Monday, December 28, 2015

She Blinded Me: the Limits of Scientific Inquiry

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking alongside a real scientist - Harold Gans - formerly a senior cryptological mathematician with the NSA.  His talks on the improbability of the origin of life and a mathematical argument for God's direct intervention in human affairs can heard here.  My presentation on the limits (and of the manifold achievements) of the scientific endeavor can be found at the same link.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Religious Scientist - Lo and Behold

The most interesting thing (to me) about MIT professor Jeremy England is that he's so "out" religiously.  With the atmosphere in the academy so toxic for those of the spiritual persuasion it seems remarkable that he survived it - and is even getting positive press! Check out this profile in OZY optimistically entitled "The Man Who May One Up Darwin."  Considering the esteem that Darwin is held in materialist circles it strikes me a doubly remarkable that this piece simultaneously questions the durability of the Darwinian principle while admiringly exploring the musings of an Orthodox Jew - who's research could upend it in time.

For those of us who believe that science and theology are just two sides of one coin - methods of exploring and making sense of the world that we find ourselves in - its awfully refreshing to hear a contemporary scientist reflect on the study of Torah and remark "that studying the Torah provided an opportunity for intellectual engagement that he says was 'unlike anything that I had ever experienced in terms of subtlety and grandeur of scope.'"  Yep.

He has also drawn the correct conclusion vis a vis the inherent limitation that science is subject to - that it cannot tell us anything about the meaning of the discoveries that it makes.  As the article notes "for his part, England believes science can give us explanations and predictions but it can never tell us what we should do with that information.  That's where, he says, the religious teachings come in. Indeed, the man who's one-upping Darwin has spent the past 10 years painstakingly combing through the Torah, interpreting word by word much the way he ponders the meaning of life."

It remains to be seen if Professor England will have the scientific impact that many are predicting for him, but I sincerely hope that he blazes another trail within the scientific community - one that once again makes it scientifically acceptable to take metaphysics as seriously as the physical sciences.

Monday, August 24, 2015

6 Arguments For the Existence of the Non-Physical

I often hear materialists suggest that there is "no proof" for the existence of anything immaterial. Leaving aside the fact that the smaller material things get the less "material" they actually seem, is there no other way to evidence the non-physical?

We can begin by trying to define what actually constitutes physicality.  By and large, what we mean when we say that something is physical is that it exists a) in time and space or b) in a mind. To discover the immaterial, therefore, is simply a matter of demonstrating the existence of that which is nether a nor b.  To explore this I am drawing from the work of my favorite theological philosopher, Edward Feser in his superb book, The Last Superstition. Here are some examples:

  1. The "one over many" argument.  While there may be very many examples of triangles such as scalene, obtuse and isosceles and many shades of blue such as cobalt, turquoise and ultramarine, "triangularity" and "blueness" are not reducible to any particular triangle or blue thing.  Indeed, even if there were no physical examples of any triangle or anything blue, they would still be truths that could come to be exemplified in the future.  They also can, and many times are, exemplified even when no human mind is aware of them.  Hence, triangularity, blueness and many other "universals" are neither material nor dependent on a human mind for their existence.
  2. The argument from abstract objects.  Geometry deals with perfect lines, angles, circles, etc and discovers objective facts about them.  As the facts are objective, we haven't invented them and they could not be altered (like material things).  Clearly then, they do not depend of our minds. Also, no physical objects have the perfection that geometrical ones do so clearly they do not depend on the material world.
  3. The argument from mathematics.  Like other universals, math is necessary and unchangeable - exactly the opposite of material things.  2+7=9 was true before there was a physical universe or any mind to apprehend it and would be true even after both were long gone. Another interesting twist with this one is though there is an infinite series of numbers, there is only a finite amount of physical things and mental events.  Therefore, the series of numbers can't be equated with the physical or the mental.  Take 10 minutes to listen to mathematician David Berlinski discussing this here.  
  4. The argument from the nature of propositions. A proposition like "Kurt Cobain is a member of the 27 Club" would remain true even if the entire world and all the minds in it suddenly went out of existence.  Interestingly, even if no mind or material world had ever existed, the proposition "there is neither a material world nor any human mind" would still be true - proving that it is neither material nor mental.
  5. The argument from science.  Science is the business of discovering objective mind-independent facts (though that often is not really the case).  As such, to accept the results of science is to accept the notion that there are such things as mind-independent universals.  Here's an interesting video of MIT physicist Gerald Schroeder discussing the implications of the laws of nature as universals.   
  6. The argument from words and concepts.  How is it that I understand what you mean when you say "puppy?" Clearly, there is a universal understanding of a word that is shared over and above our various utterances of it.  If one were to argue that there is no standard conception of what various words mean then we would run into some serious problems, such as the fact that it would render all communication impossible since we would never be truly using the same words - even, perhaps, when speaking to ourselves!  Would it be possible to suggest that I think about my own Pythagorean theorem and you think about yours (which is different from mine)? Obviously not.  Rather, we are sharing one universal notion.  One that is neither physical nor mental.

