“GOD’S UNIVERSE”: PROFESSOR OWEN GINGERICH BOOK

December 9, 2010 at 8:41 am | Posted in Books, Philosophy, Science & Technology | Leave a comment

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God’s Universe

Owen Gingerich (Author)

“Science works within a constrained framework in creating its brilliant picture of nature.

But reality goes much deeper than this.”

God’s Universe Owen Gingerich

From Scientific American:

In God’s Universe, Owen Gingerich, a Harvard University astronomer and science historian, tells how in the 1980s he was part of an effort to produce a kind of anti-Cosmos, a television series called Space, Time, and God that was to counter Sagan’s “conspicuously materialist approach to the universe.”

The program never got off the ground, but its premise survives: that there are two ways to think about science. You can be a theist, believing that behind the veil of randomness lurks an active, loving, manipulative God, or you can be a materialist, for whom everything is matter and energy interacting within space and time. Whichever metaphysical club you belong to, the science comes out the same. In the hands of as fine a writer as Gingerich, the idea almost sounds convincing. “One can believe that some of the evolutionary pathways are so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of random chance,” he writes, “but if you do not believe in divine action, then you will simply have to say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see. Either way, the scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems in much the same way as his atheistic colleague across the hall.”

From Booklist

Astronomer Gingerich believes in a designed universe, although not in intelligent design (ID), the antievolution theorizing that some Evangelical Christian activists want taught in public-school science courses. His intent isn’t, however, to flay ID as Michael Shermer does in Why Darwin Matters (see review on p.22); it is to explore a few topics in science that suggest design and a designer, God. He weighs the Copernican principle that intelligent life isn’t exceptional in the universe against the Darwinian emphasis on the uniqueness of life on Earth. He probes the differences between atheist and religious scientists (this is where he dismisses ID along with “evolution as a materialist philosophy” as ideologies), especially over the big bang and cosmological teleology.

Finally, he raises some “Questions without Answers” to point up the different, irreconcilable concerns of physics as opposed to metaphysics, science as opposed to religion. Utterly lacking scientific or religious triumphalism, demonstrating why both ways of knowing are indispensable, Gingerich’s highly rereadable remarks may well outlast all the brouhaha of the ID-evolution fracas.

Product Details:

· Hardcover: 160 pages

· Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

· First Edition edition September 30, 2006

· Language: English

· ISBN-10: 0674023706

· ISBN-13: 978-0674023703

Gingerich, a Harvard professor emeritus of astrophysics and science history, is perhaps America‘s best known living astronomer. His book God’s Universe will fascinate and inform anyone interested in either natural science or religious belief, but it will especially invite those interested in the interface and supposed conflict of science and religion. Gingerich’s views echo those of John Polkinghorne: both a studied religious belief and the modern progression of natural science are thoughtfully embraced. The anti-science views held by many religious people are often due to ignorance of science (and religion), and these views can prove superfluous to orthodox religious belief. Similarly, the anti-religious views held by many scientifically oriented people, are also often due to a comfortable ignorance, and are likewise expendable. Like Polkinghorne (British quantum physicist and cleric), Gingerich believes the world is best explained and understood if it is something that is intelligently purposed.

Given the almost unfathomable fine-tuning of the laws of physics, materialistic demands that there cannot be any such intelligent agency are contraindicated, based in personal psychologies or ideologies rather than scientific evidence (are scientifically arbitrary), venture well beyond the domain of natural science, and ultimately lead to no truly deep explanations of the world.

A God-ordained world simply makes better sense than the alternative. In Gingerich’s words, “a common-sense and satisfying interpretation of our world suggests the designing hand of a superintelligence.” Einstein famously agreed. But Gingerich is leery of many formulations of Intelligent Design arguments and distances himself from the ID movement. However he also believes that certain intelligent design arguments are not understood by many who dismiss them due to a kind of knee-jerk conditioning, and a philosophical commitment that departs from strict science.

The book is small precisely because it is efficiently presented. Repetition is virtually absent. Many writers who argue against a God-ordained universe inflate books with repetitive assertions (Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins being the obvious example). The second characteristic that distinguishes this book is Gingerich’s dispassionate focus. His assertions have the flavor of straightforward observation rather than argument. The emotional belligerence that many writers have brought to the topic is completely absent.

