Jean STAUNE, editor,
Science and the Search for Meaning: Perspectives from International Scientists.
Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006. French original, Science et quête de sens, 2005. pp. 249 + xvii. $24.95 pb. ISBN: 1-59947-102-7.
Leo MADDEN, Ohio Dominican University, Columbus, Ohio 43219
Contemporary western culture, in the matter of the relationship between religion and science, offers sharp contours and strict contrasts. One the one side are the advocates of scientific method shorn entirely of any religious influence; on the other side are the dogmatists who demand that the data from scientific inquiry must give way to the affirmations of a religious text or creed. Anyone attempting a rapprochement between the worlds of science and religion must realize that they must fight against a mighty strong current.
Yet such a rapprochement is precisely the agenda of the publisher, Templeton Foundation Press, as stated on the copyright page of this volume:
"Templeton Foundation Press helps intellectual leaders and others learn
about science research on aspects of realities, invisible and intangible.
Spiritual realities include unlimited love, accelerating creativity, worship,
and the benefits of purpose in persons and in the cosmos."
The contributors to this volume are all significant experts in their own fields of scientific inquiry, and they make the case that the scientific method and the data derived from the scientific method are incapable of providing "the full range of knowledge that humans need and long for" (from the Forward by Philip Clayton, p. xiii). Because the contributors bring to the task many years of toil in laboratories and classrooms, the essays take the tone of high-level reflection on the real meaning of their own professional investigations. They all agree that the naturalist approach to reality is inadequate to the challenge of discovering all the data and insights needed for understanding the origin and meaning of human existence.
After a Forward by Philip Clayton and an Introduction by the editor, Jean Staune,
the volume presents 14 essays by distinguished scientists (4 of whom are Nobel Prize winners) who reflect on the relationship between science and the higher things. The authors and essays are:
Bernard D'Espagnat, "Revisiting the Paths to Meaning";
Paul Davies, "Glimpsing the Mind of God";
Christian De Duve, "Mysteries of Life: 'Is There 'Something Else'?";
Thomas Odhiambo, "Essence and Continuity of Life in the African
Society: Its Evolving Nature";
Ramanath Cowsik, "Einstein and Gahdhi: The Meaning of Life";
Ahmed Zewail, "Dialogue of Civilizations: Making History Through a
New World Vision";
Charles H. Townes, "The Convergence of Science and Religion";
Jean Kovalevsky, "Science and Religion";
Thierry Magnin, "Moral Philosophy: A Space for Dialogue Between
Science and Theology";
Bruno Guiderdoni, "Modern Cosmology and the Quest for Meaning: A
Dialogue on the Road to Knowledge";
Trinh Xuan Thuan, "Science and Buddhism";
William D. Phillips, "Ordinary Faith, Ordinary Science";
Khalil Chamcham, "The Other Outlook";
Michael Heller, "Science and Transcendence: Limits of Language and
As in the case of any anthology, the quality of the essays is mixed: some present highly abstruse discussion of contemporary theoretical physics and mathematics; some are little more than special pleading for the value of the author's own religious tradition; but most offer very helpful reflections on the synthesis of scientific method and religious conviction (the essays by Townes and Kovalevsky are especially illuminating). The book would serve as a useful supplemental volume in an undergraduate interdisciplinary course, for example, one that would study the history of scientific paradigms.
The commonality in the essays is the appreciation of Mystery in both scientific inquiry and religious reflection. Not Mystery as understood by the novelists or the theologians, but Mystery in the sense suggested by twentieth century French philosopher Gabriel Marcel (quoted by Magnin, p. 155): "A mystery is a problem which encroaches on its own data, ... it is a problem that steps on its own immanent conditions of possibility." Science, no less than religions, recognizes the existence of a boundary between what is and what we can know. A genuine respect for that boundary allows, ironically, for the words of science and religion to communicate with each other and, in the mind of the individual scientist, to co-exist.
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