Gifted Mind: Engaging, Worthwhile…Unfinished

gifted_mind_cover_courtesy_publisherKinley, Jeff, with Raymond Damadian. Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015. Hard cover. Pp. 240. ISBN 978-0-89051-803-8.

Certain aspects of Jeff Kinley and Raymond Damadian’s Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI suggest incomplete editing. I encountered, for example, dangling modifiers, odd punctuation choices, and subject-verb disagreements. (I almost included another indication of incomplete editing: the dominant use of “impact” when “influence,” or, as appropriate, “affect” or “effect,” would be a superior choice. However, the need to expend mental effort to distinguish between “affect” and “effect,” joined to the greater syllable count of “influence,” has led more and more people, in more and more contexts, to replace these words with forms of the word “impact.” This has happened in spite of the hard, like-a-punch sound of the word, indicative of its original sense. Charles Harrington Elster, on page 47 of his 2010 The Accidents of Style, puts it well: “Once upon a time we expressed the effect or influence of something calmly and clearly by saying that it affected or influenced something else. Now it is hammered into our heads day in and day out with the word impact….The sad thing is that this powerful word, which traditionally connotes considerable force, has lost all its forcefulness through incessant repetition. The only power impact has retained is the ability to cause a headache.” Though I might wish this trend would at least be resisted in edited works put into print, I can’t condemn as “incomplete editing” what might be a conscious decision to go with the trend.) I’m also mystified by Master Books’ decision to put the name of the first-person autobiographical narrator (and the “I” of every creationist-argument passage), Dr. Raymond Damadian, in the secondary author’s “with” slot, giving the primary author’s byline to Jeff Kinley. It is widely acknowledged, or at least suspected, that “with” coauthors often do more of the writing than prominent-name top-byline authors; even if Mr. Kinley did more work on the text than Dr. Damadian, this seems an instance where almost any other publisher would have bylined it “Dr. Raymond Damadian, with Jeff Kinley,” particularly in light of the decision to use the first person singular throughout.

Even with the odd bylining and incomplete editing, though, Gifted Mind proves enjoyable reading, combining an engaging plot with a mostly sound review of the basic arguments of evidentially oriented (as opposed to presuppositionally oriented) scientific (biblical) creationists. Since evidence of incomplete editing only matters to those who notice it (I earn what passes for a living editing, so I can’t help it), I won’t comment further on such, instead focusing on the usual reviewer’s overview of the text, explanation of why I call the book’s review of evidentialist creationist arguments “mostly” (not “wholly”) sound, and some reflection on those arguments from a more prepositionally oriented perspective. (I’ve adopted the time-tested binary categorization of apologetics approaches according to which all non-presuppositionalists are “evidentialists.” It is rare to find a non-presuppositionalist who is satisfied with this approach, since it ignores the variety and nuance of “evidentialist” perspectives, but a more detailed categorization would serve no useful purpose in this review.)

While creationists with a more presuppositionally oriented approach will point to how biblical creationism and evolutionism are both faith-dependent belief systems that attempt to organize and explain present-day data through coherent stories (“models”) about an unrepeatable past, Kinley and Damadian (hereafter, K&D) adopt a different stance: the debate between evolutionists and creationists, they hold, “is in actuality a debate of genuine science [creationism] vs. science fiction [evolutionism]” (4). The “Publisher’s Note” at the end of the text goes further, identifying evolutionism, at least when it holds to “evolution by ‘chance,’” as “not scientific fiction” but “scientific nonsense” (234, emphasis removed), and identifying this as Damadian’s final view on the topic (233). These bookends of the text share a fundamental trust in scientific or empirical methods and, necessarily, in the human rational and perceptual faculties upon which those methods depend. The presuppositionalist concern, that non-Bible-believers have no ultimate justification for such “fundamental trust,” does not arise; the sole issue addressed is who best follows the methods based upon this trust, not whether the trust itself comports with the broader belief system of any group.

The “Dedication” also provides the following comment on 1 Timothy 6:20’s “science falsely so called”: “i.e., evolution.” Because “i.e.” means “that is,” this comment is misleading. Since the verse has in view, not modern scientific knowledge, but knowledge in a much broader and more generic sense (with claims to spiritual knowledge presumably the main focus), “e.g.” or “for example” would have been better wording.

The Introduction (5-6), signed by Kinley, emphasizes Damadian’s status as “an authentic servant of Jesus Christ” and his “genuine humility” (6), and tells readers a bit about Kinley’s interaction with Damadian.

