A Working Faith in an Age of Science

Science and Religion in Harmony

 

Expanded contents list

 

Introduction

Sections:  A few questions

  About this book

  About the author

 

Contains what you'd expect!  Also contains bullet-pointed lists of some of the difficult questions addressed in the book and the main sellling points of the book.

 

Chapter 1 Science and Religion – What’s the Problem?

Sections:  Conflict or Harmony

  What is the scientific method?

  Faith and science

  Different types of explanation

 

Chapter 1 introduces the types of viewpoint which people hold about science and about religion; their views may be well-considered, or just held through ignorance.  It explains how scientists go about their work, and how reliable their results are likely to be.  It also explains that science can only be carried out by faith; for example, the faith that the “laws of nature”, and the fundamental constants which are used in those laws (such as the speed of light), were present at the moment of creation, and that they apply everywhere and at all times – none of which can be proved.  It draws parallels between the faith required to do science, and religious faith.  It introduces the important idea that there can be both scientific (“impersonal”) and non-scientific (“personal”) explanations of the same thing, both being completely valid, and both being required for a full understanding.  It argues that the first chapters of Genesis (which were partly written in the Bronze Age) should not be interpreted in the same way as a modern science text.

 

Chapter 2 Science and Religion – What are the Wider Issues? 

Sections: What is the problem with proof?

 Nothing buttery

 Where is the god of the gaps?

 Surely it’s not all intellectual?

 Moving on

 

Chapter 2 begins by discussing our inability to prove, beyond question, anything outside of mathematics.  This is a disincentive to those who wish to be able either to prove, or disprove, the existence of God.  It includes a little about the author’s own journey to faith.  It then looks at the fallacy of the idea of absolute determinism (as in, for example, proposing that you and I are “nothing but” an assembly of chemicals).  Next comes a discussion of the inadvisability of using God as an explanation for anything we don’t understand – because, one day, those “gaps” in our knowledge may be closed by our increasing scientific knowledge.  Finally, the chapter stresses that intellectual arguments are not the be-all-and-end-all of the matter, and that an encounter with God is necessary in order to begin to get to grips with God.

 

Chapter 3 Uncertainty and Unpredictability 

Sections: Does the universe run like clockwork?

 Uncertainty

 Unpredictability

 Why does this matter?

 

Chapter 3 starts by looking further at the idea of a clockwork universe which has no purpose.  It goes on to demonstrate that the uncertainty discovered at the sub-atomic level by quantum physicists, and the unpredictability discovered in chaotic systems (such as weather systems), have now shown that a completely “clockwork” description of the universe is actually an impossibility.

 

Chapter 4 Creation

Sections: How did we arrive at twenty-first century science?

 In the beginning - why the 'big bang' idea?

 What other evidence is there for the big bang?

 What happened in the very early universe?

 The proportion of helium in the universe

 The cosmic microwave background radiation

 Religious aspects of the big bang

 

Chapter 4 opens with a brief look at the development of modern science from the 16th century onwards.  It then concentrates on the creation of the universe, presenting (in a “popular science” style), the actual evidence for the “Big Bang” theory, so as to explain why a majority of scientists believe it to be true.  The chapter ends by pointing out that the Big Bang theory does indicate a moment of creation (which still troubles some atheists).  It also introduces the notion that deciding not to interpret Genesis like a modern science text, allows users of the Bible to regard the big bang as God’s chosen method of making a universe.  Chapters six and seven have more to say about the interpretation of Genesis.

 

Chapter 5 The Structure of the Universe

Sections: Where did the stars come from?

 How many stars?

 The lives of the stars

 How was the carbon for life formed?

 

The purpose of Chapter 5 is to demonstrate something of the awe and wonder which we can all feel (scientists or not) at the scale of creation – and which the author believes to be a pointer to the Mind of God underlying it all.  It also introduces some necessary background for chapters eight and nine.

 

Chapter 6 The Evolution of Life 

Sections: Cells, genetics and DNA

 Towards the origin of life?

 Intelligent design?

 

Chapter 6 looks at the evolution of life on Earth.  As an illustration of what we do, and do not yet, understand, the author presents some of the workings of cells, genetics and DNA.  He also presents evidence that neo-Darwinism (random mutations, followed by natural selection) is a mechanism which allow species to develop.  However, he takes the view that the “new atheists” go too far in proposing (without evidence) that it is responsible for everything.  For example, the chapter points out that neo-Darwinism can never explain the origin of the first life – and that science still has hardly any clue as to how that can have happened.  However, the author also urges religious people to be wary of the “god of the gaps” trap.  His view is that it is better to regard whatever science may eventually discover, as being God’s chosen way of developing life on Earth; and to regard Genesis as telling us about the God who decided that it should happen like that, and about his purposes (again urging that Genesis is not a science text – but also see Chapter 7).  Chapter 6 also covers the idea that the natural world provides evidence of intelligent design underlying the universe, but contrasts that notion with the Intelligent Design movement.

