Searching For Stars On An Island In Maine Alan Lightman Corsair €18.19
At the start of this century, the relationship between science and faith seemed strained beyond rescue, with the ‘New Atheism’ movement declaring God thoroughly debunked by reason. Physicist Alan Lightman tracks a different path.
‘In my view,’ he writes, ‘prominent scientists who use scientific arguments to attempt to disprove the existence of God are missing the point.’
From such a gentle, graceful writer, this qualifies as a strong rebuke. Lightman sees science and faith not as competing forces, but as different realms of knowledge, both necessary and neither in conflict with the other.
He divides the world into ‘Absolutes’ and ‘Relatives’. Absolutes are underpinning certainties: things we know from internal experience or received teachings, often though not always religious. A belief in God, the idea of infinity and a personal sense of awe when looking up into the summer sky are all kinds of Absolute, according to Lightman. Relatives are things we learn through experiment and enquiry. They can be disorienting – Lightman describes how Galileo’s telescopic observations upset not just the idea of the Earth’s centrality to the universe, but also the idea of heavenly perfection when he reported sunspots for the first time.
Framed by his investigations of a place called Lute island (the ‘island in Maine’ of the title), Lightman’s book looks for a way of understanding the world that can also account for those things beyond science. His take on religion tends to stress the general and benign over the specific and difficult. ‘The spiritual world, and the world of the Absolutes, have their own domain. The physical world should be the province of science,’ he writes. This is an elegant argument that we should make room for both.
‘He looks for a way of understanding the world that accounts for things beyond science ’
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