authors quote a couple people who note that the creations of man are like a reflection — a sub-creation or second tier — from the creations of the Creator. We are co-creators of sorts. Reality is like a big sand box which allows for, and indeed prompts, creative efforts for the sake of doing so.

    This is, I think, certainly a lesson that more conservatives need to hear. Sometimes conservatives stress to the point of dry dogmatism the moral aspects of life. But the creative ones — the artsy-fartsy ones, if you will — are central to what creation is all about as well. And it’s not only the politics that has been corrupted by the materialist Left but the arts as well which are infused with nihilism and vulgarity because the Left ultimately has no more refined vision for existence (something not specifically discussed in this book, but is a relevant thought).

    This is indeed a pretty good effort at doing what the authors say is the purpose of the book, to deprogram you from the materialist/reductionism paradigm which has so invaded our culture that much of it is adopted without a second thought. These guys are returning the wonder of creation to its rightful place, and they are doing it without finding Baby Jesus in their Corn Flakes and a lot of stuff like that which, frankly, I think trivializes creation from the other end.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The comment about a cow reminds me of a joke one of my high school math teachers (I think it was the calculus teacher) told, illustrating the difference between a mathematician and an engineer. A mathematician, approaching a woman he found desirable, would think about the mathematics of limits and conclude (he was having them approach by halving the distance repeatedly) that he could never actually quite reach her. The engineer would realize that this was mathematically true, but would realize that for all practical purposes he could in fact get close enough to count, and go ahead.

      This applies to many other examples of theoreticians vs. empiricists.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I just finished chapter 9, “The Restoration of the Living Organism.” The authors continue to consolidate their philosophical triumph over materialism/reductionism. I thought this summing up of it was superb (best read in context):

    Reductionism grasped a piece of this truth, but held it so tightly and exclusively that even this piece became twisted and misshapen. The piece of truth, that nature has depth, was deformed into the corrosive and distorted dogma that the depths of mechanism were all there were and that our world of everyday experience itself was unreal, a mere epiphenomenon of the only real world, the subatomic world. In reducing reality to that single level, ultimately reductionists actually denied depth, flattening our world in a way that a flat-Earth zealot could only envy.

    And…

    The collapse of reductionism, therefore, restores science. The true goal of science, contra reductionism, is not to explain away the everyday world of our experience, but to explain it.

    That’s the gist of the book, folks, and it’s a good gist. This book is a sort of “back to the future” regarding our basic philosphy:

    Nicholas Copernicus explained that he was motivated to uncover “the mechanism of the universe, wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly creator.” It was a cosmos, he said, that “the best and most orderly artist of all framed for our sake.” It was this that led to an expectation that the many and messy details of our solar system possessed some underlying unity according to which all those details would be fully intelligible. In short, Copernicus began with an assumption which contemporary science is once again rediscovering that nature is ingeniously ordered.

    Is it impolite of me to call Bill Nye and those types “kooks”? Surely there are religious nuts on all extremes. And it’s not “kooky” to be in error. Here’s something relevant from the authors:

    We have referred frequently to “materialists.” We have in view here not the average person plagued by doubts about questions of religion, or the experimental scientist attempting to search out new regularities in the order of nature, but rather the militant materialist, the village atheist, bent on scouring all evidence of the supernatural from the world. Such militant materialists have probably never made up more than 10 percent of the American population or much more than that in Europe. However, they have assiduously sought out and controlled entrance to the seats of academic power, and so they are represented in the tenured offices of higher education and the benches of our courts in disproportionate numbers. Against their efforts, the order and meaning of nature have reasserted themselves.

    Here we need to come back to the two-tiered theory regarding all things Marxist (and Darwinist and Freudian), of the split between the powerful-beyond-their-numbers religious zealots at the top (Dawkins and Company) and the many useful idiots at the bottom who simply pick up on what they see as the reigning (and thus correct, for if it’s popular it must be right) paradigm and don’t question it. We can rightly out the kooks and zealots for being kooks and zealots while having patience and sympathy for those (to the extent that they exist in any numbers these days) who wish to find out what is true — or even to just honestly think about these things — not just stay with that which is being forwarded as bully propaganda by the most energetically dogmatic.

    And these zealots at the top are culture thieves:

    Many reductionist-materialists are, of course, fond of claiming that their methodology is historically responsible for the scientific revolution, but this is incorrect. The birth of science required a rich ancestry of ideas and circumstances. In large part, the faith that drove many early scientists was the prior commitment to cosmic orderliness and elegance inspired by faith in a supreme artificer.

    And…

    However helpful materialism has been in seeing certain material aspects of nature, it has outlived its usefulness and obscures far more than it clarifies.

    And here the authors grab the preeminence of wholeness, of design, of teleology from the reducing acid of Darwinism and reductionism (better read in context, but it still mostly works):

    This amazement is, we might say, “Darwin-proof.” Darwinism cannot reach back to the “first spinning place,” where the order of nature first manifested the mathematical principles we have only now discovered. The universe was supremely fine-tuned and fit for biology long before biological survival of the fittest could possibly work; and the strange, multilayered fitness of nature for mathematical analysis was present long, long before merely human mathematicians were there to uncover it. Why, then, should we suffer any longer under the reign of materialism and its subspecies, Darwinism?