Chapter 1, “The Truth” (7-21), sets forth some of the fundamentals of K&D’s thinking. (Though the chapter reads as Damadian’s thinking, the book’s bylining forces me to attribute the thinking to K&D.) While K&D do see the truths revealed in Scripture as somehow contributing to the burgeoning of scientific discovery in the West (11,14), even going so far as to say that “if we remove Jesus Christ from the thread of scientific discovery, we lose our foundational access to His truth, and along with it, its unbounded power” (15), they draw back from treating belief in the one true God and his special revelation in Scripture as truly foundational. They write: “Of course, one does not have to believe in God in order to discover the things He has made or to apply them to useful or medical purposes. [T]ruth is truth, no matter who discovers it. However,” they add, “the reason it is so important to understand the role of God’s truth in scientific discovery is because without His truth as the foundation of all knowledge, we limit science to a closed system of natural law alone….[where] the physical laws of nature exist without any help from a Divine Being” (15).

This formulation must strike the more prepositionally aware as inadequate. In the absence of faith in the law-giving God, the concept of a law-governed nature, and so of “natural law,” is itself mere wishful thinking, pragmatic given that the alternative is madness, but ultimately groundless. If one rejects the lawful God of Scripture, what basis does one have for believing that the regularities one has seen in (a small portion of) nature over the course of one’s (quite short) lifetime will continue in the future, or that they always characterized the past? If one rejects the truth-valuing, non-deceiver God of Scripture, what basis does one have for trusting one’s perceptual and rational faculties (and memory) to have rightly revealed true regularities in nature? Were God’s truth really “the foundation of all knowledge,” then it would be the foundation of trust in one’s faculties (the justifier of belief in the information provided by those faculties), and those who rejected God’s truth would have to answer both the preceding questions, “No basis at all.” K&D, however, do not consider such questions. Instead, they adopt a perspective that takes the legitimacy of trusting human faculties for granted and that, in principle, allows those who reject God and Scripture to argue, in terms of a common ground of “brute facts,” on equal footing with those who accept God and Scripture. Thus, God is not required to justify trust in human reason and observation; rather, “Human reason requires [in the sense of proves, as indicated by the next sentence] the existence of an uncaused, Intelligent Being who caused man, the universe, and life to come into existence. Both logic and true science give evidence for this reality” (15).

Rule-guided human observation, the collection of formalized empirical methods that make up science, in K&D’s understanding, is not something dependent upon presuppositions, but the objective alternative to presuppositions: the speculation that all life has descended from a single common ancestor (evolutionism), they write, “though widely and unquestionably [i.e., unquestioningly] accepted in the scientific and medical community, is founded, not upon science, but rather upon presupposition, intellectual bias, and the misunderstanding and misapplication of archeology and scientific knowledge.” Specifically, the presupposition that “is the foundation upon which evolution is built” is “that there is no God” (16). This is joined to “a built-in bias (prejudice) against all matters of faith,” even though a “gargantuan among of faith [is] required to convince oneself of evolution” (17). Were evolutionist to forsake bias and simply think objectively, doing good science, they would abandon their theory, for “there is no scientific evidence to sustain” it (18).

In light of all this, K&D’s statement that “we need God….for life….For salvation…for knowledge. We even need Him for science….we cannot achieve profound goals in science without God” (19) seems odd. If “we need God” is taken to mean “we need to believe in God,” a natural if not necessary reading, then the perspective K&D have set forth suggests we only “need God” for salvation. We also need him for the best possible life and if we are to acquire knowledge of the sort only available through Scripture. However, K&D seem to have made clear before this point that scientific knowledge is not something for which we need God, at least not in the sense of needing to believe in him (though, as noted above, belief in the biblical God seems to them to have encouraged and accelerated past scientific advances); in fact, scientific knowledge can, on their account, guide us to God.

And so it is that the chapter closes with a call for us to “do our best to reveal why God’s truth is credible, beneficial, and better than other ideas and speculations” (20), a call that implicitly assumes that humans who have yet to accept God’s truth are qualified to judge independently the credibility, benefits, and relative superiority or inferiority of that truth and its competitors. This presentation of reasons for believing God’s truth (“why we believe”) to others, who will independently assess and respond to those reasons, is, K&D maintain, “the fundamental mission of Christian apologetics” (20). This is definitely evidentialist, not presuppositionalist, creationism, and is to this point an accurate presentation of the perspective. In light of this, one would guess that the point of Gifted Mind is to be to offer Damadian’s story of scientific discovery and invention as an illustration of the positive value of biblical faith to scientific advance, “to reveal why God’s truth is…beneficial,” in other words.

