The Bible According to Einstein
Jupiter Scientific Publishing
Columbia University Station P. O. Box 250586
New York, NY 10025
In recent years there has been a resurgence of discussions of the relation between science and religion. We offer such evidence as the award of the Templeton Prize to physicist Ian Barbour (and earlier to Paul Davies),and the recent debate between Steven Weinberg and Anglican priest/physicist John Polkinghorne. Into this arena comes a peculiar book, The Bible According to Einstein, (1999, Jupiter Scientific Publications), subtitled A Scientific Complement to the Holy Bible for the Third Millennium, whose author(s) choose to remain anonymous. The dust jacket quotes a reviewer as saying, with not just a little hyperbole, "[It] promises to do for science what the Holy Bible has done for Judeo-Christian religions." The majority of the book is about physics and astronomy, and it appears to be sound, up-to-date, and thorough, at least to the extent that a book at this level can be. The dust jacket carries the praise of two Nobel Laureate physicists (Glashow, Ting) and one Nobel chemist (Seaborg), as reassurance. The parts of the book that are not physics or astronomy are mostly devoted to geological and biological evolution, from the beginnings of life on earth to modern man, and those parts conform to what we believe a majority of workers in those fields would accept (and the dust jacket carries the blessing of a leading anthropologist). If this were all, the book would be a welcome addition to the field of science popularizations, one of the few to attempt such sweeping coverage.
We must however, examine the text more closely, because its title raises more than one yellow flag of caution, and these are substantiated in its content as well as its unconventional style. First, we object to the abuse of poor Einstein's name and/or image as a marketing gimmick, whether by a local bank, by Apple Computer, or by the author(s) of this book. Despite one reviewer's comment that "...Einstein would have been proud of this book," we doubt that he would have allowed his name in the title if he had not written it. Certainly there are parts of the text to which he would have objected. In fairness, the author(s) do disclaim any connection with Einstein.
Secondly, there is the word "Bible." The Anonymous Author(s) (AA, which we shall construe as plural) rather disingenuously say that they are using the word "bible" (lower-case) in its original meaning of "a collection of books," yet they ape the Bible (upper-case) in many ways. After all, the stated goal of this book is "to present Nature's laws, as currently understood, in a style and format that is similar to the Holy Bible." The book has two main divisions, which, like the Christian Bible, are called "New Testament" and "Old Testament." Many of the chapters have titles like Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, etc. Numerous passages are related to the Bible, or at least to religion, and this forces us to scrutinize the work in that context. In the preface, AA liken religion and science to "oil and vinegar" which do not mix, yet they attempt to blend the two ingredients into a "palatable mixture." The result, however, may not be to everyone's taste. Furthermore they describe science and religion in ways that are so parallel, that the reader may be left with the feeling that science is a religion, with "Nature" substituting for a deity and the word "natural" for "holy." Indeed AA say "...science operates to a large extent on faith." Physical laws are described as "dogmas." This view we feel is dangerous, fueling both the social constructivists' side of the current controversy on the nature of science, and the religious fundamentalists' arguments against the theory of evolution as a faith-based "mere theory," and against Secular Humanism as another religion.
In BAE the "New Testament" comes before the "Old Testament" (although AA say that in a future edition they may reverse the order). The main focus of this part is to present current knowledge of physics, from quarks and superstrings to macroscopic objects, from Newton's Laws to general relativity and quantum mechanics, to the big-bang (including inflation and dark matter, but not the cosmological constant). There are three main sections: "The Books Containing the Chronicles," "The Books of Physics" (followed by two short chapters on chemistry and biology), and "The Books of the Solar System". It begins, however, somewhat mysteriously with "The Twenty Second Book of Creation and the First Book of the New Testament, called Homogenesis." (The Twenty-first Book is located deep within the Old Testament portion.) "Homogenesis" traces the evolution of humankind from the australopithecines to homo sapiens sapiens. The following Books of Physics and Books of the Solar System treat in considerable detail our present understanding of these subjects, and apart from style, are well done. The Books Containing the Chronicles however is a mish-mash of biographical sketches (of Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, as well as of four religious leaders: Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed), together with discussions of units, histories of electromagnetism and elementary particles, tables of quarks, an accounting of many natural catastrophes, etc.
