Unmasking Misconceptions: Book reviews of The Hidden Face of God and Darwin’s God

Unmasking Misconceptions: Book reviews of The Hidden Face of God and Darwin’s God

The Hidden Face of God: How Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth. By Gerald L. Schroeder. New York: The Free Press, 2001. 224 pages. Hardcover; $26.00.

An underlying wisdom and unity pervade the universe, life, and the human mind. Scientists exposed this discovery in their quest to uncover the ultimate nature of reality. Such a discovery, asserts Gerald Schroeder in The Hidden Face of God, makes a powerful case for faith in God.

Schroeder, widely known for integrating science and religion, authored two other popular books on this topic, Genesis and The Big Bang and The Science of God. Educated at MIT, Schroeder conducted research in physics and biology in Israel at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Volcani Center.

In an effort to establish the metaphysical source of physical reality, Schroeder starts The Hidden Face of God with physics and proceeds through cellular chemistry to neuroscience. The mind-brain problem, which seeks to determine if the mind is merely physical or also metaphysical, encompasses more than half of the book. After pointing out the unity of purpose shared by both science and religion, he argues that big bang cosmology demonstrates the universe’s metaphysical beginnings. Schroeder then turns his attention to the subatomic realm. Modern physics shows that particles of matter are in reality energy, and that wave functions—an expression of information—describe energy, an ephemeral characteristic of the universe. Thus, Schroeder concludes, matter in its essence is metaphysical.

From physics, Schroeder transitions to living systems, first focusing on the chemical workings of the cell. Again he points out that as scientists gain access to life’s fundamental systems, they not only uncover mind-boggling complexity, but a complexity undergirded by wisdom. He then describes human reproduction, marveling at the complexity and wisdom that permeate fertilization and embryonic development.

Schroeder then turns his attention to the mind-brain problem, making the case that the human mind represents the ultimate expression of complexity, wisdom, and the metaphysical. Over the course of five chapters, he interweaves brief discussions about the mathematical improbability of producing even a single nerve cell, let alone the brain’s structures. He departs for interludes to chide the scientific community for its antimetaphysical bias in studying the mind-brain problem.

Schroeder makes The Hidden Face of God accessible to a nontechnical audience. Unfortunately, this appeal to a broad audience sacrifices the full impact of his argument. He treats cellular chemistry and the mind-brain problem too superficially. At times, it seems as though his case for the metaphysical rests on a simplistic awe of cellular complexity. This approach only convinces the converted and makes skeptics laugh. While the argument extends beyond this superficial approach, the reader gains only brief glimpses of a deeper case for the wisdom observable in life processes. The argument that information and wisdom form the basis of the chemical processes occurring inside the cell serves as a case in point.

After describing the vast complexity and remarkable systems found inside the cell, Schroeder stops abruptly short of the climax—the discovery that cellular chemical systems are information systems. This important, albeit technical, discussion should be the culminating argument for the metaphysical basis of cellular processes. However, the information is relegated to the appendix, presumably to spare the reader from extensive technical details.

In spite of this weakness, Schroeder’s approach, with some added rigor, holds potential apologetic use. Unfortunately, Schroeder’s theological perspective—one strongly influenced by the kabala (a form of Jewish mysticism)—prevents The Hidden Face of God from being useful as a Christian apologetic resource. From Schroeder’s perspective, just as scientists discover the metaphysical by deeply probing the natural realm, kabalists seek God’s hidden face by peeling back layers of hidden meaning in the biblical text. Instead of demonstrating harmony between the Bible and science based on sound and rigorous interpretative methodology, Schroeder makes the integration of science and religion a mystical enterprise.

The kabala also influences Schroeder’s responses to evil and imperfections in nature. He explains imperfect designs by arguing that the Jewish Creator, as seen by kabalists, doesn’t know the future and lacks omnipotence. According to Schroeder, God “feels” his way along as He interacts with nature and mankind. He views God as capable of producing complex, but not perfect, designs. According to the kabala, after God creates, He retreats from creation and remains hidden from all of mankind except for those who achieve righteousness. Those who lack righteousness also lack God’s guidance and thus experience the randomness of the universe that leads to evil and suffering.

The Hidden Face of God highlights a growing challenge for Christian apologetics. As the failure of materialism becomes more apparent, an increasing number of scientists will espouse metaphysical views of nature. Non-Christian theistic and deistic alternatives will surely emerge. Christian apologists must be careful not to regard materialism as such a threat that any enemy of materialism becomes their friend. In the end, this association sends a confusing message that compromises the effort to reach people with the gospel of Christ. Such is the case with The Hidden Face of God.

