Monday, May 22, 2017


by Stacy A. Trasancos

A scientist is drawn to the Catholic faith as a result of the deepening of scientific insight? This book details the faith journey of a modern scientist involved in the latest nano technology research. Her deepening scientific insights derived during research lead her to a deeper faith. Such a story, similar to Augustine of Hippo 17 centuries ago, is happening even among scientists today. It is a story not often told in our popular modern media. This books tells the story of a scientist seeking truth being led to a deep and genuine faith. Then she adds to that story to persuade us that faith and science are culturally linked, mutually beneficial and interconnected approaches to truth that together raise the dignity and value of human life.

Any person, trained in science or untrained in science, can read this book and be brought to the realization that the often repeated mantra (in popular media) that science is in opposition to faith is patently untrue.   There are real scientists (like the author of this book) who come to see that Christian faith and science as truly complimentary pursuits of the truth.  The often assumed popular media assumption that scientists are always led away from religious faith as their expertise in science increases is debunked.

Dr. Trasancos begins with a chronicle of her personal experience.  First she moves away from the Christianity as she was raised with as she reaches young adulthood, then her abandonment of her faith by the start of her doctoral studies and then her religious awakening as a research chemist.   She comes to recognize Catholicism is fully compatible with science.  Her awe and logic reminds one of similar arguments posed by Augustine of Hippo 18 centuries earlier.  She comes to recognize that her God is pleased with the scientist's pursuit of truth.  She also shares at the end of the book how science can be wrongly used (in the absence of faith) to demean human life.Following the personal experience the book goes on to describe a variety of science principles along the way.  She reviews the basics of chemistry.  Dr. Trasancos reconciles the scientific origin of man with the Judaeo-Christian biblical account of Adam and Eve.  She addresses the always difficult issue (for some) of human evolution.  She ponders quantum mechanics and free will.  She reasons about Big Bang as proof of a God.  Finally she also addresses the controversial question of when does human life begin and how science is needs a fuller understanding to answer that question.

This is a fabulous reference with chapters that neatly segmented, details in an organized way how scientific pursuits can lead to genuine faith and how faith can deepen the understanding of our purpose and why both faith and science lead us to a fuller understanding of truth.


Quotes of Interest:

"What I have to say i snot profound, it is rather simple.  It is a plea to fellow Catholics to return to the child like awe and wonder with an unwavering confidence in Christ and his Church when we approach the subject of modern science."
                                                                                                                                   pg 3
     Einstein wrote "in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people."
                                                                                                                                   pg 12
     "...what so much of the discourse about faith and science omits is that conducting scientific research does not instill in a person the broad knowledge traditionally associated with intellectuals.  The work is more like grunt work at times.  The intellectual aspect is brief and takes a budding scientist from broadly absorbing scientific literature in a specific area of research into narrower and narrower, exceedingly specialized scientific method cycles to hypothesize and test exceedingly specialized scientific method cycles. "
                                                                                                                                   pg 23
      "Scientism  is the belief that only knowledge obtained from scientific  research is valid, and beliefs deriving from religion should be discounted.  It is an extreme or escessive faith in science or scientists."
                                                                                                                                   pg 36
     "The idea hat faith is separated from, or subject to, reason has arisen relatively recently, due mostly to the fast advance of science and to the exaggerated rationalism of certain thinkers."
                                                                                                                                   pg 41
     "But for Christians science is a way of knowing God better through the study of his handiwork.  Our faith can light the entire discussion.  I have seen both sides, and this is may main message in this book.  We have to tell people what science is in the bigger system of reality."
                                                                                                                                   pg 42
     "We need faith and reason equally, but when it comes to science, we must view the universe through a confident lens of faith in the Creator."
                                                                                                                                   pg 43
     "A believer views creation as the handiwork of God, all of it in consistently interacting, as an act of faith."
                                                                                                                                   pg 73
 "Models are used in science to probe the unknown, and mental pictures fill in the rest of the realms we cannot see directly.  The models and mental pictures continually need to be updated with the acquisition of new data.  Models are like scaffolding that go up before walls, rooms and decor are built around them, necessary frameworks for gaining new knowledge. "
                                                                                                                                   pg 93
 "Catholics are both-and people.  We can hold that God created an ordered universe down to the smallest particle, and we can also hold that He created rational creatures with free will."
                                                                                                                                   pg 100
 "if students are not prepared to understand science in the light of faith, they will be left in confusion.....if we leave the question of our existence at materialism's door, we shut out any deeper meaning or purpose."
                                                                                                                                    pg 1o7
  "In the light of faith, I can look into the chasm and not fear it.  I can see that it is too vast fro me or for any other human to ever discover all its mysteries, but I can appreciate that discovering a little more truth is better than not even trying."
                                                                                                                                   pg 118
  "We place ourselves, as any good scientist ought to, as observers seeking to understand (literally 'to stand under') the truth that life exists one it exists.  We are observers, not dictators commanding fantasies.  The proclamation that life begins at conception is a tautological statement.  That truth belongs to anyone who will accept it.  As Mother Mary taught us, life is a fiat."
                                                                                                                                   pg 162
  "When we say life begins at conception, we uphold the simplest unity of faith and science."
                                                                                                                                   pg 166

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Dr. Alan Lightman

    The author Alan Lightman is a professor at MIT and has taught both Physics and Writing.  This book provides a window into the possible thoughts and ruminations of Einstein in just prior to his first publication on relativity.  The work examines the intellectual ground that may have prepared the intellect for a revolutionary change in the way scientists (and all of us) now view time.  It is a brief book with short chapters and highly packed with images and brief events that reveal thoughts relating to how our awareness of time  and time itself impacts the life we lead.
      The book presents Albert Einstein as a young scientist who is troubled by dreams as he works on his theory of relativity. Each of the thirty chapters imagines a dream Einstein may have has during this period.  Einstein's fellow Physicist and close friend, Michele Besso, appears and reflects the types of conversations that Einstein himself thought were important to his development of relativity and the time dilation that is proposed in that theory.  Depictions of scenarios involve exaggerations of events, imagined phenomenon  and fantasies related to how we think about time and how time impacts our lives.  The book demonstrates the relationship each human being has to time, and thus spiritually affirms Einstein's theory of relativity.
      This short book is packed with plenty of thoughts and images that are sure to raise an awareness of the greatest gift all of us share with everyone:  Time.  

Interesting Quotes of Interest:

      "A world in which time is absolute is a world of consolation. For while the movements of people are unpredictable, the movement of time is predictable.  While people can be doubted, time can not be doubted.  While people brood, time skips ahead without looking back."
                                                                                                                                   pg 37
     "If a person holds no ambitions in this world, he suffers unknowingly.  If a person holds ambitions he suffers knowingly, but very slowly."
                                                                                                                                   pg 47
     "Indeed, what sense is there in continuing the present when one has seen the future?"
                                                                                                                                   pg 87
     "Those who have seen the future do not need to take risks, and those who have not yet seen the future wait for their vision without taking risks."
                                                                                                                                   pg 88
     "Why the fixation on speed?  Because in this world time passes more slowly for people in motion.  Thus everyone travels at high velocity, to gain time."
                                                                                                                                   pg 91
     "Frustrated and despondent, some people have stopped looking out windows.  With the shades drawn, they never know how fast they are moving.  how fast their neighbors are moving,  They rise in the morning, take baths, eat plaited bread and ham, work at their desks, listen to music, talk to their children, lead lives of satisfaction.
      Some argue that only the giant clock tower in the Kramgases keeps true time, that it alone is at rest.  Others point out that the giant clock is in motion when viewed from the river Aare, or from a cloud."
                                                                                                                                   pg 94
     " woman sitting on the banks of the Aare sees the boats pass by at great speed, as if moving on skates across ice.  To another, the baots appear sluggish, barely rounding the bend in the whole afternoon.  A man standing on the Aarstese looks at the river to discover that the boats travel first forwards, then backwards."
                                                                                                                                   pg 114
     "Such is the cost of immortality.  No person is whole.  No person is free.  Over time some have determined that the only way to live is to die.  In death, a man or a woman is free of the weight of the past,  These few souls, with their dear relatives looking on, dive into Lake Constance or hurl themselves from Monte Lema, ending their infinite lives.  In this way the finite has conquered the infinite."
                                                                                                                                   pg 122
     "Some people fear traveling far from a comfortable moment.  They remain close to one temporal location, barely crawling past a familiar occasion.  Others gallop recklessly into the future, without preparation for the rapid sequence of passing events."
                                                                                                                                   pg 134
     "Forty years ago in school, one afternoon in March, he urinated in class.  He could not hold it in.  Afterwards, he tried to stay in his chair, but other boys saw his puddle and made him walk around the room, round and round.  They pointed at the wet spot on his pants and howled...They hooted and called him 'bladder baby, bladder baby, bladder baby'.
      That memory has become his life.  When he wakes up in the morning he is the boy who urinated in his pants.  When he passes people on the street, he knows they see the wet spot on his pants.  He glances at his pants and looks away.  When his children visit, he stays within his room and talks to them through the door. He is the boy who could not hold it in.
       But what is the past?  Could it be, the firmness of the past is just an illusion?  Could the past be a kaleidoscope, a pattern of images that shift with each disturbance of a sudden breeze, a laugh, a thought?  And if the shift is everywhere what would we know?"
                                                                                                                                   pg 168-170
     "In a world of shifting past, these memories are wheat in wind, fleeting dreams, shapes in clouds.  Events, once happened lose reality, alter with a glance, a storm, a night.  In time, the past never happened.  But who could know?  Who could know that the past is not as solid as this instant."
                                                                                                                                   pg 171

