In this revised edition of his 1982 book, Stannard presents to non-specialists an exploration of how science and religion can be partners in a dialogue which seeks to understand and enrich each other. Recognizing the many contributions in the field since his first edition in 1982, this book is a completely revised work which seeks to offer a critical analysis of biblical/religious claims and scientific theories. Stannard has no intention of trying to convert the unbeliever, only to offer an opportunity to reassess beliefs in the light of modern thought. He admits that some will not agree with him since reappraisal is a painful process. He may be overly optimistic about the level of disagreement especially where he treats the emergence of spirit and original sin. There are twenty-two chapters, each devoted to issues where science and religion have collided in the past and he tries to show possible reconciliations.
An accomplished physicist and emeritus professor of physics at the Open University in the UK, Stannard is also a committed believer. Each chapter is excellent and worth reading carefully. Indeed, the book is so rich it is difficult to identify all significant aspects but a brief synopsis of the basic principles in some chapters will serve as a guideline to this work
In Chapter two, which follows a simple introduction in the first Chapter, Stannard introduces topics which he will treat at greater length further in the book. Titled "In the Beginning," the author approaches the DNA issue and indicates its relevance for discussing biblical Genesis accounts of the early human being. Chapters three and four analyze biblical language and myth as it relates to the Bible. In Chapter four, which many may question, he presents "original sin" as a "basic defect," something "buried in the past over which we have no control".(23) The inherent bias of falling short of our best ideals, particularly "perfection," Stannard identifies as an understanding of original sin's effects. In Chapter five, "Adam and Eve in a New Light," he refers to DNA and the encoding it carries. Living things are programmed from the first moment of conception with basic insights into behavior needed to survive, which includes an instinct for self-interest and disregard for others. (29) Even animals, however, exhibit self-sacrificing behavior. The early tellers of the Genesis story, unaware of the DNA model, nevertheless understood sin as coming from within the human being. This, he believes, comports well with Darwin's theory of self selection which may entail both defect and self sacrifice. But, Stannard contends, the ability to resist self centeredness, the internal flaw, has a remedy: God. When the human being becomes aware of God, he and she self-correct. (33)
Chapter six also may prove difficult for traditional Christian thinking since Stannard presents the "Emergence of the Human Spirit" in evolutionary terms, and answers in the affirmative the question of an inevitable emergence of "mind" or "spirit" ( he prefers these words to "soul") in the process of evolution. Chapter seven is highly speculative on "Superhuman Life Forms," concluding that other life forms can exist elsewhere in the Universe. Since Jesus became human, Stannard contends, there is no reason why he could not do the same for other life forms. The chapter closes with a possible scenario in scientific terms of the end of life on earth, which would not end God's action in the Universe. When Stannard places "Miracles under Scrutiny" in Chapter eight, he reminds his reader that Jesus did not perform miracles for their own sake but they were revelatory events. Miracles conveyed the meaning, among others, that nature's laws could be suspended in the midst of suffering. Stannard makes no attempt to engage the historical question of whether they actually happened but analyzes several miracles and indicates why some people may be ambivalent about them. This Chapter serves as an introduction to Chapters ten and eleven, on the Resurrection of Jesus, "The Touchstone of Christian Belief."
Stannard treats first the traditional proofs for the existence of God and adds one more, prayer, which contains its own ability to function as an additional "proof." Although none of the Gospels recount the actual moment of Resurrection, the accounts of finding the Empty Tomb and subsequent stories of encountering the Risen Jesus, differing in some ways, do bear striking similarities. Importantly, a surprising number of conversions follow the preaching of the Risen Jesus. Faith itself is witness to truth, and trust in the post-Easter appearances abounds, thus constituting a reason to believe (Chapter 11).
In the remaining chapters Stannard explains the work and assumptions of scientists in their work. He returns to the proofs for God's existence and argues that only in prayer can one find the "proof" in the actual human experience of God. Further, he urges all, even unbelievers, to try praying, even if only as an experiment. In "The Galileo Scandal," Stannard reminds the reader that the official Church saw Galileo as a scientist-intruder and was unable to recognize the relationship between natural laws and science. Stannard concludes the book with the restatement of his Christian belief in God, in a belief in a destiny beyond this world, and his contention that professional scientists who are believers are the best people to demonstrate the companionship between science and belief.
I recommend this book highly to all who are interested in the mutual and possible relationship between science and religion. Russell Stannard presents clearly to specialists and non-specialists in science and theology alike the important questions in the religion/science dialogue. The rendition of Quantum Theory in clear language is especially helpful. Some religionists and some scientists will certainly take issue with certain of his speculations. Nevertheless, Stannard, the accomplished scientist and believer, has added a valuable work to the emerging studies on how scientific discoveries and religious belief can operate in mutual benefit.