Short Book Reviews

Abraham, Itty. The making of the Indian atomic bomb: science, secrecy and the postcolonial state. Zed Books, 1998. 180o bibl index ISBN 1-85649-629-5, $55.00; ISBN 1-85649-9 pbk, $19.95

    When India exploded its new nuclear bombs in May of 1998, the world was taken by surprise. The United States, with all its satellite spying machines, felt cheated out. There was condemnation of the tests, and economic sanctions were imposed as punishment for the deed. But there was exhilaration and rejoicing in India, and reaction (through similar bomb-tests in Pakistan). All this is very recent history. This interesting book clarifies for the reader the many social, political, historical and psychological forces that led to the nuclear explosions on Indian soil. It lets the reader know that the tests had little to do with national security and lot to do with India's eagerness to affirm to the world that she is a sovereign nation, scientifically capable and technologically advanced, and will not to be pushed around by super-powers, nor bullied by the U.S. into signing treaties that would put her at a disadvantage. The thesis itself is not altogether original -most students of post-colonial psychology are familiar with it. However, all this is revealed through sound scholarship, reasoned argumentation, and in an engaging style., along with a very insightful introductory essay and a brief history of India's Atomic Energy Commission. Highly recommended to students of Indian politics and of post-colonial science.


Kaplan, Stephen M. Wiley’s English-Spanish, Spanish-English Chemistry Dictioary: Diccionario de Química Inglés-Español Español-Inglés Wiley. New York, John Wiley, 1998. 530p. $79.95. ISBN 0-471-19288-0

      In a world where English has become the dominant medium of communication in science, any technical dictionary of English terms into another language would be useful for those who translate scientific works from English into their own languages. A technical dictionary from another language into English would serve people of another native tongue who wish to publish the results of their research in international (English) journals. The book under review (one of the few books I have read from cover to cover for reviewing without really enjoying, and half of which is a repetition of the first half) will serve these needs for the Spanish-speaking world. 

      Like all bilingual dictionaries, this is  an alphabetically arranged list of English-Spanish and Spanish-English equivalents of (chemistry-related technical) terms. There is explanation, no etymology, no formula, no meaning attached to any other the 20 thousand terms in each language. The book will thus be useful only to those who are technically trained and engaged in deciphering or translating into/from a language not their own. A few not-uniquely-chemistry words, like dome, ice, butter, lard, refraction, semi, sensitive and seniority have also found a place here. This the sort of book that not many may buy, but which all libraries should have. A useful addition for the service and propagation of science.


Stennard, Russell. The God experiment: can science prove the existence of God? Hidden Spring, 2000, 248 p index ISBN 1-58768-007-6, $20,00

    Many scientists would answer the question in the book's title with a simple No, and that could be the end of it. However, the author, a distinguished science-religion bridge-builder, has said more or less the same thing through many interesting and insightful pages. A reason he proposes for this is that "God might simply decide not to cooperate…"

    But the author discusses difficult theological notions like miracle, evil, and post-mortem states, elucidates the commonalty between Creationism and Big-Bang, suggests how one may envisage miracles, not as violations of physical laws, but as occurrences governed by other types of laws. With a non-literal understanding of Resurrection, interpretations of the Adam and Eve myth, an examination of the evolving notion of God in a specific cultural context, this book can be valuable to devout Christians who wish to find scientific support for their doctrinal beliefs. Without meaning to diminish its contextual significance, I must point out that contrary to the Paul Davies appraisal, this book may not "be of interest to adherents of all religions:" Certainly not to Hindu/Jain readers whose tradition is not mentioned even cursorily.


Rolston, Holmes. Genes, genesis, and God: values and their origins in natural and human history.

    With the inroads of science into the phenomenon of life, many of the  vital functions have been explained, as also birth and death, in terms of physics and chemistry. But how about human behavior? Could these be subjected to scientific analysis and formulated in terms of rigid laws? Do moral laws have the same ontological objectivity as physical laws? Finally, can ethical principles be deduced from the basic molecular properties of genes? This last question is explored in depth in this erudite book by an eminent author. He rejects categorically the point of view, so appealing to hard-core laboratory-prone scientists who cannot ignore the incredible wealth of insights and understanding that reductionist science, even after embracing the tenets of complexity, has provided us. Rolston presents some persuasive arguments against the thesis that religion and ethics are all mere consequences of complex chemistry. If anything, genes too function in an ethical framework. He considers cultural evolution in terms of biological evolution, and calls into question some of the more recent attempts to rid morals and meaning of their independent and  intrinsic worth and role.     The author’s grasp of the divergent views and controversies on the subject is helpful to the reader who can learn much about the current status of the issues from this book. However, though the pages reveal the inadequacies of the molecular view of morality, at least in this reader’s opinion, it has not succeeded altogether in providing a totally convincing alternative solution to a problem which is likely to haunt the human mind for generations to come.


Silver, Brian L. The ascent of science. Oxford, 1998. 534 p bibl index afpn ISBN 0-19-511699-2, $35.00

In The ascent of science, the author paints the (modern) scientific enterprise on a very broad canvass, tracing its development since the European Renaissance, and going into specific technical details in many instances, but always at a level that is accessible to the average (scientifically literate) person. Contrary to the hope of the author, it is doubtful that this or other similarly motivated books (like those of Carl Sagan, Richad Feynmann, or George Gamow) will succeed in bringing “the scientific spirit” into the conceptual framework or analytical capacities of those who have been schooled and/or touched by other modes. On the other hand, students and practitioners of science will find here an abundance of information (not in their field) to assimilate and insights to reflect upon. The author discusses with masterly clarity a tremendous variety of topics, from Pythagorean musings and lodestone  to quantum mechanical puzzles and DNA structures. Yes, chaos theory and cosmology are included too. All this is sandwiched between interesting references to historical matters, philosophical positions, some controversies, and to Shakespeare, Shelly, and Shaw also. This is a book commendable for its breadth, depth, and vision. The intellectual majesty and  cold-blooded rational rigor of science are conveyed effectively by the author with erudition and sensitivity. Highly recommended to all undergraduate science students.


Hellman, Hal. Great Feuds in science: ten of the liveliest disputes ever. Wiley, 1998. 240p bibl index afp ISBN 0-471-16980-3, $24.95

    The goal of science is to describe and explain the world such as it is, was, and will be, whether or not human beings emerged in it. Yet, science is, above all, a human enterprise. This means that its creators and participants were/are humans, hence subject to all the passions and emotions, greed and pride that flesh is heir to. These aspects find expression in the attitudes and reactions of scientists, their supporters and their opponents when they are drawn into the whirlpool of major scientific revolutions. In this engaging book, Hal Hellman illustrates this general theme by referring to ten most interesting cases in the history of modern science, from the well-known Galileo episode to the suspicions on Margaret Mead's dissertation on Samoan sex-life. In each instance, the author not only succinctly lays down the facts, but also makes intelligent observations, prompting the reader to reflect on the nature of science itself. The themes range from astronomy and anthropology to biology and geology, with mathematics and metaphysics thrown in between. The book should be entertaining to the general reader, and revealing to the practicing scientist who (without familiarity with the history of science) may have a loftier view of the enterprise than is warranted. Highly recommended.


Brown, Richard Harvey, Toward a democratic science: scientific narration and civic communication. Yale, 1998. 283 p. bibl index afp ISBN 0-300-06707-0, $30.00

    The reactions to rise of modern science as the most dominant intellectual force have been manifold. From the romantic movement and treatises of the limitations of science to reminders of the dangers of unfettered knowledge and the open veneration of irrationality. Many thoughtful commentators have combated, chastised and denigrated science in various ways. In this scholarly and insightful commentary, a respected sociologist expands on the thesis that science is just another literary genre: an interesting narrative mode, different in essence perhaps, but not in mode, to history or mythology, Quoting extensively from recent authors who have challenged the claims of science to unravel the nature of Nature, Brown makes a good case for reducing science to just another mode, not more nor less valid than any other. If only scientists would grant this, there would be greater harmony among the disciplines, no one group would be more powerful than others. The author reassures the readers (scientists?) that this view need not undercut the truth value of science. All it does is “to bring reason down from the imperium of Platonist and Cartesian philosophy to the level of observable practices.” As science becomes more and more complex and its technical details get beyond public and humanists’ comprehension, the least scientists can do is to grant that there is nothing special or unique in what they are doing. In sum,  science is just another game, like so many others. The book contributes to the removal science from its hegemonic position the world of the mind, and is thus a welcome addition to post-modernist literature.  


Dr. V. Krishnamurthy, The Clock of the Night Sky, UBS Publishers’ Distributors Ltd., India  (1998), 104 pp + index

    The purpose of the book is to show how ancient Hindu star-gazers formulated certain terse principles for establishing the time of night by locating a specific star or constellation. The author verified the accuracy of these time honored formulas (of which there are at least three different systems) himself. He author achieves his goal commendably well. Through charts and dates he enables the reader to check for himself/herself what is enunciated. The interested reader can get much enrichment and knowledge by following the prescribed rules.

    The author guides the reader step by step in the northern expanse of the nocturnal sky, introduces the reader to the various constellations (in the northern hemisphere), specifying the modern scientific and ancient Hindu (Sanskrit/Tamil) names of various stars and asterisms. He wisely sticks to just one version of Hindu stellar nomenclature, and does not mention the ambiguous intances (e.g. Rohini could be Antares or Aldebaran, and Antares could be Kettai or Rohini).

    It must be pointed out that contrary to a statement in the book jacket, the method developed by the keen observers of ancient India, systematic and impressive as it was, was not “an intellectual marvel” in the sense of being something unique or beyond the capacity of people of that age. Many other ancient cultures (the Chinese, the Greeks, the Mayans, the Arabs) had developed corresponding systems.

    This is not a book on the history of Hindu science, but a book about a particular science (time-reckoning by star-gazing) that was developed to a sophisticated degree by some ancient Hindu astronomers. This is one of the few books written on ancient Hindu astronomy from the modern perspective by a scholar who is familiar with current science. It is also one of the few books that could be relevant to modern Hindus whose interest is in getting to know not only their heritage, but also the real stars in the skies, not just references to them in traditional astrology and horoscopes most of whose practitioners have little direct acquaintance with the stars of whose influences they speak with impressive confidence. There is only one reference to astrology (p. 92) in the entire book.

     Books of this kind reveal to the world at large that beyond magic mongering and obscurantism, there was also some genuine science in ancient cultures.


Kirk-Othmer Concise Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. 4th ed. New York, John Wiley, 1999. 2196p. price not reported. ISBN 0-471-29698-8.

Those who are familiar with the literature already know that this work has had  previous incarnations, and has served the Chemistry community exceedingly well. Not everyone may afford to have the entire 27-volume set of the Kirk-Othmer, but this version which presents in a nutshell practically every entry in that set, should be within reach of practicing chemists/chemical engineers. Though it is called an encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, it included a solid amount of chemistry and related topics, such as the AIDS virus, contraceptives, contact lenses, properties of elements, lasers, Xerography (electrophotography) and vitamins. There is even an entry on copyrights and trademarks.

