In the Shadow of the Sword: the Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, by Tom Holland. In elegant prose, Holland takes rather a long time to convey two hugely important facts. First, that the Eastern Roman Empire was exhausted and devastated by plague, and that the Persian and Roman (Byzantine) Empires had by 650 AD fought each other to exhaustion. Second, the eastern Roman Empire fell to the new Arab armies for much the same reasons that the Western Roman Empire had fallen to Germans: the barbarians the Romans had hired to protect the frontiers were tired of not being paid in the aftermath of great financial crises. In the case of the Arabs, they were already in Syria when they revolted against Rome. Abd-el Malik, the third caliph, retroactively made Mecca, of little importance to the original scheme of Mohammed, the capital of Islam.
This is a fascinating account of the end of the ancient world. I do not do it justice in this brief review; the author’s style is somewhat too elliptical for my straightforward tastes. Nevertheless Tom Holland’s book earns a strong though qualified recommendation.
About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the twilight of the Big Bang, by Adam Frank. Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester in New York. The book may be praised with faint damns as a competent review of how man’s conception of time has been socially constructed out of different forms of engagement with material reality over time. It fails absolutely to persuade me that string theory or multiverses are anything but attempts to get around the supreme issue, which is: why is this universe so ideally and so strangely suited to the emergence of conscious life? As to this larger question, Frank ducks it and Paul Davies confronts it squarely in The Goldilocks Enigma, which is by far to be recommended for intellectual depth and boldness.
The physics community has been evading the issue for some time. The vastly improbable sets of physical constants that allow atoms to bind, for heavier elements to form, for the four fundamental forces (electro-magnetic, gravity, strong force and weak force) to act to produce us, is the huge embarrassing question. Because we do live in a Goldilocks universe, and because the evidence is that, if there is only one universe, it is exquisitely attuned to produce human life and mind, it points to a Creator. The prospect of this is too much for materialists to bear, and so you get books like Adam Frank’s that hover around the question but never really come out and say why the multiplication of universes is called for by materialist interpretations of existence.
Roger Scruton is a British conservative and philosopher. His Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left is highly recommended if you wish to see through the feculent suppurations of new left thinking. Scruton explains why it is drivel, in patient exposition. It is as if someone has brought a giant vacuum to the culture’s intellectual septic tank. There’s old Roger, the township’s cleaner of shit tanks, doing his smelly but necessary job of keeping the place free from cholera, dysentery, and pollution.
Here is an example, writing of Sartre:
“Sartre’s anti-bourgeois rhetoric changed the language and the agenda of post war French philosophy, and fired the revolutionary ambitions of students who had come to paris from the former colonies. One of those students was later to return to his native Cambodia and put into practice the “totalizing” doctrine that has as its targets the ‘seriality’ and ‘otherness’ of the bourgeois class. And in the purifying rage of Pol Pot it is not unreasonable to see the contempt and for the ordinary and the actual that is expressed in almost every line of Sartre’s demonic prose.”
We owe to Scruton an immense debt of gratitude for having patiently gone through the nihilistic nonsense of French academic marxizing to capture its essential nullity, vacuity, and gone over to Satan-ness. Someone has done the work, now I do not have to.
I give the highest recommendation to Stephen Rothman, philosopher and biologist, for his wonderful expositions of what is missing and wrong about modern scientific dogmas, especially as they pertain to biology. Nowhere is the prior and unscientific commitment to materialism so great as in biology, and though Rothman does not dispute it directly he is able to see the difference between an axiom (this is how we proceed) from a truth (a demonstrated and ineluctable conclusion). Rothman is, as far as I know, one of three people who seem to have read Darwin’s second great book, the Descent of Man, or Selection in Relation to Sex, published 13 years after The Origin of Species, and realized that Darwin came up with two different ideas as to how evolution worked. The other two are Geoffrey Miller and me.
Rothman’s The Paradox of Evolution: The strange Relationship between Natural Selection and Reproduction (2015) is a good place to start. He explains, in strictly Darwinian terms, why natural and sexual selection are not the same thing, and are at variance with one another. That is fascinating enough. But he also goes further. He also confronts the notion that, as Karl Popper pointed out was necessary for a theory to be truly scientific, that if natural selection admits of so huge an exception as sexual selection, then natural selection is not a complete theory. And if not a complete theory, it is not scientific in the sense in which Popper used the term. Here is what I mean by complete. Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation do not admit of exceptions. They are universal. There is not an exception for these laws in any part of the universe.
Rothman is philosophically literate, which makes all the difference. So many biologists are simply cheerleaders for Darwin and for materialist doctrines. Rothman therefore entertains as he leads the reader through the difficulties which Darwin’s two theories of evolution pose for true believers. So impressed was I by The Paradox of Evolution that I bought a book of his written 15 years ago, “Lessons from the Living Cell: The Limits of Reductionism”.
I recommend both, if you are interested in what an accomplished thinker can bring to topics of which he is the master. I emphasize the word “thinker”. Rothman is clear, deep, and represents a refreshing change from the fanatic and narrow-minded materialism that dominates so much darwinian cheerleading that passes for thought in the biological sciences. Rothman remains a materialist, I think, but one in whose company one could profitably spend some time.