Item description for God Chance and Necessity by Keith Ward...
The 'new materialism' argues that science and religious belief are incompatible. This book considers such arguments from cosmology (Stephen Hawking, Peter Atkins), from biology (Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins) and from sociobiology (Michael Ruse), and exposes a number of fallacies and weaknesses. With a carefully argued, point-by-point refutation of scientific atheism, God, Chance and Necessity shows that modern scientific knowledge does not undermine belief in God, but actually points to the existence of God as the best explanation of how things are the way they are. Thus it sets out to demolish the claims of books like The Selfish Gene, and to show that the overwhelming appearance of design in nature is not deceptive.
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Studio: Oneworld Publications
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.51" Width: 5.34" Height: 0.66" Weight: 0.63 lbs.
Release Date Nov 1, 1996
Publisher Oneworld Publications
ISBN 1851681167 ISBN13 9781851681167
Availability 1 units. Availability accurate as of Jan 21, 2017 12:47.
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More About Keith Ward
Keith Ward is Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University.
Reviews - What do customers think about God Chance and Necessity?
A good read and a good logical exposition of materialist weakness as a philosophy Jun 27, 2007
The author does a good job of laying out fundamental philosophical arguments in favor of theism and its non-conflict with real science. The book helps counter the popular anti-Christian ravings of bigoted authors like Dawkins who knowingly uses rhetoric and deception to get his particular world view (sad as it is) accepted by others [misery loves company!]. It was nice to see Dawkins' "memes" concept so nicely trashed in a single paragraph (Chapter 9).
A good read and highly recommended.
A good introduction Jul 22, 2006
Contrary to the misunderstandings of some of the earlier reviewers, this book is not really an apologia for theism. Nor is it in any way, shape or form an attack on science as such. One can only speculate how such misunderstandings can come about when the intentions of the author are so clearly stated.
Obviously, those reviews completely miss the purpose of this book, which is clearly stated by Ward himself:
"The view I shall take is that, on most issues, there are no conflicts (between science and religion) and that the success of scientific investigation corroborates theism, rather than the reverse" (p.12 - my addition).
This intention provides a starting point that can be illuminated with the following analogy (mine, not the author's).
If we want to go fishing in a lake with the intention of actually catching fish, we pre-suppose in some sense that there are fish to be caught. Otherwise, we are wasting our time.
Likewise, if we want to examine the universe with the intention of finding some orderly explanation for its operation, we pre-suppose in some sense that the explanation we ultimately arrive at will, in fact, be orderly. Otherwise, we would again be wasting our time.
Beginning with this common-sense starting point, Ward wants to draw out the implications of that pre-supposition. He chooses to base his program on the naturalistic arguments of two prominent British scientists, Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins, both of whom are clearly in the reductive materialist camp. But he wishes to nuance the very observations that are used by them to actually support his starting point - rather than, as they do, to support the materialist view.
In a way such a program can be considered a rebuttal of the arguments supporting reductive materialism. The idea, however, is not merely to show where those specific arguments break down, but to use the observations that they are based on to go in a different direction.
Ward's program is not without real difficulties, however. Perhaps because he is using the arguments of others as a base, he is never as consistent in his philosophical approach as is, for example, Mariano Artigas in The Mind of the Universe. Just to take one aspect of Ward's approach, consider his view of science as a search for a natural order. It is sometimes difficult to grasp if Ward is saying that the order being sought by science is to be found in the scientific explanations as such, or if there is a real order that science `discovers' over time. For a scientist `doing science', it actually doesn't matter. One can `do science' either way. But for Ward and what he is trying to get it, it actually does matter.
So like a plane flying through a thunderstorm, the ride can get very choppy. But ultimately, Ward seems to emerge from the storm going in the direction that he seems to have wanted.
That direction can be called the descriptive model of science. The model goes something like this. It is unquestionably true that science explains natural actions in an orderly fashion. The explanations are what we call the `laws of science'. But the order obtained by those explanations cannot in itself be causative. To put it bluntly, equations and words cannot be the source of any real actions. Therefore, if the natural actions are real (and they are), and if the order is real (and it is), we must seek the real source elsewhere.
Unfortunately, all that Ward's program gets us is that there is an order-producing reality to the universe, and that such a reality is the source of real actions. It doesn't actually tell us what the nature of that reality is.
Ward concludes that the order-producing reality can be identified as the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, but he doesn't actually provide the ontological necessity that this conclusion requires. To get to that necessity, Ward would have to consider ways of knowing that go beyond the empirical-objective experiences he is limiting himself to. Perhaps that would have made the book much longer than the author wanted, or perhaps the author felt that a sufficiency argument met his stated purpose. Nevertheless, I think that at least some pointers for going further should have been included. So I can only give this book a four star rating.
With that qualification, I do recommend this book as an introduction to those who are confused about the falsity that `doing science' requires a non-theistic worldview.
Accessibility gained at the expense of sophistication Oct 13, 2005
Keith Ward's "God Chance and Necessity" is extremely accessible to the general reader, much like Richard Dawkins' book, "The Blind Watch Maker". I think he does the public a service by making it so easy to read. Unfortunately, this accessibility is largely gained at the expense of a certain philosophical elegance, if you will. For example, in some contexts he'll use the word "universe" as meaning physical spacetime, and in other contexts he'll use it to mean "everything that exists, including God." Initially, he tells you when he's changing his meaning, but then he later doesn't.
In short, if you are used to the clarity and rigorous approach used by many philosophical authors (e.g., Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, etc.), then you may find Ward's approach a bit less deductive (or even inductive). He is mostly concerned with rebutting Dawkins and Atkins than actually developing an original philosophy.