Granted, all of this is a tad heady and it should be acknowledged that there is a good deal of philosophical back and forth about this approach - which I think doesn't at all defeat the premise.  I strongly suggest picking up The Last Superstition and giving it a careful read.  Each chapter builds on the previous in a deep but accessible presentation that lays out what I consider to be as air tight a case as can be made for something.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Modern Science: The Best Evidence for God To Date

A reader on this post which outlines some of  the issues posed to the materialist world-view due to the "Fine Tuning" of the Universe argument kindly linked a series of posts on the website called God vs. The Multiverse.  The four posts take a few minutes to read and absorb but I think that they're well done and outline the issue (and its implications) in its fullness.  

They start off by defining their terms and their goal:

In the proof, we will use inductive reasoning from the fine tuning of the constants in nature and the initial conditions of the big bang, to infer an Intelligent Designer of the universe.  What we mean by 'proof' is that a reasonable person would logically draw the same conclusion after understanding the arguments.  We do not mean 'proof' in the sense of a mathematical proof or deductive reasoning, but rather in the sense of a rational argument.

Our main objectives are to show a path in studying the deep wisdom in the creation as revealed by modern science, and also to present a proof of God from the constants and initial conditions. Because of this dual objective, we will be including many interesting ideas from modern science that are related to the proof, even though it is not contingent upon them.  We will try to be clear about what is necessary for the proof, and what is only to provide a direction to understanding the great wisdom in the universe, as revealed through modern scientific knowledge.

They then go on to explain what is meant by a "Cosmological Constant."  They are the numerical ratios that govern "how heavy an electron is, how fast light moves, how strong gravity is, etc.  All these things are finite quantities, which have particular, unchanging values that we only know through measurements and observations. These quantities are called constants."

Scientists have long wondered at the values at which these ratios are set.  They seem to be quite random.  Where do they come from and why are they so utterly precise that if they were the slightest bit different then the universe as we know it could not have formed and life would not exist?  This has given many scientists sleepless nights.  Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman emoted about this conundrum, saying:

Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and "we don't know how He pushed his pencil." 

They give some good examples of the mystery of these constants:

Stars produce energy by fusing two hydrogen atoms into a single helium atom. During that reaction, 0.007 percent of the mass of the hydrogen atoms is converted into energy.  If the percentage were 0.006, the universe would be filled only with hydrogen.  If it was 0.008, the universe would have no hydrogen, and therefore no water and no stars like the sun. Bingo!

There are about 25 of these constants and simply put, they refute the notion that life as we know it is random. On the contrary, they demonstrate clearly, scientifically, that the universe is the result of design.   Materialist scientists recognized this, and didn't much like it.  But instead of owning up to the overwhelming brute fact of design, they did something rather brilliant - they pushed the problem back - so far back, in fact, that it can never be proven or refuted.  They posited the existence of the "Multiverse" - a hypothesis that posits that perhaps there are an infinite number of interconnected universes, all with different properties.  With that being the case it's not remarkable at all that our particular universe has all of these fine tuned peculiarities - but rather to be expected!  Problem solved.  Or is it?

