On The Faith of Scientists

One day, I happened to go into a Half-Priced Books location to kill some time. Later, I walked out with an interesting book for $8 that sells for $25 on Amazon.

Written by Nancy Frankenberry, Professor of Religion at Dartmouth University, The Faith of Scientists is an anthology of twenty-one scientists through the ages. From early scientists as Galileo, Kepler, and Newton to later scientists as Darwin and Einstein, and eventually to modern-day scientists as Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, and Stephen Hawking, this book offered a peak into the personal views about the interchange between science and religion.

With each scientist isolated into their own chapter, Dr. Frankenberry consistently follows a pattern introducing the scientist in her own words over 3-5 pages followed by selected writing from the scientist.

From Pascal’s Catholicism to Ursula Goodenough’s religious naturalism to the atheism of Richard Dawkins, this book broadened my understanding of the spectrum of thoughts regarding the interchange between science and theology – especially because we live in a society where various factions pit science and faith against one another.

The Faith of Scientists is not a theology book for as the majority of the text is the words from scientists. Nor is it a book about all scientists and all perspectives. Nor is it a book with answers because a consistent vision about the interchange between science and theology does not exist.

However, The Faith of Scientists is a book that stimulates thinking, even though readers will disagree with someone. For me, it helped me understand the range of thought with atheists and agnostics – which I find to be an important aspect of my personal journey. Interestingly, reading this helped broaden my understanding, and at times, appreciation for some views with different views than mine, which allows me to find some common ground with others.

The anthology begins with Galileo and an inauguration of the apparent conflict with his empirically established views regarding the solar system, and the dogma of the Church. From a historical view, it is interesting to watch the shifting patterns of questions and concerns that the writers grapple with.

I suggest reading Nancy Frankenberry’s anthology of writings by 21 notable scientists from the 16th century to the present, as it is both surprising and illuminating. The selections center on faith, their views about God and the place religion holds–or does not hold–in their lives in light of their commitment to science.

The Faith of Scientists is a good read – an enjoyable read – and one that can increase understanding and stimulate discussions. Also, it can be easily read in segments from time to time.

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54 thoughts on “On The Faith of Scientists

    • Clan,
      As a relative newbie here, I should let you know that I’ve read a lot on this subject. For instance, you will notice this is the 40th post in the Religion and Science category – which includes other book reviews. So, if this topic is of interest to you, feel free to jump in. Thanks for stopping by.

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  1. An interesting book, good find. Seems that scientists are little different from everyone else in that their beliefs cover the entire spectrum, all the way from those who believe in God to those who, like my friend Dawkins, believe they are a god.
    Unfortunately you mentioned Galileo in the post which has triggered Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to play in my head – arrrgh, now I’ve done it to myself ;(

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    • Fasab,
      I will look at it the other way for as the wide range represented by scientists represent the wide range presented by people. Besides, the book’s wide swath may have been on purpose … and not even well-known scientist could be covered. Meanwhile, good luck with the song in your head … and I’ll be nice and not provide a video here. 😉 Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Like you I found this one on a trip to Half Priced Books (one of my favorite stores). I haven’t read it yet, but I have a trip to Seattle coming up so I think I will throw it in my bag to read.

    Glad you found it a good read! Now I have something to look forward to.

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  3. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I just bought 4 or 5 kindle books about atheism for my son who requested them. This might make another good read for him as he grapples with his own belief system. I would like to read it too. Thanks.

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    • Christine,
      It would be a source for your son. The author did well at picking scientists with a wide range of views. At least in our city, we can find Half-Price Books in several locations! Thanks for commenting.

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  4. That sounds very interesting to me, especially given my science background. Imagine if more people would read things like this, allowing them to learn other points of views? Me thinks we’d have a more peaceful world. 🙂

    On a side note, I wish I had a half-price bookstore near me. I used to live near one, and I loved it.

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    • Carrie,
      No doubt – Much about a peaceful world centers on learning – especially when it is self-driven! Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Francis Collins book, “The Language of God”, had a similar bent, and, a powerful effect on me. He was a medical geneticist who once headed the Human Genome Project. I learned a great deal reading his book. Made my mind “look” in a different way.

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    • Tina,
      Welcome first-time commenter. If you like this topic, see the “Religion and Science” category in the sidebar for numerous past posts, including posts on other books.

      I have read Collins’ The Language of God, reviewed here, as well as well as The Language of Faith and Science by Karl Giberson and Collins (reviewed here). Thanks for visiting and commenting … hope you return.

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  6. This looks like a good read Frank, I’ll check it out, thanks for sharing. Did you happen to see the interesting comments made by Paul Broun recently about evolution being a “lie from the pit of hell”? Your thoughts on broadening and increasing understanding and appreciating different views have probably never crossed Mr. Broun’s mind. This may be a good read for him as well.
    (ok…I occasionally check out the news…)

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    • John,
      I see that Half-Price Books is in your area, so check the shelves.

