Book review: The Mind of the Universe: Understanding Science and Religion by Mariano Artigas

On one extreme of the debate concerning science and religion today are those who mistake the stagnant and mechanistic view of the universe propagating by certain Enlightenment thinkers for the mainstream of Christian thought. On the other extreme are those who mistake the naturalistic methodology of modern science for a system of metaphysics. Both extremes, the creationists and the atheists/physicalists, ultimately undermine science itself. Each wants to reduce science to a state in which it cannot function and to undermine the two foundational pillars of Western Civilization: faith and reason.
In this book, Father Mariano Artigas sets the record straight, philosophically, historically, and theologically. He begins by giving us a tour of the history of science and where the ontological and epistemological presuppositions that underpin it emerged from. He moves on to demonstrating that without these presuppositions, which are being undermined by extreme movements within and around science, science itself must cease to exist as we know it and all scientific knowledge is undermined. Finally, he offers us a vision of a worldview that takes both science and religion, or physics and metaphysics, into account in a serious way and integrates the entirety of the human experience.
Throughout, Artigas is thorough in both his argumentation and his documentation. There is hardly a page in his book without references to some of the greatest thinkers of the modern era or of earlier periods, such as Thomas Kuhn, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Popper. There is hardly an assertion put forward for which he does not provide a great deal of substantiating evidence and heavy argumentation.
Artigas’s book is a needed corrective both to those who posit an anti-scientific creationism and those who posit an overly scientific scientism. To the creationists, he shows that science is the natural outgrowth of Judeo-Christian thought and that its recent findings fit perfectly well in line with the traditional Christian view of the universe as evolutionary, emergent, and creative. To the scientistic naturalists, he demonstrates that such a view does not and cannot follow logically from science itself and even moves in opposition to the newest findings of scientific research. To all of us, he shows a vision of the universe as guided by a Great Mind with whom we must choose to come into communion and cooperation.
The Mind of the Universeis the best book that I have yet read on the subject of science and religion. It is thorough in its treatment of the topic and a must-read for all who are interested.

Reversing Pascal

Cosmologists for a long time have been intrigued by the question of why life appeared so late in a universe which has been expanding for 20 billion years, and why the density of matter in the universe is so small that successive generations continually relive Pascalian anxiety in their experience of the emptiness of infinite spaces. Modern cosmology supplies a partial explanation. Even if life were to develop in only one place, a large and old universe would have been required. Billions of years of cosmic evolution are necessary for the appearance of carbon producing stars, an indispensable element for the rise of known forms of life.

Joseph Zyncinski, quoted in Mariano Artigas, Mind Of The Universe: Understanding Science & Religion, p. 136

Philosophical materialism and determinism

The elimination of the Christian tradition and Scripture from social theory, and thus from the public debate, left a void that was filled by philosophy popularized. That is how the 18[th] C[entury] publicists come to be called philosophes. For them, [Pierre] Gassendi’s maxim that all knowledge is drawn through the senses from experience of the outer world was undoubted truth, but this empiricism did not prevent differences — or difficulties. Here again, Locke has been credited with established that truth and removing the main objection by the principle of association: sensations felt together form mental pictures of things, that is, ideas, which by the like process form significant connections. The mind has no pre-existing ideas; it creates its own order out of what happens to it. This mode of exploration finds its highest fulfillment in natural science: experiment is experience channeled and closely observed, so as to ascertain more and more permanent connections or “laws” of nature.

Most of these empiricists of the first generation acknowledged God as the Creator, the Great Watchmaker, who set the cosmos in motion and then let it run on its own. But He had also endowed Man with the gift of reason, with which he discovers this orderly scheme. The thought then occurred that sensations imply the existence of matter; therefore ideas, feelings, knowledge — life itself — are but the interplay of bits of stuff. Matter in motion acts as cause, and the effect is another part of matter in some other motion. God has no point of entry into the relation; very likely He does not exist. There is in truth no need for Him. Did not the Roman Lucretius write a magnificent poem to teach this lesson? He demonstrated that all things and beings are but the combining, breakup, and recombining of atoms. Atomism is perfect for science, being simple and deterministic. By this route the belief in Predestination returns in full strength.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present, pg. 365