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Dr. Stephen M. Barr
       This gem of a book does an incredible job at making comprehensible the story  of how Einstein came to change his view on his insertion of the cosmological constant into what is now called the "Einstein Tensor" equation (to describe the curvature and flexing of space and time).  The arbitrary insertion of this constant allowed for the constant to universe to be stable and in a "steady state".  Einstein later recognized that if he had not inserted this constant then his equations would have predicted the expansion of the Universe and the "Big Bang".  Einstein called this the greatest blunder of his life.   Fr. Lemaitre and Alexander Friedman independently discovered the solutions to Einsteins equations that described and expanding universe.  Dr. Barr's short summary (pg 39-45) is a fabulous condensed version of a key science event that changed how we view the Universe.  In fact the readable history of modern physics (for the non-scientist) depicted  in this book is one of the biggest reasons a person may want to read this book.
       The author's personal knowledge and well referenced assertions make "Part II", in my opinion, the best part of the book.  Dr. Barr details and supports how the "steady state model" of the universe actually worked to hold back scientists and science (especially astrophysicists) from recognizing the reasons for the observed expansion of the universe.  Despite the theoretical support of Einsteins equations, the observations of red shift by Edwin Hubble and the assertions of Alexander Friedman and Fr. Georges Lemaitre the majority of scientists clung to the steady state model past 1959 (based on surveys cited by Dr. Barr).  Dr. Barr asserts that the prejudice of scientists, who adhered to materialism, was the primary reason for delayed dismissal of "steady state" as a viable theory.
       Dr. Barr points to quotes and statements by renowned scientists that accepting the "Big Bang" was seen as tantamount to accepting that God could exist.  This philosophical prejudice was a clear obstacle to acceptance of scientific truth.  So it is interesting that in the case of Galileo scientific progress can be thwarted for a time due to philosophical bias that insisted that the new ideas were a threat to God.  In this case the materialist philosophical bias insisted there must be no God thwarted the acceptance of a far reaching scientific conclusion like the hot Big Bang.  How often do we hear that bias against religion slowed scientific progress?  I would guess not often if you read the same common popular publications I do.  I think this assertion and awareness of the author that prejudice and bias against religion slowing a scientific revolution is rare because it requires a deep knowledge of science content, confidence, integrity and courage.
      Aware of the bias the author then sets out into newer territory.  Part III of the book deals with anthropic coincidences and they are many (including many he does not list).  He lays out the coincidences at the atomic and sub atomic level because he is familiar with them and can explain those coincidences and the implications of any variations.   This section is full of details with mini-lessons on a variety of topics a particle physicist thinks everyone should know.  He examines the strength of the strong nuclear force, the Three-Alpha Process,  the stability of the proton, the strength of the electromagnetic force, Higgs Field strength, Cosmological Constant,  Flatness of space, number of dimensions of space, Quantum Nature, Why is there electromagnetism? Why matter at all?  Each atomic and sub atomic process is needed in precise quantities. Is it possible that prejudice isolates the materialist scientist from where these coincidences point?  Just as that same prejudice held acceptance of the hot big bang?
      Another set of coincidences is the size of features in the universe relative to one another.  It appears that the universe is almost precisely the right size AND age to have fostered life on some planet somewhere in the universe.  This is supported with information that relates the life cycles of stars, the sizes of planets and the minimum size the universe would need to be in order to nurture life by chance.  It happens that the universe and the smallest atom are precisely sized relative to each other to make life possible.  Is this another hard to accept coincidence?
      In the final section quantum indeterminacy is seen as the pathway to human freedom.  Dr. Barr briefly explores speculations about with structures that could allow for quantum indeterminacy to influence output signals in neural networks.  The rise of quantum indeterminacy has provided a vehicle that allows for human freedom because indeterminacy provides for probabilities but not outcomes predetermined from within the system.  The book now comes full circle back to materialism but by now, after reading what the author has reasoned, one sees readily that the materialist is not a scientist at all.  The materialist might use skepticism and circular logic but neither of these approaches are scientific.  In fact it materialism is not, in the end, not compatible with science because it fails to focus on the truth which is what science and our ancient faith do focus on.


Interesting Quotes of General Interest:
 Part I   The Conflict between Religion and Materialism
     "The fact of the matter is there is a bitter intellectual battle going on, and it is about real issues.  However the conflict is not about religion and science, it is between religion and materialism. Materialism is a philosophical opinion that is closely connected with science.  It grew up alongside of science, and many people have a hard time distinguishing it from science.  But it is not science.  It is merely a philosophical opinion.  And not all scientists share it by any means."
                                                                                                                                   pg 1
      "It is true that some believers, finding it difficult to give a satisfactory account of why they believe, have fallen back on the idea that belief is simply something one chooses to do, that it is its own justification, that it is a blind "leap".  This is the view called "fidesim." However it is not the view of the traditional faiths.
      If we take what is perhaps the most dogmatic faith of all, Catholicism, we find that it utterly rejects "fideism", condemning it as a serious religious error.  The First Vatican Council, in 1870, made the following declaration:
      In order that our submission of faith be nevertheless in harmony with reason, God willed the exterior proofs of his revelation....should be joined to the interior helps of the Holy Spirit...the assent of faith is by no means a blind impulse of the mind"
                                                                                                                                   pg 12  
      "The scientist knows that there is some insight, some act of understanding, which he currently lacks, that would satisfy the rational mind on the particular point he is investigating.  The religious believers faith is an extension of this attitude: he knows that there is some insight, some act of understanding, that would constitute complete intellectual satiety, because it would be a state of complete understanding of reality.  However, he realizes being sane, that such a perfect understanding is not achievable by a finite mind such as his own....God is the "unrestricted act of understanding"
                                                                                                                                 pg 14
     "The reason that there are mysteries is that God is infinite and our intellects are finite."
                                                                                                                                   pg 15
     "If the human mind is indeed a machine, and no more than that, it is clear that there can be no free will as that is normally understood.  That is why most materialists simply deny that free will exists....
      Quantum theory was the greatest and most profound revolution in the history of physics.  The whole structure of theoretical physics was radically transformed.  And in that revolution physical determinism was swept away....
       Quantum Theory certainly did not prove there is free will.  It simply showed that the most powerful argument against free will was obsolete.  In the words of the great mathematician and physicist Herman Weyl, 'the old classical determinism...need not oppress us any longer.' "
                                                                                                                                   pg 27
       "Many have been misled by the strangeness of modern physical ideas, such as quantum theory, into thinking that the lesson again was simply that all traditional notions should be jettisoned.  However a closer look at the scientific revolutions of the twentieth century reveals a very different picture.  We find the the human mind is perhaps, after all, is not just a machine.  We find that the universe did perhaps, after all, have a beginning.  We find there is reason to believe after all, that the world is the product of design, and that life is perhaps part of that design."
                                                                                                                                   pg 29

