On a Book Review: Enriching Our Vision of Reality

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n my ongoing journey of diving into the positive relationship between science and religion, I read Enriching Our Vision of Reality: Theology and the Natural Sciences in Dialogue by Alister McGrath. With science degrees in quantum chemistry and biology, Dr. McGrath is a Professor of Science and Religion and Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science & Religion at Oxford University.

McGrath firmly believes that both science and religion are important parts of the big picture – but not the only parts. He sees science and religion are “different parts of the same reality” with each offering a different perspective. Although he unequivocally encourages readers to develop to develop an intricate understanding of nature, McGrath sees Christianity’s role (especially through the lens of natural theology) as providing greater insight into God, creation, and today’s scientific exploration.

“… both scientific and religious theories find themselves confronted with mysteries, puzzles and anomalies that may give rise to intellectual or existential tensions but do not require their abandonment. . . . In each case, there is a common structure of an explanation with anomalies, which are not regarded as endangering the theory by its proponents but are seen as puzzles that will be resolved at a later stage.”

“We all need a greater narrative to make sense of the world and our lives, naturally weaving together multiple narratives and multiple maps to give us the greatest possible traction on reality. Reality is just too complex to be engaged and inhibited using one tradition of investigation. That, I suggest, is why we need both robust theology and informed science.”

“Science dismantles the world so that we can see how things work; the Christian faith assembles them so we can see what they mean.”

In order to understand his point of view, Dr. McGrath organizes this book in a different, but sensible, manner – three parts with multiple chapters in each part; and one part building on the next.

  • Part 1: An explanation of the relationship between science and theology. Although some see the two as incompatible, McGrath promotes a positive relationship.
  • Part 2: Because he threads his story throughout the book, McGrath uses this section to discuss the three people most influential on his point of view: Charles A. Coulson, Thomas Torrance, and John Polkinghorne (whom I’ve read).
  • Part 3: These six chapters examine six parallels between science and theology: Theories & doctrines, faith, models, evolution, human identity, and natural theology.

At pertinent times throughout the book, McGrath shares his personal experiences, including his time as an atheist – so he willing responds to notable New Atheists (particularly Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I find this interesting because I’ve read multiple authors who have been atheists in their personal journey.

Before reading this book, my concept of natural theology related back to William Paley (19th Century) who saw nature’s design and intricacies as proving God’s existence because observable design is a sign of God’s past activity. (This thought is the general overview of those favoring Intelligent Design over evolution by natural selection.) Today’s natural theology (far removed from Paley) allows people to meld scientific and theological information in order to enhance our understanding and admiration of God’s creation.

McGrath surprised me with his criticisms of Ian Barbour’s four models explaining the science-theology interchange. Although he favors Polkinghorne’s four models, I tend to stay with Barbour’s explanation. While Polkinghorne’s model may be more centered on the theological perspective, I see Barbour’s models as an easy way for the general public to understand the different levels/stages of the science-theology relationships. After all, much of the public remains stuck in the paradigm that they must make a choice between the two disciplines. My personal journey on this topic also relates very well to Barbour’s models.

This book is well-researched and documented with 27 pages of endnotes. McGrath also provide 2+ pages of further reading materials for those wanting to know more. For me, these references also reinforces the decisions I’ve made what who and what to read

Enriching Our Vision of Reality is a thought-provoking, but not an easy read for novices on the topic – therefore I believe McGrath’s intended audience are those with more than a casual interest in theology and its interrelationship with science. I wonder if pastors are his intended audience. Then again, the intended audience could be scientists in order to expand their view of theology. For anyone interested, Kindle and paperback versions are available at Amazon.

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On a Book Review in a Hurry

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Neil deGrasse Tyson is a rock star to many people – definitely an odd descriptor for an astrophysicist who is Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Many consider him to be today’s Carl Sagan – and I find it interesting that (at least to me) he talks and sounds like Dr. Sagan.

No matter in his role as director, author, speaker, interviewee, or television show host, Dr. deGrasse Tyson exudes enthusiasm and commitment to his craft and passion – science – just as Carl Sagan did.

Images of deep space capture a sense of awesome for me – which is one of the reasons I use them as headers on this blog. (Click here to see past headers.) As a geek interested in the intersection of science and religion, those images give me a greater sense of creation. These points, along with interviews I saw with Dr. deGrasse Tyson, his 2017 book became a must-read for me.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a short read (about 200 pages) that made it to the top of the New York Times Best-Seller list. This book is about time, space, particles, forces, and how they fit together in the universe according to the laws of the universe. Yes, he takes readers into complex topics as the Big Bang, dark matter, and dark energy – but he does it with relative simplicity with wit, real-world application, and enthusiasm. Even with his wit and understandable writing style, the topic isn’t naturally easy for all – so I had head scratching.