Chapter 2, “The Beginning” (23-40), surveys Damadian’s life from childhood to adulthood, discussing such things as his musical and athletic aptitude (27, 30), “predisposition for excellence” and “competitive spirit” (28), how he was “deeply influenced” in childhood by a Congregational faith that didn’t focus on “the idea of salvation” but on “living a good moral life and abstaining from certain sins” (37, 33), his evangelical conversion at a Billy Graham rally, marriage and family, medical school training, and (temporary) loss of faith. On this loss of faith, K&D, speaking (as throughout the text) as Damadian, write: “Following my graduation from medical school and subsequent military obligation, I joined the faculty at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn….It was during this time that….I gradually became persuaded that science, not God and truth, was the foundation of everything true and reliable” because “virally infected” with “scientific naturalism (and evolution)” (36). Influence in this direction had begun in medical school, where Damadian had been “programmed…to center [his] reasoning on naturalistic science alone,” and finally led to his “reaching the conclusion that there was no God, and thus no longer any practical need for Him in [his] life” (37, 36).

Chapter 3, “Science and the Single Idea” (41-56), begins the engaging story of scientific discovery and invention that has made Damadian a recognized name in scientific circles and should make him much more widely known over time. Since much summary here would risk spoiling the story for those new to it, I will only note that one learns in this chapter that the insights that eventually led to the MRI began earlier than one might expect from the preceding chapter, during Damadian’s medical internship and residency and military service (42-3).

Chapters 4-8, “Grit and Determination” (57-83), “It’s Alive!” (85-106), “The Backlash / Too Soon to Quit” (107-18), “80 Million Reasons to Compromise” (119-32), and “Nobility without the Nobel” (133-62), complete the main narrative. In addition to relaying much interesting scientific information and revealing some of the all-to-human, not-always-honorable competitiveness, not to mention pettiness, that an honorable discoverer and inventor like Damadian can expect to encounter in such work, these chapters might provide useful insights into the mindset and behavior required of successful scientists and inventors. Additionally, those interested in the topic of Christian vocation, the reality that all Christians (not just ministry workers) are called to serve God in some earthly work, may find these chapters a useful depiction of one sort of work to which Christians may be called.

As it happens, it was only late in the voyage of discovery, just as Damadian and his team were working to construct the MRI that would first successfully scan a human, that Damadian returned to the faith he had rejected at SUNY. In order to complete the device, and beat out competitors, Damadian and his underfunded team, in order to make a large enough magnet, would need “30 miles (158,400 ft.) of niobium-titanium (NbTi) superconducting wire” (88). The going rate from their supplier for such wire, however, was a dollar per foot. This would mean they needed $158,400 to complete the project; however, they only had $15,000. Upon calling the supplier, Westinghouse, still not sure from whom (if anyone) he could obtain the needed funds, Damadian learned that Westinghouse was leaving the superconducting magnets business and just happened to have exactly 30 miles of the needed wire available, which they would let him purchase for the bargain-basement rate of 10 cents per foot, or $15,000 (89). It was after this that he learned from his wife’s mother and father that they had been praying for him and his project, and that they considered this turn of events an answer to prayer. K&D, writing as Damadian, state: “I was stunned….There was no other explanation [than God] for this amazing ‘coincidence’”(90). Further: “That experience proved to be a pivotal turning point for me in my relationship with God. I had been away from Him for some time, having embraced a godless theory of origins and even seriously questioned God’s very existence. But though I had forgotten Him, He had not forgotten me” (90). Again: “As far as I knew, they [Westinghouse] possessed the only superconducting wire in existence at the time, and certainly in an amount that large. Why would their entire inventory suddenly be available at the exact instance I needed it? There was only one rational explanation: God” (91).

That Damadian rejected the faith until this point, meaning that most of his groundbreaking insights and experimentation took place in (professing) unbelief, seems to disprove the guess as to Gifted Mind’s point suggested by Chapter 1, that is seeks to illustrate the benefit of biblical faith to scientific work. The guess can perhaps be salvaged by suggesting that the influence of biblical teaching on Damadian’s thought and life from youth (albeit teaching that ignored the Bible’s central salvific focus), joined to an unconscious and ignored (but still real and present) faith present in him since his spiritual rebirth under Billy Graham’s ministry (assuming genuine conversion), gave him insights and motivation he would not have possessed otherwise.

In order to avoid spoilers, all other details of these chapters, including the speculations about why Damadian was unjustly excluded from a Nobel prize awarded to two scientists dependent upon his foundational contribution, I will leave to the reader to discover. (One comment, though. My impression is that Damadian discusses his unjust exclusion from the Nobel at greater length than necessary, seeming repetitive at times. Still, that he has committed no acts of violence in response is a testimony to his character, since the real injustice of the exclusion is beyond question.)