 Part II   In the Beginning
       "There can be no question that the aversion that some scientists felt for the Big Bang Theory stemmed largely from the philosophical prejudices, and in particular to the fact that the reality of a beginning seemed to sit much better with religious views than with there own materialism."
                                                                                                                                   pg 43
     "It now appears that the the biblical chronology was quite right in this respect.  Light indeed existed from the beginning, while stars took many millions of years to appear."
                                                                                                                                   pg 45
     "The facts that science has taught us give strong reason to doubt that the universe is eternal....the fact of the hot Big Bang is no longer disputed."
                                                                                                                                   pg 46
Part III  Is the Universe Designed?
     "It is becoming more generally realized that is was not an accident that the Scientific Revolution occurred in Europe rather than in other great centers of civilization."
     "This idea of God as cosmic lawgiver was from very early times central to Jewish and Christian thinking.."
                                                                                                                                   pg 67
     "It is the beauty, and order, and law that we see in the world which points to its creator."
                                                                                                                                   pg 68
      "Rather the laws of nature are simply patterns which we discover empirically in the world around us, but which could have been otherwise."
                                                                                                                                   pg 77
      "Order has to be built in for order to come out.....The universe looks far more orderly to us now than it did to the ancients who appealed to that order as proof of God's existence."
                                                                                                                                   pg 79
     "But we can be sure that whatever new and deeper theory comes along, it will reveal to us more profound principles of order and greater more inclusive pattern s.  What science has shown us is that most of the beauty and order in nature is hidden from our eyes."
                                                                                                                                   pg 87
      "Unfortunately, when it comes to the questions surrounding how evolution happened, many scientists seem to be quite uncritical, not to say dogmatic, in their attitude."
                                                                                                                                  pg 111
      "...our universe's openess to biological evolution appears to be a consequence of the fact that its laws are indeed very special.  A slightly different set of laws would....have led to a completely lifeless, sterile universe.
       If this is so, then Darwinian evolution, far from disproving the necessity of a cosmic designer, may actually point to it.  We now have a problem of not just explaining a butterfly's wing, but a universe that can produce a butterfly's wing."
                                                                                                                                   pg 112
Part IV  Man's Place in the Cosmos
     "Many including former agnostics and atheists, have seen in these anthropic coincidences a powerful argument for the existence of God...It is no longer a question of whether one can find any evidence in nature that we were built in.  Such evidence abounds.  It is now a question of whether that evidence should be taken at face value, whether it really means what it seems to mean."
                                                                                                                                   pg 117
The anthropic coincidences include:
         1) Strength of the Strong Nuclear Force: If too weak (-10%) it would be unable to hold heavy hydrogen together and larger elements could not be built.  If too strong (+4%) then two particle nuclei could be produced negating larger atoms.
         2) The Three-Alpha Process: Favored through resonance the formation of carbon using the alpha particles in collision.
         3) Stability of the proton allows for sustaining chemical and atomic structures long enough for higher organizations of atoms and molecules to impact the reactions needed to sustain life.
         4) Strength of the electromagnetic force: If too strong then atoms would bond together and never reconfigure.  If too week then atoms would fail to combine to make the elegant molecules needed for life.
         5) Higgs Field strength if to weak would cut off formation of larger atoms and if too strong then deuterium would be come unstable (it is needed for the formation of larger atoms)
         6) Cosmological Constant:  IF too small then all particles would be unstable.  IF negative then the universe would have lasted for an incredibly short time.
         7) Flatness of space would also shorten the universe lifetime if slightly different than known to be.
         8) Number of dimensions of space:  Less than three then access and transport to support the myriad of activities supporting life would be impossible.  More than three then the distances over which fields spread would cause rapid decline in energy transport.
          9) Quantum Nature
         10) Why electromagnetism?
         11) Why matter?

       "The basic point of the anthropic coincidences, for the theist, is that they highlight the fact that the universe might have been a different sort of place, and that it had to be a very special sort of place if it were to be able to give rise to life."
                                                                                                                                   pg 154
    "If you look at the whole forest, or just a single leaf, you will miss the most interesting things that are going on, which happen in between. "In between" is where human life is lived out."

