Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World: Fifteen Topics for Study
Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World: Fifteen Topics for Study. By George L. Murphy. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing, 2001. 151 pages. Paper. $13.95.
Murphy, a Ph.D. physicist and Lutheran pastor, has become increasingly well known for his ability to make the complexities of theoretical physics digestible for pastors and laity. This book is particularly skillful in this regard. It is divided into fifteen short but meaty chapters that portray contemporary understandings of nature, the origin of the cosmos, evolution, the much-debated "anthropic principle" (the view that the evolution of intelligence was inevitable given physical laws), the environment, new technologies in medicine, artificial intelligence, and, surprisingly, religious themes in science fiction.
This book is particularly welcome because it is designed to be used in congregational study groups. Much today is being written on the relation between religion and science, but it is not often accessible to laity of either science or religion. This book is written to fill this need.
Murphy joins the chorus of thinkers who wish to move beyond the stereotype stemming from Andrew Dickson White that "warfare" exists between science and religion. For Murphy, such talk of warfare is misleading. Many new theories of the philosophy of science recognize the need for metaphysics. The attempt to bridge the study of religion across disciplines opens new possibilities for discussing the interface of religion and science. For Murphy, natural science obtains knowledge that can convey divine truth; it is augmented by the revelation of salvation in Jesus Christ. His ability to deftly present molecular theory, the Big Bang, and insights from physics is welcome. He transgresses the boundary between physics and metaphysics by discussing divine agency (in chapter 3): he suggests that in light of natural law, God chooses to limit himself with respect to creation (p. 48). If God were to act in arbitrary and unpredictable ways, "such a world would be a nightmare. We would never have any idea what to expect of it. We wouldn't know when the sun would rise or which foods were nutritious and which poisonous. God might always act to shield us from any harm and from any consequences of our actions, but then we would be like babies in a nursery" (p. 48).
With respect to human evolution, Murphy maintains, with Reinhold Niebuhr, that given our genetic heritage, sin is "inevitable but not necessary" (p. 80). Yet, the divine image in humanity is still in the making; creation is also a future event. "While beginnings are important, God's purpose for humanity also has to be kept in view" (p. 80).
Murphy will surprise and delight readers with his discussions of the religious import of some science fiction novels, a subject implicit in much of this genre, meriting discussion.
Given the encroachment of science technology in daily life, Murphy's genre here is extremely welcome. This book is accessible to parish study groups; it challenges the most advanced in a scientific discipline or theology and yet keeps the layperson on board.
Mark C. Mattes
Grand View College
Des Moines, Iowa