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God's Universe [Hardcover]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   139
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.36" Width: 4.76" Height: 0.69"
Weight:   0.5 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 2006
Publisher   Belknap Press
ISBN  0674023706  
EAN  9780674023703  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
The author argues that individuals can be both a creative scientist and a believer in divine design in a critical examination of how it is possible to contemplate a universe in which God plays an interactive role that is not excluded by science.

Publishers Description

We live in a universe with a very long history, a vast cosmos where things are being worked out over unimaginably long ages. Stars and galaxies have formed, and elements come forth from great stellar cauldrons. The necessary elements are present, the environment is fit for life, and slowly life forms have populated the earth. Are the creative forces purposeful, and in fact divine?

Owen Gingerich believes in a universe of intention and purpose. We can at least conjecture that we are part of that purpose and have just enough freedom that conscience and responsibility may be part of the mix. They may even be the reason that pain and suffering are present in the world. The universe might actually be comprehensible.

Taking Johannes Kepler as his guide, Gingerich argues that an individual can be both a creative scientist and a believer in divine design--that indeed the very motivation for scientific research can derive from a desire to trace God's handiwork. The scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems much the same as does his atheistic colleague across the hall. Both are likely to view the astonishing adaptations in nature with a sense of surprise, wonder, and mystery.

In "God's Universe" Gingerich carves out "a theistic space" from which it is possible to contemplate a universe where God plays an interactive role, unnoticed yet not excluded by science.

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More About Owen Gingerich

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Owen Gingerich is Professor of Astronomy and of the History of Science, Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Owen Gingerich has an academic affiliation as follows - Department of Astronomy and the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, H.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
God's Universe  May 30, 2008
presents a deeply considered theistic understanding of physical reality which effectively challenges materialistic assumptions. Lends perspective to anyone who is searching for a philosophically rational understanding of existence.
A good introduction for those with limited reading time  May 11, 2008
Owen Gingerich's brief but provoking book provides a perspective of cosmology from an astronomer, science historian and amateur theologian. The fact that Gingerich draws from his Mennonite heritage should come as no surprise, as Mennonites have a tradition of careful thought about the revealed Word, and the relationship of science and theology. What may be surprising to some is that Gingerich does not conform to the expectation that he would adopt a more literalist approach in his theology. In his view, God operates more by intention than by intervention. In Gingerich's view, the Genesis account of the earth bringing forth every living creature after his kind does not preclude common descent with modification or the possibility of macroevolution. Gingerich finds support for his view from the fact that a single mutational aberration in his Amish ancestry is the cause of occasional six-fingered dwarfism. He wonders whether beneficial mutations can be inspired, prodded on by contingent causes at the physical level, although he acknowledges that science can never confirm or deny that question.

Gingerich argues that our epistemology is not always based on proof, but more often on persuasion, both in science and in theology. And that persuasion results from the coherence and consistency of the evidence, `a comprehensive pattern of interconnected answers to questions posed to nature'. Historically, Copernicus found that more phenomena could be more easily explained by postulating a heliocentric solar system. For example, assuming the visible planets are spaced at increasing distances from the sun explains their periodicity much better than the epicycles within epicycles of the Ptolemic system. In theology, Gingerich sees a consistency and coherence that leads one to explain more things more easily through belief than through non-belief, such as the apparent purpose and design in nature.

The place of science as a tool for explanation is a recurring theme. Gingerich refers to Polkinghorne's question of "Why is the water in the teakettle boiling?" to point out that answers can be given at different levels, the level of the efficient cause (heat raises the temperature to accelerate the motion of molecules - the `how'), and the level of the final, purposive cause (because we want some tea - the `why'). Science is restricted to the explaining the efficient cause.

Interestingly, as one of the world's foremost authorities on Copernicus, Gingerich looks at both sides of what has been called the `principle of mediocrity'; that man, in the cosmological viewpoint, has been relegated from the center of the universe to a fringe outpost of a backwater galaxy. Certainly from a physical perspective this is true, even to the point of accepting the distinct possibility of sentient, self-reflective life on other planets. But the many conditions that defy the luck of the draw for our existence, such as the `missing mass five element', suggest that humans have a central place in God's plan.

Instances of the extraordinary physical and chemical conditions that combine to create an environment where life can adapt and thrive are described as being comparable to a giant and very complex Lego set supplied without a blueprint. The set of little interlocking parts express themselves according to what Gingerich refers to as `preferred pathways' that lead inevitably to self-reflective human beings. This is an explanation at the level of efficient cause. At the final cause level lays the explanation that God created the conditions that inevitably create man in God's image.

Gingerich takes Intelligent Design enthusiasts to task for forwarding their position as an alternative to evolution instead of offering answers at the level of final cause. ID enthusiasts live in an intellectual straitjacket that limits the alternative mechanisms they can supply to help us understand in a coherent way why, for example, the DNA in yeast is so closely related to the DNA in human chromosomes. Gingerich underscores that he believes strongly in `lower-case' intelligent design, but distances himself from a movement that he sees as purely political and emotional.

The universe, he points out, is God's project, `perhaps created with just enough freedom that conscience and responsibility are part of the mix'. Although he does not unpack this thought to the extent one would wish, the book reflects the setting of a series of sequential lectures. He frequently returns to the theme of the purpose and meaning of reality, and in the final chapter humbly acknowledges that due to the limitations of science and our own human constraints, there are many questions that have no answers and require a step of reasoned faith. With this approach, a theistic scientist takes the same approach to doing science as the atheistic scientist. For both, they may react to their discoveries with awe and wonder, but for the theistic scientist, the truth arises from an unimaginably powerful creative act. `God's universe is a universe where God can play an interactive role unnoticed by science, but not excluded by science.'