Part V  What is Man
     "Completely against the expectations of the scientific world, determinism was overthrown in the 1920's by quantum theory....the laws of physics would only allow one to calculate the probablities of various future outcomes.
      To say that this was unanticipated would be a tremendous understatement.  It was a shock, and a very unwelcome one to many physicists."
                                                                                                                                   pg 176
     "Not surprisingly, a number of physicists, biologists, and philosophers have made the suggestion that quantum indeterminacy has something to do with human freedom."
                                                                                                                                   pg 178
     "The key point is that quantum indeterminacy, allows for free will, it does not produce it.
                                                                                                                                   pg 179
     "If free will, as it is traditionally understood, is real, then scientific materialism is certainly wrong."
                                                                                                                                   pg 184
      "Time and time again, revolutionary scientific discoveries have overthrown our common sense assumptions:   It was obvious that the Earth was at rest and the sun moved. It was obvious that a thing can not be both a wave and a particle.  It was obvious that once can say in an absolute sense that two events happen simultaneously." These all seemed obvious and all of them turned out to be wrong."
                                                                                                                                    pg 186
      "There was a time when religious skeptics proudly called themselves free thinkers.  It is ironic that modern materialist skeptic disbelieves even in the reality of his own freedom, both moral and intellectual."
                                                                                                                                    pg 189
      "The intellect has not only the power of abstract understanding but also the power of judging the truth and falsehood of propositions."
                                                                                                                                    pg 197
      "Science begins with phenomenon and tries to understand them.  But it appears that many materialists, in thinking about the mind, do quite the reverse.  They start with a theory and dismiss certain facts."
                                                                                                                                    pg 225
      "the idea that man can be nothing other than a machine is really nothing other than pure deduction from atheism.  There is not a shred of evidence that a material system can reproduce the human abilities to understand abstractly and will freely."
                                                                                                                                   pg 226
     "The idea that quantum theories of the Big Bang are competing against God as a creator is based on some crude misunderstandings.  The real question that monotheism is attempting to deal with is a much more basic question than whether the Big Bang can be described by a mathematically consistent set of laws."

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Edited and Translated by
Maurice A Finocchiaro

       This book is a collection of some of the most important writings of Galileo.  The decision of "what was most important" was made based on consultation with scholars familiar with Galileo from around the world (and listed in the introduction of the book).  An excellent introduction is followed by a "Chronology of Galileo's Career and Aftermath" which is a listing of dates important to the life and story of Galileo.
       Any person who is interested in the science that Galileo came to understand should read this as a synopsis of his most perceptive writings in this book.  This book can also help anyone who wishes to understand the famous court proceedings through the words of Galileo himself.   One will find that Galileo understood much more science than most of his peers but also misunderstood natural events (such as tides) as well.  In addition, as John Paul II recognized, Galileo was also ahead of his time in understanding how to read sacred scripture.  Galileo also appears to have differentiated the methods used in scientific analysis from theological analysis.
       The Introduction  (pg 1-16) is a a fabulous summary of the life of Galileo.  It frames the activities and context of his life precisely.  In addition to the chronology the index of the book allows for quick access to the many topics and thoughts that Galileo investigated and pondered.   I found this chronology useful (referred to it often during reading).  The Chapters each provide translations of key Galileo writings in temporal order including his excerpts from his published works and private communications.
       Reading his words reveals that Galileo was certainly a scientist with amazing insight and confidence but also a skilled, even great writer.
       Galileo's writings speak for themselves well in this collection.


Interesting Quotes of General Interest:

     "His [Galileo's] contributions to scientific knowledge were so radical that he constantly had to discuss with his opponents (scientific as well as ecclesiastic) not only what the facts were and what their best theoretical interpretation was, but also what the proper rules for establishing the facts and for interpreting them were."
                                                                                                                                   pg 2
     "His [Galileo's] orientation was critical of Aristotelian physics and was fundamentally Archimedean; that is he followed Archimedes' mathematical approach, accepted his physical principles of statics, and tried to build upon them for the analysis of how bodies move.  In his study of falling bodies, Galileo became and ingenious, skillful and indefatigable experimenter who pioneered experimentation as a procedure involving the combination of empirical observation with both mathematization and conceptual theorizing." 
                                                                                                                                     pg 4
Summary of Arguments against Copernican System that Galileo was "acutely aware" of:
      "The earth's motion seemed epistemologically absurd because it contradicted direct sense experience.  It seemed astronomically false becasue it had consequences that could not be observed, such as similarity between terrestrial and heavenly bodies, Venus phases, and annual stellar parallax.  It seemed mechanically impossible because the available laws of motion implied that bodies on a rotating earth would, for example, follow a slanted rather than vertical free fall, and would be thrown off by centrifugal force.  And it seemed theologically heretical because it contradicted the literal meaning and the traditional interpretation of the passages in the Bible.  Until 1609 Galileo apparently judged that the anti-Copernican arguments far outweighed the pro-Copernican ones.  Thus we find him teaching geostatic astronomy in his courses and reacting in a lukewarm and evasive manner when an enthusiastic Copernican life Johannes Kepler tried to engage him."
                                                                                                                                     pg 4-5
From "History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots" (1613)
Knowing properties vs. Knowing Essenses
     "I am opposing Aristotles's doctrine much less than those who would want to claim it inalterable.  For I am sure that he never regarded the conclusion of inalterability as certain as the principle that plane sense experience must have priority over any human theory.  Thus, one will philosophize better by giving assent to conclusions dependent on clear observations than by persisting in opinions that are repugnant to the senses and are confirmed only with probable or apparent reasons."
                                                                                                                                     pg 100
     "These [knowledge of sunspots] enable us to philosophize better about other more controversial questions regarding natural substances.  Finally lifting us to the final purpose of our efforts, namely the love of the Divine Architect, they can sustain our hope of learning all other truths from Him, source of light and truth."
                                                                                                                                   pg 102
Letter to Castelli (1613)
     “I should believe that it would be prudent not to allow anyone to oblige [284] scriptural passages to have to maintain the truth of any physical conclusions whose contrary could EVER be shown to us by the senses and demonstrative and necessary reasons. Who wants to fix a limit to the human mind? Who wants to assert that everything which is knowable in the world is already known?"
                                                                                                                                    pg 105
Letter to the Grand Dutchess Christina (1615)
     "...I think that in the course of examining Scripture one may find more appropriate passages whereby we would be entitled, if not to prove something for certain, at least to believe something on this topic based on the words of sacred authority....[citing St. Augustine].."Now then, always practicing a pious and serious moderation, we ought not to believe anything lightly about an obscure subject, lest we reject (out of love for our error) something which may be truly shown not to be in any way contrary to the holy books of either the Old or New Testament."
                                                                                                                                       pg 110                 
     "It is most pious to say and most prudent to take for granted that Holy Scripture can never lie, as long as its true meaning has been grasped; but I do think on can deny that this is frequently recondite and very different from what appears to be the literal meaning of the words.
                                                                                                                                   pg 115
     "Therefore, I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with authority of scriptural passages, but with sense experiences and necessary demonstrations.  For the Holy Scripture and nature derive equally from the Godhead, the former as the dictation of the Holy Spirit and the latter as the most obedient executrix of God's orders....."

     "God reveals Himself no less exceptionally in the effects of nature than in the sacred words of Scripture"
                                                                                                                                    pg 116           
Galileo's Consideration on the Copernican Opinion (1615)
     "Moreover, we admit that a physical proposition which has been proved true by physical and mathematical demonstrations can never contradict scripture, but that in such a case it is the weakness of our mind which prevents us from grasping its [Scriptures] true meaning."
                                                                                                                                     pg 161
From Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems (1632)
     "I applaud his (Aristotle) being examined and diligently studied and only blame submitting him in such a way that one blindly subscribes to all his assertions and accepts them as unquestionable dictates, without searching for (other) the reasons for them."
                                                                                                                                     pg 201

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: The Great PARTNERSHIP

Science, Religion, and the
Search for Meaning
by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The book is organized, well researched and fluently written. Three parts of the book are followed by a letter to the scientific atheist.  The first part "God and the Search for Meaning" asserts that man is a meaning seeking animal that science alone can not, by itself, satisfy.   The second part addresses the question of "Why it matters" ending in a chapter titled "A meaningful life".  Part three addresses "Faith and Its Challenges" which addresses the confusion brought on by the modern understanding of evolution, why religion goes wrong, evil and the answer that addresses our need for meaning: God.  One of the finest parts of the book is the letter to the scientific atheist.

The truths we hold for life are often metaphors we have to manage our view of reality. They approximate reality, but if we mistake them for the literal truth we can make a leap too far.  The book early and often uses the separate hemispheres of the brain which are called upon to explain how religion and science relate to each other.   We must come to grips with the limits of the metaphor for that metaphor to serve us.  The author warns us that this is the trap of fundamentalism in the faithful and materialism in the scientific.

The author reminds us throughout the book that science breaks things down and analyzes them.  Religion creates and builds meaning.  He systematically juxtapositions treatment of faith and scientific reasoning so that the reader can clearly see the contrast.   In the end science and religion address different questions and when they overlap an issue it may be that there is a misunderstanding of religion or of the science or of both.

Surprising to me was the extensive treatment of culture and politics.  Eventually it dawned on me, because of the book's careful development, that science flourishes where there is freedom.  Freedom only flourishes where there is the recognition of the divine dignity because we are all made in the image of God.  The connection between freedom and science had escaped me until reading this book.  

The greatest feature of the book is the large number of quotes.  The impressive array of thoughtful reflections on the the place of faith and science in our lives as humans make this book a real treasure.  It is the type of book put on the shelf to be reread well into the future.

My highlighted quotes had to be redacted because there were so many.  In addition Rabbi Saks quotes a variety of writers and thinkers.