The sketch of Moses we found especially troublesome. Based on the Biblical account, AA attempt to give "scientifically plausible explanantions" of Moses' magic and of the ten plagues upon Egypt. This treatment echoes the efforts of the Falasifa, the Islamic and Jewish scholars of Golden-Era Spain, and their intellectual heirs, the medieval Scholastics of Western Europe. Both groups attempted to reconcile Aristotlelian science with the texts of Divine wisdom. BAE treats Moses as a scientist: "...he was trained in science and taught of natural phenomena" [italics theirs]. He is a conveyor of scientific knowledge to the Hebrews: "...he explained how Nature worked. And the Hebrews became the wisest people anywhere." But at the same time, in this effort, AA have reduced Moses to a deceitful trickster, who uses his scientific knowledge (which he learned from the Egyptians) to fool the Pharaoh. AA portray Moses as no more powerful than Pharaoh's magicians (who are apparently unaware of the same knowledge they imparted to Moses). Like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Moses knows that a solar eclipse is to occur, and threatens the Pharaoh with the plague of darkness. More disturbingly, AA have Moses and his followers purposefully poisoning the cattle in the fields, collecting rat lice to plague the populace, and finally, spreading "a disease like small-pox" to kill many of the innocent of Egypt. Moses has become a terrorist! This is all too close to the medieval anti-Semitic canards of Jews poisoning the wells and bringing on the bubonic plague. It should be noted that, by contrast, Jesus' "miracles" are accepted uncritically: he raises the dead, walks on water, etc. He is clearly not presented as a scientist-magician. Unlike Moses, Jesus is allowed to speak to God, and much of the treatment has a flavor of New Ageism. (More New Ageism can be found in the "must read" last chapter called "The Last Commandment.") Throughout their treatments of Moses and Jesus, AA make gratuitous additions to the stories which are without apparent purpose (Moses is "baptised" by his mother's tear, Jesus builds three tabernacles, etc.). We leave it to others to comment on the treatments of Buddha and Muhammed, although it should be mentioned that AA accept for Muhammed (like Jesus) what they deny to Moses -- that he spoke with God. We would however, recommend that AA delete all four of these biographical sketches in any future edition to avoid controversy and gratuitous offense, and since they are not relevant to the avowed purpose of the book.
The "Old Testament" half of BAE is a straightforward chronological history. It begins at the Planck epoch, progresses through to the formation of the Earth, the appearance of life, (where it loops back to the opening of the New Testament part), the geological ages, etc.
Written in a kind of imitation King James style, with some degree of poetry but without the majesty, BAE becomes tedious to read at length, since saturation of sentences beginning with "Now..." or "And ..." and sprinkled liberally with "...shall be..." soon sets in. One example chosen randomly from several hundreds (p.178) should suffice: "Now there shall be three fundamental laws of classical mechanics, known as Newton's Laws of motion. And they shall govern the movement of macroscopic bodies." This style, coupled with their prefatory remarks cited previously, have the tendency to make the reader feel that what is presented is revealed truth, and not the result of centuries of labor by countless minions of science.
All-in-all, it is regrettable that this highly pretentious yet remarkably complete survey of science at the end of the millennium cannot be recommended without many caveats.
Michael Lieber, Dept. of Physics,
University of Arkansas; Fayetteville, AR 72701
Rabbi Laura Lieber, Divinity School, University of Chicago
Beyond Malthus: Nineteen Dimensions of the Population Challenge, by Lester R. Brown, Gary Gardner, and Brian Halweil,
Norton, New York, 1999, 167 pages, $13.00. ISBN 0-393-31906-7.
This review was published in the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter, in the Fall 1999 issue, and is reprinted here in condensed form by permission.
This slim volume, in the Worldwatch Environmental Alert Series, examines and provides the latest data on factors, or "dimensions," affected by the insensate growth of the world's population. It is a reasoned, detailed, sobering presentation.
"The Population Challenge," first of the book's 21 short chapters, discusses the "demographic fatigue" of many countries. The pace of population growth staggers the imagination. More people were born since 1950 than in the preceding millions of years since our ancestors stood upright. In the next 50 years another 2.8 billion people will be added. The UN has reduced its predictions of population twice in the last ten years, not because of a decline in births, but because of an increase in mortality. Thirty-two countries, mostly European, have achieved population stability. Another thirty-nine (including China and the U.S.) have achieved replacement level, but the population will continue to grow because of their young average age and (in the U.S.) immigration. Another 118 may double or triple before 2050, although population growth will be cut short for many of these because of increasing deaths caused by resource and other shortages.
