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Modern Physics and Ancient Faith Paperback – February 28, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible by Jerry A. Coyne
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Often invoked as justification for unbelief, modern science here provides the basis for an unusual and provocative affirmation of religious faith. A physicist at the University of Delaware, Barr deploys his scientific expertise to challenge the dogmas of materialism and to assert his belief that nothing explains the order of the galaxies better than divine design. To be sure, Barr recognizes that Darwin's work has swept away the arguments of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theologians, who traced the handiwork of God in birds, flowers, and seashells. But the old argument-from-design reemerges with new sophistication after Barr presses evolutionary theory for a plausible account of the origin of what quantum physics demands--that is, a conscious observer--and comes away with nothing but skepticism about the skeptics. Barr indeed relishes the irony of a skeptical logic of random chance that forces unbelievers who balk at one unobservable God to accept, on doctrinal faith, a myriad of unobservable worlds on which the matter-motion lottery has not produced the winning ticket of conscious intelligence. The absurdity grows even more palpable among astrophysicists who avoid acknowledging the human-friendly pattern in subatomic and cosmic architecture found in the observable universe only by theorizing the existence of an infinite number of unobservable universes in which sovereign randomness has dictated other and more hostile architectures. Neither religiously sectarian nor technically daunting, this is a book that invites the widest range of readers to ponder the deepest kind of questions. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“In Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, Barr skillfully masters both physics and theology. . . . His work is a thing of scholarly beauty.” —Science & Theology News

“In this well-reasoned and accessible book, Stephen Barr argues against the idea that modern science has discredited belief in God. Barr, an accomplished theoretical particle physicist currently at the University of Delaware and a lay Roman Catholic, adroitly marshals recent developments in the natural and computer sciences to show that science, far from clearly discrediting religious belief, can in many instances reasonably be construed to support it. The book is well documented, and the exposition is masterful, making it a valuable asset for those theists wanting to learn more about the ways in which the sciences can contribute to the materialist-theist debate.” —Journal of Religion

"Stephen Barr does heroic service with his book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith as a revolutionary insurgent within the intellectual hegemony of modern scientific materialism." —Crisis Magazine

“It is a happy day indeed when one finds a work by a scientist that is so clear, based upon serious reflection, and demonstrates a broad knowledge of philosophy and religion as well as science. Modern Physics and Ancient Faith is such a work. Barr . . . has a wonderful way of explaining difficult theories in modern physics. Equally impressive is his ability to reflect upon the philosophical and theological implications of these theories and explain them to us in ordinary English.” —Theology Today

“[A] well-written and logically argued presentation on the relationship between religion and science . . . Barr makes both modern physics and theology understandable to the general reader. This is a worthy successor to P.C.W. Davies’s God and the New Physics . . . Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

“[A] lucid and engaging survey of modern physics and its relation to religious belief. . . . Barr has produ“[ced a stunning tour de force . . . [a] scientific and philosophical breakthrough.” —National Review

“Stephen Barr’s book … energizes the reader, since its philosophical positions are well argued, its writing is clear and accessible, and its religious affirmations are provocative for believers and nonbelievers alike.” —Christian Century

“. . . Modern Physics and Ancient Faith ranks among the most scientifically, theologically, and philosophically rigorous studies of the relation between science and theology to appear in recent years. That it is also written in a clear and highly accessible style makes it even more worthy of widespread notice, discussion, and debate. . . . Barr has written an accessible, insightful, and fair overview of how the discoveries of physics and mathematics during the last century could be thought to confirm the expectations of the religious believer—as well as a careful analysis and critique of materialism. For those looking for an overview that will help them to think at a deep level about these issues, I cannot think of anything better than Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.” — First Things


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press (February 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0268021988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268021986
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Let me begin by saying that as a physicist with some philosophical training I may not be the best judge for lay readers, but I loved this book and found it straight-forward to understand.
The first chapter is introductory. The author, Stephen M. Barr, describes himself as "someone who adheres to traditional religion and who has worked in some of the subfields of modern physics that are relevant to the materialism/religion debate." Barr sees clearly that "the conflict is not between religion and science, it is between religion and materialism....a philosophical opinion that is closely connected with science. But it is not science." His purpose is to show how "new discoveries made in the last century in various fields have changed our picture of the world in fundamental ways. As a result, the balance has shifted in the debate between scientific materialism and religion.... [20th century] discoveries coming from the study of the material world itself, have given fresh reasons to disbelieve that matter is the only ultimate reality." Barr is honest about the stakes involved: "None of this is a matter of proofs.... What the debate is about, as I shall explain later, is not proof but credibility." And indeed, such simple honesty is characteristic.
In the second chapter Barr begins by restating, then demolishing, the anti-religious mythology. His paraphrase of the anti-religious mythos sounds like it was cold-pressed straight from the pronouncements of Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and other spokesmen of materialism. This chapter alone is worth half the price of the hardcover. He makes his points so clearly that it is a wonder we could all be duped by "scientific" materialism for so long.
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Format: Hardcover
The title of this book is straight to the point, but it does not by itself convey the whole point of the book. The first paragraph on the jacket flap does a pretty good job, though:

'A considerable amount of public debate and media print has been devoted to the "war between science and religion." In his....book, ....Barr demonstrates that what is really at war with religion is not science itself, but a philosophy called scientific materialism. [This book] argues that the great discoveries of modern physics are more compatible with the central teachings of Christianity and Judaism about God, the cosmos, and the human soul than with the atheistic viewpoint of scientific materialism.'

That is the book promised and that is the book you get.

The arguments presented are, of course, in favor of one side of the debate and contrary to the opposite side. They are, also, consistently honest and fair. They are certainly not exhaustive, but then, this is pretty sparsely typed 300-page book.

Barr never pretends to be absolutely disproving all variants of scientific materialism. Instead, he picks a number of often voiced and frequently heard materialist prejudices (specifically anti-theist or anti-Biblical or anti-Christian prejudices) of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, presents them in their most basic terms, then presents scientific theories and discoveries that appear to confute them. Occasionally he points out as "irony", little points at which the data seems to uphold some separate detail of the Christian theist world-view.

Another reviewer refers disparagingly to "axes to grind.
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9 Comments 86 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
First, scan down the list of reviews to: A Superb Book That Fills a Great Need, May 30, 2003 Reviewer: John W. Keck from Washington, DC his review is chapter by chapter and sets the stage for my ideas about this book.
Second, the author is an atomic physicist who has thought deeply about these issues and for our benefit has organized and explained these ideas in a very sympathetic yet comprehensive way that deserves the widest possible audience. The writing is clear, interesting and of the highest possible caliber. I only wish more scientists wrote this well, not just their works for the laymen but for professional consumption as well, it would make the role of a student far more pleasurable.
So what is the book about? What are the big issues that this author wants us to remember and to use in our intellectual life?
First is the issue of materialism as a faith. This is chapter 1 and continues to be an explicit organizing principle throughout the book.
"The fact of the matter is that there is a bitter intellectual battle going on, and it is about real issues. However, the conflict is not betwen religion and science, it is between religion and materialism. Materialism is a philosophical opinion that is closely connected with science. It grew up alongside of science, and many people have a hard time distingusihing it from science. But it is not science. It is merely a philosophical opinion. And not all scientists share it by any means. In fact, there seem to be more scientists who are religious than who are materialists." pg 1
This is what i term the "like speaks to like issue". Materialism is the idea that all is matter in motion, sufficent to explain all phenomena in the universe. As he aptly points out this is philosophic opinion, or metaphysics.
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