What kind of book is Herman Melville's Moby Dick? Is it a book about whaling? In some ways it is—full of empirical information on the subject. Is it a novel about the perennial mystery of evil and its impact on the human spirit? It is that too.
We could avoid all sorts of nasty fights, Stephen Jay Gould argues, if we would stop expecting science to provide validating evidence for religious dogmas or biblical events. Nor ought we to turn to religion to resolve questions of a properly scientific nature. He wants no more natural theology, no more "anthropic principle," no more attempts to find scientific confirmation for religious beliefs, and no more fundamentalist "creation science." In short, "science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven."
This splendid and judiciously selected collection of sermons begins and ends in the promised land. Puritan Robert Cushman's sermon is the earliest extant sermon preached on American soil and the first to be printed. Given in Plymouth in 1621, it launches the American quest for the promised land with a heartfelt appeal to communal love and care.
Several years have passed since I last encountered a book by Annie Dillard, but her images remain as strong in the memory as Proust's madeleine. Her gaze concentrates on the ordinary until it is transformed into the transcendent: a tree so intensely colored that it gives off light; a sky's invisible clouds revealed only in reflected images on the surface of a glassy lake; a bowl of pond water where one-celled creatures are visible to the naked eye.
The literary critic John Bayley has written a deeply affecting lament for his late wife, the philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, as she disappeared into the insidious fog of Alzheimer's. She died at roughly the same time the book was published, in January of this year. Yet Bayley's book is not only a threnody; it is also an epithalamium, a nuptial hymn offered in praise of their 40-some years of marriage.