Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
Stephen M. Barr
Many Christians struggle with reconciling what modern scientists say about the origin and nature of the world with what the Scriptures tell us. Should we take the Scriptures as our primary source, or what scientist say? Dr. Barr attempts to provide a “middle ground,” that takes both current scientific belief and what the Scriptures say seriously. Modern Physics is arranged around four major discoveries, or rather shifts in the common beliefs of scientists, that underpin or support theistic belief, specifically Judeo-Christian belief.
The author begins his book with a solid overview of materialistic thinking.
This view of dogma as anti-rational is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what religious dogmas are. It is thought that the basis of dogma is emotion. … To a religious person, however, a dogma is not something that is embraced from mere hidebound habit or feeling or wishful thinking, rather it is understood to be a true proposition for which there is the best of all possible evidence, namely that its truth has been revealed by God. -Page 11
He then moves into the first of the four “big discoveries,” the Big Bang. The author defends the Big Bang theory from several angles; this is probably one of the strongest defenses of the theory you’ll find in print in layman’s terms. He does slip here, though, in a major way —for Dr. Barr’s “blending” of the Scriptures and scientific thought leads him to the conclusion that the Scriptures are, after all, not written to express truth in a “scientific way.” In other words, the author embraces the view that the Scriptures can be relied on to tell us the truth about our souls, but only science can be relied on to tell us the truth about the world.
The second “big discovery,” the author dives in to is the connection between order and design. Here Dr. Barr is on solid ground, making solid points in favor of Christian thought. His general line of argument is that all “natural order,” is really the result of some underlying design, or “more complete order.” For instance, when you arrange marbles in a box, they fall into a certain symmetrical shape —but they only do this because their underlying shape is even more symmetrical than the shape produced in the arrangement.
Man’s place in the Cosmos is next up. This discussion is primarily about the physical location and relative size of man. The author argues that size and position don’t really matter —and if they did, man is neither the smallest nor the largest among the created order, so there is little we can take away from where men and the Earth actually lie. The anthropocentric coincidences are then treated in a long and interesting discussion.
The final “big discovery” the author discusses is quantum physics. Dr. Barr spends a good bit of time explaining the concept of quantum physics —this section will be very helpful for the reader who isn’t versed in these concepts. He then works into how quantum theory relates to the concept of mind and knowing. Again, the author is on very strong ground when showing how the mind cannot be like a computer. His illustration of the maze and the processing of information within or outside the maze is very useful.
Overall, this book makes solid arguments, perhaps providing some of the best arguments I’ve ever read in relation to the mind of man and the problems of materialistic thinking. The downside is his insistence on blending the Scriptures and modern scientific belief; anytime the Scriptures are blended with anything, the Scriptures always end up taking second place.