The book examines 19 environmental and social dimensions that interact with population growth, any one of which could trigger a "demographic train wreck." Here are a few of these dimensions.
Grains. Since 1984 the grain harvest per person has droppedby 9% due to lack of new land and slower growth of fertilizers and irrigation. A poor country such as India uses less than 200 kilograms of grain per person per year, all by personal consumption. The U.S. uses 900 kilograms, mostly to produce meat and dairy products. The question "how many people can the Earth support?" cannot be answered without specifying the level of consumption. If the world grain harvest were expanded to two billion tons, it would support 10 billion Indians or 2.2 billion Americans.
Water. Spreading water scarcity may be the most underrated resource issue in the world today. The authors predict that the amount of available water per person will fall by 73% between 1950 and 2050! Water tables are being depleted in every continent, and aquifers are being emptied. As water is rationed, agriculture will not be favored, since 1000 tons of water can produce either one ton of wheat worth $200 or industrial output worth $14,000. As demands for industry and urban water use water rise, countries typically decrease irrigation water and import grain. In 2050 a billion people will be living in countries facing absolute water scarcity--but this means that we also face a future of food scarcity!
Biodiversity. We live in the greatest extinction period since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. The reasons for the extinctions are all a function of human activities.
Energy. Energy use is increasing twice as fast as population, a disparity that will continue as developing nations try to emulate the industrialized nations. Energy consumption of developing countries will increase by 336%, and that of the industrial nations will double despite a population decrease. The U.S. uses twice that of other industrial nations and 13 times that of developing nations.
Fish. During 1950-1988 oceanic fish catch increased from 19 to 88 million tons, a per capita increase from 8 to 17 kg. Overfishing has now become the rule. Of 15 major oceanic fisheries, 11 are in decline. The cod catch has dropped 70%, and Canada and the U.S. have had to curtail their fishing fleets. The competition has led to more than 100 international disputes in 1997 alone. The only solution in sight is aquaculture, which has increased from 7 to 29 million tons during 1984-1997. But aquaculture competes with livestock and poultry for grain, soybeans, and fishmeal.
Infectious Diseases. Steadily increasing urbanization in developing nations is accompanied by increased exposure to disease. The basic problem is urban overcrowding. Human activities linked to population growth, such as forest clearing and dam building, favor disease vectors. In many countries, most of the population lack access to basic health care.
Cropland. In fast-growing countries, per capita cropland is diminishing and food self-sufficiency will soon be impossible. Since 1950, global grain area has grown 19% while population has grown 132%! In crowded industrial countries such as Japan and Taiwan, the per capita grain area is smaller than that of a tennis court, driving these countries to import 70% of their grain. And population growth itself reduces cropland productivity and removes cropland from production.
Forests. 75% of forest losses have occurred in this century, as has 75% of the population growth. The forest loss is correlated with rising per capita consumption. Global paper consumption, 63% of it from Europe, Japan, and North America, has nearly tripled since 1961. Global forest product use is near or beyond sustainability, with enormous consequences for greenhouse warming and erosion control.
Climate change. All major scientific bodies accept that the world is warming due to greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. Possible effects include more intense heat waves, more severe droughts, more violent storms, and more forest fires. The range of tropical diseases will be extended. Although the industrial nations are presently the chief emitters, developing countries will catch up by 2020.
Conflict. Conflict within and among nations stem primarily from conflicts over . shared natural resources, especially water. As population increases, so will the number of people who face resource scarcity and therefore the potential for conflict. .
Nine other population-related dimensions covered in the book but not included here due to space constraints are: materials, urbanization, protected natural areas, education, waste, meat production, housing, jobs, and income.
In their conclusion the authors wonder whether the expected population increases can materialize. Because of "demographic fatigue," countries are unable to respond to infectious diseases, aquifer depletion, deforestation, etc. etc. Thus, countries might reach population stability or decline because of rising death rates--an undesirable way to solve the population problem!.
