Monday, December 11, 2006

A Scientific Search for Religious Truth

Author: Phil Mundt, Ph.D.
Publisher: Bridgeway Books
ISBN: 978-1-933538-61-7

Phil Mundt, a retired geologist reared in a Protestant family, spent four years researching and writing this book, in which he endeavors to
  • reconcile misunderstandings between science and religion and
  • answer religious questions that he wrestled with throughout his life.
The book’s sixteen chapters are divided into two sections. In the first section, Mundt discusses evolutionary theories and provides historical overviews of the three major world religions that arose in the Middle East: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Mundt accepts the general validity of the Big Bang theory, but, citing mathematical evidence, disputes that the universe could have arisen by chance. He argues that scientists should accept intelligent design theory as a plausible alternative to the chance and complexity theories that are currently favored by many. Mundt contends that many secular humanist scientists are intellectually narrow-minded and dogmatically predisposed to reject all theories that allow, in any way, for divine activity in the universe. Mundt takes such scientists to task for rejecting out of hand all theories that do not rest on premises that are identical to, or at least compatible with, theirs.

Mundt also accepts the general validity of evolutionary theories and urges conservative religionists to cast off their dogmatic predispositions and stop rejecting all evidence that contradicts a literal interpretation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. He notes that many contemporary Jewish rabbis and Christian theologians interpret these chapters poetically and allegorically rather than literally. He also cites documents issued by Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II that affirm the validity of evolutionary theories. Mundt proposes that religionists could extend an olive branch in this debate by offering a “scientific paraphrase” of Genesis that incorporates accepted scientific facts, such as the age of the earth, etc.

The historical discussions of Middle Eastern religions require a shift from the methods and propositions of natural science to those of social science. Thus, even though Mundt presents a good case, from a social scientific perspective, for accepting the validity of Jesus’ resurrection, natural scientists will not find this argument persuasive. Nevertheless, Mundt is to be commended for including relevant data from a range of disciplines in his studies.

The final chapter of this section, entitled, “Final Thoughts,” rehashes, frequently verbatim, material from the previous chapters. The chapter should have been excluded, as it did not enhance Mundt’s argument in any way.

The book’s second section, labeled a Scientific Annex, provides much interesting material regarding the evolution of the universe, the evolution of life on earth and ongoing scientific investigations in genetics. Although this material is fascinating, it does not advance Mundt’s stated purpose of reconciling science and religion. If this section were deleted, Mundt’s argument would not be hindered. Mundt acknowledges this in the book’s introduction, where he states that this material is merely included for those who are interested in reading further about the science involved in his arguments.

Notwithstanding Mundt’s purpose, certain scientific and religious tenets will never be reconciled conclusively. Jesus’ resurrection, for example, was a singular event that can not be replicated and tested under laboratory conditions. And the initiation of the Big Bang may never be scientifically determined either, as it was also a singular event that cannot be observed or replicated in accordance with current scientific norms. The truth of both of these propositions, to name just two, can only be inferred from available evidence. Jesus’ resurrection continues to be a bone of contention across religions and the precise mechanisms of evolution continue to be debated among scientists. These controversies, and others, are likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

A Scientific Search for Religious Truth offers intriguing material that will interest readers seeking a better understanding of the historical and contemporary conflicts between science and religion.


Barbara said...

sounds like a very interesting read. Rather than dismissing the conflicting scientific therories and facts, I think Christians really need to examine it more. It can only strengthen our believe that we truly have an awesome God with a master plan that will continue to unflod inspite of us.

Evie Sears said...

Mundt includes several stories of atheistic and agonistic scientists who were led to believe in God because of their studies. The more they discovered about how the universe works, the more they came to believe that nature reveals God's majesty. They figured that a divine Creator makes more sense, rationally, than chaos and complexity theories.

Erik said...

I have colleagues (biologists) who state that everything "created" originated from pure coincidence. Daniel Bennett's book on Darwinian theories starts with a non-existent, only imaginary endless series of possibilities from which existing phenomena are derived by simple algorithms; science only needs to find these algorithms. I find these attitudes a bit narrow-minded. Take e.g. the orchids (Taken as an example by Darwin, too). Some orchid species could, statistically spoken, never have been developed only by coincidentally muting genes in the (evolutionary) short time of the species' existence. My colleagues, when asked about this, simply quote Darwin, as if he would have rejected this possibility. No, according to me he left this "Intelligent Design"-solution open. He theorised about "survival of the fittest", but as far as I know he didn't show that the species determined among themselves who would survive and who would not.

Erik said...

About the scientific possibility of Jesus'resurrection. My "solution" about this and many other events in the Gospel and Bible is that there are two kinds of truths: one observable and explicable truth, and one Truth which is not observable with our senses nor explicable. In order to announce and describe this second kind of Truth the Gospel-authors have used stories that can be interpreted in many ways without its core being lost. So I don't think that a resurrection took place physically and identifiable in history (outside the Gospel there is no written record of it)but I believe that a Resurrection exists in whatever form as a real Truth, not identifiable by scientific methods. For me, it's "mysterium fidei", the Mystery of Faith. That's my interpretation, others have different ones, containing also the mysterium fidei. That's my answer, which is paradoxically also a question which I 'll never be able to solve during this little life of mine.

Erik said...

My third comment on this issue, concerning the Big Bang. The question following the Big Bang is: Can there be nothing? And: the fact that there is something, isn't that more special than if there would be nothing? And what do we have to imagine by "nothing"? An empty space with no borders wouldn't be nothing because it's space, maybe without time. But is this space keeps existing for a while, isn't there time, then, too? But if there would be nothing it takes an observer to conclude that there is nothing, and then there would be an observer, which is "something" next to the nothing it observes. Help, it drives me crazy!!
Again: mystery. A medieval philosopher once said: "God is like a sphere with borders that are nowhere, and a centre that is everywhere". And, modern cosmology affirm this statement by mathematical methods unknown in the Middle Ages.