For instance, he develops many interesting metaphysical ideas (for example, human free will is not incompatible with God's omniscience, since God could conceivably know of every *possible universe* while the future of the *actual universe* was indetermined), but he doesn't lay down a rigorous metaphysical system. I suppose one reason he does this is because he wants to appeal to a wide crowd of religious people who have their own doctrines, and they might feel alienated if Ward was to make truth claims beyond what is universally accepted about how the universe works.
Not clearly a good thing, he often waxes lyrical in poetic tangents that don't do much to help his case, except maybe emotionally or aesthetically. Though, I suppose if intuition and aesthetics are any basis for concluding something about reality, then these tangents aren't entirely wasteful. Oh, and for some reason he frequently employs awkward transitional adverbs to begin sentences like, "In fact, of course, it is true that...," which I found distracting.
I think this book's greatest success is in highlighting the grave limitations of natural selection *alone* to explain intelligent life. He effectively proves that the idea of life existing for the propagation of genes (Cf. Dawkins, "The Selfish Gene") is completely ludicrous (it would be, he points out, like suggesting that the cake exists for the propagation of the recipe; but the recipe does not have intention, and neither does DNA!). Again, these are not couched in philosophical language, and, if you want a more rigorous approach that supports Ward's position, I recommend you see any of John Searle's essays or books about consciousness.
Bad science and bad logic Mar 15, 2004
God, Chance, and Necessity is an attempt by Keith Ward to demonstrate that science, far from being incompatible with God, provides strong confirmation of God's existence. To support his case, Ward attempts to refute arguments by Peter Atkins and Richard Dawkins, two prominent atheist scientists.
Ward's critique of Atkins, although not perfect, does seem to be reasonable for the most part. I agree with Ward that Atkins attempts to make the process of our universe coming into existence naturally seem simpler than it probably is.
However, I find Ward's critique of Darwinian evolution and Dawkins in particular to be highly problematic. Although Ward pretends to accept modern science, most of his chapter "Darwin and Natural Selection" is nothing more than an attack on the theory of evolution that is almost unanimously accepted by biologists today.
What is most appalling about Ward's discussion of evolution, however, is that he has a very poor understanding of the subject. A notable example is Ward's mention of the theory of punctuated equilibria. According to Ward, "Eldredge and Gould have developed the hypothesis of 'punctuated equilibria', according to which long periods of gradual mutation are punctuated by episodic events in which large, fast, saltatory genetic changes (i.e. changes by large sudden jumps) occur in conditions of relative genetic isolation. Such changes occur before any selectional control, though of course they are subject to natural selection once they exist" (Ward, p. 75).
It is clear that Ward does not understand what punctuated equilibria is. The "episodic events" that Ward describes are not saltatory genetic changes that occur before any selectional control. Rather, they are periods when, through mutation and natural selection, evolution occurs relatively rapidly. Niles Eldredge explains this common misconception in his book Time Frames:
"The most common misconception about `punctuated equilibria' [is] that Gould and I proposed a saltationist model of overnight change supposedly based on sudden mutations with large-scale effects ...[W]e used conventional speciation theory and the notion of adaptive change through natural selection to explain the origin of new reproductive communities (species) and the adaptive modifications of organisms through time!" (Eldredge, pp. 141-142).
This misconception is clearly explained in the chapter titled "Puncturing punctuationism" in Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker. Since Ward criticizes this book extensively, it is surprising that Ward didn't read or read but didn't understand this chapter.
In the chapter titled "The Metaphysics of Theism" Ward proceeds to justify belief in God. Ward writes that God is "not a theory invented to explain particular occurrences in the world. What, then, is the idea of God for? God is primarily the supreme object of worship and prayer" (Ward, p. 96). How does this fit with Ward's previous assertion that "only the existence of God that can explain the propensity to complexity and consciousness that seems so clearly present in evolution"?
Throughout this chapter, Ward tries to argue that theism and materialism (the belief that nature is all that exists) are both equally valid hypotheses, except that theism explains more data. I agree with Ward on the latter point, because assuming God exists, any unexplained phenomenon can be explained with the suggestion that God wanted it. However, I believe the former point is invalid, because theism requires the assumption that an unexplained complex being exists, while materialism does not require this assumption. The theist objection that a complex God requires no explanation is no better than a materialist objection that a complex universe requires no explanation.
In chapter "Evolution and Purpose," we find that Ward doesn't like Dawkins' suggestion that the Utility Function if life is the survival of DNA (Ward, p. 137). Ward writes that "In fact, the survival of genes is not maximized by evolution, since the whole process proceeds precisely by the mutation of genetic material, that is, by replacing genes with better ones." This would be relevant if Dawkins referred to the "Utility Function of evolutionary change" rather than the "Utility function of life." Dawkins agrees that evolutionary change is detrimental to any genes that are lost in the process of that change. In his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains that "Evolution is something that happens, willy-nilly, in spite of all the efforts of the replicators (and nowadays of the genes) to prevent it happening" (Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 19). This is consistent with the fascinating error-correction mechanisms we observe in DNA (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 126).
Unfortunately, the few reasonable arguments that Ward makes in his book are overshadowed by the glaring scientific and logical errors he makes. I think most people who have read the books The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, and A River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins will find that most of Ward's objections to Darwinian evolution and Dawkins' claims have little basis. I would recommend approaching this book with skepticism.
Psuedo-scientific theism disguised as real science Mar 15, 2004
Both logic and science are faulty in this book. This is little more than another weak attempt to establish a scientific basis for theism. Theism is about faith. Science is about evidence. The author fails miserably to link the two.