NOTE: This review was written for the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith and appears in its December 2003 issue (vol. 55, No. 4, pp. 264-265). I thank the American Scientific Affiliation for permission to reproduce it here. It has been slightly reformatted for this webpage.

Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century

Author: Denis Alexander
Date: 2003
Publisher: Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan
ISBN: 0-310-25018-8
Reviewed by: Allan H. Harvey, steamdoc@aol.com


Review

Sometimes I wish I were British. In contrast to the low wheat-to-chaff ratio for American books on science and faith, the UK seems to produce a disproportionate number of well-reasoned books from a sound Christian perspective, such as those by John Polkinghorne and David Wilkinson. To this list we can add molecular biologist Denis Alexander, whose Rebuilding the Matrix is being distributed in the U.S. after publication in England in 2001.

An early chapter examines the ways in which an unfounded idea can become widely accepted. This sets the stage for the majority of the book, which is devoted to refuting two related paradigms about science and faith that many today take for granted.

The first false idea is the "warfare" model of the history of science and Christianity, in which science marches toward truth, opposed at every step by stubborn believers trying to keep the world in darkness. Alexander exposes the origins of the warfare myth, and shows that science and Christianity have (with exceptions) historically coexisted in harmony. He also argues that the Christian view of nature as contingent on its Creator greatly aided the development of science. While I was generally aware of these points, they were made so well and so thoroughly that I gained a deeper appreciation for how utterly wrong the warfare model is.

Alexander then moves to the present, where many assume that science and faith can no longer coexist, largely due to the theory of evolution. The material will be familiar to many ASA readers, but it is presented well. Science and theology are viewed as complementary ways of knowing, each taking a "critical realist" approach. It is argued that early Genesis should be read as a theological document in its historical context, rather than being twisted into a scientific text. Abuse of the theory of evolution for unscientific ends, like social Darwinism and the promotion of atheism, is denounced. It is pointed out that it is not only atheists who are guilty of erroneously attributing God-excluding metaphysical meaning to evolution, but also Christians whose "God of the gaps" philosophy compels them to oppose the science. Evolution is compared to a ship, with barnacles corresponding to the metaphysical baggage both "sides" have attached to it. Stripped of the barnacles, the ship can steam ahead without threatening our faith.

Additional chapters critique ideas of Michael Ruse on the evolution of morality (an interesting choice of opponent, since Ruse's recent book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? has many points of agreement with Rebuilding the Matrix), examine (and cautiously endorse) anthropic arguments for theism, and criticize David Hume's circular argument against miracles. A final chapter discusses how theism can provide a matrix not only for making sense of the cosmos and human experience, but also for channeling the power of science in worthwhile directions.

I recommend Rebuilding the Matrix for anybody, believer or not, interested in the relationship between science and faith both in history and in the present. Even though it is well-written, it is not light reading. But readers willing to invest some thought and effort will be rewarded.

My only major criticism may reflect the book’s British origin. While the flaws of the "natural theology" most closely associated with Rev. Paley are discussed, there is no mention of Paley’s (mostly American) successors who arose during the 1990s. Many of the author's wise observations (like noting that many Christians make the same category mistake as Richard Dawkins in viewing creation and evolution as rival explanations) could be applied to the "Intelligent Design" movement, but the only Christians criticized for such errors are those of the young-Earth variety. As good as Rebuilding the Matrix is, it is rendered less useful for American readers by its neglect of a movement that, at least on this side of the Atlantic, has become a major force for needless warfare between science and Christianity in the 21st Century.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this review are the opinion of the author of this review alone and should not be taken to represent the views of any other person or organization.

Review originally written July 2003, published December 2003.
Page last modified November 25, 2003