Henry F. (Fritz) Schaefer is Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. In 1973, as a young chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Schaefer became a Christian. Beginning in the mid-1980's and continuing to this day, he has been presenting lectures on science and Christianity at various universities throughout the United States and around the world. In this enjoyable book, Schaefer has brought together his lectures in print form.
The first two lectures, "Scientists and Their Gods" and "The Nondebate with Steven Weinberg," address the question of whether it is possible to be a scientist and a Christian. Arguing from a historical perspective, Schaefer notes numerous examples of famous Christian believing scientists and maintains that science as a discipline developed in a Christian environment. Using excerpts from Weinberg's own writings, Schaefer conveys one of his most fundamental beliefs: "all human beings experience the natural impulse that God exists and has created the universe for a purpose." Schaefer is adept at using statements made by prominent scientists—many of whom, like the Nobel laureate Weinberg, are strongly critical of religion—to build his arguments, and it is a delight to find these throughout the book.
Next are three lectures addressing key topics in which science and Christianity are often seen to be in conflict. In "The Big Bang, Stephen Hawking, and God," Schaefer challenges the theological assertions of Hawking's A Brief History of Time and puts forth his own belief that the universe was created by and is under the direction of a loving, powerful, and wise Creator. Having tackled Hawking, Schaefer then challenges Richard Dawkins in "Climbing Mount Improbable: Evolutionary Science or Wishful Thinking?" In "Quantum Mechanics and Postmodernism," Schaefer demolishes the fashionable notion that the "radical skepticism" of postmodernism is somehow underwritten by quantum mechanics, and in particular the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Indeed, he shows, scientists are overwhelmingly people with realist convictions who believe in an intelligible, ordered universe.
In "C. S. Lewis: Science and Scientism", Schaefer uses the writings of the much-loved Oxford professor to confront the philosophy that only the methods of the natural sciences can be used to ascertain knowledge. Alas, Schaefer observes, "scientism is indeed alive and well in the 21st century," but "the average Ph.D. scientist is not likely to be more attracted to scientism than your average truck driver." Nonetheless, Schaefer is well aware of the perplexing questions which keep many from accepting Christian beliefs. "The Ten Questions Intellectuals Ask About Christianity" presents short answers to common questions such as "Who made God?", "Why do bad things happen to good people?", and "How can a loving God send people to Hell?" Schaefer's answers are by no means definitive theology; rather they are his personal thoughts, which are adroitly explained.
The final two chapters, "From Berkeley Professor to Christian" and "The Way of Discovery," present Schaefer's stirring testimony, revealing the intensely personal way in which Christianity impacts all his life. Referring to his conversion to Christianity as a young scientist, Schaefer states that "the most important discovery of my life was my discovery of Jesus Christ."
Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? is beautifully written, and accessible to non-scientists. Each chapter can be read independently. Schaefer writes with humor and personality, and shows great respect for those who believe differently, while making no apologies for his own viewpoints. The serious scholar of science and religion will be likely be frustrated by the poor referencing throughout the book (a point acknowledged by the author) and the lack of in-depth discussion of certain topics. Yet all who read this book will be touched by the coherence of science and Christianity in the life of Professor Henry Schaefer. Indeed, anyone who feels that science and Christianity are fundamentally at odds will find much to ponder as this book provides a compelling case for the contrary.
Jonathan C. Rienstra-Kiracofe is a lecturer in chemistry at Emory University.
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