I received a complimentary copy of the premier issue of Salvo (autumn 2006). The publication is associated with the Fellowship of St. James, the folks who publish Touchstone, and similarly hopes to defend Christianity from the attacks of secularism. The mission statement from the masthead reads:
Salvo is dedicated to debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence. It also seeks to recover the one worldview that actually works.A worthy mission indeed! This first issue focusses on dethroning science. I found it somewhat disappointing, but with some interesting features to recommend it and obvious promise to become a much better publication.
The visual busy-ness of the magazine indicates it is intended to acquaint a younger audience to the landscape of the cultural battleground. (But then how many young people need to have the identity of the "Borg" explained to them, as on p. 50?) In any event, I'm pretty certain the publication is not directed at supercilious physicists with training in philosophy (i.e., me), so please keep this in mind while reading this critique.
My overall impression of the publication is that there are too many graphic designers involved, and too few (thoughtful) editors. The pages are littered with pretty photos and informational text boxes. There are big photos that take up most of a single page or that even span two pages. Without the photos, the issue's 96 pages would probably be more like 64. It's all very pretty and very professionally laid out. But I found myself frustrated with the constant barrage of new visual elements, which made me feel as if I were trying to watch an educational television program while a channel-surfing teenager controls the remote.
The issue gets off to a rather poor start with the cover headline: "The Ghost in the MACHINE: Science dismisses it—but at what price?" The problem with the statement is its implicit dualism: it gives the idea that instead of a body-soul composite, we really are two unrelated substances, body and soul, as philosophy after Rene Descartes would have us believe. Ironically, this dualism is precisely what has allowed modern science to cast religion as irrelevant in the first place. The magazine actually explains Cartesian dualism in a helpful textbox on p. 48. But I'm still left wondering about the point of the title. Why poison your audience at the outset and then hope that they manage to stumble across the antidote inside? The only thing I can figure is that, with the word machine in all caps under the image of a bunch of umbilicals and computer connections painfully piercing the back of a young man's head, the title is perhaps trying to evoke something like "Rage Against the Machine."
The contents of the issue include a number of informational items helpful for those not knowledgeable of the culture war. While "Seven Things You Can't Do as a Moral Relativist" (p. 30) is probably something you could have picked up from the smart conservative kid in your freshman dorm (but too few don't), "Decode: Homophobia" (61) is a useful examination of a carelessly coined term. The "Passwords" section at the beginning (8) of the issue is likely to help those less familiar with the terminology to get up to speed.
For me, the most valuable article was "Out on a Limb" by Whitney Archer, about people who suffer from "a strong desire for elective amputation of an otherwise healthy limb." The condition is called Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) or apotemnophilia. Several years ago that U.S. News columnist John Leo mentioned the condition in a column about transexuals. Mr. Archer's article fails to make that connection, but recounts the stories of several sufferers and does make other worthy points, including:
The apotemnophiliac demands amputation on the grounds that he owns his body and so can do anything he wants with it. And such sentiments are prety much ubiquitous these days, used to justify everything from sexual preference to suicide. Indeed, one could argue that there exists a continuum of contemporary behaviors, all predicated upon ostensibly "inborn" desires that do no harm to others...
The magazine also tackles such issues as nanotechnology (p. 13), Darwinism (14), genomic mapping and eugenics (24), moral relativism (30), reductionism (34), cloning (36), transhumanism (46), Darwinism and education (54), euthanasia (56), cosmetic surgery and Brave New World (62), Intelligent Design and Darwinism (76), Intelligent Design and Darwinism (80), Darwinism (84), lefist dominance of academia (86), and the shoddy state of science reporting (93). Speaking of issues, did I mention Darwinism?