PART I: God and the Search for Meaning

   "Science takes things apart to see how they work.  Religion puts things together to see what they mean."                                                                                                                                   pg 2

    "When you treat things as they were people, the result is myth: light is from the sun god, rain from the sky god, natural disasters from the clash of deities, and so on.  Science was born when people stopped telling stories about nature and instead observed it; when, in short they relinquished myth.
     "When you treat people as if they were things, the result is dehumanization: people categorized by color, class or creed and treated differently as a result.  The religion of Abraham was born when people stopped seeing people as objects and began to see each individual as unique, sacrosanct, the image of God." 
                                                                                                                                     pg 3
    "Religion and Science [They] perform different functions and if one is damaged or the connections between them are broken, the result is dysfunction."
                                                                                                                                     pg 6
    "People who are confident in their beliefs feel no need to pillory or caricature their opponents.  We need genuine, open, serious, respectful conversations between scientists and religious believers if we are to integrate their different but cojointly necessary perspectives."
                                                                                                                                    pg 15
    "Faith begins with the search for meaning, because it is the discovery of meaning that creates human freedom and dignity.  Finding God's freedom we discover our own."
                                                                                                                                     pg 15
    "Science is the search for explanation.  Religion is the search for meaning. Meaning is not accidental to the human condition because we are a meaning seeking animal.  To believe on the basis of science that the universe has no meaning is to confuse two disciplines of thought: explanation and interpretation."
                                                                                                                                     pg 37
     "There is only one thing capable of defeating tragedy, which is a belief in God who in love sets his image on the human person, thus endowing each of us with non-negotiable, unconditional dignity."
                                                                                                                                     pg 38
     "Science takes things apart to see how they work.  Religion puts things together to see what they mean."
                                                                                                                                     pg 39
     "When the Hebrew Bible want to explain something, it does not articulate a theory.  It tells a story."
                                                                                                                                     pg 44
     "Europe lived with the heritage of Democritus and his successors who believed the physical universe was made up of atoms, and who thought in terms of the analysis of substances into the smallest component parts.  For the Chinese by contrast, 'Their universe was a continuous medium or matrix within which interactions took place, not by the clash of atoms but by radiating influences.'"
                                                                                                                                     pg 47
     "Argument appeals to verifiable truth, story appeals to verisimilitude, lifelikeness.  Argument comes together with theory, analysis, logical coherence and empirical testing.  Narrative speaks to imagination and the emotions."
                                                                                                                                     pg 53
     "There are truths we can express in systems, but others we can only tell through story.  There is a kind of knowledge for which we need detachment, but another kind of knowledge we can only achieve through attachment - through empathy and identification with an other."
                                                                                                                                     pg 54
     "Christendom drew its philosophy, science and art from Greece, its religion from Israel."
                                                                                                                                     pg 61
     "the rabbinic literature records a conversation between Rabbi Judah the Prince, head of the Jewish community in the early third century, and Antoninus, a Roman Sage, about when the soul enters the child. Rabbi Judah says, at birth. Antonius says, at conception.  The rabbi then astonishingly declares that Antoninus is right.  Thereafter, when he repeats the teaching, the rabbi is careful to say, 'Antoninus taught me this.'  This is a religious attitude to science both open-minded and willing to learn."
                                                                                                                                  pg 67
Genesis creation commentary:
     "It was as if from the outset Jews knew that science - what they called wisdom - was one thing, and religion another.  Natural laws are laws that predict and explain, moral laws are laws that command and constrain.  Science was about things, religion about people and their freely chosen acts."
                                                                                                                                     pg 68
    "Equally radical is the idea that, since God created everything, he is God of everywhere.  For the first time, God and religion are de-territorialised.  There is no longer a god of this place or that; a god of these people opposed to those.  Abrahamic universalism is born here. "
                                                                                                                                     pg 69
   "It is about a God who creates and makes a being, Homo Sapiens, able to create; a God who is free and bestows on his most cherished creation the gift of freedom.  Virtually everything that follows in the Bible is about this personal relationship between Creator and creation, at times tender, often tense."
                                                                                                                                    pg 70
  "Faith is not certainty. It is the courage to live with uncertainty."
                                                                                                                                     pg 97
  "God lives wherever we open our eyes to his radiance, our hearts to his transforming love."
                                                                                                                                     pg 98
PART II:  Why it Matters

   "When religious faith goes five things happen , gradually and imperceptibly.  First there is a loss of belief in human dignity and the sanctity of life....
    The second sign is the loss of the politics of covenant, the idea that society is a place where we undertake collective responsibility for the common good....
    The third is a loss of morality....words that once meant a great deal begin to lose their force - words like duty, obligation, honour, integrity, loyalty and trust...
     The fourth sign is the loss of marriage....
     The fifth is the possibility of a meaningful life...I mean life with meaning that comes from outside us, as a call, a vocation, a mission"
                                                                                                                                     pg 102-04
   "The fact that we  occupy a small space in the universe and a small stretch of the totality of time says nothing about our significance or lack of it."
                                                                                                                                     pg 118
   "For the sake of human dignity, science must be accompanied by another voice.  Not in opposition to science, but as the humanizing voice of what we call the soul.  There is no greater defense of human dignity that the phrase from the first chapter of the Bible that dared to call the human being 'the image of God.' "
                                                                                                                                     pg 127