    The articles are clear, concise, and informative; all written and condensed by experts in the field, whose affiliations are given right away, instead of in an index. Appropriate references are appended to each entry item. There is a general index.

    This is the kind of book that every library should have. Professional chemical engineers, and scientists more generally, will also find this a valuable addition to their library.


Casti, John L. The Cambridge quintet: a work of scientific speculation. Addison-Wesley, 198. 181p afp ISBN 0-201-32828-3, $23.00

    In this  slender volume, John Casti takes the reader to an imaginary dinner party in Cambridge (England) some fifty years ago  at which five intellectual stalwarts who had unknowingly laid the foundations for what has come to be known as AI (Artificial Intelligence) exchange views and ideas on the nature, uniqueness, and possibility of non-biological replication of some of its (the brain’s) unique functions. Thse are C. P. Snow, Erwin Schrödinger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. B. S. Haldane, and Alan Turing: names with which the general public may not be very familiar. They argue and counter-argue on how important other experiences (such as pain and pleasure) are for consciousness and intelligence, whether mind is distinct from matter, the relevance of form to substance for intelligence to arise, about the role of language and culture, etc. From their conversations (which could be turned into a high-brow play for universities and academics) even the uninitiated reader can learn a great deal about this important subject, and the initiated will become aware of certain aspects and sources of the subject’s history. The book, which is delightful reading all through, belongs to the Meeting-of-the-Minds genre of writing, and it closes with a short and intelligent summation which brings us up to date on the evolution of the subject, with appropriate reference materials. Highly recommended to all readers who wish to know about an important scientific thought current of our age, and how it all began in the minds of a few thoughtful individuals.


Goonatilake, Susantha. Toward a global science: mining civilizational knowledge. Indiana, 1998. 314p index afp ISBN 0-253-33388-1, $39.95; ISBN 0-253-21182-4 pbk, $19,95

We have entered an age of multiculturalism and global consciousness. This has had two impacts: One is to respect and recognize cultural diversity. Another is to explore how this diversity may be utilized for the further enrichment of the human family. This books is an attempt to accomplish this latter goal. The central thesis of the book is in its subtitle: that human civilization embodies vast treasures of knowledge and wisdom that are yet to be fully tapped. The book  is an interesting presentation of the history of science, with considerable emphasis on the little (universally) known contributions of non-Western cultures to scientific knowledge. It is a plea to recognize those contributions. Equally, it is an insightful study of how some of the pre-modern scientific results and insights may serve us well in the modern world. Unlike some other books of this genre, this is not the frustrated reaction of a Third World scholar to the successes and accomplishments of Western science, nor a naive cry for recognition,  or the expression of craving for commendation from the West. Rather, this is a balanced and intelligent view on science and history with a non-nonsense approach to ancient science and wisdom, and it reveals serious scholarship and reflection. Highly recommended to all libraries.


A. Rahman and D. P. Chattopadhyaya, ed. History of Indian science, technology and culture: AD 1000-1800, Oxford, 1999 (c1998). 445 p bibl endex (History of sciebce, philosophy and culture in Indian civilization. Vol III Development of philosophy, science and technology in India and neighboring civilizations, pt. 1) ISBN 0-19-564652, $42,00.

This is a valuable and much needed addition to the growing literature on the history of science and technology beyond the borders of the West. Leaving aside the lamenting propagandist tone here and there [Of its (India’s) scientific and technological tradition, the Euro-American world of learning seems to be sadly aware; the goal of western scholars has been to marginalize the Asian contribution to science and technology], the work is an erudite anthology of essays by competent scholars on various aspects of science and technology during a span of eight centuries. The pages reveal a significant corpus of impressive work in science, mathematics, and technology that emerged in the Indian subcontinent. The articles are by no means consistently self-adulatory (as tends to be the case among peoples who have been oppressed for long periods). Rather, by and large they present and explore many complex facets of scientific inquiry, and discuss transmissions and exchanges with commendable objectivity. It is good that works of this kind are emerging from scholars of the region for in the last century practically all science histories of Asia and Africa (both good and bad, both credit-giving and credit-denying) were by European investigators. Highly recommended to libraries frequented by students/scholars interested in the history of science.


Richards, E. G. Mapping time: the calendar and its history. Oxford, 1998. 438p bibl index ISBN 0-19-850413-6, $35.00

It is common knowledge that we are approaching the end of a century and of a millennium too. But how many of the moderns know when and how such reckonings arose, how the day and the week, the month and year came to be. Beyond the numbering of yeas as per the Christian era, how many people have even heard of other eras, past and still extant? In this very interesting, informative, and relevant book, the reader will find answers to these and related questions. Time reckoning is as ancient as civilized humans, and the sheer variety of calendars and eras is testimony to the fact that once science was governed by local history and genius. They also remind us of the inquisitiveness and efforts of our ancestors to observe the skies and discover patterns, and to formulate general principles. The author has clearly delved into the lore and language of different peoples, and he presents a wholesome quilt that meaningfully reflects our cultural diversity. There are some technical discussions too, as in the chapters on Calendar Conversions. The names of the days of the week in various languages of the world are included, as also a glossary and an extensive bibliography. This is a book that I would heartily recommend to all homes and libraries.


Phillis Engelbert. Jane Hoehner, ed. Technology in Action: Science Applied to Everyday Life. Detroit, U*X*L/Gale. 1999, 3v.Illus.index. $79.95/set. ISBN 0-7876-2809-3

This is a valuable and informative compendium (in three volumes) of most of the major inventions  which have transformed modern civilization in dramatic ways and have had significant impacts on the lives of countless people all over the world. It does not forget the roots or the ancestors, both ancient and of the recent past, of  our technological world. The volumes  are introduced with a timeline that starts from 8000 B.C. when the first canoes were used and ends with 2002 when the International Space Station is scheduled to be completed, and lists in between more than 500 items. There is also a glossary of technical terms right at the outset to which the reader may refer as and when a need arises. The topics are presented as short essays, and arranged under eight broad themes. The essays not only discuss succinctly  the principles and functioning of the inventions, but they also  give brief histories, referring to the countless originators some of whom who may have amassed much wealth through their patents, but would be forgotten otherwise. The writing is clear and crisp and simple enough to be within reach of the average educated person. This book belongs to all public libraries and in homes too where there is an interest in learning about the complex technological environment which has become part of our lives today.


Turner, Howard R. Science in medieval Islam: an illustrated introduction. Texas, 1997 (1995). 262p bibl index afp ISBN 0-292-78174-4, $40.00; ISBN 0-292-78149-0 PBK, $19.95

Over the ages, in all cultures, inquiring minds have probed into, reflected upon, and drawn conclusions about the phenomenal world of experience in a great many ways. The record of all this constitutes the history of science. This book, by a documentary and educational film and TV writer, but with the assistance of innumerable experts and scholars, is  based largely on material collected for an exhibition (The Heritage of Islam). It is a very readable compendium of the major achievements of Islamic science in the Middle Ages: its men, its findings, its explorations, its works of translations, and its services of transmission. Dynamic, creative, and intrusive civilizations are also curious about other cultures from which they draw freely. This is reflected in the evolution of medieval Islamic civilization. Subdued and for-long-unproductive civilizations are also defensive and afraid vis-à-vis foreign influences, and have a tendency to glorify their own past. This too is reflected in modern Islamic civilization. Though much of the information in the book is available in other works (as indicated in the extensive bibliography), this book is interesting for at least three reasons: (a) it includes a number of very fine and interesting photographs; (b) it is for the general audience; (c) it has a perceptively written epilogue which reflects on Islam in the modern world.  


Thapar, Valmik, Land of the tiger: a natural history of the Indian subcontinent. California, 1997. 338 p nibl index ISBN 0-520-21470-6, $29.95  

This is a carefully researched book, written by a well-informed author  on a subject of great interest and importance to the modern world: the ecological balance in the Indian subcontinent, on the basis of which a magnificent variety of birds and animals have thrived there for ages. With reflections and anecdotes, and with an extensive bibliography, the author paints with sensitivity the splendors of Nature on the Indian arena, referring to mythology, folklore, and the impact of modern civilization. The book is enriched with ample beautiful photographs: of birds, beasts, rivers, trees, grass, sand, foliage and more. The chapter devoted to the author’s specific interest and expertise, namely tigers, is perhaps the most interesting of all. The author expresses the view that the surviving richness of Indian flora and fauna is due, in part at least, to “the special relationship” that the people of the region have had with all life forms. This does sound convincing, but  this view ignores the fact that in practically all ancient cultures (China, American Indian, Eskimo, African) there has been a similar harmonious relationship between man and beast. Significant and hurtful human encroachment into the domain of the wild began only after the industrial revolution, and like everybody joining the nuclear club, this is happening in India, as elsewhere also. 


Hinde, Robert A.. Why gods persist: a scientific approach to religion. Routledge, 1999. 288p bibl indexes ISBN 0-425-20825-4, $75.00; ISBN 0-415-20826-2 pbk, $24.99

Practically every human culture has evolved some kind of religion or other, invoking supernatural powers/beings/principles. God may be regarded as the  personified essence of these. The rise of scientific and naturalistic explanations of the world have tended to dilute some of the traditional views of God, but have never succeeded in eliminating God or its equivalent altogether from human societies. This book is an informative, scholarly, and insightful analysis of the notion and emergence of various religions in different context. Written by a scientist, the analysis is essentially in terms of biology, psychology, evolution, anthropology, etc., reducing God to a notion that has, for various practical and inevitable reasons, emerged in the human mind. Therefore, the book is unlikely to appeal to the truly religious people who view God as having existed prior to human emergence. The use of the word ‘persist’ in the title of the book could sound unfriendly to some. Indeed, any “scientific approach to religion” is likely to shake, if not destroy, the very foundation of traditional religions. However, a scientific interpretation of religious systems/beliefs (which is what this book is) could be (as this book is) valuable and interesting to those who are interested in religion as a social/cultural phenomenon.


Stennard, Russell. The God experiment: can science prove the existence of God? Hidden Spring, 2000, 248 p index ISBN 1-58768-007-6, $20,00

Many scientists would answer the question in the book's title with a simple No, and that could be the end of it. However, the author, a distinguished science-religion bridge-builder, has said more or less the same thing through many interesting and insightful pages. A reason he proposes for this is that "God might simply decide not to cooperate…"

But the author discusses difficult theological notions like miracle, evil, and post-mortem states, elucidates the commonalty between Creationism and Big-Bang, suggests how one may envisage miracles, not as violations of physical laws, but as occurrences governed by other types of laws. With a non-literal understanding of Resurrection, interpretations of the Adam and Eve myth, an examination of the evolving notion of God in a specific cultural context, this book can be valuable to devout Christians who wish to find scientific support for their doctrinal beliefs. Without meaning to diminish its contextual significance, I must point out that contrary to the Paul Davies appraisal, this book may not "be of interest to adherents of all religions:" Certainly not to Hindu/Jain readers whose tradition is not mentioned even cursorily.