There are quite a few issues with the Multiverse theory, such as:

  • It's non-scientific.  In as much as it is impossible to test, it cannot officially fall within the purview of science.  Yet the same folks who insist that theology must provide testable, scientific proof are generally content accepting this un-provable notion.
  • It's incoherent.  Belief in an infinite number of universes sets up necessary logical contradictions.  For instance, in as much as a God is a logical possibility, in one of the universes there must exist an infinite God who actually created the Multiverse itself (and in another there would not be).
  • It doesn't follow Occam's Razor - the problem-solving principle created by William of Occam in the 14th Century.  Occam encouraged us to select the least complex of competing hypotheses. The preceding two points highlight the unnecessary complexity introduced by the unsubstantiated belief in a multiverse. 
So there you have it.  As things stand, either there is a Designing Agent (that some of us choose to call God) or there are an infinite number of universes - one of which contains an Infinite God in any event.

Which way do you prefer?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Questions For Camille Paglia

I'm a fan of Camille Paglia.  I think that she's an honest and original thinker who is also a gifted communicator.  As such, I take interest in her recent comments at Salon - especially as they pertain to theology.   

Ms. Paglia is an atheist, but of the thoughtful and respectful variety.  She has no trouble identifying the positive contributions that religion has made to society.  As she says:

"I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system.  They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny.  Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death."

She also has scant respect for atheists who never really did their homework.  She was asked "what do you make of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the religion critics who seem not to have respect for religions for faith?"

She answered:

"I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.”  It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way. Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general–from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum."

Fair enough.  But it seems to me that there are questions that atheists should struggle with - ones that I would think would challenge much of the fascinating world-view that Ms. Paglia has developed. If I could, I would ask her:

  1. As an atheist, you most likely don't believe in free will.  Do you believe that people should be held accountable for their "wrong-doings?"  If so, why?  Clearly, they have no choice to act in any other manner.
  2. Do you believe in concepts like justice and morality which have no scientific or material basis?  What do you view as the source of these concepts? 
  3. What is the origin of matter, life and consciousness?  Would our lack of explanatory ability in these matters cause you to suspend your judgement as to weather or not a creative intelligence could have brought them about?  If not, are you accepting your atheism on the basis of faith? 
  4. If you believe that life (and as an extension, thought) are the results of blind and impersonal forces, how do you know that your mental faculties are reliable?  Do you have confidence that what your brain tells you (whoever "you" actually is) is coherent?  How do you know?
  5. Are any ideas superior to any others?  Given that, materially speaking, ideas are nothing more than haphazard firing of neurons, and that neurons have no actual worth or meaning, how could an idea be said to have any actual value?  As such, should we refrain from all critique of ideas that we subjectively find displeasing? 

That should do for now.  Camille, if you happen to come across this, let's talk!  I would truly be interested to hear what you have to say.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

9 Reasons to Believe That the Biblical Exodus Actually Happened

In 2013 Rabbi David Wolpe asserted in print and at the pulpit that the historical Exodus was a fiction. He based this conclusion on what he believed was (lack of) archaeological evidence. A common mistake.  This lead biblical historian Richard Elliot Friedman (someone who's conclusions I generally have significant issues with) to respond in the following way:

After reading those articles, your readers may have concluded that scholarship shows that the Exodus is fictional, when, in fact, that is not so. There is archaeological evidence and especially textual evidence for the Exodus.

I respect Professor Sperling and Rabbi Wolpe. They were understandably following the claims of some of our archaeologists. Those archaeologists’ claims that the Exodus never happened are not based on evidence, but largely on its absence. They assert that we’ve combed the Sinai and not found any evidence of the mass of millions of people whom the Bible says were there for 40 years. That assertion is just not true. There have not been many major excavations in the Sinai, and we most certainly have not combed it. Moreover, uncovering objects buried 3,200 years ago is a daunting endeavor. An Israeli colleague laughingly told me that a vehicle that had been lost in the 1973 Yom Kippur War was recently uncovered under 16 meters—that’s 52 feet—of sand. Fifty-two feet in 40 years!

Ok, so that helps us to understand that our inability to locate the "Moses was here" plaque is not as conclusive a matter as some would have us believe.  But what about positive evidence?  What "archaeological and textual evidence" is professor Friedman referring to?

Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman, professor of Bible at Bar Ilan University, recently wrote a piece for Mosaic Magazine entitled "Was There an Exodus?" in which he claimed to be revealing evidence "for the first time" for the historicity of the Exodus account.  What follows is a summation of some of that evidence:

  1. There is rich evidence that West-Semitic populations lived in the eastern Nile delta—what the Bible calls Goshen—for most of the second millennium. Some were slaves, some were raised in Pharaoh’s court, and some, like Moses, bore Egyptian names.            
  2. We know today that the great pharaoh Ramesses II, who reigned from 1279 to 1213 BCE, built a huge administrative center out of mudbrick in an area where large Semitic populations had lived for centuries. It was called Pi-Ramesses. Exodus (1:11) specifies that the Hebrew slaves built the cities of Pithom and Ramesses, a possible reference to Pi-Ramesses. The site was abandoned by the pharaohs two centuries later.
  3. In the exodus account, pharaohs are simply called “Pharaoh,” whereas in later biblical passages, Egyptian monarchs are referred to by their proper name, as in “Pharaoh Necho” (2 Kings 23:29). This, too, echoes usage in Egypt itself, where, from the middle of the second millennium until the tenth century BCE, the title “Pharaoh” was used alone.
  4. The names of various national entities mentioned in the Song at the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18)—Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, et al.—are all found in Egyptian sources shortly before 1200 BCE; about this, the book of Exodus is again correct for the period.
  5. The stories of the exodus and the Israelites’ subsequent wanderings in the wilderness reflect sound acquaintance with the geography and natural conditions of the eastern Nile delta, the Sinai peninsula, the Negev, and Transjordan.
  6. The book of Exodus (13:17) notes that the Israelites chose not to traverse the Sinai peninsula along the northern, coastal route toward modern-day Gaza because that would have entailed military engagement. The discovery of extensive Egyptian fortifications all along that route from the period in question confirms the accuracy of this observation.
  7. Archaeologists have documented hundreds of new settlements in the land of Israel from the late-13th and 12th centuries BCE, congruent with the biblically attested arrival there of the liberated slaves; strikingly, these settlements feature an absence of the pig bones normally found in such places. Major destruction is found at Bethel, Yokne’am, and Hatzor—cities taken by Israel according to the book of Joshua. At Hatzor, archaeologists found mutilated cultic statues, suggesting that they were repugnant to the invaders.
  8. The earliest written mention of an entity called “Israel” is found in the victory inscription of the pharaoh Merneptah from 1206 BCE. In it the pharaoh lists the nations defeated by him in the course of a campaign to the southern Levant; among them, “Israel is laid waste and his seed is no more.” “Israel” is written in such a way as to connote a group of people, not an established city or region, the implication being that it was not yet a fully settled entity with contiguous control over an entire region. This jibes with the Bible’s description in Joshua and Judges of a gradual conquest of the land.
  9. Professor Berman gives a good deal of background for the remainder of his piece on the similarities between the structures of the Tabernacle and the battle compound of Ramesses II as well as the Book of Exodus's "Song of the Sea" and an Egyptian battle hymn known as the "Kadesh Poem."  He explains that Maimonides held that the Torah makes liberal use of the material of other nations as a kind of "cultural appropriation."  But in this case, how could the Torah's author have known about the details of these highly specific Egyptian references had they not been privy to them - as part of that culture?  As Rabbi Berman explains:
The evidence suggests that the Exodus text preserves the memory of a moment when the earliest Israelites reached for language with which to extol the mighty virtues of God, and found the raw material in the terms and tropes of an Egyptian text well-known to them. In appropriating and “transvaluing” that material, they put forward the claim that the God of Israel had far outdone the greatest achievement of the greatest earthly potentate.

Like many events that occurred in the past and are explored through sciences such as forensics, evolutionary biology and archaeology, researchers are working with only limited and fragmentary information as R Berman says, "Proofs exist in geometry, and sometimes in law, but rarely within the fields of biblical studies and archaeology. As is so often the case, the record at our disposal is highly incomplete, and speculation about cultural transmission must remain contingent." Ultimately, the "mesorah" - the Judaic chain of transmission from one generation to the next - speaks to me more than whatever biblical scholarship and archaeology "dig up," but for those who need an official scientific stamp of approval before taking something seriously, this is real grist for the mill.