      Oh yes … I did see Rep. Broun’s comment. Actually, I don’t see it as a good read for him as he is in a camp that is a bit inflexible, thus unwilling to learn anything that is outside their limit mental framework. Meanwhile, I do have a comment about his statement in this Friday’s OITS. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. I will definitely write down the title and I’m sure it is a book I would enjoy. Last night I listened to a lengthy radio segment of interview and conversation between two university professors from faith-based schools. They were “gently debating” some of the differences within their academies as to their perceptions of dissonance between scripture and emerging science, and what they personally believe as they teach young people. It was fascinating! It is a fascinating conversation I’m not able to enter into very often. It makes too many people uncomfortable. I might stick to books! 🙂 Debra

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    • Debra,
      Good that I am able to add to your reading list. Earlier today I heard a comment blaming science for the decline in people being religious and/or attending church. I went “Huh?” Oh well … thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  8. Sounds interesting! I’ll check it out. I sometimes wonder why there’s faith, if the essence of the human brain craves and requires proof. 🙂

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    • Guapo,
      Yep – I recently heard that one, but haven’t read it, so thanks for the link. Meanwhile, I recently heard people BLAME both Europe and science on the decline. I say hogwash to both of those thoughts. Then again, that is only my opinion. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Thanks for another good book recommendation. I understand you to say that none of the religions on this planet should feel threatened by the tiny amount of knowledge science has gathered about the mysteries of the universe.

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    • Tim,
      Although I may believe that religions should not feel threatened by science and the knowledge it gathers, unfortunately, there are some that do.

      FYI: I can loan my copy of this book to you. Let me know when you are ready. Thanks for commenting.

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    • John,
      It is a good one, but heck … if you made it to Half Price Books, you go straight to military history section, and then they would run you out of the store because they have to close. Thanks for commenting.

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  10. Here is something scientists will have to grapple with. The church is technically correct that the Earth is the center of the universe. If the universe is infinite in all directions, than any point is also the center!!! The mathematics of infinity is a fascinating subject.

    Personally, I find the belief that creation is a random explosion from absolutely nothing a more improbable joke, myth or tale than a God deciding to run some experiment on a grand scale. And by the way, this God sets the rules; and one of them is that evolution is one of the tools. I thought some Pope said this eons ago, that I find the science theology debate beside the point.

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    • Randel,
      The book was not about any of the points you mentioned.

      I can see the infinity point establishing infinite centers; however, would all the centers be a central point of rotation? If so, does the church need to recant its position?

      Your second comment was not addressed in the book by any of the scientists, either However, Popes Pius XII, John-Paul II, and Benedict XVI have made official statements, which are interesting reads.

      Interestingly, “God running an experiment” is a new description to me. I ask this question – If creation was not by a random explosion, and was not a God-setting-the-rules experiment, what was it?

      I respectfully ask these questions to stimulate thinking. Thanks for commenting.

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      • I like your topic a lot. I can see harmony in both science and faith. God can create, and science can discover the rules etc. But, I do not believe science offers any tools to prove or disprove the existence of God. Science should stay away from statements on God. And faiths as expressed by religious statements should not ignore, condemn, or abolish the discoveries of science. Both can coexist if they realize the limitations of each of their methods.

        I love science, but I do not trust it to illuminate matters of philosophy or faith. I just know there is a God, but my peanut brain cannot possibly fathom more than that. I can create at most memos, not universes. And for faiths, some of the ideas expressed by some religions are so fraught with human error and filled with hubris it becomes a comedy, tragically so.

        To your question, my brain spins in a do-loop, still computing.

        God is a mystery, and why would a great God be dumb enough to allow a scientist to find God in some test tube or particle accelerator. I am ready to cry in laughter. The critique of my argument from the agnostic or atheistic side does not convince me. I cannot prove God either, so what, I just believe. On the other hand their God is one of nothingness of randomness, yet a two by four is smacking them over the head ridiculing them with millions of mysteries to still be solved, and of course, the very existence of existence contravenes the idea of a nothingness. The idea of Zero is nonsensical to me. Zero is just an abstraction on a math line. Everywhere I look, and I mean everywhere, I see God’s handiwork.

        Thank you for putting up with my philosophy. But as a social scientist, I feel alone in my belief of God and need to express. Here in Madison so many of the scientific group are non believers. I work beside them every day. I love God, and I love Science. What is wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

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        • Randel,
          Thanks for your thoughtful response. You explained your point well and we are in much agreement. To be honest, and because I know you enjoy this topic, your initial comment through my for a bit of a loop – and I have an idea why. The book was about what you are saying … it’s about the faith system of scientists – not about scientists trying to prove/disprove faith.

          With that in mind, one saying that because there is no evidence of a soul does not mean there isn’t one. And as I’ve stated here on more than one occasion, science has its boundaries, and it gets in trouble when it crosses the boundaries. Then again, that is not true for all scientists. As we know, the word all is often an inaccurate generalization. Many scientists have personal faith, but it doesn’t interfere with their scientific work. Oh well … now I’m feeling I’m going in circles. Thanks again.

          By the way, because you enjoy the topic, I encourage you to visit all the “Religion and Science” posts … all 40 of them. But start at the beginning.

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  11. Ha! I see that maybe, and probably, I got the idea to read this book from you blog. Gosh my memory continues to have new and bigger gaping holes. I hope I can either attribute it to grief and will recover, or that I will learn some coping mechanisms.

    But thanks. But the brief amount that I’ve read so far, you statement, “From a historical view, it is interesting to watch the shifting patterns of questions and concerns that the writers grapple with,” hits the mark with me. I find that historical aspect of it fascinating.

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