As governments' inability to handle social stresses becomes more evident, religious, ethnic, and tribal differences will be exacerbated, and conflicts will result. In all this, it is important to remember that our world is more environmentally and economically interdependent than ever. There are no longer "their problems." There are only "our problems."
As can be noted from this review, this book examines every possible aspect of world population growth in very succinct fashion. We can only hope that the myriad problems facing both developing and industrialized countries can be tackled successfully--in time!.
Irma S. Jarcho
The Trevor Day School
1 West 88th St New York, NY 10024.
by Allen Hammond, Island Press/ Shearwater Books, Washington, DC, 1998
Hardcover about $17 if purchased from amazon.com
Allen Hammond is senior scientist and director of strategic analysis at the World Resources Institute and a prolific author. In this insightful and challenging book about likely futures he condenses the results of Project 2050, a 5-year international and multi-disciplinary "visioning" study co-sponsored by the World Resources Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Santa Fe Institute, coordinated by the Stockholm Environmental Institute. The book acknowledges contributions from numerous study participants, and is copiously referenced and annotatedfor readers interested in delving in greater depth into its assumptions, projections, analysis, or findings. On the verge of the new millenium, futurism and strategic planning through scenario- building are a fashionable and timely endeavor both for private business planning and for federal agencies in response to Government Performance and Results Act(GPRA) requirements.
After a brief introduction in Part I, describing the scenario-building process, its value and limitations, the book sets up in Part II three future world scenarios considered most plausible. These are(1) Market World, ruled by free market economics, in which prosperity for all is the promise of progress; (2) Fortress World, marred by conflicts and instability, in which secure boundaries and deterrence maintain unstable equilibrium; and (3) Transformed World, a utopian fusion of new-wave capitalism, democracy and prosperity, enabled by instant communication via a GlobalNet and by enlightened technological progress.
These scenarios differ drastically in degree of realism, optimism,or pessimism underlying their projections. They also differ in the extent to which the distributed benefits of technology-based economic growth, rational social engineering, and institutional progress prevail over environmental neglect, poverty, social instability and factionalism. The scenarios are admittedly oversimplified, and the author acknowledges that our world is a very inhomogeneous, unpredictable and complex system. Yet,this is a useful attempt to structure and discipline unfettered futurism and to capture some general traits of the world half a century hence.
It is not until Part III that the trends critical to shaping an uncertain future are discussed. Part IV explores regionally-specific characteristics, the inertia in social and governance traditions, and culturally dictated choices. Only in the final chapter (Part IV) are the daunting challenges of "Choosing our future" posited.
As a strategic planner, I found the book interesting and informative, but rather simplistic and predictable in extrapolating recent trends into the far future. In my view, the book is an inverted pyramid: I would have preferred to turn the top-down chapter order around, so as to build a more compelling case for the three alternative worlds from the ground up. The future cast would have been more convincing were it to start with projected trends and with social, cultural, economic and other regional differentiators and show how they lead to the three common world scenarios. What is really missing is some sort of decision trees leading to actionable choices, which are implied but never made explicit by the author.
Many questions came to my mind and remained unanswered in reading the book: Is a homogeneous "global village" a bane or a boon? Will there always be winners and losers, rich and poor countries, or will there be a more uniform distribution of wealth across nations? Since there is no world governance, how can there be consensus on a new world order? How can we optimize a system currently sub-optimized even at the local level? Even if we perceive and agree on the desired final state of the world in 2050,how do we get from here to there, manage the change and overcome transition turbulence? Can the world we live in evolve smoothly from nationalism and factional rivalries and forsake religious extremism for an enlightened self-governance? Will the UN, the World Bank, and other global entities play a role, and if so how might they evolve? How can the identified positives (the information age, the "greening" of global corporations, effective and militant citizens groups, and mega-philantropists) turn our future into a better place? What choices and decision points exist and for whom?
The best thing about this thought-provoking book is that it gives the reader an opportunity to get on internet to browse trend data, regional scenarios and sources, and interactively exchange views on "What will the world be like in 2050" in a well organized "HyperForum on Long Term Sustainability," maintained by Caltech at http://www.hf.caltech.edu/whichworld, with a portion on "Which World" at hyperlink http://mars3.gps.caltech.edu/hf/b3.
Dr. Aviva Brecher
Transportation Strategic Planning and Analysis Office
John A Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, Cambridge, MA 02142