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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More on Dr. Schaefer is available from the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry.
Books & Culture Corner appears every Monday. Earlier editions of Books & Culture Corner and Book of the Week include:
History Repeats Itself, Sort of | How the fate of Eugene McCarthy's insurgency against LBJ sheds light on the 2004 presidential campaign. (Feb. 16, 2004)
The Worst President Ever? | Former Nixon aide John Dean attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of Warren G. Harding. (Feb. 09, 2004)
Wholly, Wholly, Wholly | Calvinists and conga drums in Grand Rapids: a report from the seventeenth annual Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts. (Feb. 02, 2004)
The Doom of Choice | Fate, free will, and moral responsibility in Tolkien. (Feb. 02, 2004)
A Rose Among Thorns | A new novel by the author of Father Elijah illumines the spiritual consequences of our simplest decisions. (Jan. 26, 2004)
Baptized in Fire | A new book on Martin Luther King, Jr., emphasizes his spiritual transformation. (Jan. 19, 2004)
O'Connor v. the Antichrist (Jan. 12, 2004)
Moody, the Media, and the Birth of Modern Evangelism | A cautionary tale. (Jan. 05, 2004)
A Few Coming Attractions from 2004 | Plus: What to buy with those gift cards, and some of the books in my to-read stacks. (Dec. 29, 2003)
The Top Ten Books of 2003 | Plus: The Worst Book of the Year, more good reading, digital books, and a little Christmas music. (Dec. 22, 2003)
Books at Warp Speed | We continue our annual roundup of noteworthy books. (Dec. 15, 2003)
Is "Sensual Orthodoxy" a Contradiction in Terms? | Read this unconventional collection of sermons and judge for yourself. (Dec. 8, 2003)
Books, Books, Books! | We begin our annual roundup. (Dec. 8, 2003)
Urban Eden | In City: Urbanism and Its End, a new history of New Haven, Connecticut, the city (in its late 19th-century form) is an ambiguous heaven-and the suburbs that relentlessly followed are hell. Which leaves us where, exactly? (Dec. 01, 2003)
Cool Drink of Water | A poet's voice in the evangelical wilderness.
Faith, Hope, and Charity in North Carolina | New novels by Michael Morris—whose first novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, was a word-of-mouth hit— and Jan Karon, who continues her beloved Mitford saga. (Nov. 17, 2003)
Remember Afghanistan? | Two inside reports. (Nov. 10, 2003)
The Troubled Conscience of a Founding Father | An Imperfect God examines George Washington and slavery. (Oct. 27, 2003)
The Year of the Fish | The 2003 baseball season concludes with a bang—and 2004 is just around the corner. (Oct. 27, 2003)
I Shop, Therefore I Am | Critics of "consumer culture" are all wet, Virginia Postrel says. The riot of choices available to us resonates with our deepest aesthetic instincts (Oct. 20, 2003)
Back to the Future | A sprawling new novel by the author of Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon goes to the 17th century to investigate the birth of the modern world. (You won't be surprised to learn that the Puritans are among the Bad Guys.) (Oct. 13, 2003)
Poetry, Prayer, and Parable | The playful provocations of Scott Cairns (Oct. 06, 2003)
Terrorists on Trial | How the nation responded to an earlier attack. (Sept. 29, 2003)
The Contemplative Christian | Eugene Peterson calls believers to a life lived with "wholeness, honesty, without contrivance"-against the grain of much that's currently driving the church in America. (Sept. 29, 2003)
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