 

Chapter 7 Science, the Bible and Morals 

Sections: How do science and Genesis compare?

 Is that the best approach?

 What does Christ have to do with Creation?

 The moral law

 

Despite comments throughout the book about not treating Genesis as a modern science text, Chapter 7 does briefly compare the Genesis account with modern science.  This is done only to indicate that, given the great age of Genesis, and some of the outlandish things in alternative creation myths from that long ago, Genesis can actually be argued to agree quite well with the modern scientific view.  For Christians, the author does not recommend basing one’s faith on that though, preferring to regard Genesis as an explanation of the purposes underlying creation, rather than the process of achieveing it, and leaving science to sort out the process.  Nevertheless, the agreement is sufficiently strong to back up the idea that God really did inspire the bronze-age writers of Genesis, otherwise how could they have got it so near to what current science regards as correct?  The chapter ends by looking at Christ’s role in creation, and then by considering why we all seem to know some fundamental “rights and wrongs”, independently of culture.

 

Chapter 8 What is the Fine-Tuning of the Universe? 

Sections: What does “fine-tuning” mean?

Are simple explanations enough?

 

Chapter 8 follows on from ideas introduced earlier, that the universe and the Earth seem to be exactly “tuned” to encourage, and support, our existence.  There is a large number of extremely improbable “coincidences” which had to happen in order that we could exist at all, and for us to be able to continue to exist.  Various ways of interpreting these facts are presented, and the author again argues that it is at least a rational possibility that the Mind of God underlies it all.

 

Chapter 9 A few examples of fine-tuning

Sections: The Goldilocks zone

 The existence of carbon

 The forces of gravity and electromagnetism

 The strength of the strong nuclear force

 Dark matter and dark energy

 The smoothness of the universe

 The masses of the proton and neutron

 What can we conclude from this?

 

Chapter 9 presents a few specific examples to support the ideas of Chapter 8.  Some are quite remarkable – equivalent to the odds of our existing being the same as the odds of flipping a coin 400 times and getting “heads” every time.  The author again proposes that God is a reasonable explanation for this (whereas science can only say that such matters are coincidences).

 

Chapter 10 Free Will and Free World 

Sections:  What has God to do with Free Will?

 Does the universe make itself?

 

Chapter 10 begins to look at some of the consequences of the idea that the big bang was God’s way of creating the universe, and that “evolution”, whatever that eventually turns out to mean, is his way of developing life.  If God created the universe with the purpose that creatures should come to exist who could have a loving relationship with him then, the author argues, God would have to give those creatures the free will to (freely) choose to love him.  Some of us won’t – leading to evil acts and a lot of suffering.  But can God intervene, if he has given us free will?  Similarly, if God has allowed the universe, and life on Earth to, “make themselves” to a large extent, how much can he interfere with the freedom he has given to those processes?  Mutation in genes allows life to develop, but also causes cancer.  The Earth’s molten core provides the magnetic field which shields us from the Sun’s radiation, but also causes earthquakes.  How can these things be reconciled?

 

Chapter 11 Does God Act in the World?

Sections: Prayer

How might God be able to act?

Miracles

Non-obvious actions of God

 

Chapter 11 continues the discussion begun in Chapter 10.  Specifically, it looks at whether prayers are answered, and whether God can do miracles (which the author obviously believes that he can, since he believes in the resurrection of Jesus - for reasons briefly explained in the book).  The problem then is, if God answers prayer, or does a miracle, in one set of circumstances, why does he not do so in other circumstances which, to us, seem identical?  The point is also made that, if miracles were very common (in which case, we wouldn’t call them “miracles” anyway!), science would be impossible. Science works by finding faithfully-repeatable patterns in nature, whilst miracles disrupt such patterns.  Reference is also made back to Chapter 3, as a source of possible mechanisms by which God can sometimes act in the world in ways indistinguishable from its “normal” behaviour.

 

Chapter 12 Drawing it all Together

Sections: Drawing it all together.

 

Chapter 12 summarises some of the evidence for the existence of God introduced throughout the book, and the fact that faith in God does not require the denial of any particular, well-attested, scientific results.  As a few examples, the chapter reviews questions such as the following:  Why is there something rather than nothing?  Why did the big bang occur?  Why did the various examples of fine-tuning occur?  Why were the laws of science present at the instant of the big bang?  Why are we able to discover the mechanisms underlying the universe?  The author’s contention is that science cannot answer any of these questions because of the self-limitation of the kinds of situation which science investigates.  Science discovers mechanisms and processes, whereas these are questions of purpose; the author proposes that the purposes are in the Mind of God.

 

End-notes (4800 words)

 

Following the author’s talks, question-and-answer sessions always indicate that some analytically-inclined readers will appreciate extra technical details of some of the scientific aspects.  These are included in the book, as a selling point, but the most technical have been relegated to endnotes.  The endnotes also contain references (to book level only, as this is not a reference book).