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Measure of God: Our Century Long Struggle to Reconcile

Science and Religion

Author(s): Larry Witham

ISBN13: 9780060591915

ISBN10: 0060591919

Publisher: HARPER SANFRANCISCO

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  • With the rise of modern science, the age-old belief in a universe made by God has been threatened. Can one continue to believe in God, or has religion become an outmoded superstition? Many of our greatest minds have debated these questions, and the drive to reconcile God and science is rife with human drama - murder trials, global journeys, breakthrough discoveries, church schisms, and world wars. This book tells the story of our heroic, optimistic struggle to know the truth, to dare to use all of our faculties and talents to take the measure of God.

    For over a century, the annual Gifford Lectures have provided the premier venue for the finest scientific and theological minds in the world to speak to "all questions about mans conception of God or the Infinite." Endowed in 1887 by Scottish judge Adam Gifford, the Giffords are a window into the conflict between the natural sciences and the claims of religion. The list of Gifford lecturers is a veritable Whos Who of modern scientists, philosophers, and theologians: from William James to Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer to Reinhold Niebuhr, Niels Bohr to Iris Murdoch, Hannah Arendt to Carl Sagan - and includes eight Noble Prize winners.

    Some Gifford lecturers have raced to show that science could not possibly undermine religious belief, while others have tried to reconcile science and faith, and even to show that the tools of science facts and reason - could support knowledge of God. British anthropologist Edward B. Tylor argued that the origin of religion was nothing more than primitive humanitys experience of death and dreams, while American psychologist William James argued that "medical materialism" fell short in explainingthe varieties of religious experience. When the atom was being split and the concept of a predictable universe ruled by Newtonian laws no longer worked, Albert Einstein incredulously demanded whether subatomic physicist Niels Bohr believed "God could play dice" with the universe. Bohr, a Gifford lecturer, politely replied perhaps Einstein should stop telling God what to do. In advocating American democracy against post-War communism, ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr referred to the neo-orthodoxy of Swiss theologian Karl Barth as "irrelevant." And the search for "who we are" has ranged from the molecular biology of the discoverer of RNA, Sydney Brenner, to the cosmology of Carl Sagan. Whether the Gifford lecturers have been scientists or theologians, skeptics or believers, their task has always been to argue whether God exists and how we know. The Measure of God offers the inside story of the genius and drama that have fueled our continuing debate over God and science.

  • Larry Witham



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    From the Victorian era to the present, the Gifford Lectures in Scotland in natural theology have been a uniquely prestigious forum for conversations about faith and reason, attracting many of the 20th-centurys biggest names in theology, philosophy and history, as well as the natural and social sciences. Witham, a science journalist, develops the story of the lectures into a cameo history of modern ideas about God. Although his coverage is necessarily selective, Witham includes an impressive range of material for a single volume: lecture summaries, biographical sketches of selected presenters, observations of Scottish history and local color, and a wealth of background information on intellectual movements that have shaped the lectures over the decades. Witham follows disciplines and ideologies rather than strict chronology, allowing the story to flow more naturally. The text is deeply researched and factually rich, even dense at times. But fans of the Gifford Lectures will appreciate Withams thoroughness, as well as his interest in the personalities of the presenters beyond the lectures themselves. For all their intellectual accomplishment, these thinkers were also human beings whose "efforts to conceive, produce, and finally deliver the lectures reveal a remarkable drama of mortal hopes, fears, victories, defeats, vanities and frailties."

    - Publishers Weekly

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Measure of God: Our Century Long Struggle to Reconcile