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Culture Books

Four books on science

Books

Four books on science

Religion vs. Science 

Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher P. Scheitle

Religion vs. Science purports to tell us “what religious people really think.” Authors Ecklund and Scheitle find it frustrating that “time and time again in our interviews, we heard Christians, Jews, and Muslims trying to maintain, in the face of scientific thinking and evidence, the belief that God created humans as they are now.” Evangelicals are a particular problem, since they “are much less likely than other religious groups to see scientists as the sole authority on science issues.” And, some “think scientists view themselves as God-like or worship science as a God.” Hmm, I wonder how that notion could have spread.

Fake Science 

Austin Ruse

Fake Science is a strident book, but there’s a lot to be strident about. Author Austin Ruse is pro-science that ends epidemics and lifts billions of people out of poverty, but against theologized science. (Many global warming advocates scoff at the Bible’s teaching that the world underwent rapid climate change following a bad day in the Garden of Eden and a bad few months during a worldwide flood.) Ruse criticizes opponents of genetically modified food and those who claim millions of Americans are “food insecure.” He rightly sees fracking as good news and points out that “peer review” is an ideological sledgehammer.

Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe 

Roger Penrose

Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe includes a disclaimer: “This account is not intended to be a technical discourse, accessible only to experts in mathematics or physics.” Yeah, right: Unless you’re an expert, this book will be like learning a foreign language. But Oxford math professor Roger Penrose’s basic point is simple and important: He “argues that researchers working at the extreme frontiers of physics are just as susceptible to mere trends, dogmatic beliefs, and flights of fancy as anyone else. … [They] may be leading today’s researchers astray in three of the field’s most important areas—string theory, quantum mechanics, and cosmology.”

Galileo Revisited 

Dom Paschal Scotti

If you’ve accepted the conventional view that the Inquisition’s persecution of Galileo was a battle of the Bible vs. science, Dom Paschal Scotti’s Galileo Revisited is a good, detailed explanation that looks at papal politics leading up to the Inquisition’s condemnation of Galileo in 1633. Anyone reeling from reading Penrose’s book will enjoy learning that Scotti demands of us no math knowledge, just a willingness to realize that history is more than good guys versus bad guys: Galileo, often seen to represent pure science versus weird faith, was a master astrologer and took that religion very seriously.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Martin Rees (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

AFTERWORD

In Our Cosmic Habitat (Princeton, 2017), British astronomer Martin Rees acknowledges that “if we learn anything from the pursuit of science, it is that even things as ‘elementary’ as atoms are quite hard to understand. This should induce skepticism about any dogma, or about any claim to have achieved more than a very incomplete and metaphorical insight into any profound aspect of our existence.”

Rees then invokes trendy multiverse theories and proposes that our universe is one of a huge number: “The cosmos may have something in common with an off-the-rack clothes shop: if the shop has a large stock, we are not surprised to find one suit that fits. Likewise, if our universe is selected from a multiverse, its seemingly designed or fine-tuned features would not be surprising.” Rees attacks intelligent design but here uses the passive—“is selected from”—and admits that “nothing seems more conceptually extravagant than invoking multiple universes.” —M.O.