On Gerald L. Schroeder’s “The Science of God: the convergence of scientific and biblical wisdom.”


Ever since the rise of modern science, a number of scientific results have been in blatant contradiction with traditional scriptural explanations of the universe and of natural phenomena. It is almost symbolic that modern science should have been inaugurated by the heliocentric Copernican model which shifts the earth and human presence from the centrality given to these by practically all the religious traditions of the human family. One has only to refer to Andrew White’s classic, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, published a century ago, for a litany of examples.
Equally important, though often ignored, is the fact that the methodology of modern science is very different from, not to say contradictory to, the religious approach to higher truths. This methodology stresses empirical search, rather than poetic speculation, in the quest for truth; it insists on observational concordance of hypothetically formulated world views; it attaches little weight to ancient authorities, and it does not prove its propositions by quoting from hallowed texts or is not concerned with interpreting abstruse and time-honored passages to correspond to the latest findings of science; also, the notions of reverence for higher authority and infallibility of scriptures are not part of the scientific enterprise. And then there is the indispensability of instruments and mathematics in the scientific quest.
All this in no way undervalues the profound insights, traditional relevance, and experiential validation of religion and spirituality in the context of the human experience here below. That is why it has not been difficult for many serious scientists to find harmony between deep personal faith in matters transcending reason and endeavors constrained by rationality and empiricism. Productive and creative scientists from Kepler and Newton through Faraday and Maxwell to Einstein and many more have been “religious’ in the best sense of the term, but have generally kept away from mingling this aspect of their personal lives with articles in the Physical Review or in the Journal of Neuroscience.
But there have also been a number well-meaning scientists who have tried to reconcile the sacred texts of their particular religious tradition or denomination with the scientific results of their particular age. Hindu pandits, Muslim imams, Christian clergy, Buddhist exponents, Jewish scholars: all have, in their different ways, tried to show that with intelligent understanding, the holy books of their faiths embody some pretty sophisticated findings of modern physics and astronomy, geology and biology. These are individuals whose scientific sophistication is combined with deep commitment to their faith; and when they see the onslaught of science with its utter indifference, not to say, disregard, for the wisdom enshrined in their scriptures, they feel they ought to do something about it.
The book under review is the fruit of such an urge. Its author is a (former ?) physicist, and he is convinced that the six-day creation of the Book of Genesis can, by an ingenious mathematical transformation, and by suitably interpreting gravitational potentials and general relativity, be expanded to the 16 billion years or so of cosmic age, suggested by current cosmogony. The author has no hesitation in declaring: “With the insights of Einstein, we have discovered in the six days of Genesis the billions of years during which the universe developed (p. 71).”
To solve the puzzle, that a DAY is a terrestrial unit which has no cosmic significance whatever, and that according to the Book of Genesis “evening and the morning were the second day,” waters, land and the Earth appeared AFTER this, and that “God made two great lights” (the sun and the moon) AFTER He had made the earth, the author repeats what others have suggested, namely that the Biblical day in the first Book does not refer to the terrestrial unit of time. And he goes to give a new interpretation: “The description of time in the Bible is divided two categories: the first six days and all the time thereafter (p. 45).” In this interpretation, humankind began one fine day with Adam and Eve who lived for more than a century. Though one may accept that Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel, one is left to wonder whence came Cain’s wife on whom he fathered Enosh. But this is not the kind of question answered in this book.
It may be mentioned in passing that a similarly motivated author by the close of the 19th century would have made the appropriate mathematical transformation and appeals to electromagnetism or thermodynamics or whatever else was in vogue then, to show that the six days of the first book of the Pentateuch actually stood for a few hundred thousand years, for that was what the physicists of the day proclaimed to be the age of the universe. Indeed a fine lady by the name of Madame Blavatsky did something like this in a fascinating work called The Secret Doctrine.
When one reads a statement like, “… the 3,300 year-old Genesis 1:1 was correct all along. There was a beginning,” one wonders if the author is familiar with the Vedic tradition of the Hindus, much earlier in fact, by which the universe was created literally, and not Einsteinianly, a few billion years ago. But I am not sure what that proves.
The first Big Bang, the Cambrian explosion, the expansion of the universe, the evolution of the species: you name it. “The Bible related in thirty-one verses, in a few hundred words, events spanning sixteen billion years…. The entire development of animal life is summarized in eight biblical sentences.” To borrow a phrase from a Gershwin tune, who could ask for anything more?
