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God's Universe Hardcover – September 5, 2006
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From Scientific American
In Gods Universe, Owen Gingerich, a Harvard University astronomer and science historian, tells how in the 1980s he was part of an effort to produce a kind of anti-Cosmos, a television series called Space, Time, and God that was to counter Sagans "conspicuously materialist approach to the universe." The program never got off the ground, but its premise survives: that there are two ways to think about science. You can be a theist, believing that behind the veil of randomness lurks an active, loving, manipulative God, or you can be a materialist, for whom everything is matter and energy interacting within space and time. Whichever metaphysical club you belong to, the science comes out the same. In the hands of as fine a writer as Gingerich, the idea almost sounds convincing. "One can believe that some of the evolutionary pathways are so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of random chance," he writes, "but if you do not believe in divine action, then you will simply have to say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see. Either way, the scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems in much the same way as his atheistic colleague across the hall."
George Johnson is author of Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order and six other books. He resides on the Web at talaya.net
Astronomer Gingerich believes in a designed universe, although not in intelligent design (ID), the antievolution theorizing that some Evangelical Christian activists want taught in public-school science courses. His intent isn't, however, to flay ID as Michael Shermer does in Why Darwin Matters (see review on p.22); it is to explore a few topics in science that suggest design and a designer, God. He weighs the Copernican principle that intelligent life isn't exceptional in the universe against the Darwinian emphasis on the uniqueness of life on Earth. He probes the differences between atheist and religious scientists (this is where he dismisses ID along with "evolution as a materialist philosophy" as ideologies), especially over the big bang and cosmological teleology. Finally, he raises some "Questions without Answers" to point up the different, irreconcilable concerns of physics as opposed to metaphysics, science as opposed to religion. Utterly lacking scientific or religious triumphalism, demonstrating why both ways of knowing are indispensable, Gingerich's highly rereadable remarks may well outlast all the brouhaha of the ID-evolution fracas. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
First, this book is not an apologetic in my opinion. Gingerich is not trying to defend his faith, nor to argue for interpreting the world in a certain way. He's not trying to show how faith proves science or vice versa as many apologetic books do. There are no "proofs" in this book, but instead a glimpse into how one scientist sees God's at work in the seemingly natural.
Second, in regards to the history of scientific ideals (and particularly astronomy), it is very common to hear the stories of Galileo and Copernicus as evidence of faith and science being in conflict. Gingerich, who is one of the world's most renowned scholars on Copernicus, tells a different story. His is of a conflict between interpretations among theologians as well as scientists and how the Roman Catholic response to the Copernicus situation may have actually been a response due to an overreaction to certain reformations. The dispute which was not the church against one man, but between a split within the church, may have actually been more about theology than science. The story he tells is much more complex and interesting than the simplistic form that is so often mentioned by those who see science and faith in conflict.
Third, I read the book on my Kindle, and this is one of those books that is perfect for the Kindle, so I would highly recommend it for Kindle users. At the same time, I realize that much of the information contained in this book can easily be found for free in the form of audio lectures Gingerich has presented at Calvin College, the American Scientific Affiliation, the Faraday Institute and other venues.
Gingerich opens his discussion by reflecting on what he calls the "Copernican Principle" (one, he acknowledges, that would've horrified the man after whom it's named): the standard scientific assumption that there's nothing special about either humans or earth. The principle is so commonly accepted because of the assumption that it has scientific leverage. But Gingerich wonders if it fits facts on the ground such as the neural makeup of humans or the cosmological finessing that make the universe receptive to life. Ginergich's main discussion of the anthropic principle is mid-book, pp. 48-59.
He explores the relation of natural law to the possibility of design (although he's no Intelligent Design-er, he does think that the evidence suggests some kind of design), and in a striking simile suggests that the universe is perhaps like a Lego set: there's no predetermining overarching blueprint, but the interlocking parts are designed. So design is open-ended.
Finally, he suggests that scientific naturalism is a necessary method in the sciences, and that metaphysical and theological beliefs need to be kept separate if good science is to be done. He also criticizes--quite rightly, in my estimation--people like Dawkins who, while claiming to be doing science, actually drag in metaphysical claims when they deny the existence of God (of course the same criticism applies to ID advocates). But Gingerich is persuaded that reality allows for "multiple layers of explanation" (p. 72) because it's what Nancy Cartwright so tellingly calls a "dappled universe," and that there's no good reason for an overall privileging of one layer over another.
A fine little book. Four and a half stars. Highly recommended.