Chapter 9, “The Return to Truth” (163-92), leaves the narrative and provides a summary of evidentialist creationist arguments. I believe the intent is to set forth the arguments most influential on Damadian’s thinking after the “answered prayer” experience that made him reject his prior rejection of faith. Mostly an accurate presentation of key arguments of evidentialist creationists, it also includes some reflection (seemingly originating with Damadian, though the book’s bylining causes doubt), and it does have some shortcomings that merit comment.

Back in the narrative, K&D, speaking as Damadian, offered this remark, not commented upon earlier in the review: “The machine in my mind had been birthed the moment the Lord gave me the idea [the initial insight that made possible his invention of the MRI]…in 1969” (88). Here in Chapter 9, they write the following: “All truth belongs to God, no matter who happens to discover it or proclaim it. From the physical laws of nature and the universe to truth about God in creation to spiritual truth revealed by Scripture, it all originates in an eternal God and Creator of us all. And He has graciously seen fit to share much of His truth with us. But He has also allowed mankind to stumble upon that truth or to systematically uncover it through experimentation and experience. Apart from His willingness to share it, we would know virtually nothing at all” (164). Apparently, as K&D understand matters, God’s sharing of truth includes both placing ideas directly into persons’ minds (such as Damadian’s) and allowing people operating autonomously to uncover truths on their own. That God is said to have “allowed,” not to have “enabled,” humans to discover truths is interesting, as is the idea that God’s being unwilling to share knowledge with us would result, not in our knowing absolutely nothing, but in our knowing “virtually nothing.” These reflections on the origin and nature of human knowledge never get fully developed in Gifted Mind, and I’m not sure how well they hang together. They do suggest that what K&D might have meant back at the beginning of text, when they made God and his truth “foundational,” was that God and what is actually true serve as the foundation of human knowledge and discovery, not by virtue of being acknowledged or assented to, but simply because they are there: We can come to correct knowledge of truth, not because we start by acknowledging essential foundational truths and the God who reveals and justifies our believing them, but simply because real truth exists, which is the case because the biblical God exists. However, this understanding is hard to square with their statement that “if we remove Jesus Christ from the thread of scientific discovery, we lose our foundational access to His truth” (15), which seems unquestionably to make actual belief the source of scientific benefit.

As I noted, as a summary of evidentialist creationist arguments, the chapter has some shortcomings. A couple show up in the following passage: “Darwin’s own ‘evidence’ argues against him! In his classic example using finches with variations of beaks, we now know that this is an example of micro-evolution, or simply variations within the same species (i.e., biblically: within the same kind). There is no evidence of crossing over from one species (kind) to another, or macro-evolution (no ‘transitional links’ or ‘transitional forms[’].)” (170). As I’ve noted in other reviews (which see: 1, 2), the current preference of biblical creationists is to avoid the terms “microevolution” and “macroevolution” altogether because of their built-in evolutionary bias. K&D’s use of these terms, however, is at most a minor problem, since the terms are still widely used and do appear in classical creationist texts. Less minor is the unfortunate way the passage seems to equate species and kind. Creationists have spilled a lot of ink trying to overcome the misconception that the uniquely created biblical “kinds” and modern taxonomy’s “species” are the same. The dominant view among today’s creationists (Tim Clarey comes to mind) is that multiple species may fall into a single created kind and, thus, may have common ancestry. Even if K&D didn’t mean to equate species and kind, their wording makes this the natural understanding of the passage, and this is unfortunate.

Another possible weakness, though not one unique among evidentialist creationist works, is summarized in another passage just below the one just discussed. K&D write: “Darwin (and all his subsequent devoted disciples) have failed to demonstrate the existence of Intermediate Life Forms….No [Intermediate Life Forms] = no evolution….If there [were] even a shred of truth to evolution, there should be trillions of fossils, fragments, and skeletons everywhere” (170). Darwin, of course, did expect such transitional forms to show up in the fossil record were his theory correct, as K&D emphasize (169-70). Darwin’s endorsement notwithstanding, I’m very skeptical of this argument. One thing I’ve learned from reading creationist literature is that fossil formation is a relatively rare occurrence. It requires special circumstances (rapid burial in the right kind of sediment and so on). As a result, almost everything that dies leave no fossil remains. From what I’ve read so far, my impression is that only belief in the worldwide Flood revealed in Scripture justifies an expectation that the fossil record should contain samples of all the life-forms that have previously existed on earth. Given that fossil formation is something that only happens under special circumstances, is it reasonable to assume that at least one of every life-form that has ever existed, and is capable of being fossilized under the right though rare conditions, should show up in the fossil record? One who rejects the Flood account, it seems to me, might quite reasonably suggest past existence of all sorts of life-forms of which there is no indication at all among extant fossils. (I’m not dogmatic about this. This is just what the information I currently have seems to indicate.) While I don’t doubt K&D’s claim that “there is so much evidence against evolution (biologically, scientifically, and logically) that it’s a wonder that thinking people still accept it as a viable theory” (169), I’m not convinced the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record is an example of such evidence.

