Monday, August 30, 2010

The Soul of Science by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton

The most curious aspect of the scientific world we live in, says science writer Loren Eiseley, is that it exists at all.

With this introduction begins The Soul of Science, a book that defies the common belief that faith and science are polar opposites. Beginning with an identification of the philosophical schools of thought that drove scientific inquiry and then moving through the fields of mathematics, classical and quantum physics, and finally biology, Pearcey and Thaxton discuss the history and context of scientific theory from Aristotle to the present day.

Despite the fact that it took me four months to read, I would like to defend the book by stating that it was my own laziness that prevented me from finishing it, rather like my experience with Crime & Punishment. It is fairly readable, although I suspect that some grounding in its topics is useful, and that should not be a hindrance in picking up what is a rather heavy subject.

My appreciation for the book is two-fold. First, I never really struggled to grasp concepts and formulas in school, but I was always left wanting because I wanted to know why these things are as they are. Why does an equation for acceleration work, and for that matter, how did they even come up with it in the first place? I think I would have enjoyed and applied myself to physics a lot more if I had an understanding of the process used to arrive at the rote formulas that were engraved into my brain. The Soul of Science roots formulas and discoveries in the philosophical traditions of the discoverers, shedding light on the hows and whys that I always wanted to know but which my teachers didn't have the time or inclination to share.

Second, while Pearcey and Thaxton are absolutely defending the appropriate place of faith and the debt that science owes to theism's belief in an ordered, knowable world, they also take great care to lay out other viewpoints and the bases for them. Ultimately, they state their conclusion, but they are, I think, quite just in their treatment of others.

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