Steel, Duncan. Marking time: the epic quest to invent the perfect calendar. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.4220 bibl index ISBN 0-471-29827-1,$27.95

In the year 2000 when the public joined the media celebrants, rather than scholars and astronomers, in welcoming what was proclaimed as a new millennium, it is good that an astronomer with sound historical scholarship has published a thorough  account of how our calendar came to be. Tracing time-reckoning from the ancient eras of the Stonehenge and Egyptian star-gazers, recalling the Julian calendar and the adoption of A.D. and B.C., the author explains very with erudition the context of Pope Gregory’s call for calendar reform as well as the controversies and reluctance relating to the acceptance of the new system. The book offers numerous anecdotes and  etymologies in addition to little known facts of history, such as that Pope Gregory was already worried about whether one would remember to make 2000 a leap year, and that for many long years March 25 continued to usher in the new year even in  English-speaking countries. The appendices present some technical details relating to time measurement, including the leap second. This is a fascinating book packed with interesting information, based on considerable research, and  presented with scientific authority.


McGrath, Alister E. Science & religion: an introduction. Blackwell, 1999. 250 p bibl index afp OSBN 0-631-20842-9 pbk, $3295

At a time when, largely due to the munificence of the Templeton Foundation, courses on science and religion are proliferating, along with books, articles, and debates on various aspects of the subject, it is useful to have some standard text-books for students and teachers. This is such a book. It discusses clearly and methodically the various issues related to the field. It provides a historical background to the subject, and presents brief sketches of the contributions of some modern writers on the subject. Overall, the book is fair and objective in its assessments. Perhaps the only and serious drawback of the book is the author’s assumption that religion means only Christianity: a frog-in-the-well view that is inappropriate, if not still not uncommon, in a world where economics, culture, and politics are being rapidly globalized. By the close of the 20th century, one simply cannot afford to write on the general theme of science and religion without so much as mentioning Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam. On the other hand, it is perhaps more responsible  on the part of an author not to write about something with which he/she is not familiar than to make incorrect or misleading statements on it.


Singh, Simon. Fermat’s enigma: the quest to solve the world’s greatest mathematical problem, Walker & Company, 1997. 315p bibl index afp ISBN 0-8027-1331-9, $22.00

Ever since its formulation in the first half of the seventeenth century, Fermat’s Last Theorem has been known to anyone with any acquaintance  serious mathematics, and to quite a few more. But in 1994, it hit newspaper headlines and provoked TV specials when  Andrew Wiles, after years of sustained probing and dogged determination, announced he had proved the theorem which had frustrated some of the best mathematical minds over the centuries. In this charming little book, Simon Singh tells the whole story in a most readable style. He presents the history of the problem since antiquity, tells the reader how Fermat stated it in a curious way, gives glimpses of other mathematicians of the past who had tackled (and contributed to) the problem, explains the insights and results of twentieth century mathematics on which Wiles’ proof rests, describes the peculiar secretive approach of Wiles, mentions the reactions and encouragement of his inner circle, alludes to the little tragedy on the way, and includes brief and intelligible mathematical appendices along with a select bibliography. This book should inform the general reader and inspire the young, besides providing interesting reading even to those familiar with the material.


Dasgupta, Subrata. Jagadis Chandra Bose and the Indian response to Western science, Oxford, 1999. 309p bibl index ISBN 0-19-564874-9, $29.25

    Physicists know the names of Chandra (of astrophysical fame) and Bose (of boson fame), but not many have heard of an Indian physicist whose name included both. Yet, Jagdis Chandra Bose was the first Indian, perhaps the first Asian, scientist to have made significant contributions to modern (Western) science. He was one of the earliest to attempt to build a bridge between the living and the non-living as separate realms instead subsuming life-phenomena under physics and chemistry (as some did), or treating biology as altogether different (as some others did). He sought the response of plants to physical stimuli, looking for a botanical nervous system. He was the first to generate millimeter microwaves experimentally. With all that and more, he did not feel at home among European scientists, feeling at times that he was but second-class citizen in the Nation of Western Science. His compatriot-poet Tagore did much to propagate his fame, basing his scientific understanding on the enthusiastic exaggerations of the well meaning Irish admirer Margaret Noble. This led to some awkward claims on behalf of Bose (as the inventor of Hertzian waves), which continue to be made even now. 

    In this scholarly study of Bose and his science, Dasgupta presents an absorbing and informative account of the first eminent Indian scientist of the modern era. Though the subtitle is inappropriate (if anything, the book insightfully discusses the Western response to an Indian scientist, rather than the other way around), this is an extremely interesting and erudite work, free from the blemishes of parochial chauvinism to which such books are sometimes prone. Highly recommended.


Montgomery, Scott L. Science in translation: movements of knowledge through cultures and time. Chicago, 2000. 325p bibl index afp ISBN 0-226-53480-4, $28.00

We look upon science as a body of knowledge acquired by painstaking research and discovery. But science also gradually spreads and permeates among the peoples of the world. This is a complex process. In ancient times, ideas and insights used to be transferred from culture to culture primarily through travelers and tradesmen. In this impressively original work Scott Montgomery traces some of the modes by which science trickled from region to region through translations. He focuses on the role of scientific works that were translated from one scientifically rich (at one time) language to a (relatively) poorer one. He explores the fascinating routes by which knowledge moved from ancient Greece to Persia, from India to Arab nations, from Islam into Christianity, from Europe to China and Japan. The work is based on considerable research and scholarship. The chapter on Japanese science in the making is particularly informative, and should be an eye-opener to the cultural chauvinists in some non-Western countries who keep science and enlightenment away from their doors because these are "alien" to them. By reminding us of the role of diverse cultures in the erection of science within a particular nation or civilization, the book makes a substantial contribution to the postmodern world-view which emphasizes multiculturalism. 


Luther, Martin Ernst-Wolfgang. The infinite voyage: a metaphysical odyssey. Marwolf, 1996. 243 p bibl indexes ISBN 0-9615847-3-4 pbk, $21.95

During the past few decades, the physics of the microcosm and its philosophical-metaphysical extrapolations have been treated to  more popular expositions than perhaps any other field of science. Not too many practicing physicists are engaged in this worthwhile, but difficult, enterprise, but a great many philosophically inclined writers have been giving the public a taste of quantum physics and its conceptual consequences. The book under review belongs to this group. In nineteen brief chapters, and with a useful bibliography,  this is a clear and technically sound survey of  some of the fundamental reality-related issues emerging from quantum mechanics, with intelligent reflections of the author strewn here and there. The EPR paradoc is presented well (Ch. 9). The non-mathematical discussion of Bell’s theorem  (Ch. 10) is one of the clearest of its kind. Three chapters (12, 13, 14) are  devoted to a detailed discussion of David Bohm’s metaphysical interpretations of quantum physics. Leaving aside the author’s unfamiliarity with Vedanta as reflected in his comment on consciousness (p. 156), and the  wrong attribution of credit (to Hamilton) for the invention of matrices (p. 36), the book is an interesting and reliable introduction to the intriguing problems and speculations pervading quantum physics.


The Sokal hoax: the sham that shook the academy, ed. By the editors of Lingua Franca. Nebraska, 2000. 271 p afp ISBN 0-8032-7995-7 pbk, $20.00

Most people who are interested in matters academic, intellectual, and philosophical, let alone in post-modernism, the relativity of scientific knowledge, and cultural studies, have heard of Alan Sokal's tongue-in-cheek essay (1996)  purporting to show the flimsy foundations on which the scientific world-picture rests; and the responses: applauding, embarrassed, and angry, that followed when it was revealed by Sokal himself that his deceptively profound and erudite paper was in fact a hoax to show the world how silly and superficial, not to say ignorant, most of the theses and authors of post-modernistic science-studies really were. This book is an anthology which contains Sokal's original paper as well it’s the multi-faceted responses it provoked. The book is interesting in its contents, but more importantly, it is valuable as a historical document of a tempest that raged in academia as a result of Sokal's daring experimentation of a view that most hard-nosed scientists (especially physicists) have always entertained vis-à-vis (what they regard as) naïve pronouncements of some post-modernists on the nature and significance of scientific truths. Sokal's own effort, even granting its ingenuity in making a point, also betrays a certain lack of understanding of the deeper message underlying the new view: namely, that, with all its beautiful theories and magnificent accomplishments, science too is but a human undertaking, and hence its claims of 100% objectivity in its assertions need to be carefully examined.


Del Re, Giuseppe. The cosmic dance: science discovers the mysterious harmony of the universe. Templeton Foundation Press, 2000. 415p bibl.indexes afp ISBN 1-890151-25-4, $24.95

All through the history of science there has been hard-core science on the one hand: which experiments, collects data, calculates, and propounds theories; and reflective science on the other: which ponders the significance of it all and weaves a world view based on the findings of science. Since the rise of quantum mechanics and relativity, the latter aspect has been receiving at least as much attention as the former, even by many practicing scientists. This thoughtful and well written book aims to seek a spiritual undercurrent in the scientific findings of the past century. Its primary theme is the interconnectedness in the universe, the major refrain of post-modern science, which sees unity behind diversity, in brute phenomena as well as in the web of life. Nothing happens by itself, everything is an integral part of a unified whole, and the phenomenal world may be looked upon as a Cosmic Dance in which everything participates, not at random or in separation, but in unity and resonance, "like the ordered chaos of an African open-air market." In a remarkable survey and synthesis of physics and philosophy, chemistry and causality, and incorporating discussions on meaning and ethics, and more, the author presents an eminently interesting view of science and its results, suggesting that humanity could well be the bridge between matter and spirit.


Stanley L. Jaki, The Savior of Science, William E. Eeerdmans, 2001

This is another contribution by the prolific writer and highly respected scholar on an aspect of science history from a devout Christian perspective. The book is an interesting view on the rise of modern science. The first of its two fundamental thesis - which scholars of non-Christian traditions may not readily swallow - is that the civilizations of Greece, China, India, and the Arabs, great as they were, lost out on ushering in modern science because of their erroneous notions of God. The second thesis of the book - which must be appealing to people of the Christian persuasion - is that modern science evolved in the West because it had accepted Christ as the only begotten Son of God. It is not very clear from the book why it took 1500 years after Christ was thus accepted for science to be born, and that too quite a distance away from where the people first embraced Christianity, and not even in Eastern Christendom. But the author argues eloquently about the role and benefits of Christian monotheism for science. Aside from the fact that Jaki's view is not very original, what diminishes the value of the book is the fact that in this world of global economy and parochial scholarship, thinkers and historians from practically every major religion have expounded to the satisfaction of their respective club-members, the importance, relevance, and uniqueness of their own particular tradition with respect to modern science.