A final weakness is the set of probability calculations presented for the “chance” origin of the human eye, ear, and heart (172-8). These calculations find that the probability of any of these organs arising by chance processes is so minute as to make such origin impossible; that the chance origin of all of them is even more remote, and so (still) impossible; and that their chance origin in combination with other essential human organs….Well, that just adds absurdity to impossibility. The “weakness” in this presentation, oddly enough, is that is makes the chance origin of these complex organs look more likely than it is. The base probability used for the calculations is one in 20,000, “the statistical chance of a genetic mutation within the human genome (i.e., within the gene) that exercises control over the structure of interest” (172). They derive this number from the number of genes estimated to be in the human genome (20,000–25,000, choosing the lower number to be most fair to evolutionists). So, this is the probability that any mutation that does occur will happen to take place in one gene rather than any other. This is the probability that any genetic mutation that occurs will affect a specific gene. This is not the probability that exactly the right mutation will affect a specific gene. That probability would be lower, and thus the probability of “exactly right” mutations in combination is even more absurdly impossible (i.e., still impossible, but even less probable) than K&D indicate.

Even with these weaknesses, which are hardly fatal, the chapter should prove interesting and persuasive to those who prefer evidentialist appeals. When I read such statements as, “Science and logic also scream creation” (185), I confess that my presuppositionalist inclination is to ask, “Absent biblical presuppositions, do these things scream, or can they even whisper?” But, then, I am an epistemological oddity. Many Christians prefer not to ask such questions, and they should most enjoy and profit from this chapter.

Chapter 10, “A Bright Horizon” (193-217), updates the earlier narrative with news on more recent scientific work and technological innovation by Damadian and his associates at his company, FONOR Corporation, and looks toward the future.

“Appendix 1: Jesus: The Incarnation and Sanctification of the Truth” (219-25) seems an effort to further work out reflections on the origin and nature of human knowledge that I earlier complained are never fully worked out in Gifted Mind. It also reiterates some earlier points, such as the necessity for evidence demonstrating transition between kinds of life-forms before evolution should even be considered. As for the content, it seem pretty rough. One notable weakness is that K&D here consistently refer to new human knowledge of truths God has always known (having always known all truths) as “new truths.” I’m not sure how much of value this appendix adds to the text, and I think most of it could have been reworked and fit into earlier chapters rather than tacked on at the end in its rough state. Also, this is the book’s only appendix, so why the “1” was included in its title is a mystery.

The final “Publisher’s Note” (227-34), already mentioned near the beginning of this review, likewise adds little to the text, being basically a rehash of earlier content. To the extent its contents clarify earlier material, they should have been worked in earlier where appropriate.

In summary, this isn’t the best or most useful book from this publisher. Still, it is worthwhile and interesting reading. Though I rarely read biography, and only read this one because I was given a free review copy, the central tale of scientific exploration and discovery definitely held my interest. The book has its flaws, as I’ve noted, but none of them prevent me from recommending it to potential readers.

This review may also appear, at least for a time, less nicely formatted and perhaps abridged, on Amazon and, perhaps (and perhaps more abridged), on GoodReads, and maybe even elsewhere.

If this post is a book review, it may also appear, less nicely formatted and typically abridged, on Amazon, on GoodReads, and maybe elsewhere.

Like this site? Help pay my expenses: Buy me stuff I need! | Do I mention a book or other product you'd like to buy? Check prices on Amazon.com. | Protected by Copyscape Plagiarism Checker - Do not copy content from this page.

All Pious Eye™: Seeing by the True Light™ content © 2005— by David M. Hodges, unless otherwise noted. Unauthorized Reproduction Prohibited. Sharing Encouraged.


If you’d like to discuss this post or related issues, please join the Pious Eye Discussion Group.


About Pious Eye (David M. Hodges)

I am the person who is Pious Eye: David M. Hodges. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Book (& Other) Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.