Monday, October 6, 2014

Andrew Steane's "Faithful to Science"

Andrew Steane is a Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, England, and occasional speaker in the area of Science and Religion.

Steane applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Faithful to Science: The Role of Science in Religion, and reported as follows:
Page 99 is not typical in content for this book, but perhaps it gives a fair flavour of the style, and an impression of the author with whom the reader has embarked.

Faithful to Science is about science and religion, as it says on the cover, but it is not a portrayal of two things. It is an attempt to display a single thing: the way an integrated theistic perspective fully embraces science in its proper role. When one has come to acknowledge, with the due hesitation which surrounds all religious language, that the natural world is the product of an absolute reality that can know and be known---the fundamental claim of theism---then one's commitment to science is, or should be, just as mature and intellectually coherent as anyone else’s. Science is not an alternative to a reasonable faith, but a part of it. It is the way to address some types of question---the questions about the analysis of physical structure. But those are not the only questions worth asking.

As it happens, page 99 falls in a chapter where the book takes an interlude, a short autobiographical digression, allowing the reader to get a flavour of the way such ideas pan out in humdrum human life. In some respects this does not give a fair impression of the book, because it mentions a specific human story and a specifically Christian commitment, whereas most of the book is written from a broadly theistic perspective which could, it is hoped, embrace a much wider range of readers. Never mind; at least the page includes a few hints concerning the importance of humility, and the fact that not everything that announces itself as “Christian” is a fair representation of what the word should mean.

So page 99 illustrates where the author is “coming from”---the sense of cautious discovery, painful journey, ordinary research activity. But ultimately the book is not about its author, but about the wide-ranging discoveries and the metaphysical limits of science. Science is not the political partner, nor the all-conquering promoter, of atheism. But to get this in the right perspective does require mental effort, some care in avoiding category errors, and a willingness to bring one's whole person to bear in the unsettling but deepening entreaty: “tell me your name.”
Learn more about Faithful to Science at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue