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The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 6, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Heavens be praised: here is a scientist who respects religion and relates it to the same impulse that drives scientific inquiry—an aspiration to the true and the real. Astrophysicist Frank is a lover of the skies with sufficient experience of awe to understand there's more than one way to tell the truth. His history of ideas is real science braided with myth and metaphor—the titular constant fire comes from poet Wallace Stevens. He's an engaging storyteller, as might be expected from someone who has published in Scientific American and Discover magazines. He can explain quantum physics and also dismiss woo-woo votaries who produce movies and books based on spurious science. He can relate mythic creation stories to the development of Big Bang theory. Light years beyond the stale standoff between uninspired scientific materialism and unscientific intelligent design, this vision of coexistence appreciates the heavenly music of the spheres. (Jan.)
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Review

"An elegant reimagining of the relationship between science and spirituality.. . . . Challenges the assumption that science and religion are implacable foes."--Chronicle of Higher Education

"The most striking aspect . . . . is the passion that Adam Frank displays in writing about his experience as a scientist."--Times Higher Education

"Frank's book is most interesting; it is an easy read."--Perspectives On Science And Christian Faith: Jrnl of the American Scientific Affiliation
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520254120
  • ASIN: B00740LBDY
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,887,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Dr. Frank's rendering of humankind's quest to make sense of all that is in front of us and of the experience of the sacred, from the Neolithic era to the present is communicated with remarkable clarity and vibrant narrative skill in this work.

The book transcends the paranoid squabbling that plagues the religion vs. science dialogue. He gets to the meat of why humans have a perennial aspiration to understand the mysteries that are part of their interface with the world and their universe by using sacred narratives and rich mythologies (the positive definition).

His work does not hammer away at the ever so tiresome creationism vs. evolution argument nor is there any scripture bashing. He speaks from an a-theistic standpoint regarding our fundamental human experience of curiosity and awe that motivates us to explore with a deep sense of " the sacred" and how beauty is revealed when the experience is taken to heart.

There is urgency to his thesis. Dr. Frank likens the present status of our emotional intelligence as being in its adolescence. To paraphrase, you wouldn't hand the keys to the universe to a liquored up teenager so he can drive it off a cliff He explains that the fruits of science must be tempered with a sober and mature collective human consciousness in order for us to use science and religion skillfully and compassionately.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Green on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is a breath of fresh air in a climate stale with the steamy blather of biblical literalists on the one hand and the aridity of scientific reductionism on the other. Dr. Frank writes clearly and engagingly, and with the arc of a storyline he the common ground beneath us all that nourishes the myriad of myth and metaphor we each create in our attempts to understand the world both phenomenologically and spiritually. This is a hopeful tome for a hopeful time!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tojagi on February 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"...for it has been through science that I have gained a sense of the world's immense spiritual dimension, that I have come to my most potent sense of that character of life that can only be called sacred." (p3)

- Adam Frank

* * *

It seems we live in a society where vulgar anti-theists and vulgar religious fundamentalists are locked in a mortal death grip - with a few vulgar New Agers clowning around on the side. Adam Frank offers a sensible approach to our mythological crisis. His is definitely a five star book. There's just one thing I want to nitpick at. On page 47 the author writes:

"The importance of at least touching on quantum physics is summed up in a famous quote attributed to Richard Feynman: "There are four or five people in the world who understand Einstein's theory of relativity, but nobody understands quantum mechanics." (p47)

- Adam Frank

I seriously doubt that Feynman ever would have said that there are only four or five people in the world who understand Einstein's theory. My understanding is that Einstein's theory is perfectly comprehensible to any intelligent person who wishes to pursue it. Relativity may be an odd truth. But it needn't disturb our innate desire to believe we live in a logical and deterministic universe.

With quantum mechanics it's another matter. The very foundation of science, the belief that there is a cause or set of causes for every effect, is mocked. Feynman once said in a lecture not to try to figure out what quantum mechanics actually means in terms of our ordinary experience because there is just no way to compare. This is why quantum mechanics tends to show up in places it doesn't belong. Adam Frank points out the sorry attempt to unite modern physics with Eastern mysticism.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Michael L. Gooch on March 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very well-written book. I would recommend it to anyone seeking an eloquent, pleasant tour into the arena of myths and history.

I was somewhat disappointed that it did not contain as much astrophysics as I had anticipated and that a link between this science field and religion or spirituality was not discussed more in-depth. After reading Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion and The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, I was hoping for more science and less background regarding the rise of religious belief. Still, I found it a very enjoyable book.

Debating the merits of scientific thought while trying to maintain a sacred world is never an easy task. Indeed, it is an objective that has not been achieved, certainly not by today's literature. This is true whether the author is a scientist (as in this case) or a theologian. Nevertheless, I will keep reading and searching.

Again, I recommend The Constant Fire as a pleasant and enjoyable book. I hope you find this review helpful.

Michael L. Gooch - Author of Wingtips with Spurs Cowboy Wisdom for Today's Business Leaders.
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22 of 32 people found the following review helpful By J. Storey on May 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just finished this book. At first, I confess, I wasn't used to the author's style; I was expecting a somewhat lengthy cosmological science introduction (the author is an astrophysicist) before perhaps wading into options of what the science might open up for us...usually, popular works by scientists tend to rely on this type of formula.

Instead, Dr. Frank chose a more "literary" approach, weaving in various ancient myths as alternative tales of the cosmos...I didn't grasp his style that much on first reading, although he certainly isn't the first scientist to use literary dialogue on a popular level. However, a careful re-reading of certain chapters started opening up his main ideas, and his synthesis of science and so-called "spirituality" and what he sees as shared aspirations between the two. As other reviewers have noted, Dr. Frank rejects the typical sterility of the more-militant sector of the anti-religious crowd, which is a welcome relief in this type of popular science writing. Why relief, you ask? Personally, I get as tired of the religion-as-the-root-of-all-evil routine as I do the mentality of religious fundamentalism (actually, these mentalities are very similar, but I'll leave that alone now). Maybe you're like me, tired of seeing ANY diatribe from extreme opinions, from whatever end of the spectrum they may be.

Both science and human mythology, after all, share (if from different avenues) a common goal in a search for the "True", the "Real". If this sounds a bit Platonic, it need not be, as even non-Platonists can easily admit to a real universe out there that can inspire awe and wonder...just as it did for ancient mankind in the creation of myths across the broad spectrum of human history.
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