on Dec. 13, 2012 :
According to his website, Robert W. Fuller is a Princeton educated physicist who is also "a recognized authority on dignity and rankism". Rankism, by the way, is a social problem resulting from the "abuse of the power inherent in rank." In his 2012 book, "Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship?" Fuller sets out to proscribe how scientists and adherents of various religions should behave so as to effectively work together to bring us nearer to the utopian goal of peace on earth and further from succumbing to the problems inherent in rankism.
Fuller's goal appears to be noble and no doubt will tug on the heartstrings of many. Yet I find so many problems strung out through this book that my heart compels me to write a measured response. It does not escape my notice that critics of any book advocating world peace need to sound-off carefully. Therefore I need to be clear upfront that my criticisms are with Fuller's inaccurate facts, logical fallacies, self-contradiction, hypocrisy, and misrepresentations. I am not criticizing his laudable goal of urging others to actively help their neighbors, regardless of their beliefs.
In the preface, Fuller observes that the term "religion" means different things to different people. To his credit, Fuller provides his own definition of the term before he uses it. He defines religion as "the metaphysical, moral, and transformational precepts of the founders, prophets, saints, and sages of the major religions" (p4). At first blush this may sound like a wise and grand unifying definition of the term. One quickly finds however that different religious teachers proclaim truths that are at odds with each other. So religion then is a massive pile of contradicting propositions uttered by religious leaders. Upon further reflection, one notices that Fuller uses the term in its definition. That is, how do we know who a leader of a religion is if we define a religion in terms of what its leaders say? Because his book depends so much on the definition of this particular term, it is now logically impossible to know what Fuller is talking about. I doubt that as a physicist Fuller would get away with defining gravity as the force that acts as gravity does.
Philosophically sound reasoning demands a high bar be met to make a claim of truth. Like proofs in Geometry, any valid argument must begin with a set of axioms and proceed through clear logic to deduce a new conclusion. For example, if we begin with the axioms that "a prince is a son of a king", "David was a king until his death", and "Solomon was David's son", then we can prove the truth that Solomon at some point was a prince. The point to notice is that for anyone to make a claim of truth, they should clearly define their axioms. Since Fuller is an educated physicist, I will hold him to this simple rule of rational thought.
The preceding diversion regarding truth and proof becomes relevant as we read how Fuller discovered at an early age that "truth is not necessarily what some authority says it is, but what can be proven." (p5) While I went out of my way to review what a proof is, Fuller did not. He does, however, allude to the methods of empiricism as his axiom as his when he states that "a more evidence-based way of pursuing truth was taking shape." (p6). From this I infer that Fuller's axiom is that for a statement to be true it must correlate with sense experience. If no sense experience can be found to negate the statement, then the statement is proven to be true. Now my inference of Fuller's axiom is dubious, but he provides me no alternative. Therefore, I should be forgiven in completing my straw-man argument that Fuller's axiom contains the formal fallacy of "affirming the consequent" (If p then q. q. Therefore, p).
As for (empirical) science, Fuller presents the illusion that science has always simply "cited facts, made predictions, and tolerated dissent." (p6) If facts are facts and conclusions are based solely on facts then why on earth would any sane scientist tolerate dissent? If it is a fact that gravity travels at the speed of light, why should scientists honestly tolerate dissent? It might be that scientific facts are entirely dependent upon the empirical method chosen by the scientist. One scientist can prove light is a particle with as much certainty as another can prove that light is a wave.
In my profession as a scientific software developer, I witness scientists arguing about the facts with more arrogance and vigor than my religious friends who disagree about the very nature of God. In the end, we have a world full of 7 billion people each with their very own set of axioms, presuppositions and their rational (and irrational) conclusions. To place individuals into categories as if they are types of beans may be a strategy of an empiricist, but the groups we end up with are always a function of the method we choose to create the groups in the first place. My conclusion here is that Fuller would have been better off defining two (or more) very clearly defined beans who hold contradictory beliefs and then taken us through how they can grow together.