Rossi, Paolo. The birth of modern science, tr. by Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen. Blackwell, 2001. 276p bibl index afp ISBN 0-631-22711-3 pbk, $27.95

    This is an interesting presentation of the genesis of modern science in the Western World. It is written for a series dedicated to a Europe that is striving to re-discover itself in the context of the complex maze of the global village that has emerged from Europe's two most significant contributions to human culture: Modern Science and the Enlightenment. It does not delve into some of the seeds of modern science that were strewn from alien cultures: Arab alchemy, Hindu zero, or Chinese paper technology. Nor does it argue for the questionable thesis that modern science arose because of Christianity. Rather, the book presents in intelligent and informative ways glimpses of the world views, concepts, and instruments that are at the root of modern science, and how these came to be. It presents concise accounts of some of the principal scientific academies which spurred modern science and nurtured it.  It talks about the hurdles that scientists had to cross, the role of engineers, and devotes full chapters to three of the founding giants of modern science: Galileo, Descartes, and Newton. The book is clearly the work of a scholar who knows his material and understands what science is all about: which makes it an eminently good piece of work. Highly recommended.

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Physicists of Ireland: passion and precision, ed. by Mark McCartney and Andrew Whittaker. IOP (Institute of Physics), 2003, 298p bibl index ISBN 0-7503-0866-4, $58.00
 
    The human family has evolved into different groups and nations, races and religions, and  each of these has its own genius and special gifts. There have been poets and philosophers, artists and scientists  in every group. Scientists transcend their roots, for modern science is an international enterprise. Those engaged in science form a transnational fraternity that is not subdivided by race, religion,  or parochial patriotism. And yet, every nation has its heroes and heroines in its scientists also.    To recognize them in special ways is not to deny the internationalism of science, but to show how science has evolved under varying cultural  conditions and linguistic variety.
    Ireland can certainly pride herself on the number and quality of her scientists. In this collection, the lives and contributions of  thirty-two physicists of Irish affiliation are recalled by a number of scholars. Boyle, Hamilton, Stokes, and Kelvin are among the best known. Schrödinger, Lanczos, and Heitler are included because they moved to Ireland in the prime of  life. Boole is excluded because he was a mathematician rather than a physicist, and other Irishmen who chose to settle down elsewhere haven't found a place here either, except for John Stuart Bell (of Bell's Theorem fame) who worked for many years beyond the shores of Ireland. The narratives are interesting and at a level within reach of the average educated reader. The absence of any woman-physicist in the list says as much about  humanity's cultural past as about Ireland, for this is not a uniquely Irish embarrassment.
    The book  very readable and  informative, and could also inspire young people. It deserves a place in all libraries.

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Penrose, Roger. The road to reality: a complete guide to the laws of the universe. Knopf, 2004. 1099p bibl index afp ISBN 0679454458, $40.00

 

 To explain the phenomenal world to the last detail is what the scientific enterprise is all about. For this, one needs to adopt a course. That course, since the seventeenth century, includes instruments, experiments, definitions, theories and such.  But there is something more: the laws of nature,  as Galileo noted, are in the language of mathematics. The role of sophisticated mathematics in the physicist's elucidation of phenomena is far more significant than its formulation in that abstract language. There are aspects of reality  of which we cannot have the slightest inkling without the aid of mathematics.  Mathematics is the most fruitful road to a coherent, consistent, and rational grasp of  the magnificent simplicity that underlies the horrendous complexity of reality. This truth is amplified in the book under review.

Mathematical physicist Roger Penrose  - well known for his thesis that the currently recognized laws of physics are incomplete and his call for a new theory to explain consciousness - begins his book with an essay on the conceptual framework of his reflections: The mind grasps the marvelous subtelies inherent in the mathematics that rules the phenomenal world; mathematics, in turn, has allowed, if not instigated, mind to evolve. After formulating these key principles, he offers a brief note on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, reminding this reviewer of the Hindu notion of satyam-shivam-sundaram (Truth-Goodness-Beauty) which sees the Divine in this seamless triune.

The next fifteen chapters of the book treat the informed reader to the mathematical nuggets that serve as bricks for the edifice erected by physics in its grasp of the world. Penrose does this with erudition, insight, and flair, as also considered opinions on the state of physics. He takes us on a grand tour, à la Dante, of the abundant orchards of mathematics: from Pythagorean Greece with its irrational numbers and proofs of propositions, to transfinite numbers, Turing machines and Gödel's theorem. He recalls for us complex numbers and logarithms, calculus, analytical continuation, Fourier series, hyperfunctions, and much more. But all this is a feast only for those who have benefited from advanced courses in mathematics. Contrary to what the flap invitingly says, this book is not for the lay reader, no matter how serious. One might as well browse though the Upanishads in sacred Sanskrit. 

Next follow ten chapters dealing with practically every cog in the grand machine of twentieth century theoretical physics: relativity, quantum physics, Lagrangians, Hamiltonians, symmetry groups, quantum field theory, the standard model, and the Big Bang. Again the reader familiar with the topics will be charmed, but others will be jolted into the recognition of how little they know of ivory tower esoterica.

In the current formalism of quantum mechanics (QM), in any collection of micro-entities every part is inextricably linked to every other, somewhat as every member of a society is connected to all others. This inevitable holism is called quantum entanglement. Penroses's chapter on quanglement (as he calls it) is one of the clearest technical discussions of the topic. We read here his own take on the associated issues. Quanglement is related to measurement theory which Penrose calls the measurement paradox because of the awkward puzzles that arise when one tries to be specific about the parameters associated with quantum states. This cannot be discussed without referring to the ubiquitous y function which has been subjected to varying interpretations, resulting in the nebulous ontology of QM.  Penrose feels a clarification is urgent. 

 The standard model is a crowning achievement of twentieth century physics in its vision of the roots of matter and phenomena. In his non-standard discussion of this venerated paradigm, Penrose reminds the reader that this is not the "ultimate answer." He also says that string theory "gains its support and chooses its directions of development almost entirely from aesthetic judgments guided by mathematical desiderata." By describing the originator (Edward Witten) of string theory as a more remarkable mathematician than he realizes, Penrose subtly conveys his lack of enthusiasm for this theory and its variants which have been popularized by able exponents

Penrose contends that many currently respected theories of physics are highly speculative: a view shared by others beyond the ivory tower, but one that can be stated so bluntly and boldly only by a Penrose.

The decades-old attempts to synthesize gravity with other fundamental forces are presented at length, always with the caution that none of these is to be taken as the last word. Penrose is harsh on those who dream of a final theory when he says that "most physicists of the day (1920s) were not so foolish as to think that this (the physics of their time) could shortly lead to a 'theory of everything'."

Penrose talks about the role of fashion in physical theory: a post-modernist contention which may not sit well with many scientists. He says that in business concerns "it is the large ones that have a natural tendency to get larger at the expense of smaller ones," and  so it is in physics too. By implication, this is the reason why his own theory of twistors hasn't received as much attention. He warns that "with ideas that are far from the possibility of experimental confirmation," one "must be especially cautious in taking the popularity approach as any real indication of its validity."

By the time I had waded through a thousand and odd pages, fascinated as I was by the conciseness and clarity with which all the magic of mathematical physics is presented, I had forgotten that I was supposed to be traveling on the road to reality. Then to my surprise I read the statement: "I do not believe that we have yet found the true 'road to reality,' despite the extraordinary progress that has been made … in the last few centuries." I will admit that right from the start I did not resonate with the title of the book because there are after all different roads to different kinds of reality: the mystical, the poetic, the philosophical, to name a few. And within physics itself there is a multilemma as to which of the many roads it has to choose from. So it is not surprising that physics hasn't found the road to reality. Mathematics is one road to it.

Penrose is not shy of using words like mystery and miracle qua scientist. In this humility he displays the wisdom that eludes some other creative minds. The crux of his message is that physics offers us many wonderful things through the mathematical channel; yet it would be a serious error to mistake creative mathematics for physical reality. Dante concluded his masterpiece with a gaze on the radiance, instigated by "the love that moves the sun and other stars," Likewise, Penrose realizes in the end that morality and beauty are as much there as Platonic mathematics in the expanded vision of the human mind. As I interpret this, science without humanity is dry and lifeless. Aesthetics breathes charm into science, and ethics makes it human in an enlightened way.

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Lorne Ladner, Ph.D., The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology, 2004. Harper San Francisco, U.S.$ 15.95.

We live in an extraordinary age of wonderful scientific breakthroughs and  marvelous technological achievements. Possibilities for cure of pernicious diseases,and  for health and longevity keep increasing. But ours is also an age of spiritual anguish and moral confusions, of promiscuous sex and savage violence. Crudeness, combativeness, and religious intolerance seem to be on the rise. In this context, it is refreshing to read a book that brings us wholesome worldviews that could help restore some balance in human interactions, based on  both scientific  and spiritual insights on compassion.

Though the title and principal theme of the book relate to compassion - the cardinal virtue in the Buddha's teachings - the author, who is a trained psychologist and practitioner of Buddhism,  gives his readers many worthy understandings of the human mind and human capacities for good.

The book is spiced with interesting anecdotes and reflections. The connections between Buddhist tenets and findings of current psychology add scientific support to the recommendations in the book. Reminders of eventual death and the ephemeral nature of existence may not be original, but they can inspire restraining reflections on people on the verge of rash or harsh behavior. There are also intelligent analyses of the  basic urge for happiness in the book. The author presents a clarification of the notion of happiness which should be useful to readers.

There is no question but that raw aggressiveness and self-centered acts of cruelty and exploitation seem to pervade modern societies, and the book is meant to transform them to gentler and more civilized modes. However, it is important to remember that our appraisal of the world's moral status is often derived from the daily news. This view of the world is, for most people, very different from the world in which most people normally live during their waking hours. When calamities arise, not just in our neighborhood but in distant lands too, the outpouring of caring, compassion, and concrete assistance has generally been at more than a model level. In other words, the art of compassion is not as lost as the title of the book suggests.

Then again, it is not clear that even among peoples where Buddhism is the principal faith, there is the kind of universal compassion that one would imagine in that framework. When one reads about the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments in Tibet, the reader should not assume that all the people in Judeo-Christian societies put those nuggets of wisdom into practice.

This is not to say that  the  wisdom and the perspectives spelled out in this book are not relevant or significant. Irrespective of one's religious affiliation or absence thereof, one can benefit enormously by following the recipes for Compassion Practices given in the last sections of the book, à la Dale Carnegie. These instructions are meaningful, enriching, and practical. If only all were to make honest attempts to live up to them the world would surely be a better place.

This is the kind of book that can have only positive impact on  readers, especially if they are in the early stages of value-formation.

 

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Feynman, Richard P. Perfectly reasonable deviations from the beaten track: the letters of Richard P. Feynman, ed. by Michelle Feynman. Basic Books, 2005. 486p bibl afp ISBN 0738206369, $26.00

 

The physics community knows Richard Feynman as an extraordinary physicist. His was a brilliant mind that took nothing too seriously except the quest for understanding the natural world. His many facets have been narrated in biographies.

