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Modern Physics and Ancient Faith Hardcover – March 1, 2003
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*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
“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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Stephen M. Barr
Many Christians struggle with reconciling what modern scientists say about the origin and nature of the world with what the Scriptures tell us. Should we take the Scriptures as our primary source, or what scientist say? Dr. Barr attempts to provide a "middle ground," that takes both current scientific belief and what the Scriptures say seriously. Modern Physics is arranged around four major discoveries, or rather shifts in the common beliefs of scientists, that underpin or support theistic belief, specifically Judeo-Christian belief.
The author begins his book with a solid overview of materialistic thinking.
"This view of dogma as anti-rational is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what religious dogmas are. It is thought that the basis of dogma is emotion. ... To a religious person, however, a dogma is not something that is embraced from mere hidebound habit or feeling or wishful thinking, rather it is understood to be a true proposition for which there is the best of all possible evidence, namely that its truth has been revealed by God. -Page 11"
He then moves into the first of the four "big discoveries," the Big Bang. The author defends the Big Bang theory from several angles; this is probably one of the strongest defenses of the theory you'll find in print in layman's terms. He does slip here, though, in a major way --for Dr. Barr's "blending" of the Scriptures and scientific thought leads him to the conclusion that the Scriptures are, after all, not written to express truth in a "scientific way." In other words, the author embraces the view that the Scriptures can be relied on to tell us the truth about our souls, but only science can be relied on to tell us the truth about the world.
The second "big discovery," the author dives in to is the connection between order and design. Here Dr. Barr is on solid ground, making solid points in favor of Christian thought. His general line of argument is that all "natural order," is really the result of some underlying design, or "more complete order." For instance, when you arrange marbles in a box, they fall into a certain symmetrical shape --but they only do this because their underlying shape is even more symmetrical than the shape produced in the arrangement.
Man's place in the Cosmos is next up. This discussion is primarily about the physical location and relative size of man. The author argues that size and position don't really matter --and if they did, man is neither the smallest nor the largest among the created order, so there is little we can take away from where men and the Earth actually lie. The anthropocentric coincidences are then treated in a long and interesting discussion.
The final "big discovery" the author discusses is quantum physics. Dr. Barr spends a good bit of time explaining the concept of quantum physics --this section will be very helpful for the reader who isn't versed in these concepts. He then works into how quantum theory relates to the concept of mind and knowing. Again, the author is on very strong ground when showing how the mind cannot be like a computer. His illustration of the maze and the processing of information within or outside the maze is very useful.
Overall, this book makes solid arguments, perhaps providing some of the best arguments I've ever read in relation to the mind of man and the problems of materialistic thinking. The downside is his insistence on blending the Scriptures and modern scientific belief; anytime the Scriptures are blended with anything, the Scriptures always end up taking second place.
The latest edition has an updated preface explaining a few slight changes he would make to his claims, based on updated science.
Given the many developments in physics and cosmology, I look forward to the revised edition.
Some of the first rate scientific pioneers have seen no conflict between science and religion: Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Volta, Ampere, Maxwell, Mayer, Gauss, Lord Kelvin...
And in our times: Lemaitre, Compton, de Broglie, Hess, Penzias, Brockhouse...
Neither Planck nor Einstein did side with materialism...
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Helped me grasp the scientific arguments with much ease.
Must read for every Christian in apologetics.