The chapter (5) on the Nature of God is a well written piece for Sunday instruction of children of the Judaic tradition, but is likely to persuade few of other faiths, if only because much of it deals with God, the Exodus, and Israel. And a proclamation to the effect that “Of all the ancient accounts of creation, only that of Genesis has warranted a second reading by the scientific community (p. 80)” may not sit well in this multi-cultural multi-religious world of ours. Also, the suggestion in this chapter to the effect that miracles are “theoretically possible according to QM (p.74)” is somewhat misleading: biblical (and all religious) miracles are not just occurrences of highly improbable events (permitted by Quantum Mechanics), but downright violation of basic physical laws at the macroscopic level, which from the religious perspective, is possible only by divine intervention. No, QM does not look upon the splitting of the sea in order to destroy the Egyptians as a phenomenon that conforms to classical or to quantum mechanics.
In the chapters on Life and Evolution (6 & 7) we find interesting and concise discussions on current theories/controversies on the theory of evolution and fossil interpretation, but, inevitably, there is the implication that the third book of the Bible embodies current taxonomy and the findings in the fossils. This may not be any more convincing (to most secular scientists) than the claim of Hindu apologists that the dasavatara (ten mythological incarnations of Vishnu from fish to superman) reveal a knowledge of biological evolution.
Chapter 9 discusses the emergence of humans. To conform to the thesis of current science the author considers the possibility of Adam having ancestors (p.126). Feeling uncomfortable at such an (apparently) blasphemous line of thinking, the author consulted some “leading Bible scholars, Jewish and Christian, in the United States and in Israel. Their answers have been the same, though they replied only on the condition that I not quote them by name (p. 127).” This is not quite how science is done these days. But the author is quite confident of his position for he says a little further, “I rest my case on the Talmud (ca 500) and such biblical giants as Rashni (ca. 1050), Maimonides (ca. 1190), and Nahmanides (ca. 1260)….” If all this does not add weight to his arguments, then so be it.
Everything is implicit in the Bible. All it requires is serious research by someone who knows both science and Hebrew, and all the secret will be out. Such a thesis, let me repeat, has its corresponding proponents who hold Arabic and Sanskrit to be the sacred tongues in which God almighty chose to reveal the ultimate truths. This can be soothing to its practitioners, but may leave outsiders smiling and skeptical.
The doctrine of Free-Will becomes the Science of Free-Will in chapter 10 because it is tied up with (de Broglie’s) wave-particle duality (p. 152 et seq.), and because “while DNA may produce a tendency, DNA does not dictate (p. 158).” Moreover, free-will is not incompatible with God’s omniscience because God exists outside of time, a concept which in the author’s view is not only compatible with, but follows from the oft-appealed-to theory of relativity. But perhaps the most interesting (not to say curious) link is when the author connects Einstein’s E equals m-c-squared formula with the Sabbath day (p. 165).
Chapters 11, Why Bad (and Good) Things Happen, and 12, Bread from Earth: A Universe Tuned for Life, both contain intelligent and meaningful insights on various aspects of the human condition. Indeed, these are the best chapters of the book.
An entire chapter (Epilogue) is devoted to answering the question, “Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs?” There is, of course, a simple answer to this question, but it would not be in conformity with the book’s central assumption which is the Bible’s omniscience. So here is the right answer: We read in Genesis 1:21 that God created the big reptiles… “The biggest reptiles were the dinosaurs. But the author of Genesis did not specify dinosaurs directly, because that would have been inconsistent with the pattern of the chapter (p. 193).”
The book is based on the insightful proposition that Kant’s starry heavens above and the moral law within “are one and the same whispering voice (p. xii),” but (like so many others) it misses the point that the same whispering voice touches two very different (if complementing) dimensions of the human being: the logical/rational and the spiritual/religious.
As a result, erudite and insightful as the work is, The Science of God suffers from the “parochiality” of books of this kind, for, to modify a Shakspearean phrase, there are more scriptures on the planet than are revered in our own particular religious tradition.
Of course, Gerald L. Schroeder is not the first to attempt building bridges between Relativity, Cosmology, and Quantum Mechanics on the one hand, and Scriptural pronouncements and religious doctrines on the other. This is a time-honored practice which serves the rational/logical craving of the religiously inclined. For people of the Judaic tradition who need scientific backing for their faith, this book is to be highly recommended. There is little doubt that many rabbis will be quoting extensively from this book for years to come.
With due respects to the commendable motives of such undertakings (by well-meaning apologists in ALL religious traditions) I feel we are devaluing the magnificent poetry and spiritual insights of the Bible (and of other great scriptures) when we distort their deeper message to conform to the latest findings of science. All that is accomplished by such efforts is to bring even more to light the factual/scientific inconsistencies in works whose significance lies, not in their scientific explanations of how the world began, but in reminding us of our spiritual dimension.

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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