In this volume daughter Michelle Feynman reveals to the world many of his personal letters to all and sundry: to his sweetheart, to the Nobel Academy, to crackpots, to fellow physicists, and more. We see his sheer honesty in these letters: never a hypocritical note for the sake of politeness. His humanity and compassion also become transparent through the letters. Letters dealing with his resignation from the American Academy of Science show his disregard for honors and bureaucracy. Sometimes he expresses tersely profound truths: "You cannot understand the physical world in any deep or satisfying way without using mathematical reasoning with facility." Sometimes he is light-hearted. Replying to an exuberant fan mail: "I am now unique - a physicist with a fan who has fallen in love with him from seeing him on TV…I need no longer be jealous of movie stars…"

On can go on and on. It is remarkable that Feynman caring enough to take the time to answer so many letters from all over the world. Photographs spice the volume, and make this a fascinating coffee-table book.

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Laughlin, Robert B., A different universe: reinventing physics from bottom down. Basic Books, 2005. 254p index afp ISBN 064503828X, $26.00

 

Reductionism, which achieved some pretty spectacular things in its heyday which lasted for at least three centuries, has been receiving quite a beating in recent decades, and not just from philosophers and postmodernists. In this fascinating book, interspersed with witty lines and anecdotes, physicist Robert Laughlin does his part in these efforts. He treats the reader to a variety of natural phenomena whose full understanding calls for a revolutionary mind-set (paradigm shift) in science's approach to the phenomenal world. From superfluids to grains of salt, and much in between and beyond, one is helpless without the notions of complexity, emergence and collective behavior. As he reflects on the fascinating phenomena which defie classical reductionism, he informs us about many recent developments in physics which have little to do with time-honored fundamental physics like elementary particles, quantum mechanics, string theories et al. Indeed, he describes interpretations of quantum mechanics as "symptoms of a failed worldview." He says other things too about some of the tenets of current physics which could annoy many physicists, and which, were it not for the fact that the author is a Nobel laureate, would be brushed off as resulting from not understanding physics. But Laughlin speaks with deep understanding and insight, and contributes to, if not charts, a new road in science's exploration of the phenomenal world. The new agenda has already borne many fruits (of which Laughlin speaks eloquently with concise clarity), but perhaps this could have been done without the harshness against classical worldviews which is injected here and there in this very enlightening, revelatory, and entertaining book. This book is not just a clarion call for a New Kind of Science: it is, no less, an elucidation of the new and fertile pathways along which physics has been marching of late.

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Wainwright, William J., Religion and Morality, 2005.  252 pp. pbk. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., Aldershot, England.

 

The questions are old and simple: Is morality always tied up with religion? Can there be religion without morality? Can there be morality without religion?

The book under review is an erudite account of various facets of these fundamental questions. It is both historical and philosophical in its approach. After a review of Kant's metaphysical positions, we have an excellent analysis of Cardinal Newman's view of conscience, followed by arguments for the objectivity of values. From this the existence of God is derived. There is a discussion of the Socratic position that Divinity chooses the good and the holy because of their intrinsic excellence, somewhat like art for art's sake. We are also treated to medieval articulations of the Euthyphro Question: Do the gods love the pious because they are holy, or do they become holy because the gods love them? Somewhat like: Do you like a movie because the critic said it was good, or did the critic like it because the movie was good?  

There is an extensive analysis of divine command theories: Moral injunctions carry weight because God said so. Some of the standard justifications to this are shown to be inadequate; others are presented as more reasonable. Then the author embarks on differences between Christian and Buddhist ethics in the matter of pacifism, and argues that in both instances, it is difficult to rationally defend the positions. He could have said that rational justification is practically impossible for most idealist ethical positions.

The book also discusses morality and social action from Vedantic perspectives. One gets the impression that the author's knowledge about Vedanta is derived from the writings of a few modern commentators. It is of course not possible for anybody to be familiar with the original texts of all religions. However, commentaries on religious systems in which one has little experience or empathy tend be blurred, if not distorted.

In so far as it critically presents the views of important thinkers of a tradition in which the author is at home, this book is a rich source of information and insight. Leaving aside  some questionable descriptions of Buddhist and Vedantic views, the book is an eloquent appraisal of the interconnections between ethical frameworks and religious worldviews, and for the need to study their age-long interactions. The discussion on God's command to Abraham is insightful, and the relationship between mysticism and morality is interesting too.

Secular humanists may not be convinced that morality has to be necessarily linked to any religious system in this awakened age, though the book argues that any virtue divorced from God is no virtue at all. But philosophers of religion, ethicists, academics in this field, and readers of general philosophy will all find this book to be valuable reading.

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McGrath, Alister. Dawkins' God: genes, memes, and the meaning of life. Blackwell Publishing, 2005. 202p bibl index afp ISBN 1405125387 pbk, $18,95

 

Richard Dawkins is the enfant terrible who, in book after book, has been presenting his case against the Almighty, and with such clarity, scientific support, and erudition that theists are hard put to answer him. Dawkins is a hard-core scientist, a biologist of the first rank who has shown how all of life can be reduced to genes and information bytes. In this slim volume, Alister McGrath, able professor at Oxford and man of faith, analyzes Dawkins' books and theses in depth and with sympathy, and tries to rebut many of Dawkins' (sometimes excessive and unwarranted) criticisms of traditional religions. More often than not, McGrath tries to show that religion and science have not been as antagonistic in Western culture as Dawkins et al. contend, and he pleads with Dawkins to join the ranks of those who build bridges between the two. "Why? - One of the defining characteristics of Western culture is the perception of a growing -possibly accelerating - alienation between the humanities and the natural sciences and an increasing cultural unease about where science is taking us." It is unlikely that Dawkins and his likes will abandon genes and memes, and embrace God and religion on the basis of such appeals. The simple truth is that one can never confirm God's existence through arguments. That confirmation does not occur in the head. Highly recommended to those who are interested in this age-old debate.

 

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Finocchiaro, Maurice A. Retrying Galileo, 1633-1992. California, 2005. 485p bibl index afp ISBN 0520242610, $50.00.

 

Few incidents in the intellectual history of humanity are as well known as the (in)famous inquisition of Galileo which ushered in for public discussion the confrontational aspect of science-religion interface. Galileo was the greatest scientist of the day, and the Roman Catholic Church was the most authoritative institution in the Christendom of the century. So the trial took on special significance. Indeed it soon became a symbol for the open-mindedness of the scientific enterprise and the unseverable attachment to Scriptures as understood by the Papacy. The subtler aspects of both scientific and religious  truths were lost in the mêlée. And since the religious establishment was in power in the place and time of Galileo, scientists developed a dread of authoritarian religion whose echoes may be felt to this day. Over the years, decades, and centuries following that confrontation, countless scholars, poets, writers, historians, philosophers, scientists, and others have reflected and commented upon that memorable episode, giving different slants and perspectives. In this erudite volume, based on extensive research on this fascinating subject, Mario Finocchiaro treats the reader to practically every detail pertaining to that trial. The book is replete with arguments, anecdotes, and reflections. Though technical as historical scholarship, the book is very readable and within reach of even those who may not be familiar with the topic. With his thorough and well-informed analysis, Finocchiaro has not only done a great service to historical scholarship, but has brought a very important chapter of cultural history within reach of the average educated reader. The book is very relevant in this age of science-religion dialogues.

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Hargittai, István. Our lives: encounters of a scientist. Akad^D'emiai Kiad^D'o, 2004. 260p bibl index ISBN 9630581019m $30.00

 

There are biographies and biographies. This one is a collection of brief biographies of Nobel laureates in science, not by a scholar who has studied their lives from books and articles, by a professional scientist who has interacted personally with every one of his subjects. In the process, his own life and experiences are also presented in an engaging manner. Born in Central Europe as a Hungarian Jew at a time when the people of his religion were subjected to some of the most horrific cruelty in human history, Hargittai nevertheless became a productive scientist, showing that "scientists are also human beings, that science can be and often is done in adversity." Furthermore, his adversity gave him "an opportunity to communicate science in a gentle way." The book, interspersed with photographs and abundantly annotated, is very readable in style. It is replete with fascinating tidbits on the almost twenty scientists included, and structured remarkably in its blend of autobiography and biography. The book also introduces the reader to some of the science for which his subjects were honored with the Nobel Prize.

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One electorate under God?: a dialogue on religion and American politics, ed. by E. J. Dionne, Jr., Jean Bethke Elshatain, and Kayla M. Drogosz. Brookings, 2004. 239p index afp ISBN 0815716435 pbk, $17.95

 

The most recent U.S. elections revealed, more than ever before, that religious attitudes do play a role in our choice of political leaders.  Many complex issues are involved here: what constitutes religion, whether political leaders should profess publicly their belief systems, to what extent scriptural injunctions should influence Congressmen when their formulate laws, etc. In this book scholars discuss various related matters, such as faith and politics, natural law, the fate of the Christian left, and more. There are two preliminary commentaries: one by a liberal Catholic (Mario Cuomo), and the other by a conservative Christian (Mark Souder). There is an essay by a Muslim scholar on what he describes as The Myth of Secularism. Like science and the Enlightenment, it is not unusual for beneficiaries to castigate secularism also. The refrain in the book to the effect that religion and politics do mix in America simplistically glosses over the most important aspect of secularism: that it gives full freedom to all faith communities to exercise their tradition the way they wish to, as long as they don't impinge on their fellow citizens' rights. This is no myth. Though Hindu scientists, professors, doctors and engineers are contributing heavily to the economic and intellectual health of the nation, the voice of Hinduism or Buddhism is conspicuously absent. This is a timely dialogue on Christian denominations and American politics.

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Richard L. Thompson, God & Science: Divine Causation and the Laws of Nature, Govardhan Hill Publications, Alachua, FL, 2004, 217 pp, $12.95.

 

In the newly emerging field of Science and Religion, a great many books and articles have been written for the most part by scholars from the Judeo-Christian tradition because it was in the matrix of Western-Christian civilization that modern science emerged. But in recent years, spokespersons from other traditions - Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu - have also been presenting the worldviews of their respective traditions, and showing how they are in harmony with the framework of modern science.

This well-written book is a collection of essays by a thoughtful writer who comes with a solid background in technical mathematics and physics, a clear understanding of traditional texts, both Hindu and beyond, and a devotional sympathy for the Vaishnavism: a metaphysically sophisticated stream in the Hindu world. The author argues with clarity that some of the mythopoesy of Vaishnava literature can be meaningfully interpreted in terms of current science, whether the Everett's Many Worlds Theory, geological time scales, or evolution.

The chapter themes range from cosmology to consciousness, and discuss rational mythology, the miracle of the milk, the advanced astronomy in a work on Hindu sacred history, and much more. In the process the essays explain in laymen's terms some of the complex ideas of current physics.

Not many technical physicists might concur with efforts to harness physics into a God-centered worldview, but this is the kind of book that will open one's eyes to the richness and multiplicity in human culture. And for those who take God as the substratum of the Universe, this Vaishnavite version of that conviction will prove to be both interesting and insightful.

 

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Fred Watson, Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope, Da Capo Press, 2005.