Unquestionably this is one of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking books of this genre.
Reconciling Science with Theology  Mar 26, 2008
This famous astronomer opines in this compact work what reconciliation he finds between his science and his theology. He concludes that God is behind the universe in some capacity, likely in beginning the Big Bang and keeping its sensitive balance of explosion/implosion in harmony.

He also concludes however that evolution has something to do with this created universe, and he does not clearly delineate between micro and macro evolution enough for this reviewer. Certainly most of us theists will concur on microevolution, but we find no evidence of macroevolution. He sees science as primarily being one of finding efficient causes, not final causes. This would severely separate him from the likes of Dawkins et al on that side of the discussion. Especially liked the analogy to useful mutation as tuning an MG sportscar with a rifle as fifty paces. Suggest it would be more like "out of rifle range."

His theology which he admits is amateurish, is shaky. Alluding to Genesis' statement about humans being created in God's image, he wants to describe this as "creativity, conscience, consciousness." This makes no sense in the fall, since after that point God describes His work as "recreation," or spiritual birth. Thus, this points rather decisively in direction of original image as right relationship with God spiritually, which of course is the very attribute which God distinguishes Himself as.

Further, certainty with which he speaks at points of absolute knowledge of half-life of elements strikes most of us as a circular reasoning trail, since how can one be sure of billion year life, given our rather recent historical trail deposit?

He does conclude with limitations set on science to probe ultimately and decisively upon origin questions.

Interesting read, but rather unconvincing. Also suggested you check out Angus Menuge, "Reading God's World: Scientific Vocation."
A Scientist considers the Universe  Feb 2, 2008
Owen Gingerich is a Harvard Professor of Astronomy and the History of Science, Emeritus, and a life-long Mennonite, a combination I found interesting. As a Bible-believing Christian, his books often deal with the interface of faith and science. God's Universe (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), is his most recent offering.

The first chapter is a response to the prevalent scientific understanding known as the Copernican Principle, and its corollary, Mediocrity Principle. Gingerich takes exception to "Mediocrity", arguing for the unique place humankind may occupy in the Universe, and citing evidence of purposeful design, though the design for which Gingerich advocates is not the same as Intelligent Design. This becomes more clear in the second chapter, entitled "Dare a Scientist Believe in Design?" He is careful to distinguish his view of design from that being asserted by the Intelligent Design movement. On pages 68 - 69, we writes, "Whether we look at the nature and abundance of the atoms themselves or the remarkable ratio of electrostatic to gravitational attraction or the many other details of our physical universe, we know that without these design features we would not be here. In a word, I believe in intelligent design, lower case i and lower case d. But I have a problem with Intelligent Design, capital I and capital D. It is being sold increasingly as a political movement, as if somehow it is an alternative to Darwinian evolution. Evolution today is an unfinished theory. There are many question about details it does not answer, but these are not grounds for dismissing it."

Indeed, in the ensuing pages, Gingerich expresses substantial agreement with Steven Jay Gould's assessment of evolution as being fact. So, how might design express itself in the seemingly random processes of Darwinian evolution? Gingerich answers with his own questions on page 70: "Are mutations blind chance, or is God's miraculous hand continually at work, disguised in the ambiguity of the uncertainty principle? Or we could be more subtle, and ask whether God designed the universe in the first place to make possible the catalysts and unknown pathways that enable the formation of life."

As for design in cosmology, Gingerich devotes several pages to the fascinating studies of Fred Holye, the late British astronomer who, despite his own development of the overwhelming likelihood of design in the cosmos, remained a practical atheist his entire life. For me, these pages were worth the price of the book.

In the third chapter, "Questions without Answers", Gingerich suggests that when it comes to the "why" questions, religious belief offers up better answers than unbelief. While Gingerich presents a strong case that contemplation of the universe can be more meaningful and coherent if it is viewed as the work of a transcendent designer, he readily admits that metaphysical assumptions may lead one to such a conclusion. In the end, these assumptions are more matters of the heart than the reason, as the closing Pascal quote suggests: "The heart has its reasons that reason does not know."

This little book (just over 100 pages) is easy to read, and it is a wonderful primer to science and faith, randomness and reason, design and purpose. I recommend this book.
Reasoned, honest discussion  Oct 9, 2007
Christian conversations regarding the compatibility of science and religion must address two questions: What Biblical hermeneutic should be used for Genesis 1 and does current scientific theory preclude theistic belief? In "God's Universe," Gingerich addresses the only latter, and his answer is a resounding "no." This singularity of focus is not a weakness, but potential readers might like to know up front.

Gingerich relays the excitement that he has for the mysteries of the universe and how they feed his faith, giving the sense that his faith is not contigent on scientific understanding in any age. He also acknowledges that science does not and cannot offer any formal proof for the existence of God. As a scientist and believer myself, I resonate with his views--as do many of the believing scientists with whom I'm acquainted. This does not necessarily mean that he is correct. Nevertheless, the book is fun and refreshing--read it with the understanding that he will not answer anyone's every question, but his perspectives are thought provoking and might just increase our appreciation of God's universe.

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