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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Review of Giberson's The Wonder of the Universe

The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World
Karl W. Giberson
Downers Grove IL: IVP Books, 2012, 216 pp. pb. £10.72
ISBN 978-0-8308-3819-6

This book is, in part, a sequel to Giberson and Francis Collins’ book The Language of Science. It aims to be a faith-friendly “science and religion” book (202), and it largely succeeds in that it treats both science and faith with respect. However, it sometimes fails to deal explicitly with the faith commitments implicit within science.

It is an accessible, easy read with a lightness of touch as one would expect from Giberson who has written or co-written eight books dealing with the interaction between science and faith. As always, Giberson writes with the conviction that science is the ‘handiwork of the Creator’ (13). He seeks to show that, on the one hand, Christians need not fear science as a challenge to faith and, on the other, that science does not necessarily lead to, or promote, atheism. His main theme for this book is that ‘our expanding view of the world around provides us with a constant new source of wonder that motivates reflection on the Creator of this world’ (25).

The first part of the book tells the ‘story’ of science from the Greeks to the big bang and quantum theory. Giberson focuses on the cosmic coincidences that make ‘the Earth is such a great place to live’. In the second part he looks more at the design arguments. He avoids the inductive approach of moving from design to a designer and rightly suggests that design arguments are ‘all-too-often based on gaps in our knowledge’. But if we believe in a designer then we should see marks of design in the creation.

At times there is almost a tacit acceptance of the belief in the progress of science and in the scientific method. We are provided with an oversimplified view of the scientific method: observation and theory are the two legs of science. Much of the discussion of observation and theory is very good and he does acknowledge the ‘complex and idiosyncratic’ relationship between the two, but he sometimes doesn’t quite go far enough. There is little discussion of the theory-dependent nature of observation (we see what we want to see) and the role of worldviews in our understanding.

Giberson has an optimistic view of science, though he does acknowledge that it ‘is a finite human enterprise with all the limitations that entails’ (125). He sees the progress of science as one that ‘extends, encompasses and absorbs rather than refutes old understandings’ (128). For him science works by consensus, but ‘there is no way to draw a clean boundary between science and nonscience’ (137) and yet he does draw boundaries when he asserts that astrology and dowsing are not science, though he is more circumspect where multiple universes are concerned. He sees science, then, in terms of a spectrum: presumably, the demarcation is by consensus; and we are encouraged to ‘trust the generally accepted picture of science’ (140). Is democracy a way of deciding truth or even science?

The book is well illustrated with black and white photographs and line drawings scattered through the text and with eight colour plates. There is a short bibliographic essay, but, surprisingly, there is no mention of Polkinghorne’s work in the bibliography – and that despite Giberson having previously written a book about him (which is mentioned; for a review see S&CB (2012)24 (1): 87; for my less effusive review see PSCF (2012) 64(4): 271).

Despite some of my reservations this is a helpful well-written introduction to the complex area of science and faith. Giberson succeeds in showing that science can be embraced as an encouragement rather than a threat to the Christian faith.

This review first appeared in Science & Christian Belief (2013)25(1).

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