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The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith

The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith: Order, Meaning, and Free Will in Modern Medical Science

Robert Pollack
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  • Book Info
    The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith
    Book Description:

    Are there parallels between the "moment of insight" in science and the emergence of the "unknowable" in religious faith? Where does scientific insight come from? Award-winning biologist Robert Pollack argues that an alliance between religious faith and science is not necessarily an argument in favor of irrationality: the two can inform each other's visions of the world.

    Pollack begins by reflecting on the large questions of meaning and purpose -- and the difficulty of finding either in the orderly world described by the data of science. He considers the obligation to find meaning and purpose despite natural selection's claim to be a complete explanation of our presence as a species -- a claim that calls upon neither natural intention, nor design, nor Designer. Next, the book focuses on matters of free will, from the choice of a scientist to accept evidence, to the choice of a religious person to accept a revelation, to a patient's loss of free will in medical treatment. Here Pollack addresses questions of ethics and offers a provocative comparison of two difficult texts whose contents remain incompletely understood: the DNA "text" of the human genome and the Hebrew record of Jewish written and oral law. In closing, Pollack considers the promise of genetic medicine in enabling us to glimpse our own future and offers a reconsideration of the possible utility of the so-called placebo effect in curing illness.

    Whether refuting a DNA-based biological model of Judaism or discussing the Darwinian concept of the species, Pollack, under the banner of free inquiry, presents a genuine, vital, and well-argued assay of the intersection of science and religion.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52905-1
    Subjects: Religion, General Science, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Given my personal pick of any topics at the boundary of a religion and a science to choose for this book, I quickly eliminated all but two as being either too easy or too difficult. Mortality and natural selection were the remaining possibilities. While mortality had the wider audience, natural selection won on grounds of personal interest. As I prepared the Schoff Memorial Lectures, they prepared me for the obvious outcome of such a choice: I may have decided to begin with natural selection, but I could not end without touching on mortality as well. The bridge that I found...

  6. chapter one Order Versus Meaning: Science and Religion
    (pp. 11-38)

    The seal of Columbia College — subsequently Columbia University — is almost a quarter of a millennium old. It personifies all of us, faculty and students alike, as naked babies. Seated before us is the ideal Teacher, the spiritual mother of us all, Alma Mater, arms out, scepter of wisdom in her hand. Below her is a reference to chapter 2 of the first Epistle of Peter: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies and all evil speakings / As new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”...

  7. chapter two The Meaning Is in the Order: DNA-Based Medicine
    (pp. 39-70)

    In the remainder of the book — originally presented as the second and third Schoff Lectures — I make the case that the current practices of my science of molecular biology of disease and of my religion of Judaism would contribute to an improvement in medical care if each were to appreciate the insights gained by the other. This is so because even though at first glance the working habits of the interpreter of Jewish written and oral law — the rabbi studying Talmud — and the scientist whose work is intended to ameliorate or prevent disease — the doctor...

  8. chapter three Meaning Beyond Order: The Science of One Life at a Time
    (pp. 71-104)

    It is hard to live in two worlds. I would like to be able to say that every day I choose by my own free will to live my life according to the laws of my religion, but the truth is I do not. Instead I often find myself choosing reason over irrational obligation and cutting the corners of my religious obligations to myself and others. I would like to say, as well, that every day I find the strength to reopen my own examination of the natural world, through my eyes or the eyes of my scientific colleagues, ready...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 105-106)

    I began my preface with a short remark by Auden and wish to end the book with a longer quote from his work, and a single lapidary sentence by Freud. Both remind us of the work we each have to do, to be prepared for either scientific insight or religious revelation: no one is less interesting than a lazy person imitating wisdom.

    For the poem I am grateful to Professor Ed Mendelson. It is from W. H. Auden’s Phi Beta Kappa poem for Harvard College, “Under Which Lyre,” in which the rational forces of Apollo seem to be winning their...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 107-116)
  11. Index
    (pp. 117-126)