    One final wonderful quote from this chapter before I move on to the final chapter:

    In the midst of the reductionists’ work to dissolve everything into bare atoms chasing after the wind, in the midst of the growing mist and darkness, an amazing thing has arisen in the West so amazing that it borders on the mystical. The deep-down intelligibility of nature, of the cosmos, is reasserting itself ever more strongly and insistently, and scientists are the ones most filled with wonder (wonder mixed with a kind of gratitude that borders on religious awe) at the continual unveiling of its beauties. Mathematicians are ending up as mystics. Something has gone dreadfully right.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One minor correction: Ovine liberals don’t go on the basis that whatever is popular is correct, but that whatever is popular among the elites is correct. Being popular among the masses is a strike against validity for them (you can’t be even a low-grade elitist if you agree with everyone else).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        One minor correction: Ovine liberals don’t go on the basis that whatever is popular is correct, but that whatever is popular among the elites is correct.

        Timothy, I think that’s a whole subject unto itself. A lot of this stuff indoctrinated through universities and TV is about a smug sense of intellectual and moral superiority. That’s much of the attractant. And that attractant is out of context and somewhat meaningless unless it is juxtaposed with the constant, and often subtle, demonization of contrary views (aka, of conservatives, the religious, white males, America, capitalism, Western Civilization, Jews, etc.)

        The Left is a cult in large part. And it’s a cult because of the cult technique of first filling people with all kinds of irrational guilt and then offering them supposedly the only one way out: “diveristy,” “tolerance,” “multiculturalism,” political correctness. This aspect has totally emasculated many denominations of Christianity as well. There has been very heavy conformist pressure brought to bare by the Left in this culture and few will stand against it. Most cave.

        And when talking to someone indoctrinated by the Left (even if they are not amongst that hardcore 10%), this is the important undercurrent. You’re not talking ideas, per se. Any refutation of the Left threatens to undermine their sense of moral and intellectual superiority. And the less actual education and wisdom that one has, the more one will lean on the crutch of this conceit. This aspect cannot be under-emphasized and certainly should never be forgotten by anyone having conversations with the second-tier “useful idiot” populace of the Left.

        And regarding popularity, I think it’s a huge factor. You could not have all these mindless Progressives running around spouting gibberish if what they thought was correct wasn’t based in large part on what they perceived as being popular. That is absolutely central to understand the phenomenon. Conservatives and Christians are, theoretically anyway, rooted in something deeper than fashion and fad, than by what is hip at the moment.

        And regarding what defines “everyone else,” another central aspect of those on the Left is the bubble factor. They often think they are everyone. Many of these Progressives truly have not encountered another way of thinking. They certainly think they are the majority.

  7. GHG says:

    Brad has done it again. I puchased my kindle version of this book and started wading into it last night, getting through the intro and 1st chapter. The style is an easy read, which I appreciate, and so far has done a good job of bringing things of depth to the surface, providing clarity to a fact or subject that otherwise was a bit murky.

    Keep up the excellent reading recommendations sir.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The highest compliment I could receive, Mr. Lesser, is to have accurately portrayed the contents of a book so as to either inspire a purchase or avoid a turkey. I’ll have to go back now (after finishing the final chapter) and see about trying to read through the chapter on geometry.

  8. Timothy Lane says:

    There’s a nice Town Hall article by Frank Turek today that compares atheists who think everything is explained by science to someone with a metal-detector denying that there are any products made of plastic or rubber because his device has never located them. The link is:

    http://townhall.com/columnists/frankturek/2015/03/27/the-atheist-and-his-metal-detector-n1976825

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      That’s a great article, Timothy. I love his analogy of the metal detector:

      A metal detector can’t even find metal without relying on non-metallic things such as rubber, plastic and electricity. Likewise, scientists can’t find material causes without relying on the immaterial realities that are necessary for anyone to do science in the first place, such as the laws of logic, mathematics, consistent natural laws, and the very existence of our minds that go beyond the mere molecules of our brains.

      By coincidence, I had already downloaded the free Kindle sample of that book but hadn’t read it yet. I may do so soon.

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished the last chapter in the book, Chapter 10. It was sort of a summing up. Nothing particularly special. The better chapters came earlier, but overall the book was pretty good.

    Nancy Pearcey has a new book out: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes. And you get a taste of it in this excellent article, Hegel’s Deity: How Evolution Gave Us Postmodernism, Deconstructionism, and Political Correctness. She’s got some very interesting insights such as:

    Roots of Political Correctness

    If reality has shattered into clashing interpretations, so has the concept of personal identity. Postmodernism says there is no unified self. Instead the self is simply the locus of the shifting points of view absorbed from various interpretive communities, each defining its own “truth”…

    Postmodernism thus reduces individuals to puppets of social forces. The implication is that people hold certain ideas not because they have good reasons but because they are black or white, a man or a woman, Asian or Hispanic, or whatever.

