Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy by Hazen and Trefil is an excellent one-volume overview of science. I will summarize the strengths and weaknesses and then elaborate each point further.
Science Matters claims that:
1) Science rests on a foundation of philosophical assumptions.
2) The Second Law of Thermodynamics is bad news.
3) The Cosmos and living things are full of wonder and beauty.
4) Presents inconsistent statements about evolution.
5) Adopts the error of Immanuel Kant.
6) Propagates a popular misunderstanding about the Scope’s Monkey Trial.
1) Hazen and Trefil (to whom I will refer as H&T throughout) wisely point out where science touches philosophy. Science is only possible if three philosophical assumptions are true:
A) Nature is uniform.
B) The human mind is orderly and can know the world.
C) There are such things as natural laws.
They also add an additional point D), that all phenomena can be explained by natural causes, but that is an assumption of materialist philosophy, one not necessary for science. Isaac Newton believed A-C, but would have rejected D: he was not only one of the most brilliant scientific minds who ever lived, but also a supernaturalist philosopher and Christian. We live in an extremely interesting time in history. Christians and modernist atheists hold A-C in common, but some postmodern atheists deny the ability of the human mind to know anything, which renders science impossible. Christians and modernist atheists have to team up to defend science against the philosophical attacks of postmodern atheists.
2) The Second Law of Thermodynamics is really bad news. H&T point out that increasing disorder in the universe leads to a “gloomy” view of the universe. This is true, and I wish more materialist philosophers would take the Second Law more seriously. Consider the following:
A) The universe is a closed system, and
B) The Second Law of Thermodynamics is true,
C) Entropy will destroy everything, including the greatest human achievements;
D) Work is ultimately meaningless.
The Second Law is really bad news if the universe is a closed system. If work has meaning, the universe can’t be a closed system. Christianity comes along and says, “Yes, that’s why Paul connects the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 to work at the end of 1 Corinthians 15.” The resurrection is true; so work hard for the Lord, knowing your labor is not in vain. In the Gospels, Jesus says to dead Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus obeys. Christ’s authoritative word has the power to undo entropy. He is Lord of the Cosmos, and the Cosmos obeys.
3) From cosmic cataclysms to the complex inner workings of the cell, H&T are incredibly enjoyable to read.
4) Unfortunately, H&T present inconsistent statements about evolution. In the beginning of the book, H&T insist the fossil record is incredible evidence for evolution. Later in the book, H&T say that the fossil record is weak since there are so few finds and since one or a few bones are extrapolated to make a whole animal. Which is it, strong or weak?
5) H&T unfortunately buy into the error of Immanuel Kant, namely that of separating religion and reason. I hope to write a post about it someday. American and European cultures do not fully understand and have not repaired the damage that Kant has done to our thinking, and therefore to our lives.
6) Also unfortunately, H&T propagate a common misunderstanding about the conflict of creationism and evolutionism in America. They mention “legal battles,” undoubtedly a reference to the Scope’s Monkey Trial. The typical secular narrative about the Scope’s Monkey Trial (maybe you remember a guy named William Jennings Bryan from your U.S. history class) is that the Christians were the dumb, uneducated bad guys, and the evolutionists were the intelligent, educated good guys, but this narrative ignores a crucial fact: the textbook in question (Hunter’s A Civic Biology) had an argument for eugenics. Christians were absolutely right to oppose eugenics and its being taught in public schools. Modern secularists are embarrassed by the pro-eugenic views of older secularists and have done a face-lift on history to ignore the unpleasantries. (Darwin too wrote an argument for eugenics in The Descent of Man.) H&T propagate the view that the secularists were the good guys, when the reality was much more dirty. The secularists in the Scope’s Monkey Trial were arguing for something evil in the name of science.
Overall, a solid introduction to science as a whole and enjoyable to read.