Book Reviews


Need to Know about Qur'anIslam is the second largest religion in the world, and growing rapidly.  As such, it’s important for Christians to have a basic understanding of this formidable religion, and in particular, it’s sacred text, the Qur’an.  Christian apologist, James White, has written an excellent book – What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an – that provides Christians with a basic understanding of the Qur’an, focusing on the topics that divide Muslims and Christians.

White begins the book by making a case for why Christians should concern themselves with the teachings of the Qur’an.  From there, he provides a broad overview of both Muhammad and the Qur’an:

  • A brief sketch of Muhammad’s life and the origin of Islam
  • According to Muslims, the Qur’an was written by God from eternity past and merely dictated to Muhammad by an angel over a period of 22 years. As such, it is inerrant.
  • The central tenet of faith for Muslims is the absolute numerical oneness of God (tawhid), and a confession that Muhammad is His greatest and last prophet.
  • The worst of all sins is to associate anything with God (shirk), so the Christian claim that Jesus is God is shirk.

While White’s book is not written as a refutation of the Qur’an’s claims to be divine revelation, there are a number of points raised in the book that expose the Qur’an’s claims as false:

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SoulUntil relatively recently, most people believed that human beings are constituted of both body and soul.  With the rise of materialism, Darwinism, and neuroscience, however, this notion is under scrutiny and dismissed by most secular thinkers as ridiculous.  The notion that humans have souls is tantamount to a “ghost in the machine,” as British philosopher Gilbert Ryle put it.

The existence of the soul is important to Christianity for a variety of reasons.  First, the Scriptures teach that humans have souls.  If we don’t, then Scripture is wrong.  Second, if humans lack souls, then there is no life beyond the grave (at least prior to the resurrection).  But apart from the Bible or human tradition, why should we think the soul exists?  That is the subject of J.P. Moreland’s newest book, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters.

This is not the first book Moreland has written on the subject, but it is the first book that is easily accessible to a lay audience. In less than 200 pages, Moreland lays out the case for the existence of the soul, the nature of the soul/consciousness, and the afterlife. He manages to examine the Biblical teaching on the topic as well.

While the modern tendency is to reduce the mind to the brain (appealing to neuroscience for empirical evidence), Moreland argues that this is manifestly false because mental properties are not identical to brain properties.  If mental properties cannot be reduced to physical properties, then the mind is not a physical thing, but an immaterial substance.

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God's BatallionsI have always heard the Crusades were an example of Christian imperialism, greed, intolerance, and involved all sorts of injustices and evils against Jews and Muslims that have served as a source of bitterness between Christians and Muslims ever since.  After reading, God’s Batallions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark, I realize that this story of the Crusades is not one that matches the historical record.  Among other things, Stark argues for the following propositions:

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Darwin_DoubtFor the previous installments: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Chapter 17

In this chapter, Meyer asks whether it is possible that the cause of the Cambrian explosion is an intelligent agent rather than naturalistic processes.  He argues that it is, and that the design hypothesis is better supported by the evidence than any naturalistic hypothesis.

Meyer looks closely at how historical science works.  It is different than physics and biology because you cannot experiment on the past.  What you can do, however, is develop multiple and competing hypotheses to determine which is the best explanation for the evidence at hand (inference to the best explanation).  One of the best ways to test competing hypotheses is on the basis of their causal adequacy; i.e. is the proposed cause adequate to produce the effect in question?  Remember, we have to explain the origin of biological information.  What sorts of causes, now in operation, are known to produce information?  Only one: intelligent agents.  If the basis of life is information, and the only known cause of information is intelligence, then it follows that an intelligent agent is not just the best explanation for biological information, but the only viable explanation. (more…)

For the previous installments: part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Chapter 14

Darwin_DoubtIn principle, a neo-Darwinian explanation of the origin of new body plans can only work if body plans are wholly determined at the genetic level.  If sources of information other than DNA are substantially responsible for the formation of body plans, then at best neo-Darwinism is inadequate as a holistic explanation for the diversification of life, and at worst it is simply the wrong explanation altogether.

Once again, modern discoveries in embryological development have discovered that there are many factors other than DNA that play a critical role in embryological development.  For example, it’s been shown that in many organisms, you can completely remove the DNA from the developing cells and the embryo will continue to develop up to a certain point.  If DNA alone was responsible for embryological development, this should be just as impossible as driving a car without gas.  If the car is driving, and there is no gas in the tank, then clearly something other than gas must be powering the car.  The same is true of embryological development.  While DNA is necessary to embryological development, it is not sufficient in itself.  There are sources of power other than DNA that are critical to the development of the organism.  Scientists call such sources “epigenetic information,” meaning it is information beyond the genetic information coded in DNA.

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Darwin_DoubtFor the previous installments: part 1, 2, 3, 4.

Chapter 12

Scientists largely ignored the mathematicians who pointed out the seeming impossibility of creating new genes and proteins because the mathematical equations of population genetics pointed to a nearly limitless creative power of random mutations.  Given known mutation rates, population sizes, and reproduction rates, there seemed to be no end to what evolution could accomplish.  The problem with this conclusion is that population genetics is based on some assumptions that we now know to be false.

When the neo-Darwinian synthesis (the idea that evolutionary change is driven by natural selection acting on random genetic mutations) was formulated in the 1930s, biologists did not yet understand the structure of genes.  Watson and Crick would not discover the structure of DNA and the digital code it uses to build proteins until 1953 and beyond.  Prior to this, genes were only understood functionally as those entities that determine visible and selectable traits such as eye color and the number of toes on our feet.  It was assumed that single genetic mutations could alter genes in such a way so as to produce a new function, and that one gene could be responsible for building a complex structure.  Given these assumptions, it’s easy to envision an organism slowly improving one mutation at a time.  Today, however, we know that these assumptions are patently false:

  • Hundreds of proteins are often required to create a complex system. To build that system would require changes to hundreds of genes.  Furthermore, because the function of these systems depends on the coordination of several well-matched parts, these new proteins (or proteins with new functions) must arise at the same time.[1]
  • To change or improve the function of a single protein typically requires multiple, coordinated amino acid changes, which in turn requires multiple, coordinated changes in the DNA. Because the new function depends on the coordination of multiple mutations, every mutation must be present in the protein at once.

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Darwin_DoubtFor the previous installments: part 1, 2, 3.

Chapter 9

In the early 1960s, MIT professor Murray Eden set his mind to discover whether neo-Darwinism could account for the origin of new organisms.  He knew life was based on a genetic code, and based on our shared experience of all other coded systems, he assumed the sequence of nucleotides was absolutely critical to its function.  If you start adding, deleting, or moving pieces of a digital code, for example, the meaning (function) is degraded or even lost.  If we can’t create a better program by randomly adding, deleting, and moving pieces of digital code, why think a Darwinian process that makes random changes to the DNA code could build better and novel organisms (indeed, why think a coded system could ever be built by random processes to begin with)?

In 1966, Eden and other colleagues convened a conference at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.  The conference was titled “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution.”  The conference sought to explore the creative power of natural selection acting on random mutations.  Those present recognized that there are an enormous number of ways to combine amino acids together to form protein chains.  And while they did not know precisely how many combinations could result in a functional protein compared to those that could not, they did know the number of functional combinations was extremely small.

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