For further reference, please check out and read Professor Ken Kitchen's "On the Reliability of the Old Testament."  

Monday, June 29, 2015

God: He Who Must Not Be Named

A central theme of JK Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is the Ministry of Magic's unshakable desire to categorically ignore the return of the dark lord of Hogwarts - the evil Voldemort.  Poor Harry's pleadings and warnings fall only on (fear-induced) deaf ears of those who would prefer a blissful non-reality over a challenging and scary actuality. Eventually, like in the Munich Agreement or the Greek monetary system, the actual rises up and obliterates the merely hoped for.

This attitude leaped to mind when I read "Humankind's Existentially Lucky Numbers" in last week's NYT's. The writer, George Johnson, gives a good overview of the "Fine Tuning" argument of physics which essentially attempts to understand why it is that the values of each of the "cosmological constants" such as gravitation, electro-magnetism and the weak and strong nuclear forces are so precise as to allow the development of life - an exceedingly unlikely proposition which some scientists have estimated has a 1:10^120 chance of occurring.  (That's a 1 followed by 120 zeros - a number vastly larger than the number of all of the particles in the universe).

Given those odds, it's not hard to understand that scientists are not so willing to just chalk it up to blind luck as Johnson says:

Rejecting the possibility that this was nothing more than a lucky accident, physicists have been looking for some underlying principle — a compelling explanation for why everything could only have unfolded in this particular way.

So we see from this that a) physicists do not have a "compelling explanation" for it, b) it was not due to chance and c) it all had to unfold exactly as it did.

As an example of this conundrum Johnson cites the value of "Alpha:"

If a number called alpha, which governs the strength of electromagnetism, were infinitesimally larger or smaller, stars could not have formed, leaving a lifeless void.  Alpha’s value seems no more predictable than digits randomly spit out by a lottery machine: 0.0072973525698. One of the greatest mysteries of physics, the physicist Richard Feynman called it, “a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man.”

By man yes, but...

Just what could account for it?  Johnson offers three possibilities:

There are several ways to react to this existential dilemma. We can take a cue from the author Douglas Adams and relish the idea that life, the universe and everything are a grand cosmic fluke. If the universal settings were slightly different, we wouldn’t be here considering the mystery. This is a version of what has come to be called the “weak anthropic principle.”

Taking a more mystical turn are adepts of another doctrine: the strong anthropic principle. Drawing on a controversial interpretation of quantum theory, they propose an Escher-like symbiosis. The universe gives rise to conscious observers, who in turn conjure the universe into existence by the dint of their constant gaze.

Finally there are followers of a middle path, who seek to prove that the universe is not accidental but inevitable, with its set of defining numbers as constrained and mutually consistent as the solution to a Sudoku puzzle.

Really?  That's it?  I sort of appreciate the fact that he's willing to give a nod to the "mystical" which in this case seems only to be a quantum theory retread.  But the elephant in the room would seem to be "He who must not be named."  Is it not at least a logical possibility that a conscious designer set these constants in such a fashion as to enable life to develop?  If it's highly unlikely that it's the result of chance and there are (currently) no other viable ways to explain it then why not (at least) suggest it?

I think the answer is found in one of my favorite scientific quotes:

"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to understanding the real struggle between Science and the Supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community of unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to naturalism ... for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door." (Richard Lewontin, Geneticist)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The 50 Smartest People of Faith

Lately I've been getting a lot of comments to the effect of "rabbi, if you would just read an introductory text book on such and such you would see blah blah blah..." as if I had never considered their dazzling points before.  The non-believer generally has an awfully hard time processing that there are still people in this world who doggedly uphold their faith - to them it's all just so backwards and "unenlightened." One way they cope with it is to assure themselves that the persistence of religiosity is simply due to the imbecility of the religious.  No smart (or at least non-delusional) people could possibly continue to believe what science and logic has (in their minds) thoroughly discredited.

It's with this in mind that I share this piece from called The 50 Smartest People of Faith.  I cordially invite the materialist community to tangle with some of these folks.  Maybe we all might not seem quite so dim after-all.