    This is radically dehumanizing. It implies that individuals are powerless to rise above the communities to which they belong. It is a form of reductionism that dissolves individual identity into group identity….

    Postmodernism is leagues away from the materialism rampant in the science department, but it is equally dehumanizing. Materialism reduces humans to products of physical forces. Postmodernism reduces them to products of social forces.

    If the rest of the book is anywhere near this quality, it may be worth a read.

  10. GHG says:

    Brad, thank you for recommending this book. I think you summed it up quite nicely with your comments. I will only add that, for me, the book did a wonderful job of giving me a more comprehensive historical understanding of how the godless/materialist/reductionist philosophies and sciences are connected and the effect on the arts, sciences, humanities … well pretty much everything.

    Well worth the cost and time.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I will only add that, for me, the book did a wonderful job of giving me a more comprehensive historical understanding of how the godless/materialist/reductionist philosophies and sciences are connected and the effect on the arts, sciences, humanities … well pretty much everything.

      Thanks, Mr. Lesser. And indeed, regarding your comment.

      This book represents either a momentary cul-de-sac of minor reactionary consequence, or it’s part of the trailing edge of the 1st-wave of books (starting with 1991’s Darwin On Trial) that have declared that the Darwinian emperor has no clothes.

      But more than that, combined with the historical science of intelligent design as outlined by Stephen Meyer (among others), it’s a potential deal-changer in regards to metaphysical outlooks. We could have a sort of “back to the future” moment where we rediscover the mindset of Isaac Newton and others who were spurred on to investigate nature as a means of knowing the mind of the Creator and where man regains his rightful place as noble being instead of, well, the kind of mindless man who wears his pants down to his knees.

      Many of us scratch our head as we watch the culture go off half-cocked on this materialist binge. And it is indeed a binge, and one that will collapse. You don’t need (in fact, I think it’s of little help) bible prophecy to predict this. Socialism/materialist is a societal rot.

      These types of books – if anyone is willing to read them — help to retake lost ground. As Dennis Prager was saying today, even more than sex or food, man craves meaning. And although environmental wacko-ism and other denominations of Cultural Marxism offer people a breath of meaning, it’s a breath of smog, at most. Real meaning lies in other pursuits more grounded in reality. But to see beyond the various dogmas of the Left requires a modicum of depth. Again, Dennis Prager noted today how simplistic and shallow Leftists typically are. They are simple-minded.

      A book such as this helps to develop a more complex mind. And I personally prefer a book like this because it’s logically sound, its philosophical assertions are reasonable, and there is very little zealousness involved. With a book such as this, there’s no doubt that both bible-believers and those less inclined to believe (but who still reject materialism/atheism) can find something of common interest. And there’s a chance for that common interest to grow into a metaphor to undergird society.

      For this to happen, in my humble opinion, Christians need to get a better grounding in their own religion and the philosophy of it. A couple of the books by John Lennox may be recommended in this regard. We need deeper thinking, and it just won’t due to be the opposite bookend of the materialists/atheists.

      And think a book like this one serves this purpose as well. Surprisingly, many Christians have caved on the Darwinian question. And it’s not a matter of digging one’s feet in no matter what. One doesn’t need to. Just follow the evidence. That won’t necessarily bring anyone to a religion. But the facts of the world undercut severely materialism/reductionism/atheism as a substitute religion. A book like this, just by reading it, ignites the “adult” brain cells. And in a society ruled by the juvenile, the vulgar, and the supercilious, immersing oneself in a book such as this is what we all need. No exceptions.

  11. Anniel says:

    Brad: You simply have to stop doing this. Bear thought having Kindle would actually save him money. Buying books is so addictive and Kindle kindles that addiction. But thank you anyway.

    • GHG says:

      I’m thinking a Bear pretty much gets whatever he wants 🙂

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      LOL. Tell Bear I know exactly what he means. One thing in the back of my mind is that with Amazon Prime (99.00 per year, I think) where you can choose from 800,000 books for free (free to borrow for an unlimited amount of time, one per month, some further info here) plus free shipping on stuff you buy at Amazon plus other benefits.

      I don’t like getting hooked into any plans. They all tend to add up. But it’s in the back of my mind to do that if I average at least one book purchase a month. But who knows if the books I want to read are going to be among those offered to borrow. Being picky, it’s not as likely.

      Or perhaps take a look at Amazon Kindle Unlimited (9.99 a month, free choice of 700,000 titles). I’m not sure about the selection though.

      I’ve probably bought about 3 or 4 crap books from Amazon over the last few years — books I either turned out to not like or, for whatever reason, just didn’t hold my interest. So perhaps the most economical way of doing the Kindle is by being picky and to share honest reviews about books that are distinctly better-than-average.

      But I think it’s certainly true what Amazon says that people who use eBooks do about four times the amount of reading they used to. That’s true with me. And it is indeed addictive in a sense. But, sheesh, it’s a good addiction compared to rotting one’s brain on prime time tv.

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