Hugh Ross's "How Intelligent Design [ID] Advocates Have Undermined Their Own Cause" was interesting. Dr. Ross disagrees with the purely negative approach of criticizing Darwinism and advocates coming up with a "credible creation/ID model" alternative. Others, including yours truly, argue that the most meritorious element of the ID movement is the critique of Darwinism. Positive ID proposals fall prey to the same fallacy that plagues Darwinism: that divine influence has to operate extrinsically, as if God sticks his finger into the world, instead of working within his creation. Dr. Ross acknowledges his approach can fall into a "god-of-the-gaps" fallacy (though he proposes a work-around, one that I find unsatisfying1). What most shakes the confidence of the hard-core atheistic Darwinist is the discovery of an actual mechanism of evolution. In a previous post, I explained Rick Sternberg's observation that atheistic Darwinists dogmatically oppose discovery of order in nature. I recounted in a another post Mark Ryland's observation that Darwinism is simply the biological consummation of the Cartesian-Newtonian view of the world, for which order can only be imposed from outside. ID theorists take up this mechanistic worldview uncritically. Despite their healthy intentions, the positive proposals of ID-proponents ally them with atheistic Darwinists in denying order within nature; by neglecting to examine their own presuppositions, they actually promote the dualism that scientism, including Darwinism, feeds on.
There are many more things I could write about, but you can take a look at the "Dispatches" (features?) on the Salvo homepage for yourself. (Other articles are available only in physical issue.)
The most manifestly problematic item in the issue was on page 16, "Trust Issues: No Offence, Science, but Can We Get a Second Opinion?", which contrasts scientific opinion "Then" with "Now". One item says that scientific opinion now says, "[D]on't drink fluids when you're sick." Hello? That's news to me! My mother is a nurse and has never deviated from enjoining me to drink fluids for colds. My skepticism found further support in the January 2007 issue of Consumer Reports, which advises treating cold-caused congestion to "[d]rink plenty of fluids, including chicken soup, which may help fight inflamation and the cold virus itself" (p. 47). The source is uncited, but maybe the Salvo author bases his statements on a single news item or study. Science doesn't turn on a dime. It takes more than a single study to change the medical consensus. Beside spreading medical misinformation, the tenor of the piece exacerbates what Hugh Ross elsewhere in the issue calls "the wearisome 'us versus them' hostilities" between theists and scientists (p. 82).
Indeed this sense of being an outsider's critique pervades the entire issue of Salvo. But I suppose that such a blemish is all but inevitable given that the criticism comes from a group that as far as I can tell includes very few scientists. William Dembski, who is on the editorial advisory board, is the only identifiable scientist besides Hugh Ross. To be truly effective, a real critique of science needs to come from an intimate knowledge of science, and yet maintain contact with a larger view of the world that predates its ascendance. Sadly, precious few people have access to either knowledge base, let alone to both.
The magazine seems to be aimed at informing a younger or less knowledgeable audience about the issues behind the culture wars, and this purpose is eminently valuable. Hopefully the publication will not only improve, but also play to the writers' strengths in future. The final page advertises the theme of the second issue as "Sexual Healing."
1. Dr. Ross writes:
We can use current gaps in understanding to test whether a "god-of-the-gaps" or a "naturalism-of-the-gaps" fallacy is in play. Here's the test: If, from a naturalistic perspective, a gap gets wider and wider as scientists learn more and more about a phenomenon, then a miraculous explanation for the gap becomes increasingly justified. If the gap gets narrower and narrower as the database increases, then a naturalistic explanation becomes increasingly justifiedCertainly, Dr. Ross is correct about whether a miraculous or naturalistic explanation appears more justified. But why does the opposition have to be between miracle and naturalism? Why is God's action confined to the miraculous? The fact that there is order at all in nature testify to God's action; St. Paul certainly thinks so, as he writes in his letter to the Romans (1:20). Additionally, Ross has confined discovery of divine action to the provisional mode of discovery of modern science; a gap that is widening today may be narrowing tomorrow. Ross seems unaware that his proposal needlessly hands the advantage to the atheistic naturalists.