I'll post the intro and a few profiles here and let you explore the rest through the link:

A few years back, “New Atheist” authors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett helped to publicize a movement to rechristen atheists as “Brights” (see our feature article on influential atheists here).
This was no doubt mainly because the word “atheist” still has a harsh and aggressive ring in the ears of most ordinary people.
But the corollary—that people of faith are “Dims”—was surely an added benefit, in the minds of the New Atheist publicity men.
Is it really true that most intelligent and well-informed people are atheists, while people of faith tend to be unschooled and credulous?
Far from it.
Unfortunately, in the rancorous debates in this country over the role of religion in our public life, all too often it is simply assumed—by both sides—that religious faith is in conflict with reason (and intelligence). The unspoken assumption is that religion relies exclusively on faith, while science alone is supported by reason.
This idea is utterly mistaken, but because it mostly goes unchallenged, it reinforces the stereotype that atheists are somehow smarter than believers.
One way to combat the erroneous assumption that faith conflicts with reason is by giving greater visibility to living, breathing believers who are also highly intelligent. That is what we are endeavoring to do with this list of “The 50 Smartest People of Faith.”
The qualifications for inclusion on our list are twofold:
(1) Intellectual brilliance, evidenced by a very high level of achievement, whether in the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, literature, the fine arts, or public service; and
(2) Religious faith, evidenced either through explicit personal witness or through publicly professed respect for religion.
By “religious faith,” we mean religion in the monotheistic, or Abrahamic, tradition—which we happen to know best. We do not doubt that a similar list of brilliant and devout Hindus, Buddhists, Daoists, Confucianists, Shintoists, and others could easily be drawn up, and we hope it will be, by those qualified to do so.
Most of the individuals on our list have given explicit public witness to their religious faith. However, in a few cases we infer a faith that appears to be implicit in a person’s writings. Needless to say, we do not pretend to see into people’s hearts. Unbeknownst to us, some individuals may have private reservations. But all have declared their deeply held respect for religious faith through their works and/or their public pronouncements.
This list, then, includes living men and women who are both people of faith and people of exceptional intellectual brilliance and professional accomplishment. It is presented in alphabetical order.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about how reason supports religious faith could hardly do better than delve into their scholarship or other creative achievements, by following the links we provide.
Khaled Abou El Fadl (b. 1963)
Abou El Fadl was born in Kuwait. He was trained in traditional Islamic jurisprudence in Kuwait and in Egypt, and also holds a JD from University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a PhD in Islamic law from Princeton University. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA law school, as well as Chair of the Islamic Studies Program at UCLA. Abou El Fadl is the author of many books on Islamic law and politics, several of which have been widely translated, as well as scores of articles in academic journals. His research focuses on the theme of beauty as a core moral value of Islam, as well as on universal themes of humanity, morality, human rights, justice, and mercy. He has publicly opposed the Saudi-based Wahhabi movement, and is a vocal supporter of democracy, pluralism, and women’s rights in Islamic countries. A sometime consultant for the US government, Abou El Fadl  has received recognition from several universities and international governmental bodies, including the University of Oslo’s Human Rights Award. He has been called one of the world’s most influential Arabs.
Books: Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law (Cambridge UP, 2001); And God Knows the Soldiers: The Authoritative and Authoritarian in Islamic Discourses (University Press of America, 2001); Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam(University Press of America, 2001; reprinted, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); The Place of Tolerance in Islam, co-author (Beacon Press, 2002); Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority, and Women (OneWorld, 2001); Islam and the Challenge of Democracy,co-author (Princeton UP, 2004); The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists(HarperOne, 2005)
Marilyn McCord Adams (b. 1943)
Born Marilyn McCord, Adams was educated at the University of Illinois (AB) and Cornell University (PhD, 1967). She also holds a Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary (1986) and a Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford University (2008). She has taught at UCLA, Yale, and Oxford. Since 2009, she has been Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Adams is an ordained Episcopal priest. She is best known for her work on the Problem of Evil, and more specifically, for her notion of “horrendous” evil—evil so great as to appear inconsistent with any conceivable “soul-building” type of justification (or theodicy) for God’s permitting it to occur. She has also argued in favor of the universal salvation of all souls, no matter how corrupt. Adams gave the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1998–1999. These were later published as Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology.