 

The word science often conjures up visions of theories, concepts, ideas and explanations, rather than of the countless instruments that make science possible. One of the first instruments which instigated the birth of modern science was the telescope. Aiding Galileo and other pioneers in their quest, it has revealed to human perception celestial bodies from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies. Associated with every development of telescopes, from Lippershey's simple TWO-LENS device to the OWL (overwhelmingly large) telescopes are mortals with dreams and problems, ideas and frustrations. The Stargazer in the title refers as much to telescopes as to astronomers. This fascinating book tells us all about telescopes, and a good deal about the men and women behind them.

After a brief look into telescopes in the new century, and after after a sketch of the last pre-telescopic astronomer-giant Tycho, known as the Eyes of Denmark, the author takes us on a fascinating tour of the world of telescopes: their forms and lengths, their stories and rivalries, all intertwined with people with genius, temperaments, and convictions. These included amateurs and experts, sisters and wives, chemists and mathematicians. As we get to know the telescopes we also get a glimpse of the human side of the telescope-saga: about Cavalieri's pre-Newtonisn treatise (Lo specchio utorio: The burning mirror), which dealt with paraboloid mirrors and suggested the idea of a reflecting mirror before Newton,  about Newton's adamant declaration that achromatic lens was impossible, about how lens-making monopoly drove many to bankruptcy and dismal prisons, about the humble beginnings and early death of Josef von Fraunhofer whose work initiated spectroscopy, about the sudden birth of astrophysics, and more.

As with other histories, in science history too only the very famous are remembered. Yet, the great ones of history needed many lesser known workers in the completion of their tasks. Watson gives them a place in the pages of history. Everyone has heard of Newton, but not many know of James Gregory who too had conceived the idea of a reflecting telescope and even tried to construct one before Isaac Newton. When Robert Hooke brought this fact to the attention of the Royal Socuety, it began "a long and bitter feud" between Newton and Gregory regarding reflecting telescopes. Gregory died at 36 of a stroke he suffered while observing a Jovian satellite. Many may have heard of William Herschel, but not many may know about the assistance the great astronomer received from his sister Caroline who lived to be a hundred, 25 years in loneliness after her brother's death. Astronomers have heard of William Huggins' work on stellar spectral lines, but not about the chemist William Miller who was his comrade on the path to astrophysics, nor about the support that Huggins got from Margaret his wife in his scientific endeavors.

The book is replete with fascinating facts, presented as a very engaging narrative on a great many people who had anything at all to do with telescopes. It tells us about the kinds of telescopes that have been built, the controversies and conflicts surrounding their design and construction, and about the location of some of the larger telescopes in the world today. Astronomer Watson reflects on his subject without refracting any facts, and by focusing on the rich history he throws much light on the subject with astronomic sweep.

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Wickramasinghe, Chandra. A journey with Fred Hoyle: the search for cosmic life, ed. by Kamala Wickramasinghe. World Scientific, 2005. 225 p bibl index ISBN 9812389112 pbk, $33.00.

 

The origin of life on earth is an ancient puzzle. Religions have their versions of how this happened, and science has been offering its own explanations. The most widely accepted theory is chemical evolution by which inorganic molecules combined in sea water eons ago to accidentally form organic and self-replicating molecules. A contending theory is these came here from beyond, and evolved into the variety of creatures on earth. A pioneer of this theory is the author of this volume. Wickramasinghe  from Sri Lanka  collaborated with Fred Hoyle (staunch proponent of the steady-state theory which competed with the big bang for many years). Their theory suggests that there are countless microorganisms all over the universe. The pages reveal some of the rivalries, propaganda, and mutual bickering in which scientists engage while pushing their theory. The advocates of a competing theory are referred to as "Greenberg and his band of collaborators," and the discovery of Penzias becomes "the so-called cosmic micro-wave radiation." When scientists reminisce some of their disappointments with the game of science find full expression. The book also presents a brief account of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's attempt to explain racism as arising from a biological imperative. This is a fine blend of personal anecdotes, travel impressions, and scientific reporting. It is interesting, informative, and worth reading.

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Introduction to world religions, ed. by Christopher Partridge, Fortress, 2005. 495p index CD-Rom ISBN 0800637143, $45.00

 

We live in a global village, enriched by many cultures and religions. Whereas the arts, the music, and the literatures of the world add to the overall aesthetic quilt that is human culture, religions are often in conflict, sometimes even within their respective sectarian subdivisions. Based on the conviction that one's own affiliation is the best of all, some religious leaders inspire their devotees to harvest the souls of others; others urge them to decimate those whose faith does not conform to their own holy book.

In this mutually hurtful cacophony in the name God, it is good that there are also efforts to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect. The book under review is one such. It will certainly serve to foster understanding. It clarifies its academic framework by an introductory chapter on Understanding Religion which, though incomplete in its references to only a few philosophers and psychologists, can be a useful guide to those who wish to know about religions from boarder perspectives.

Written by specialists, the chapters cover every major religion and many less known ones too. The nineteenth century notion of the Near East being the Cradle of Civilization is emphasized in one chapter.  The personal stories of some practitioners are interesting, but the goal of the book could have been better served if scholars from the traditions had been asked to contribute instead. Hinduism is presented from its purely Sanskritic perspective, with not a word on its rich, meaningful, and influential Tamil component. There is no mention of Tirumular or Saiva Siddhanta even in the glossary.

With all that, the presentations are all informative and non-judgmental, the pictures are colorful and interesting, and the language readable and concise. The book is encyclopedic without being overwhelming, and will certainly serve a very important need in today's world.

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Singh, Simon. Fermat’s enigma: the quest to solve the world’s greatest mathematical problem, Walker & Company, 1997. 315p bibl index afp ISBN 0-8027-1331-9, $22.00

Ever since its formulation in the first half of the seventeenth century, Fermat’s Last Theorem has been known to anyone with any acquaintance  serious mathematics, and to quite a few more. But in 1994, it hit newspaper headlines and provoked TV specials when  Andrew Wiles, after years of sustained probing and dogged determination, announced he had proved the theorem which had frustrated some of the best mathematical minds over the centuries. In this charming little book, Simon Singh tells the whole story in a most readable style. He presents the history of the problem since antiquity, tells the reader how Fermat stated it in a curious way, gives glimpses of other mathematicians of the past who had tackled (and contributed to) the problem, explains the insights and results of twentieth century mathematics on which Wiles’ proof rests, describes the peculiar secretive approach of Wiles, mentions the reactions and encouragement of his inner circle, alludes to the little tragedy on the way, and includes brief and intelligible mathematical appendices along with a select bibliography. This book should inform the general reader and inspire the young, besides providing interesting reading even to those familiar with the material.

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Sykes, Bryan. Adam's curse: a future without men. 1st American ed. W. W. Norton, 2004 318 index 

ISBN 0393058964, $25.95

Humanity's plight is precarious today. Aside from consequences of human misbehavior, Natural disasters like global warming are lurking. Here is another threat that surpasses even mindless terrorism: There will come a time when there will be no more men in the world! Not this year or the next, but 125 thousand years hence. So says this book, not as prophesy or warning but as a cool scientific prediction from the author's  interpretation of what is happening to Y-chromosome. In anatomical terms, the Y-chromosome is the hall-mark of penis-endowed humans. Brian Sykes explains in this fascinating book how a male-less humanity will arise in the very distant future.

Sykes teaches the average reader a good deal of basic biology and genetics. The reader will learn about the range and variety in sexual reproduction, about how some exotic creatures procreate without following the standard model, and about the advantages and disadvantages male-female duality.  It also offers us  a glimpse of   how genes course through our cultural past 

We learn that many unpleasant characteristics like aggression, greed and promiscuity arise from the Y-chromosome: a scientific way of saying that they are essentially male features. Whereas on an average a chromosome may contain a thousand different genes, the Y-chromosome has but a few hundred left! Sykes says it has lost many genes over the eons, and is destined to vanish from the face of the earth.

Sykes' conclusion hinges on the fact that mutations are occurring at a rate that makes 1 percent of men infertile and 1 percent of men in each generation 10 percent less fertile than their fathers. However, Sykes treats fertility as a continuous variable, decreasing smoothly, hitting every member of the population equally.  This may be questionable. Reproduction is not limited in that way: a fertile man, e.g. one whose Y-chromosome does not happen to mutate, can have far more than his "share" of children, re-establishing the more fertile gene in the population. 

Let us suppose the situation was even worse: Of  100 men, 40 were completely infertile, and 40 were sub-fertile.  There would be 20 fertile men.  What would happen in the next generation? One likely outcome could be that the 20 fertile men would take the opportunity to have 10 children apiece, re-establishing a population of about 100 men. But even if they only produced 50 total offspring, with 31 boys, most of these offspring would be fertile, say 30.  The 30 sub-fertile men of this  generation might have only 25 offspring with maybe 14 boys, all of whom would be sub-fertile.  Now we have 30 fertile boys, and 15 sub-fertile or infertile boys.  Thus, within a generation, the sub-fertile to fertile ratio has shifted from 2:1  to 1:2 . In other words, the organisms whose genes make them reproductively fit are the ones who reproduce, increasing the incidence of those genes throughout the population.

We may leave these to professional geneticists to figure out, but though the thesis that some day the world will have only women is not very pleasant, The book presents the book presents this dismal finding this with eloquence, erudition, and charm.  

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Giberson, Karl. Oracles of science: celebrity scientists versus God and religion, by Karl Giberson and Mariano Artigas. Oxford, 2007. 273p bibl index afp ISBN 9780195310726, $29.95

Right from the Copernican Revolution, science has been undermining religious beliefs. There have been religious scientists, but the explanatory dimensions of religion have had to give way to scientific knowledge.  Scientists realize this, but some are also touched by religion in other ways. In our own times, a handful of eminent expositors of science have been attacking religion in popular books. Their eloquent expositions of science tend to decry and desecrate religious beliefs. This timely volume analyzes the works of six major religion-baiters whose voices may be compared to the oracles of Greece. The book’s thesis is that, wonderful as the oracles sound, they create the unwarranted impression that they represent the scientific establishment. These oracles are no more equipped to make pronouncements on religion that an opera singer is to discourse on quantum physics. The book gives concise accounts of the teachings of the oracles. It concedes that these oracular scientists have right to hold their anti-religion views, but cautions the reader that not all scientists share their views, much less that the anti-religion stance has any relevance in scientific research. The book is balanced in its criticisms of the oracles for whom the authors evidently have the highest regard.

 

Casti, John L. The Cambridge quintet: a work of scientific speculation. Addison-Wesley, 198. 181p afp

ISBN 0-201-32828-3, $23.00

In this  slender volume, John Casti takes the reader to an imaginary dinner party in Cambridge (England) some fifty years ago  at which five intellectual stalwarts who had unknowingly laid the foundations for what has come to be known as AI (Artificial Intelligence) exchange views and ideas on the nature, uniqueness, and possibility of non-biological replication of some of its (the brain’s) unique functions. Thse are C. P. Snow, Erwin Schrödinger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. B. S. Haldane, and Alan Turing: names with which the general public may not be very familiar. They argue and counter-argue on how important other experiences (such as pain and pleasure) are for consciousness and intelligence, whether mind is distinct from matter, the relevance of form to substance for intelligence to arise, about the role of language and culture, etc. From their conversations (which could be turned into a high-brow play for universities and academics) even the uninitiated reader can learn a great deal about this important subject, and the initiated will become aware of certain aspects and sources of the subject’s history. The book, which is delightful reading all through, belongs to the Meeting-of-the-Minds genre of writing, and it closes with a short and intelligent summation which brings us up to date on the evolution of the subject, with appropriate reference materials. Highly recommended to all readers who wish to know about an important scientific thought current of our age, and how it all began in the minds of a few thoughtful individuals.