Instead, Fuller asks (or rather taunts), why the religious prediction of "peace on Earth, goodwill toward Men" has not been realized (p6). What Fuller means by peace on Earth is a measureable "state of social equilibrium toward which humankind [is] groping." (p7) Now suppose someone were to claim that indeed peace on Earth has been realized. Would Fuller point conclusively to the observed countless deaths of the latest genocide for his set of facts? I will go out on a limb and suggest that Fuller would be intolerant of this dissenter. He would never honestly consider this position to be true. Fuller has a lot to lose if peace on Earth has already been realized, for his entire life's work would now be meaningless. It would be a disingenuous Fuller who would ask the dissenter for the facts to support such an absurd claim.
Perhaps we can allow this dissident a brief moment to make his case. If so, he would clarify where the phrase so often being quoted by Fuller originates from. It comes from chapter 2 of the book of Luke (in the Bible). The context of this passage is the proclamation, by an angel, to the shepherds, of the birth of Christ. Christ was made incarnate to serve as a sacrifice for the sins of men. In other words, sinful men no longer need to fear the wrath of God and the punishment of eternal damnation. It is in this context that the multitude of the heavenly host praised God saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." That is, there is now peace toward the forgiven sinner on Earth, and that peace is from God. This prediction in Scripture did indeed come to pass through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If the objector were allowed to continue, he would also point out that peace between men is specifically denied. For Christ, quoted by Luke, asks, "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two ... when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass..." This second prediction in Scripture continues to ring true as well. No adjustment to this particular religion is needed. With this, the entire premise of Fullers argument and the motivation underlying his book collapses.
On a lighter note, Fuller is very entertaining when he claims, "Paradoxically, science makes more mistakes than religion; but saves itself by being quicker to recognize and correct them." (p8) Why is this paradoxical? Is it because science make more mistakes than religion and also makes less mistakes than religion? Does Fuller know what a paradox is? Is Fuller trying to be cute with a false humility found in those "over-confident and patronizing" (p4) scientists he said he distains so much?
If one views the proponents of the scientific method (with their empirical inductions) as sinful men who make massive blunders, then of course we will have to endure many mistakes from scientists. If one views the various proponents of different religious systems as sinful men who make massive blunders, then of course we will we will have to endure many mistakes from the religious leaders. To say that one sinful man's blunders are better than another's simply because his mistakes are more numerous but are corrected more quickly is unsupported by Fuller's facts. A very short-lived mistake by a scientist may someday annihilate the world's population quicker than any Roman Catholic crusade ever could.
If we were to apply a bit of scientific quantification to Fuller's assertion, we should sum the total number of uncorrected years of mistakes by both the scientists and the religious leaders. Suppose we have 1000 major religious leaders who each made a mistake that went uncorrected for, say 1000 years each. This would give the religious side a net mistake quantity of 1 million years. Now let's agree with Fuller correlation (with implied causation) that "in countries where educational levels are on the rise, religion is in decline." (p7) Therefore, the 1 million years of mistakes is shrinking as we become more educated. Now let's guess conservatively that 1% of today's 7 billion people are scientists. Let's say that each them makes an unlucky 13 hours of uncorrected mistakes per year. That would be 100,000 years of mistakes per year for the scientists. At that rate, it would only take science 10 years to account for the entire world history of religious mistakes. Since science has been around for at least a little while, it would seem scientists are, paradoxically, burdened with more total hours of mistakes than the religious leaders ever will be.
I like to call chapter two Fuller's überassertionalism chapter, for he makes a spectacular number of unsubstantiated claims. One: "No species other than ours holds the fate of the Earth in its hands." (p9) How do we know this to be true? Could not a virus claim superiority and decide to wipe out humanity next year? Two: Man rules because we can make better models than any other animals. (p9) The objection to Fuller on this account is two-fold. How can we know that man makes the best models, and how do we know that the species with the best models is the one who best holds the fate of the Earth its hands? Three: "Models are the path to power. Most of them are no good." (p9) Could it be that Fuller's model is most likely one of the bad ones?