Books: The Problem of Evil co-editor (Oxford UP, 1991); Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Cornell UP, 1999); What Sort of Human Nature? Medieval Philosophy and the Systematics of Christology (Marquette University Press, 1999); Wrestling for Blessing (Church Publishing Inc, 2005); Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (Cambridge UP, 2006); Opening to God (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008); Some Later Medieval Theories of the Eucharist: Thomas Aquinas, Gilles of Rome, Duns Scotus, and William Ockham (Oxford UP, 2010)
Werner Arber (b. 1929)
Arber was born in a small town in the canton of Aargau, in northern Switzerland, into a Protestant family. He studied at the famous Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and received his PhD in molecular genetics in 1958 from the University of Geneva. Afterwards, he continued his research into the genetics of the bacteriophage virus at a number of universities in the United States, including the University of Southern California, Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT. He has been a member of the innovative, multidisciplinary Biozentrum at the University of Basel since its inception in 1971. Arber’s work on the genetics of phage played a crucial role in the development of recombinant DNA technology, sparking the biotechnology revolution and earning him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1978. He has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome since 1981, and is a member of the Science, Theology, and the Ontological Quest (STOQ) Project. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Arber as President of the Pontifical Academy—the first Protestant to hold that position.
BookGenetic Manipulation: Impact on Man and Society, co-editor (Cambridge UP, 1984)
Benjamin S. Carson (b. 1951)
Carson was born in Detroit, where he was raised in poverty by a single mother. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale and an MD from the University of Michigan. He did his residency in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University, where he became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery in 1984, at the age of 33. Carson is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1987, he made medical history by being the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the back of the head. He has pioneered many surgical techniques that have become standard in the field of neurosurgery. In 2012, Carson found himself at the center of a national controversy, when he was first invited, then disinvited, and finally re-invited to deliver the commencement address at Emory University. He is the president and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund.
BooksGifted Hands 20th Anniversary Edition: The Ben Carson Story (Zondervan, 2011); America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great (Zondervan, 2012)
Stephen L. Carter (b. 1954)
Carter graduated from high school in Ithaca, New York, in 1972, and earned a BA in history from Stanford University in 1976. He received his JD from Yale University in 1979, after which he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, among others. Since 1982, he has taught at Yale Law School, where he is currently the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law. Carter is a Roman Catholic. At Yale, he teaches courses on contracts, professional responsibility, ethics in literature, intellectual property, and the law and ethics of war. He is also a prolific author, having published eight volume of political and cultural criticism, as well as five novels. His books Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby and The Culture of Disbelief were widely reviewed and discussed. His first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Carter also writes a regular opinion column for Christianity Todaymagazine.
Books: Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby (Basic Books, 1991); The Culture of Disbelief (Basic Books, 1993); The Emperor of Ocean Park (Random House, 2002)
Simon Conway Morris (b. 1951)
Conway Morris was born in Carshalton, Surrey, and was brought up in London. He studied geology at Bristol University and received his PhD from Cambridge University, where he is currently a professor of evolutionary palaeobiology. Conway Morris was elected a member of the Royal Society at the age of 39, in recognition for his groundbreaking work in paleontology. He has also received numerous other academic awards. In 2005, he gave the Boyle Lectures, and in 2007 he delivered the Gifford Lectures. Conway Morris, who is Anglican, is best known for his field work on the fossil deposits contained in the Burgess Shale formation in British Columbia, which represent some of our best evidence for the nature of the Cambrian Explosion. Conway Morris’s work on the Burgess Shale was popularized by celebrated paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould in his bestselling work, Wonderful Life (Norton, 1989). However, the two evolutionary biologists subsequently clashed over their differing interpretations of the fossils. Conway Morris has published a number of books, including two which present his interpretations of the Burgess Shale fossils, as well as his general theory of convergent evolution, for a popular audience.
Books: The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals (Oxford UP, 1998); Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (Cambridge UP, 2003); The Deep Structure of Biology, editor (Templeton Press, 2008); The Fitness of the Cosmos for Life, co-editor (Cambridge UP, 2008)
Louise S. Cowan (b. 1916)
