Many people today believe that faith and science are at odds with one another. Some would go so far as to believe that they are fundamentally opposed and one must choose between reading the Bible at face value or rejecting it entirely. This framing of the relationship between faith and reason is so ingrained in the West that the perceived conflict with science is one of the main reasons people leave the Church today.
- Themes: Science, Faith, Reason
- Genre: Philosophy
- Audience: Teens and Up
- Year Published: 2009
- Author’s Worldview: Jewish
As a life-long science nerd (astronomy was my first love) I’ve read a number of books on the subject. The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom by Gerald L. Schroeder is easily one of the most interesting.
Schroeder uses his training as a physicist and extensive knowledge of early Jewish commentaries to attempt to reconcile the creation account in Genesis with what has been learned through science about the origins of the universe. The chosen approach is important, as he can’t be accused of only dealing with authors trying to artificially reverse engineer scientific discovery into Scripture.
By far the strongest portion of the book lies in his reconciling of the approximately 13-14 billion year age of the universe given by modern physics, with the roughly six thousand years implied by the biblical chronologies. Schroeder begins with the notion that the 13-14 billion years (actually he says 15 billion, but with these kinds of numbers, what’s a billion one way or the other?) are actually contained within the six days of the Genesis creation account. How can this be? The first point is to understand that the Jewish calendar didn’t include those first six days. The second involves the concept of time dilation.
Time dilation will be familiar to science fiction fans. Even if you don’t read much sci-fi, the film Interstellar contains a brief discussion. Essentially, the faster you go or the stronger a gravity field you are in, the slower time moves. The relevance is that after the big bang, space itself was stretching at an incredibly fast rate, a rate that can be measured via the cosmic background radiation (the energy signature left over from the big bang). It turns out that if you crunch the numbers (which Schroeder lays out in the book) from the perspective of Earth, it has indeed been billions of years since the big bang. But if you were there at the big bang you would have experience (take a guess) only six days.
Schroeder also does a good job of showing how the traditional understanding of Darwinian evolution doesn’t mesh well with the available evidence, but does a less than adequate job of presenting a coherent alternative. This wouldn’t be a problem if the author wasn’t so insistent on there being a scientific way to explain how God accomplishes His purposes.
The weakest point in the book is in discussing the development of humanity. He posits that while Adam and Eve were the first ensouled humans, there were other human animals before them. This concept itself isn’t ruled out by the Church (nor is it explicitly endorsed) but Schroeder carries it farther than I believe is necessary. Eager to demonstrate that the genealogy method is accurate, he indeed places the creation of Adam at approximately six thousand years ago. Yet, we know there were cities and agriculture by then. Recognizing that there should be some discernible difference in humanity once souls are present, the author points to the invention of writing, which indeed is fairly close to six thousand years in the past. I would be inclined to take this seriously if the first writing were poetry, indicating some sort of spiritual awareness. Unfortunately, the first uses of writing were for mere economic purposes.
Many other elements are discussed in The Science of God. There is an interesting discussion of how quantum mechanics supports the notion of free will, for example. Another point that was fairly mind blowing was Schroeder pointing out that there is something in the material world that experiences something like eternity – light. Recalling the concept of time dilation, the closer one gets to the speed of light, the slower time moves. This phenomenon has actually been measured. With synchronized atomic clocks, one going on a trans-Atlantic flight and the other remaining on the ground, the one that makes the flight will be running slightly behind the one on the ground. The effect is more pronounced the faster one gets. Well, light literally moves at light speed; therefore it stands to reason that the light itself would not experience the passage of time. So if you could literally ride the beam of light, there would be no difference between your departure from Alpha Centauri and your arrival on Earth four years later. No, I have no idea how that would work but it does stand to reason.
In short, while not every argument in The Science of God is convincing, it is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in both science and Scripture as well as anyone concerned with the modern exodus of young people from the Church over such issues. Other authors I’d recommend who deal with the science and religion debate are Fr. Robert Spitzer, Dr. Kenneth Miller, Fr. Stanley Jaki, and Dr. Francis Collins.