 

Griffiths, Jay. A sideways look at time. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002. 402 p bibl index afp

ISBN 1-58542-184-7, $24.95

Time is like a silent stream in which our consciousness is drifting: sometimes too fast, sometimes slowly, but generally at a steady pace. Physicists have explored its nature and properties, philosophers have reflected on it, theologians have had something to say about it, and poets too have versified on time. In this book Jay Griffith, a Welsh writer, talks on a myriad aspects of time with engaging intelligence and in an utterly charming poetic prose. She touches on every aspect of time: from the most ordinarily experienced to the esoteric, in Western and in Non-Western cultural terms,  from male and from female perspectives. She speaks about history and art, on science and literature. The book is based on considerable scholarship, numerous interviews, and much insightful thinking. Like the Scandinavian buffet which is a colorful variety in taste and sight, all little pinches on bits of bread, this book is an artistic smorgasbord on the theme of time. Like a bee that jumps from flower to flower to imbibe a little of the nectar, Jay bounces from topic to topic and savors the undercurrent of time in them all. If you enjoy essays that are  a delight to read and are thought provoking, this book must be on your list.

Hellman, Hal. Great Feuds in science: ten of the liveliest disputes ever. Wiley, 1998. 240p bibl index afp

ISBN 0-471-16980-3, $24.95

The goal of science is to describe and explain the world such as it is, was, and will be, whether or not human beings emerged in it. Yet, science is, above all, a human enterprise. This means that its creators and participants were/are humans, hence subject to all the passions and emotions, greed and pride that flesh is heir to. These aspects find expression in the attitudes and reactions of scientists, their supporters and their opponents when they are drawn into the whirlpool of major scientific revolutions. In this engaging book, Hal Hellman illustrates this general theme by referring to ten most interesting cases in the history of modern science, from the well-known Galileo episode to the suspicions on Margaret Mead's dissertation on Samoan sex-life. In each instance, the author not only succinctly lays down the facts, but also makes intelligent observations, prompting the reader to reflect on the nature of science itself. The themes range from astronomy and anthropology to biology and geology, with mathematics and metaphysics thrown in between. The book should be entertaining to the general reader, and revealing to the practicing scientist who (without familiarity with the history of science) may have a loftier view of the enterprise than is warranted. 

Casti, John L. The one true platonic heaven: a scientific fiction on the limits of knowledge. Joseph Henry, 2003. 160 p ISBN 0-309-08547-0, $22.95.

We live in the age of computers. Like other inventions which serve us well, computers also have a history. One important dimension of that history relates to a theme as abstruse and abstract as the limits of human knowledge. Is there any way by which we can recognize or establish such limits on purely logical grounds. The question is not trivial, and some of the best minds in mathematics and physics have grappled with this question. Kurt Gödel's famous theorem (1930s) was central to this. In this slender volume, John Casti distills out the essentials of this and a number of related topics (like quantum logic and thinking machines) in his fascinating mode of scientific fiction. The story involves the legendary characters: John Von Neumann, Albert Einstein, Kurd Gödel, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Lewis L. Strauss (the only tragic figure in the story). The players are made alive in the re-created episodes. Those who are familiar with the names and topics will find the book to be delightful, if not deep; but even those with only a basic background in science and mathematics will find it to be absorbing and informative. Through this and his other books Casti has done much for science education for the general public.

 

Rowland, Wade. Galileo's mistake: a new look at the epic confrontation between Galileo and the church. 1st U.S. ed. Arcade, 2003. 298p bibl index ISBN 1-55970-684-8, $26.95.

The inquisition of Galileo by the Roman Catholic Church easily tops the list of landmarks in the history of interactions between modern science and religion. In later centuries it turned out to be an utter embarrassment for the Church and its defenders, until the  Vatican itself admitted it was a major blunder. However, enthusiastic defenders of orthodoxy of the ancient type have not given up. With cleverness, scholarship, and apparently objective analysis they have tried again and again to show that it was Galileo's arrogance that is to be blamed for that event, not the Church's clear thinking and enlightened understanding of science and religion. In this very readable, much researched, and entertainingly written book, the author gives a further boost to the thesis that it was all Galileo's mistake: to interpret the nature of physical reality the way he did, for "scientists do not discover laws of nature, they invent them (p. 137)." Working scientists (and others who have benefited from science) of the past four hundred years may be grateful that many persisted in Galileo's mistake, and could not be silenced by ecclesiastical authorities who dictated which versions of Truth could be propagated which not, under penalty of the Inquisition.

So, interesting as this attempt is to redeem the Church's mistake, it may not turn the tide of history or even scholarship against Galileo.

 

Science and religion: are they compatible?, ed. by Paul Kurtz with Barry Karr and Ranjit Sandhu. Prometheus Books, 2003. 368p bibl afp ISBN 1-59102-064-6 pbk, $20.00

In the ancient world, science and religion  went together: the same people spoke on God and the Universe. Most explanations were based on scriptures or saying of sages. With the scientific revolution, the two fields began to move apart, and science became more dominant. Religion was often on the retreat on matters of explanation, but its hold on the human heart, deriving from centuries of cultural conditioning and perhaps by something intrinsically human, kept religion very much  a part of civilized societies. Science and religion became uncomfortable partners. By the second half of the 20th century, a new movement emerged whose goal was to reconcile science and religion. A good many professional scientists have been finding this renewed coziness unwarranted and unacceptable. The book under review is an anthology of essays which generally argue that notwithstanding all the persuasive output of well-meaning scholars, when it comes to the details of understanding the world, and the methodologies of the two fields, science and religion can in no way be regarded as compatible. The book is an elaboration the emphatic answer, "NO" to the question posed in the subtitle of the book. The answers range from the blunt to the subtle, from the uncompromising to the nuanced. The book is an enjoyable buffet for those who are interested in the topic, although the more religiously inclined readers may not be altogether appreciative of the positions of these thinkers.

 

His Holiness Dalai Lama, The Universe in an Atom: The convergence of science and spirituality, Morgan Road Books, New York.

Imagine the Pope writing a book discussing Relativity, Quantum physics, Evolution and Consciousness. This is the equivalent of such a book from the Buddhist world.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the author of this book is no ordinary mortal. He was discovered as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama who passed away in 1935. The current one was installed as the sacred head in 1940 when he was barely 5 years old. When China invaded Tibet in 1950, he became head of the Tibetan government.  He was 25 when the degree of Geshe Lharampa (Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy) was conferred upon Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom) which is the full honorific of the author.

In 1959 the Dalai Lama was exiled into Dharmasala in India. Thanks to the ruthless Chinese aggression on Tibet, he is now a citizen of the world and the internationally respected leader of a religious tradition that is fast gaining ground beyond its Asian roots. Mao must be moaning in his mausoleum.

It was after his exile that the Dalai Lama learned about matters of theoretical science. He recalls how he began to understand Darwinian evolution from conversations with Huston Smith who visited him in Dharmasala in 1960. He includes Smith among his science teachers, adding that he is not sure if that scholar of world religions "would himself approve of this."

It is impressive to see the range of technical science this holy man in ochre robe has absorbed by his own efforts. After all, he did not graduate with a degree in quantum physics or molecular biology. Yet he speaks with ease on the collapse of wave functions, DNA and RNA, and quantum entanglement. He is able to do this because over the years he has been keeping in touch with scientific developments, often learning directly from scientists whom he invites to his center. Since mid-1980s, Dharmasala has been hosting conferences of scientists in which the Dalai Lama participates.

Those familiar with the topics discussed in the book will find the sage's re-telling simple and clear. It is admirable that a man of contemplation and religious commitment found time and interest to learn so much about fields which have little to do with non-violence, moderation, compassion, and peace which are the primary foci of Buddhism as a religious system.

The autobiographical snippets in the book add spicing to the book. He recounts how he learned about the sequencing of the genome via Larry King. He notes that the announcement of the news of the success of a purely scientific project by two political leaders (Bill Clinton and Tony Blair) took him by surprise. He could have added that this was the first, perhaps the only, major scientific discovery presented to the world through heads of state. He recalls how on one occasion, out of politeness, he did not challenge a scientist who made a dogmatic claim. Once, spotting von Weizäcker in the audience at a lecture he gave, the Dalai Lama expressed his indebtedness to his (popular) books from which he had learned quantum mechanics. Weizäcker reciprocated by saying that his own teacher Werner Heisenberg "would have been excited to hear of the clear, resonant parallels between Buddhist philosophy and his scientific insights."

The goal of this book is not to justify the doctrines of Buddhism, but to understand and incorporate science in the religious framework. Recognized spokespersons from other religious traditions are seldom as generous in embracing scientific worldviews as the Dalai Lama. Perhaps one reason for this is that Buddhist scriptures say little on how the world or life began. Therefore, for Buddhists, accepting evolution or the Big Bang model is not tantamount to rejecting scriptural assertions on biogenesis or cosmogenesis. Nor does one have to twist and turn time-honored passages to prove that evolution or E = mc2 are couched in symbols in one's sacred books.

Even while respecting scientific methodology and current theories, the Dalai Lama emphasizes some fundamental differences between science and Buddhism. As a voice of religious worldviews, he maintains that the Darwinian model does not solve the mystery of life and existence.  And he challenges science to confront altruism and compassion as phenomena for which science has offered no adequate explanation. While both science and Buddhism grant that life emerged from the inanimate world (brute matter), science's concern is with differences between matter and life, whereas Buddhism's is between inert matter and sentient life. In other words, science regards life as matter with complex physiochemical functions, while Buddhism, and religions more generally, point to the uniqueness of sentience and consciousness, i.e. the experiential aspects of life, which transcend physics and chemistry. The book rejects the claim that science has explained consciousness, and suggests that it may never be able to this.

The reader can also learn from this book the key ideas of such classical Buddhist thinkers like Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti, and Vasubandhu, as well as Hindu/Buddhist theories of mind and consciousness. It also elaborates on the Buddhist theory of causality.

As a man of wisdom from a religion which arose from deep concern for the human condition, for the Dalai Lama science at its best "is motivated by a quest for understanding to help us lead to greater flourishing and happiness." For the Buddhist this is "wisdom grounded in and tempered by compassion." Spirituality is "the human journey into our internal resources." Its goal is to understand who we are. It too is "the union of wisdom and compassion." Herein lies the convergence of science and spirituality: the subtitle of the book.

The Dalai Lama's plea for enriching science with humanity is not something new. Many thoughtful commentators have done this before. But the fact that a religious leader of his eminence is willing to modify, or even reject,  some of the traditional tenets of his own religion regarding the nature of the phenomenal world must be welcome and refreshing to those who are for enlightened religion. The Dalai Lama sets an example to other religious leaders. It would be good if scientists of eminence speak likewise with sensitivity and humility about whatever is best in the religions of the world.

