Thursday, December 06, 2007

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, book summary

Okay, a few weeks back I promised some thoughts on Stephen Barr's book. Well, let me first of all say that it's great reading, and it's stimulating information. And while I'm sure he worked at getting it all down to a less scientific reading level, it's also challenging! There are lots of technical explanations of various processes and theories, so I do recommend it, but let's just say I've had to renew it 3 times from my library 'cause it ain't no 1-hour read!

The book revolves around what Barr calls 5 "plot twists" along the way of trying to write off religion and approach the universe in an exclusively materialistic philosophy. He introduces these early, then the remainder of the book is opening up each plot twist from a scientific point of view.

#1 The Big Bang points to a beginning. Materialism had posited an eternal universe, where matter had always existed. This wasn't a new thought (ancient pagan Greeks also thought this) but much of the 19th and 20th century scientists pushed the idea. But evidence pointing to the Big Bang points to a beginning.

#2 The complexity and beauty of the mathematics underlying the laws of physics and the even deeper laws that seem to govern those laws does not answer the question of "why the universe?" In fact it seems to beg the question even further, moving it to the front of discussion.

#3 "The universe and its laws seem in some respects to be balanced on a knife-edge..." Movement either way, and life doesn't exist. There are a series of "anthropic coincidences" that defy the chance-requirements of naturalistic materialism.

#4 The existence of human intellect pushes us to see the human mind as more than just machine.

#5 Quantum theory has brought about a revolution in the scientific determinism inherint in materialism.

This is obviously a very brief summary of the book. But if you're interested in learning some scientific facts and seeing how those facts point for or against materialism as a philosophical explanation of the universe, I recommend this book.


El Guille said...

You just cant talk about science and religion at the same time . At least not if you wanna take bible for granted ( for example the first chapters of genesis talk about the order of creation of animals and elements of earth and the space "above earth" and all that is totally incompatible with biology and astronomy ) Also science doesnt really denies religion as many think ( or try to probe )

those tries of justifying religious interpretations of science ( like the randomness of quantum physics or the interpretations of the big bang ) end up bad, getting scientists confused about what do religious people want to probe . Scientists really dont want to convince anyone (at least objective scientists) and they dont really know whether big bang happened . but they are based in theories and a whole set of ethic rules with respect to observation of nature and that is what makes them able to talk firmly about their beliefs ( theories and laws ) Of couse, pseudoscience is apart

If you really want to take this issues further and understand more about science then study physics and biology . You ll enjoy it a lot because that understanding of nature increases the astonishment about god s creation . and also makes really really question your faith ( in an objective way . a reasonable way which only makes it stronger if it was a real activity of yours or makes it weak if it was some passive justification to personal issues)

Science and religions arent really in a versus position simply because they talk about different stuff

Arnie Adkison said...

El Guille, thanks for the comment. I had forgotten about this book! I think sometimes we forget that once we blog something, it's out there forever.

I do disagree with your initial statement, if you're equating "religion" with a relationship with God through the redemption accomplished in Jesus. I believe that truth is knowable, including scientific truth, and that both "religious" truth and "scientific" truth can be reconciled. That's not to say they will be reconciled by us right now--we're not anywhere near omniscient. And the whole thing requires serious humility, for the very reason that we do not know the facts. Just because truth is knowable doesn't mean we know it all.

So, a big part of this discussion between science and religion surrounds the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have personally come to believe that much of the story in these chapters is poetic imagery to teach a truth (or collection of truths). This doesn't take away from their value, their revelation of God or any other aspect of the Bible being God-breathed. I believe that's what he intended those stories to be. So if scientifically the emergence of animals in a particular order is proven to be different than the list of created order in Genesis 1, that does not shake my faith. (I'm not saying that it has been proven, I think we're still a long ways away from proving much, only "if" it was proven.)

Anyway, I think if you start with the premise, as you did, that "you just can't talk about science and religion at the same time" you will miss dialogue that can point us closer to God and to the truth that he reveals.

Thanks for the comment.