Born Louise Shillenburg, Cowan received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She wrote her PhD dissertation on the poets of the Southern Renaissance of the 1920s at Vanderbilt University. This work was later published as The Fugitive Group (Louisiana State UP, 1959), a classic in its field. Cowan, who is Roman Catholic, taught for over 50 years at the University of Dallas, where she was Chair of the English Department, Dean of Graduate Studies, and University Professor. She also founded and directed the university’s Institute for Philosophic Studies. Cowan is the author of numerous scholarly studies of American and other literature. Together with her husband, Donald Cowan, President of the University of Dallas from 1962 until 1977, she founded the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. In conjunction with the Dallas Institute, she also founded a Teachers Academy for public school teachers, which the National Endowment for the Humanities has designated as a “model for the nation.” Cowan has continued to teach and lecture into her tenth decade.
Books: The Fugitive Group (Louisiana State UP, 1959); The Southern Critics (University of Dallas Press, 1971); Classic Texts and the Nature of Authority, co-author (Dallas Institute of Humanities & Culture, 1993); Invitation to the Classics, co-author (Baker Books, 1998)
William Lane Craig (b. 1949)
Craig was born in East Peoria, Illinois. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College, and two master’s degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He studied under John Hicks at the University of Birmingham, UK, where he received a PhD in philosophy in 1977, and with Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich, where he received a doctorate in theology in 1984. He has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Westmont College, and the University of Louvain, Belgium. He is currently Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, in California. Craig, who is a Baptist, is a prolific author, having written or edited some 30 scholarly and popular books. He has made influential contributions to several areas of contemporary philosophy of religion, the best-known of which is undoubtedly his revival of the Kalām Cosmological Argument. He maintains a busy schedule of lecturing and debating on college campuses and in other public forums around the world. In 2011, Craig made headlines when Richard Dawkins refused to appear at a debate with him at the University of Oxford to which both had been invited.
Books: The Kalām Cosmological Argument (Macmillan, 1979); Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, co-author (Oxford UP, 1993); Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Crossway, 2001); Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Crossway, 2008)
Jean Bethke Elshtain (b. 1941)
Elshtain was raised in the village of Timnath, in northern Colorado. She received her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University, and master’s degrees in history from the University of Colorado and the University of Wisconsin. In 1973, she received her PhD in political science from Brandeis University. She has taught at the University of Massachusetts and Vanderbilt University, and has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale. She is currently the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, as well as an Associate Scholar with the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs. Elshtain, who is a Protestant, has published more than 20 scholarly books on political ethics. She has focused on issues regarding gender roles in politics, just war theory, and relations between religion and state. Since 2001, she has been an outspoken supporter of the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006, she delivered the Gifford Lectures, which were subsequently published as Sovereignty: God, State, and Self. Since 2008, she has been a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Elshtain is also a contributing editor for The New Republic.
Books: Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton UP, 1981); Democracy on Trial (Basic Books, 1984); Augustine and the Limits of Politics (University of Notre Dame Press, 1996); Just War Against Terror (Basic Books, 2003); Sovereignty: God, State, and Self(Basic Books, 2008)
David Gelernter (b. 1955)
Gelernter received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1976, and his PhD from SUNY Stony Brook in 1982. That same year, he joined the faculty of Yale University, where he is a Professor of Computer Science. In 1983, his Linda program introduced the concept of “tuple spaces,” which were a seminal contribution to the development of parallel distributed processing architectures, and are the basis of many computer-communication and distributed-programming systems worldwide. Gelernter, who is Jewish, described this breakthrough in his book, Mirror Worlds (Oxford UP, 1991), which also predicted many features of the World Wide Web. Altogether, he has published some dozen technical and non-technical books, the latter on subjects ranging from technology, to cultural and political criticism, to art criticism and aesthetics, to Judaism. He has also published a memoir—Drawing Life (Simon & Schuster, 1997)—and a well-received novel—1939: The Lost World of the Fair (HarperCollins, 1997). In 1993, he was critically injured by a mail bomb sent to him by Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber.” Gelernter is a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, as well as an accomplished painter.
Books: Mirror Worlds (Oxford UP, 1991); The Muse in the Machine (Free Press, 2002);Judaism: A Way of Being (Yale UP, 2009); Ameri-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (Encounter Books, 2012)