Book Review: Science and the Mind of the Maker by Melissa Cain Travis
Throughout Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation Between Faith and Science Reveals About God, Melissa Cain Travis presents a defense of what she calls “The Maker Thesis.” In short, this thesis states that the universe is exactly the type of universe we would expect to find if there was a Maker responsible for it. More specifically, when the Christian faith is considered, it is shown to be unique among the worldviews in that it alone provides a sufficiently holistic explanation of not only the findings of science but also the practice of the scientific enterprise as a whole. In support of this claim, Travis draws upon evidence from all across the scientific spectrum.
The Science and the Maker
Travis begins with an overview of the historical and philosophical landscape of the science and religion dialogue. She covers terms like naturalism, scientism, and materialism, ultimately providing the reader with reasons to reject such views. She then addresses the difference between the God-of-the-Gaps reasoning and the type of reasoning in which she ends up engaging throughout this book; the former is making a conclusion in the absence of evidence whereas her argument deeply rooted in existing evidence. In other words, a “Maker” makes the most sense of the world around us.
In the second chapter, Travis explores the truly ancient roots of The Maker Thesis, as well as its continuation throughout history. Long before Christianity, the Greek philosophers such as Plato and Philo reasoned that the structure of the physical world reflected the intellect of God. The implication of this was the natural tendency to identify this Maker through his creation. The Early Christian church carried on with this thought, frequently positing that God was responsible for two “books”: the Word of scripture and the external world.
Chapter 3 addresses arguably two of the most prominent topics in the science and religion dialogue: the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe. The fact that the universe had a beginning was confirmed by the discovery that space itself was expanding. Extrapolating this backward in time implied a beginning, one that no successful cosmological model has been able to avoid. Travis demonstrates how this scientific discovery lends itself as evidence in the ancient kalam cosmological argument. Another prominent discovery in physics has been the precision required of fundamental constants and quantities in order to create a life-sustaining universe. Both the beginning and the fine-tuning of the universe implies a Maker.
Travis takes a historical detour during chapter 4, exploring the respective faiths of Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and Robert Boyle. The commonality identified among these men was the fact that their devout faiths led them to see their knowledge of the physical world as support for their belief in a Maker. Furthermore, the intellect of man was viewed to be somewhat analogous to the intellect of this Maker, indicating that mankind was special among all creation.
The fine-tuning of the universe was touched on in chapter 3, but chapter 5 takes it a step further by identifying the many ways in which the physical world is fine-tuned for scientific discovery. Fire is necessary for metallurgy, which is necessary for science. The earth’s atmosphere is not only optimal for respiration and radiation protection, it is also optimal for clear skies, making stars visible on the surface of the earth. Solar eclipses are only possible with a moon that is just the right size and the right distance away from the earth, and it happens to be that human beings exist on this planet at precisely the time when this is the case. None of these phenomena had to be the case, yet each is required both for habitability of the earth and for scientific discovery.
In chapter 6, Travis responds to potential challenges to The Maker Thesis from the field of evolutionary biology. By first providing a historical evaluation of William Paley’s watchmaker argument, Travis demonstrates that the scientific claims surrounding evolutionary theory do not undermine The Maker Thesis. With respect to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the natural mechanisms would have been understood by Paley as secondary causes, which are mere intermediate steps bridging from the creator to the creation.
Chapter 7 is by far the most technical chapter in Science and the Mind of the Maker, addressing the topic of DNA. Three matters are addressed. First, the information characteristics of the DNA structure are identified. Second, Travis discusses how origin-of-life research indicates the involvement of a Maker behind the emergence of genetic coding. Third, the ability of DNA to provide inspiration for various engineering models is shown to support the claim that these DNA structures were, themselves, designed.
While the nineteenth century discoveries of biology have been viewed as a challenge to The Maker Thesis, the twentieth century discoveries of physics provided additional support for the old view that the laws of nature implied a rational mind behind the universe. Throughout chapter 8, Travis unpacks this development through discussions of various revolutionary scientists. Max Planck, for example, considered the mathematical structure of the universe to be evidence of a divine mind. Furthermore, while Albert Einstein was no classical theist, he nevertheless noted a sense of divinity behind the orderliness of nature.
Chapter 9, then, takes this conversation of mathematics a step further. Mathematical truths, according to Travis, are discovered facts of reality. This can be demonstrated by the ability of mathematical discoveries to be applicable to real-world physical questions. In other words, mathematics is not merely a language that human beings develop, but rather a real part of the world, and given this uncanny connection between mathematics and the physical world, it implies that there is a sense of rationality behind the universe, a kind of rationality that is akin to that of mankind.
In chapter 10, Travis faces the question of the soul in light of modern science, concluding that when all evidence is considered, the existence of the soul is demonstrated. By employing Leibniz’s Law of the Indiscernibility of Identicals, Travis demonstrates via multiple examples that the human person cannot be reduced to the mere physical body, but instead must involve some non-physical component which is identified as the soul. Furthermore, free will and rationality are both shown to be impossible on a physicalist system, meaning that the mere ability to engage in rational enterprises such as science implies the existence of the soul.
The final chapter is where Travis reveals the force of her argument; by combining multiple lines of evidence from many different fields she has produced a strong case . Science and the Mind of the Maker ends not with a mere summary of the topics discussed in the preceding chapters, but also with a demonstration of the collective force of the various topics when considered together. When all is considered, only Christianity supplies an adequate explanation for human experiences.
This is an excellent survey of how science and religion interact not as foes but as allies. The major strength of Science and the Mind of the Maker is found in the overall clarity of content despite the breadth of topics discussed. Travis accomplishes what many writers cannot: the ability to intelligently communicate potentially complex ideas from a wide range of fields. While some discussions may be more technical than others, overall they are simple enough for this book to function as an introduction to the science and religion dialogue, while still providing enough depth so that the readers walk away with a significant amount of substance.