Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy

by Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton
298 pages / 1994

I have reviewed another book in the Turning Points Christian Worldview series:  Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature. The series ended in the 1990s, but it has held up well since then. The book I am reviewing was the second-last book in the series. Because it surveys a broad swath of the history of science, Pearcey and Thaxton's analyis is still relevant.

Pearcey and Thaxton begin by demonstrating that far from being opposed by religion, has been founded on, especially, the Christian faith in the orderliness and rationality of the universe being guaranteed by the orderly, rational work of its Creator. The next chapter summarizes various approaches to the history of science - either judging early scientists by modern standards or recognizing their accomplishments in comparison to the knowledge and commonly held concepts they had in their own time.

Looking at "The First Scientific Revolution," Pearcey and Thaxton first show how various schools of philosophy would form the basis for later scientific endeavor - following the Aristotelian, neo-Platonic, and mechanistic. They stress that even classic Newtonian physics, which seems to treat the world as a vast clockwork, was not purely mechanistic. In the same way, biology was gripped by the tension between "romantic" biologists (inspired by neo-Platonism), and descriptive biology (inspired by Aristotles emphasis on function and purpose). Darwin later imposed a mechanistic frame of reference on biology in his rejection of purpose for life's functions.

Pearcey and Thaxton's discussion of mathematics discloses just how important the belief in the orderliness of creation was in inspiring the pursuit of mathematical knowledge, but how the lack of confidence in that orderliness (because of the rejection of God as the one who created that order) has led to a loss of confidence in mathematics in general. Along the way, they look at such fascinating concepts as non-Euclidean geometry, Godel's paradox, set theory, and exactly what truth means in mathematics.

Finally, the two authors' look at "The Second Scientific Revolution" looks at the mind-boggling insights and paradoxes of relativity, quantum physics, and the information revolution that links chemistry and biology. The last one is the most important, as it makes clear how God shows his presence in the ordered and irreducible complexity of life and its information content.
It is important to recognize that Pearcey and Thaxton are surveying the various religious foundations of science, not specifically justifying the Christian understanding of creation. Nor does the basis of our Christian faith, Jesus Christ Himself, form a part of their discussion; however, there is an extensive list of resources at the end for those who wish to pursue the subject further. For a more specifically Biblical look at science, check this review of The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, and Meaning.

If you would like to explore The Soul of Science, you can find it here, and here in Canada.

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