Logically-sequenced chapters are short with each focusing on a single topic. His easy-to-read text aims at an audience that doesn’t know much astrophysics. The text doesn’t contain new, groundbreaking information, so I consider this book as a primer that can lead to deeper learning if one chooses. (Like a 101 college course that serves as an introduction and springboard.)

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an excellent communicator and I can hear his voice in his words. This booked helped me understand my awe with deep space and creation. He promotes the cosmic perspective from the frontiers; which he describes as humbling, spiritual, redemptive, mind opening, eye opening, transcending, wise, insightful, finding beauty, enabling one to see beyond in order to embrace chemical and genetic kinship, and more. Now that is for me!

I encourage readers to take the time to embrace Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Besides, it could be a stocking stuffer as a holiday gift. Here’s the link for the book on Amazon.

I end this review with a fantastic video on a similar topic from Symphony of Science featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson.

On a Beach Walk: No. 2

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I like walking the beach. It is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing my feet.

The rhythmic action of the waves catches my attention. Each wave washing ashore is different with its terminal points resembling a changing graph with many peaks and troughs – but each wave retreats to interfere with the next incoming wave.

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No matter the day or time, the waves have a rhythm – but they differ from loud and roaring to a gentle ripple – yet all are refreshing on my feet.

Waves – the heartbeat of the sea delivering a reliable steadiness – the steady presence of the message they deliver.

Waves – the poetry of the sea singing tones of aquatic melodies for our souls.

Waves – one of nature’s languages sending bliss to those enjoying their mere presence.

Waves – the rhythms within a rhythm – a different rhythm, but no less a rhythm – the tides affected by Mr. Moon. The tide is either moving in or out – a movement I can’t tell unless I know it’s timing. Yet, this relentless rhythm keeps its own time – the time of the next tidal crest.

Waves and tides – two of the timeless, reliable rhythms of life that make creation and the nature within it so grand.

I like the walking the beach for it is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

 

On Exploring a Speck as a Stage

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity.” (Albert Einstein)

Many descriptors are fitting for Carl Sagan, but to me, the post is about his philosophical side. The universe is more than vast, and Earth is a mere speck on that vastness. Yet, it serves as the stage for everything that is human … the good and the bad … the beautiful and the ugly … the simple and the extravagant … and more.

Each time I watch this video, the images and Sagan’s words transported to the land of personal awe. In this video, Sagan (an agnostic) inspires my Christian spirituality by deepening my concept of creation. I started this series is deep space, and we are working our way to home. Enjoy exploring the Pale Blue Dot, and please share your thoughts.

On Exploring Deep Space

To me, images of deep space as beautiful,  inspirational, magical, and full of wonder. While marveling at their beauty, thoughts about ongoing creation race across my mind. Their special nature to me is  reason I used them as headers. Music by The Alan Parsons Project (titled Beginnings) is a wonderful way to explore while thinking about how it all began. Enjoy … and I hope you share your thoughts.

On Origins: A Book Review

I became aware of this book on the Biologos blog and website. Although I had not encountered either author from my numerous readings, I decided to give it a chance.

OriginsBookOrigins: A Christian Perspective on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma is a good introduction into the science-religion interface for a study group. The authors provide questions to stimulate thinking and discussion, while also providing point-counterpoint in the form of ranging and diverse perspectives about various topics – which will promote more thinking and discussion.

A website tailored to the topic and this book provides a collection of over forty articles for elaboration. Each chapter end with a good set of questions for “Reflection and Discussion” while listing additional resources.

Three things haunted me in this book. First, I was leery of the inclusion of Intelligent Design in the title. My apprehension caused me to be cautious from the start. Second, an early statement of humans evolving from apes ruffled my feathers, but the authors addressed it later. Third, the survival of the fittest reference continues to bother me because I believe it to be inaccurate.

The authors targeted this text to help Christians navigate the seemingly “dangerous waters” of origins. As I have stated on this blog, the “danger” is due to a lack of or poor quality of education regarding evolution by schools and the avoidance of the topic by numerous Christian denominations.

Nonetheless, the text follows a logical sequence as it examines God, science, Genesis, the universe, evolution, Intelligent Design, origin issues, and Adam and Eve. Although each of these topics can be book of their own, Origins sets the stage for future readers to seek additional information.

In the end, this is a good resource for anyone early in their study of the interface between science and religion. I say early because it provides good introductory information serving as the foundation diving deeper into the subject and it stimulates thinking.

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Flashbacks: On Perspectives

To close this series, below are a few perspectives that you may enjoy. Visit as many as you want, and I hope you comment on the post you visited.