Plato talking about signs of decline in the democracy of Athens:
     " 'People lose a sense of shame.  Rudeness is taken as a sign of sophistication.  People pursue the pleasure of the moment.  They lose respect for their leaders.  The young no longer defer to the old, and the old behave as if they are young.  The difference between the sexes is blurred.  People get irritated by the least touch of authority and they dislike any rules that inhibit their freedom to do as they like.'  [The Republic by Plato 560-64]
                                                                                                                                     pg 161
     "Faith is about relationship sustained without the use of power."
                                                                                                                                     pg 169
     "The story of the first humans in Genesis 2 begins with God giving Adam the ability to use language to classify things. He names the animals..."
                                                                                                                                     pg 174
     "Faith for the prophets, was a kind of marriage.  Marriage is an act of faith."
                                                                                                                                     pg 181
A Meaningful Life:
     "In the age of fiction - what has come to be called the postmodern condition - everything people once thought was true is now seen as merely constructed, invented, a fiction.  There is no truth any more, only the various stories humans devise to make sense of their lives...Of course, we can liberate oursleves from these naratives, but there is nothing to put in their place because we are now too sophisticated, too knowing."
                                                                                                                                     pg 195
     "Happiness is a state of being, not having, and still today, as it always did, it depends on a strong and stable personal relationship and a sense of meaning and purpose in life."
                                                                                                                                     pg 202
     "Love is what redeems us from the prison cell of the self and all the sickness to which the narcissistic self is prone - from empty pride to deep depression to a sense of nihilism and the abyss."
                                                                                                                                    pg 205
PART THREE:  Faith and Its Challenges

     "Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature.  And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery we are trying to solve."
                                                                                                                              by Max Planck
                                                                                                                                     pg 209
     "The way of testing a scientific hypothesis is to do science, not read scriptures.  The way of testing religion is to do religion - to ask, in total honesty, and full understanding, is this really what God wants of us?  It is not to make assertions about the truth or falsity of some scientific theory...
For if science is about the world that is, and religion about the world that ought to be, then religion needs science bacause we can not apply God's will to the world if we do not understand the world."
                                                                                                                                     pg 214
"Darwinism has immense religious implications.
     First is tells us that God delights in diversity...
     Second, and this is Darwin's wondrous discovery, the creator made creation creative...
     Third, we now know that all life derives from a single source.  That is a remarkable unexpected fact....
     Fourth, science and Genesis have now converged, in an utterly unexpected way, on the same metaphor.  Life is linguistic....discovery of DNA. It has hardware and software.  The cell is an information processing system...
    Fifth, the interconnectedness of all life."
                                                                                                                                     pg 215-9
     "If we give up in belief in the God of justice, we relinquish belief in objective reality and categorical imperative of justice also.  In such a world there is no comfort for the sufferer, no rebuke for the oppressor, no hope, just the stoic endurance of hopelessness."
                                                                                                                                     pg 240
     "Bad things happen when religion ceases to hold itself answerable to empirical reality, when it creates devastation and cruelty on Earth for the sake of salvation in heaven.  And bad things happen when science declares itself the last word on the human condition and engages in social or bio-engineering, treating humans as objects rather than as subjects, and substituting cause and effect for reflection, will and choice."
                                                                                                                                    pg 265
     "Human self consciousness lies at the heart of all art, metaphysics, poetry; of all science, mathematics and cosmology; of everything that makes humanity different, distinct, unique.  The least significant fact about Homo sapiens is that we evolved to survive....What makes us different is that we are meaning seeking animal"
                                                                                                                                     pg 271
     "Science gives us a sense of wonder. It does not disclose the source and origin of that wonder."
                                                                                                                                     pg 273
     "Tested on attitudes, religiosity as measured by church attendance turns out to be the best predictor of altruism and empathy: better than education, age, income, gender and race."
                summary of R. Putnam, D. Campbell, S Garrett
                American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Simon-Schuster 2010
                                                                                                                                     pg 278
     "To explain the world we have science.  To control it we have technology.  To negotiate power we have democratic politics.  To achieve prosperity we have a market economy.  If we are ill we go to a doctor, not a priest.  If we feel guilty we can go to a psychotherapist; we have no need of a confessor.  If we are depressed we can take Prozac, we do not need the book of Psalms.  Schools and welfare are provided by the state, not by the church.  And if we seek salvation, we can visit the new cathedrals -  the shopping malls at which the consumer society pays homage to its gods.
    Faith would seem to be redundant in the contemporary world. And yet far from disappearing it is alive and well and flourishing in every part of the world except Europe.....In Russia , where religion was exiled for seventy years, a poll in 2006 showed 84% of the population believed in God.   ANd as the Editor in the Economist writes, whereas in the past religion has been associated with poverty, today the growth in faith has coincided with a growth in prosperity. [Micklethwaite, Wooldridge God is Back (2009)]"
                                                                                                                                     pg 281-2
"The Bible is not proto-science, pseudo science or myth masquerading as science.  It is interested in other questions entirely. "
                                                                                                                                     pg 285
"Without belief in a transcendent God-the God of freedom who acts because he chooses - it is ultimately impossible to sustain the idea that we are free, that we have a choice, that we are made by our decisions, that we are morally responsible agents."
                                                                                                                                     pg 289
Letter to a Scientific Atheist

  "Science fulfils three functions...It diminishes human ignorance.  It increases human power.  And it exemplifies the fact that we are in God's image."
                                                                                                                                     pg 292
"We are desecularising in a destablilising age.  That brings fear, and few things are worse than the politics of fear.  It creates a sense of victimhood and a willingness to demonize those from who we differ...The best thing to do in such a circumstance is for moderates of all sides to seek and find common ground."
                                                                                                                                     pg 295 

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