The Common Good
November 2009

Light vs. Heat

by Molly Marsh | November 2009

Science and religion books explore the "seen and the unseen."

The fields of science and religion ask fundamental questions about life—How was the universe created? Who is God?—and because of that, our public conversations often focus on ways science and belief are incompatible, rather than the harmonies that exist between them. Plenty of scientists have navigated these waters, of course, and their intellectual and faith journeys—touched on in the books below—make for good reflection.

God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion, by Guy Consolmagno, SJ, also author of Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist. The Jesuit astronomer writes about his faith and life as a “techie” and interviews other scientists and engineers to answer the perennial question: “How do these people, who are so dependent on empirical reasoning, find belief ... believable?” Jossey-Bass.

Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief, by John Polkinghorne, a quantum physicist and Anglican priest, and Nicholas Beale, a social philosopher. Using a question-and-answer format, the authors tackle some of the hundreds of questions they’ve received over the years—Can God’s existence be proved? Is evolution fact or theory? Is original sin a result of nature or nurture? An appendix outlines their view of how evolution and Christian faith fit together. Westminster John Knox.

A Science and Religion Primer, edited by Heidi Campbell and Heather Looy. Four introductory essays cover aspects of the science and religion dialogue, but the bulk of the book is an alphabetical encyclopedia that contains entries on everything from the anthropic principle to Intelligent Design to wave-particle duality. An accessible introduction to historical and contemporary figures and concepts. Baker.

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis Collins. A former atheist (and current director of the National Institutes of Health) explains his embrace of Christianity, and how he reconciles his faith in God with faith in science. Recalling his experience sequencing the human genome, for example, Collins writes that it was “both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship.” Free Press.

Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, by Karl Giberson. This Eastern Nazarene College physics professor traces his journey from an evolution-rejecting Christian fundamentalism to an understanding that faith and evolution are not incompatible. He also writes about the historical debates and events that have produced the science and faith culture wars that swirl around us. HarperOne.

The Sky is Not the Ceiling: An Astronomer’s Faith. Astronomer Aileen O’Donoghue writes personally about her struggle to integrate her Catholic, feminist, and scientific beliefs, a journey that led from Catholicism to atheism—and back again. Though O’Donoghue is honest about what she still struggles with, she writes that what scientists have learned about the universe is “a delight to both the mind and soul.” Orbis.

The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words, edited by Nancy Frankenberry, contains excerpts of speeches, essays, books, and interviews from scientists about God, religion, and the sacred. The 21 scientists range from Galileo, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton to Rachel Carson, E.O. Wilson, and Jane Goodall. Many identify with Christianity; others are animated by the sense of awe and mystery that attends life. Princeton University.

Molly Marsh is an associate editor of Sojourners.

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