Christian apologists will find much to agree with in this book. However, the theology espoused by Schroeder is cause for Christian apologists to distance themselves from this work. Serious Christian apologists who want to be aware of Schroeder’s work because of his influence and popularity, or those with interest in the relationship between science and alternative philosophies, will appreciate The Hidden Face of God.

Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. By Cornelius G. Hunter. Grand Rapids: Baker – Brazos Press, 2001. 192 pages. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

According to the conventional wisdom, creation is religion while evolution is science. In Darwin’s God, Cornelius G. Hunter delivers a fresh critique of this common assumption. Hunter shows that religious concerns lay at the root of Darwin’s case for evolution and that they drive the scientific arguments for evolution even to this day.

Hunter challenges many conventional thoughts about evolution on both sides of the debate. Creationists often argue that evolution presupposes the nonexistence of God, while evolutionists commonly claim to be convinced of evolution independent of any religious presuppositions. According to Hunter, neither claim is true: “Evolution is neither atheism in disguise nor merely science at work” (p. 8). Rather, the theory of evolution formulated by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book, Origin of Species, presupposed a specific concept of God that was common in Victorian society.

As the book’s subtitle indicates, Darwin’s theory of evolution was actually devised as a solution to the problem of evil. The crux of his argument was that life in the real world is not the pretty or pleasant existence a good God would make it. Darwin could not persuade himself that God intended “that the cat should play with mice” (p. 12). Modern thinkers from Milton to Leibniz resolved the problem of moral evil—the bad things that humans do—by distancing God from human events: God made human beings autonomous and cannot be blamed for their imperfections. Darwin resolved the problem of natural evil—the “bad” things that occur in nature—by distancing God from natural events: God made nature autonomous and cannot be blamed for its imperfections. In this way, Darwin defended God’s goodness at the cost of denying His sovereignty.

The seemingly neutral argument of Darwin’s Origin of Species, then, turns out to depend on metaphysical, religious presuppositions. Hunter shows that the main evidences for evolution depend on the assumption that if God had created living things directly He would not have made them the way they are. In three chapters, Hunter summarizes the purported evidence for evolution from comparative anatomy, observable small-scale changes in living things, and the fossil record. Along the way he points out various problems with the evidence and exposes the metaphysical arguments underlying the scientific considerations. For example, he quotes evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould as saying, “Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution—paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce” (p. 48). In this same vein, Darwin once joked that he found it hard to believe that “the shape of my nose was designed” (p. 63). In a later chapter, Hunter explains that “nature’s failure to fulfill our ideals and expectations was considered clear proof of evolution. All birds should fly, but since some don’t, there must be a crude law of nature rather than a Creator behind such incompetence” (p. 105).

To a great extent, then, Darwin’s theory of evolution was prompted by the inadequacies of creationism as understood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Having proved that species are not the immutable, optimally designed creatures that creationists purported them to be, Darwin concluded that creationism was false. Hunter writes: “Evolution is supported by the premise that God must make species absolutely fixed—beaks must not get longer and coloration must not change. And since beaks do get longer and coloration does change, we know that God must not have created them” (p. 64). In Darwin’s day, creationists assumed that God would never allow any species to become extinct. The revelations of extinct species in the fossil record seemed, therefore, to disprove creation.

Darwin’s God, while provocative and insightful, is lacking in one respect. Again and again Hunter makes the crucial point that Darwin’s theory of evolution was an attempt to explain how God could have created a world with suffering and death. Darwin’s explanation is ultimately at odds with the biblical view of God as Creator and providential Caretaker of His world. Unfortunately, Hunter does not clearly offer an alternative. Granted that Darwin’s solution to the problem of natural evil is biblically unacceptable, Christians need to offer a fully developed, positive alternative that is both biblically sound and scientifically credible.

Nonetheless, what Hunter reveals in Darwin’s God is extremely valuable.  By exposing the religious roots of evolution, Hunter sheds new light on the debate about the relationship between science and religion.

Robert M. Bowman, Jr. is president of the Institute for the Development of Evangelical Apologetics (IDEA), in Pasadena, California. Mr. Bowman is co-author with Kenneth D. Boa of Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity (NavPress, 2001).