New books regularly come across my desk--some at my own initiative and some at the initiative of publishers. I think it is worth drawing attention to these (perhaps in time for you to spend your Christmas giftcards!):
Tales of the Ex-Apes: How We Think About Human Evolution
University of California Press, 2015
Marks is Professor of Anthropology at UNC Charlotte. His central point is: “Our ancestors were apes and we are different from them, and we want to know how that happened. We are bio-cultural ex-apes trying to understand ourselves” (p. xi). That project of understanding ourselves is fundamentally different than trying to understand the properties of an element of the periodic table or even chimpanzees. Something happened that allowed our ancestors to become different from apes and to evolve not just biologically, but also bio-culturally (Marks is fully onboard with human exceptionalism in this regard). At least that is how we think, and how we think is part of who we are.
Origins: The scientific story of creation
Oxford University Press, 2015
Baggott is a freelance science writer, having previously published Higgs: The invention and discovery of the “God Particle” and The Quantum Story: a history in 40 moments. This new book is a sweeping narrative of the current state of scientific knowledge (and, he admits, ignorance) spanning from the origin of space, time and energy to human consciousness. It is a heavy book--in the physical sense: 400 pages of finely milled paper that allows for lots of full-color graphics and pictures; and in a more abstract sense: if this is your first go-round with things like stellar nucleosynthesis and abiogenesis, it may be tough going. Baggott doesn’t try to connect this scientific origins story with any non-scientific concerns. But if you’re looking for a one-volume explanation of physical, chemical, and biological origins, this could be the ticket.
Beyond Matter: Why Science Needs Metaphysics
Templeton Press, 2015
Trigg is an eminent philosopher and now Senior Research Fellow at the Ian Ramsey Center at Oxford. If you’re concerned about the “science only” approach in the book above, this one is a helpful corrective. Trigg says, “This book is particularly concerned with the relation of science and reason. I want to uphold the practice of science and uphold its right to claim a truth that applies to everyone. I am, however, suspicious of attempts arbitrarily to restrict all reasoning to the capabilities and reach of science.” Philosophy of science is not the same thing as science. It’s worth listening to philosophers on the topic (says the guy with a PhD in philosophy!). If you’d like to try a snippet before committing to the whole thing, Trigg published an essay on the topic in Nautilus.
Grounded: Finding God in the World / A Spiritual Revolution
Diana Butler Bass
I’m not sure how the subtitle is supposed to be displayed for this book. It’s almost as though “a spiritual revolution” is the sub-sub-title. The revolution comes in where we find God in our culture today: increasingly in the world instead of in the church. This book is part sociological examination of what is happening among religious types today, but also her own journey in arriving at largely the same place of “spiritual but not religious”. I’m not sure Bass is right in claiming that many now experience God directly rather than mediated through organized religion; I’d say there’s just a different mediation at work. But there’s an important corrective here that allows us to see the reenchantment of the world--all of creation as filled with God’s presence and activity. We who are in the business of exploring the intersection of God and nature will find much to think about in this fluidly written and insightful book.