Fuller tells us that the theory of evolution has been "thoroughly tested and to date has not been found wanting." (p10) This is untrue. Even the distinguished National Geographic published an article titled "Neandertals Not Our Ancestors, DNA Study Suggests." If Fuller wanted to provide an honest discourse here, he would have listed some of the serious concerns that prominent scientists have noticed with evolution. Now I'm smart enough not to further irritate any scientist reading this review any more than I just have. Yet should any scientist harbor ill feelings toward what I have suggested, then he might want to consider if he "tolerates dissent" or is an evolutionary fundamentalist. What really puzzles me is why Fuller tosses in the caveat "to date".
Fuller floats one particularly entertaining statement that "NASA has no need for the refinements of quantum or relativistic mechanics..." (p12) Two recent online documents should bring our physicist back to Earth. One is from 1968 titled "General Relativity in Satellite Orbits" and states "The reduction of data for satellites having a one-way Doppler system should include the general relativistic terms." Even more recently, in 1972, NASA published "Relativistic Time Corrections for Apollo 12 and Apollo 13." This should help bring Fuller, relatively speaking, back up-to-date.
Another theme that serves as the foundation of Fullers thesis is the "golden rule." On page 15 Fuller provides 9 sources and quotes for the golden rule. From this list it would appear that the golden rule comes in two flavors. The first proscribes good acts and the second prohibits bad acts. To clarify the distinction with an example takes us to a lake where we find no compulsion to rescue a drowning child based upon the proscription alone. Throughout the rest of his book, Fuller's thesis depends entirely on the proscription. The prohibition cannot support his conclusions. It would seem then that according to Fuller's data, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Judaism cannot be called upon to support Fuller, for they do not proscribe good acts, but simply prohibit bad acts.
To further muddy the golden waters, we find Fuller linking the golden rule to concepts found in physics. For example, he writes, "As in physics, a deviation from symmetry signals the existence of a force that breaks it. Among humans, asymmetries take the form of inequitable or preferential treatment of persons or groups and, as in the physical world, these deviations from the equal-handedness implicit in the golden rule reveal the existence of coercion. For example, slavery requires force or the threat of force. If the most famous formula in physics is E = mc(squared), then the golden rule, as a formula for reciprocal dignity, is perhaps its religious counterpart, a jewel in the crown of religious insight." (p16)
Though the words are golden, the content is meaningless. Fuller obscures the simple fact that no scientific formula, empirical observation, experiment, or inductive reasoning can prove the truth of the golden rule. We find in nature examples of a multitude of thriving species, some who help each other, others who refrain from harming each other, others who fight their kin, and some who even partake in cannibalism. Observation can only tell us what is. Observation can never tell us what ought to be.
Fuller denigrates those who are fundamentalists. For example he proudly declares, "When adherents to any fundamentalist creed demonize dissenters as immoral or evil, they're treading a path that leads to dehumanization, oppression, and sometimes, in the extreme, to genocide." (p18) So basically, Fuller is demonizing the demonizers. It escapes me how it is that he escapes his own judgment. Fuller continues down this path as he offers his very own creed, that "the alternative to fundamentalism is not relativism, it's model building." (p19) Now, it must be pointed out that Fuller's belief in the absolute necessity of model building is in itself fundamentalism. Fuller falls from the upper ground he so firmly believes he holds. He seems wholly unaware of how spectacularly he contradicts himself.
Up to this point in his book, Fuller has been establishing the foundation on which he can then authoritatively proscribe the boundaries of both science and religion. In general, religion is given an important, but not leading role in the quest for peace on earth. The spotlight remais firmly fixed upon science. What we have seen up to this point in his book is that Fuller's foundation for his conclusion is built upon the sinking sand of inaccurate facts, logical fallacies, self-contradiction, hypocrisy, and misrepresentations. Any conclusions he draws later in his book are then wholly unsupported, and not worth reading.
This then should be enough to cause anyone to return this book to the shelf, and to think deeply about the full implications of their own axioms and logically resulting worldview.
(review of free book)