The Physics of Theism: God, Physics, and the Philosophy of Science

By Batzer, Stephen A. | Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, December 2015 | Go to article overview

The Physics of Theism: God, Physics, and the Philosophy of Science


Batzer, Stephen A., Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


THE PHYSICS OF THEISM: God, Physics, and the Philosophy of Science by Jeffrey Koperski. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2015. 279 pages. Hardcover; $89.95. ISBN: 9781118932810.

Theologians and philosophers of religion are increasingly interested in science, especially physics. Subtopics of physics such as the fine-tuning of universal constants, quantum mechanics, relativity, and cosmology are surprisingly common subjects where religion is involved. Bridging the gap between these fields, however, has proven to be quite difficult. Those in religion and the humanities typically interact with the mathematical sciences only at a popular level, and physicists are often dismissive of metaphysics and religion. Fortunately, the philosophy of science provides a middle ground between these disciplines. In this book, Koperski provides a critical analysis of the ways in which physics is brought into play in matters of religion.

Jeffrey Koperski is a professor of philosophy at Saginaw Valley State University. In addition to PhD and MA degrees in philosophy, his education includes an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. This training gives him the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) background to grasp some of the more complex issues in physics, but what stands out is the practical perspective of an engineer.

Koperski has written previously on the intelligent design movement, specifically the 2008 Zygon paper, "Two Bad Ways to Attack Intelligent Design and Two Good Ones." This book has the same even, scholarly presentation as the previous work. In this book, Koperski indicates largely what physicists and philosophers of science think and why they think the way they do, without passing judgment. Koperski comes across as someone who feels no need whatsoever to attack personally those with whom he disagrees. In fact, he writes, "Placing the black hat on one's opponent is no substitute for an argument" (p. 205).

Late in the book, he makes an observation which seems motivational for the enterprise.

   If methodological naturalism is supposed to be a
   no trespassing sign, scientists don't take it as such
   ... it does appear that the boundary only works
   one way. Scientists can cross at will; those on the
   religion side must stay where they are. (p. 210)

By way of example, he quotes Mano Singham, who wrote in "The New War between Science and Religion" (The Chronicle of Higher Education [May 9, 2010]), that

   the scope of science has always expanded, steadily
   replacing supernatural explanations with scientific
   ones. Science will continue this inexorable
   march . After all, there is no evidence that consciousness
   and mind arise from anything other
   than the workings of the physical brain, and so
   those phenomena are well within the scope of
   scientific investigation. What's more, because the
   powerful appeal of religion comes precisely from
   its claims that the deity intervenes in the physical
   world, in response to prayers and such, religious
   claims, too, fall well within the domain of science.

In other words, naturalists may comment upon religious assertions, but the reverse is inappropriate.

Koperski is not entirely neutral and does write some things meant to correct errors in the current discussion. He gives under the heading, "Conventional Wisdom," the following examples of common errors:

1. Science and religion have been at war with one another since Galileo was tortured by the Inquisition.

2. The Catholic Church taught that the earth was flat until Christopher Columbus proved otherwise.

3. The scientific revolution finally freed Europe from the grip of religion.

Against these, Koperski responds, "As every historian of science knows, these three nuggets of conventional wisdom are false."

Koperski has listed a fine set of durably popular, but incorrect, beliefs. …

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