Owen Gingerich (b. 1930), Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and History of Science at Harvard University, was born in Washington, Iowa to a devout Mennonite family. After graduating from Goshen College in Indiana, at age twenty-one he enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard. A leading authority on Johannes Kepler and Nicholas Copernicus, he has an asteroid named in his honor (“2658 Gingerich”) and has preached in Washington‘s National Cathedral. He fondly recalls viewing the rings of Saturn through a simple telescope that his father helped him build from a mailing tube and leftover lenses from a local optometrist.

Gingerich’s book contains his three public addresses for Harvard’s William Belden Noble Lectures (November 2005), and as Peter Gomes notes in his foreword, they are characterized throughout by their “disarming understatement” and “intellectual modesty.” Gingerich argues that science deals with what Aristotle called “efficient causes”–a description of how something happens, but not with “final causes”–an explanation of why something happens. At its best, science adopts a methodological naturalism as a research strategy, and thus remains neutral about metaphysical or philosophical claims outside of its narrow purview. “It is just as wrong,” writes Gingerich, “to present evolution in high school classrooms as a final cause as it is to fob off Intelligent Design as a substitute for an efficacious efficient cause.”

The cosmos in general and the earth in particular, with their complexity and fine-tuning, are remarkably congenial for humankind to flourish. Nor was humankind–with our complex language, altruism, conscience, creativity, self-consciousness, and abstract reasoning–“necessarily inevitable.” It would seem, then, that humankind is an unimaginably lucky and “glorious accident,” or perhaps part of a cosmological design or telos. Science can inform one’s thinking on the matter, but it cannot, ultimately, determine the answer. For Gingerich, a religious view of the universe makes more sense, explains more, and is more satisfying than a non-theistic view. He admits that this is hardly a proof, just a matter of personal persuasion, what John Polkinghorne likes to call verisimilitude or “the ring of truth.”

Gingerich ends his book by quoting the prayer with which Johannes Kepler concluded his The Harmony of the World (1619): “If I have been enticed into brashness by the wonderful beauty of thy works, or if I have loved my own glory among men, while advancing in work destined for thy glory, gently and mercifully pardon me: and finally, deign graciously to cause that these demonstrations may lead to thy glory and to the salvation of souls, and nowhere be an obstacle to that. Amen.” Reading this slender volume which culminates a lifetime of dedication to robust Christian faith and rigorous world class science was a privilege that filled me with awe, admiration and gratitude.

Owen Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard’s Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In this concise and readable work, he advocates a broad framework for integrating science and religion — one that does not artificially mandate a secular explanation for every facet of the universe.

Dr. Gingerich is addressing cutting-edge astrophysics. But his approach to science is not new. It was the dominant worldview of the founders of his school. Harvard was formed to honor God through the integrated pursuit of science and religion. As reflected in the original Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Harvard’s founders believed that “the encouragement of arts and sciences … tends to the honor of God.” (Article I)

More recently, in the early 20th Century, Harvard Professor of Philosophy Alfred North Whitehead argued vigorously and persuasively that modern science would never have developed without the confidence in a rational universe, a confidence produced by the fusion of Stoicism and Christianity: “Centuries of belief in a God who combined the personal energy of Jehovah with the rationality of a Greek philosopher first produced that firm expectation of systematic order which rendered possible the birth of modern science.”

Dr. Gingerich’s work continues that Harvard tradition, suggesting areas of inquiry (such as the cause of the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe for life) in which religious explanations should be considered. Religion and science, working together, to fully explore both physics and metaphysics.

Dr. Owen Jay Gingerich (1930-) is a former Research Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University, and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. In addition to his research and teaching, he has written many books on the history of astronomy.

Gingerich is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the International Academy of the History of Science. He has been active in the American Scientific Affiliation, a society of evangelical scientists,[1] and is on the Templeton Foundation’s Board of Trustees.[2]

· Templeton Foundation board of trustees.

God’s Universe

Owen Gingerich (Author)

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