One may wonder if modern science would have entered Tibetan Buddhism in this grand way  if the Dalai Lama had been ensconced in his remote and peaceful haven from the noise and bustle of a deafening technological world, and not ejected from there into India by ruthless Chinese intruders.

But here is the difference: His goal has not been to justify the doctrines of his religion, but to understand and incorporate science in his religious framework.

This is often in a trans-denominational framework, although the Buddhist worldview comes up now and again, as if  to remind the reader that the author is from that  religious tradition.

 

John F. Haught, Deeper Than Darwin, Westview,, Cambridge, MA

During the past few decades interactions between science and religion have evolved from downright fistfights to dialogue, mutual understanding and even respect. This is not to say that every divergence has been turned into hearty concurrence. There still linger profound disagreements in the hearts of some in both camps. Quite a few thinkers believe that the chasm between science and religion is unbridgeable, and some  hold that as long as we regard the two magisteria as non-overlapping, there should really be no problem.

What makes the situation uncomfortable to many is the nihil ultra proclamation of many scientists: that there is really nothing beyond the world of matter and energy in the arena of space and time. This is not so much a finding of science as a tenet, a metaphysical conviction that is based on the abundant fruits accruing from it. It is not unlike the conviction that economics based on an international monetary system is the only way by which there can be trade because that mode has proved to be so efficient and effective. Few can deny that the scientific tenet is valid in so far as our successful cerebral grasp of the phenomenal world is concerned. But when it comes to the essential core of what makes us conscious reflecting entities with values and visions, it is not as well established that every aspect of the experienced world is an emergent consequence of interactions between quarks and leptons, or of  gravitational and electromagnetic fields.

Able writers, evolutionists, philosophers, materialists, even English professors, have argued voluminously and in a variety of ways that all said and done, atoms and molecules make the physical world such as it is, genes cause all the variety and throbbing in the biological world, and neurons are ultimately at the root of love and laughter, altruism and even cognitions of God. But many are also inclined to think that a discernible link between molecules and mind will never be found. There is, in their view, more to truth and beauty than electronic transitions, more to justice and kindness than Darwinian adaptation.

Indeed, the rejection of something beneath and beyond the matter-energy substratum is not an option for the theistically inclined, no matter how fabulous science and its accomplishments are. Some God-inclined biologists claim to have detected loopholes  on the Darwin canvass,  arguing that there are leaps in the deductive mode of tying chromosomes and mitochondria to organic fullness. Arguments have thus been put forward to the effect, much to the annoyance of die-hard evolutionists,  that the world looks too much like the work of an Intelligent Designer, Who may even keep modifying the blueprint as the work progresses. Attempts to inject God into cyto-chemistry, however noble an effort, does not sit well with working scientists who shudder at the idea of incorporating theology into molecular bonds.

Now there is a third way in which the whole issue may be regarded. It says that the impression we get of the richness we witness and of which  we are significant parts as conscious beings is to a large degree a matter of perspective. The same literary masterpiece may be read as a modestly endowed sophomore, as a very bright reader, or as a sophisticated thinker. Depending on the level of the reader, the same grand work may strike one as interesting, but no more, or as symbolic and elevating. So it is proposed in the book under review that "we can restore a sense of depth if we interpret our confusion about science and religion in general, and about religion and evolution in particular, as a 'reading problem.' " (p. xiii). One may add that this is true of music and of any work of art.

It is this third perspective that the book presents. Its author John Haught is a highly regarded professor, writer, thinker, and theologian. As a professor, he expounds the matter with crystal clarity: "Science and religion both take for granted that the universe is much deeper than it seems." (p. 27). As a writer, he  is elegant in his prose: "Science seems to have found only a spiritual void in those vast astral realms where countless people in the past, and even a considerable remnant of scientifically uneducated people today, have looked for a grounding significance." (p. 35). And he is also incisive in his arguments: "What all these interpreters… agree upon is that with Darwin's (and E. O. Wilson's) help, we can now provide a deeper naturalistic explanation of our ageless and persistent longing for gods than ever before." (p. 107). As a thinker, he is too sophisticated to accept Creationism literally: "Rather than seeking to understand life as an altogether deeper level than that of science, scientific creationists have decided - most ironically - to embrace scientism's own cosmic literalism." (p. 16). And he is  too well-informed about science to be altogether sympathetic to agree fully with Intelligent Design Theory (p. 87-90). And as an enlightened theologian, he is too sensitive to see only the letters of the alphabet in a sublime sonnet. "It is now of utmost importance, therefore, that religious thought reshape its ideas of nature, human existence and reality as a whole in a manner commensurate with the idea of a cosmos still emerging in the remarkable ways that science is recording." (p. 162). And so, in beautiful language Haught seeks to delve deeper into Nature than religious naturalism would permit, deeper than the deep-down elementary particles as the ultimate cause of our doom and despair as Dennet would claim, deeper than Dawkins would grant about what prompts us as beings. In the course of the book, Haught gives capsule accounts of what the various commentators on science and religion have recently been saying about life and evolution, about religion and God. He comments on their wisdom, but also on their insufficiency, and sometimes on their arrogance, explicit or implicit.

Several chapters of the book have appeared before as articles in various scholarly journals. This collection brings them together, and explores a level of understanding, or at least interpreting, life that is deeper than Darwin. In the process a deeper theology emerges that enables us to feel comfortable in the framework of religion even if and when extra-terrestrial intelligence comes within our ken.

One may expect to hear dissenting voices to Haught's rejection of Darwinism as the final and complete word on how the splendor of life came to be. It is important to remember, however, that it is not Darwinian evolution that Haught rejects but the totalizing claim for it that some of its more enthusiastic champions make. Furthermore, he presents a persuasive perspective which adds meaning and enrichment to the scientific worldview, one that does not diminish the scientific significance of Darwinism. Whether or not one resonates with everything that Haught says in the book, Deeper than Darwin is certainly a delight to read, and it will instigate deeper reflection on the issues.

 

Feynman, Richard P. Perfectly reasonable deviations from the beaten track: the letters of Richard P. Feynman, ed. by Michelle Feynman. Basic Books, 2005. 486p bibl afp ISBN 0738206369, $26.00

The physics community knows Richard Feynman as an extraordinary physicist. His was a brilliant mind that took nothing too seriously except the quest for understanding the natural world. His many facets have been narrated in biographies.

In this volume daughter Michelle Feynman reveals to the world many of his personal letters to all and sundry: to his sweetheart, to the Nobel Academy, to crackpots, to fellow physicists, and more. We see his sheer honesty in these letters: never a hypocritical note for the sake of politeness. His humanity and compassion also become transparent through the letters. Letters dealing with his resignation from the American Academy of Science show his disregard for honors and bureaucracy. Sometimes he expresses tersely profound truths: "You cannot understand the physical world in any deep or satisfying way without using mathematical reasoning with facility." Sometimes he is light-hearted. Replying to an exuberant fan mail: "I am now unique - a physicist with a fan who has fallen in love with him from seeing him on TV…I need no longer be jealous of movie stars…"

On can go on and on. It is remarkable that Feynman caring enough to take the time to answer so many letters from all over the world. Photographs spice the volume, and make this a fascinating coffee-table book.

 

Laughlin, Robert B., A different universe: reinventing physics from bottom down. Basic Books, 2005. 254p index afp ISBN 064503828X, $26.00

Reductionism, which achieved some pretty spectacular things in its heyday which lasted for at least three centuries, has been receiving quite a beating in recent decades, and not just from philosophers and postmodernists. In this fascinating book, interspersed with witty lines and anecdotes, physicist Robert Laughlin does his part in these efforts. He treats the reader to a variety of natural phenomena whose full understanding calls for a revolutionary mind-set (paradigm shift) in science's approach to the phenomenal world. From superfluids to grains of salt, and much in between and beyond, one is helpless without the notions of complexity, emergence and collective behavior. As he reflects on the fascinating phenomena which defy classical reductionism, he informs us about many recent developments in physics which have little to do with time-honored fundamental physics like elementary particles, quantum mechanics, string theories et al. Indeed, he describes interpretations of quantum mechanics as "symptoms of a failed worldview." He says other things too about some of the tenets of current physics which could annoy many physicists, and which, were it not for the fact that the author is a Nobel laureate, would be brushed off as resulting from not understanding physics. But Laughlin speaks with deep understanding and insight, and contributes to, if not charts, a new road in science's exploration of the phenomenal world. The new agenda has already borne many fruits (of which Laughlin speaks eloquently with concise clarity), but perhaps this could have been done without the harshness against classical worldviews which is injected here and there in this very enlightening, revelatory, and entertaining book. This book is not just a clarion call for a New Kind of Science: it is, no less, an elucidation of the new and fertile pathways along which physics has been marching of late.

 

Wainwright, William J., Religion and Morality, 2005.  252 pp. pbk. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., Aldershot, England.

The questions are old and simple: Is morality always tied up with religion? Can there be religion without morality? Can there be morality without religion?

The book under review is an erudite account of various facets of these fundamental questions. It is both historical and philosophical in its approach. After a review of Kant's metaphysical positions, we have an excellent analysis of Cardinal Newman's view of conscience, followed by arguments for the objectivity of values. From this the existence of God is derived. There is a discussion of the Socratic position that Divinity chooses the good and the holy because of their intrinsic excellence, somewhat like art for art's sake. We are also treated to medieval articulations of the Euthyphro Question: Do the gods love the pious because they are holy, or do they become holy because the gods love them? Somewhat like: Do you like a movie because the critic said it was good, or did the critic like it because the movie was good? 

There is an extensive analysis of divine command theories: Moral injunctions carry weight because God said so. Some of the standard justifications to this are shown to be inadequate; others are presented as more reasonable. Then the author embarks on differences between Christian and Buddhist ethics in the matter of pacifism, and argues that in both instances, it is difficult to rationally defend the positions. He could have said that rational justification is practically impossible for most idealist ethical positions.

The book also discusses morality and social action from Vedantic perspectives. One gets the impression that the author's knowledge about Vedanta is derived from the writings of a few modern commentators. It is of course not possible for anybody to be familiar with the original texts of all religions. However, commentaries on religious systems in which one has little experience or empathy tend be blurred, if not distorted.

In so far as it critically presents the views of important thinkers of a tradition in which the author is at home, this book is a rich source of information and insight. Leaving aside  some questionable descriptions of Buddhist and Vedantic views, the book is an eloquent appraisal of the interconnections between ethical frameworks and religious worldviews, and for the need to study their age-long interactions. The discussion on God's command to Abraham is insightful, and the relationship between mysticism and morality is interesting too.

Secular humanists may not be convinced that morality has to be necessarily linked to any religious system in this awakened age, though the book argues that any virtue divorced from God is no virtue at all. But philosophers of religion, ethicists, academics in this field, and readers of general philosophy will all find this book to be valuable reading.