February 27, 2011

"Grasp", a special book review

Jim Trainor, Episcopal priest and professional physicist recently released an interesting book: Grasp, Making Sense of Science and Spirituality. Trainor has set out to “write not so much as to provide a comprehensive text book on either science or theology but to provide a perspective on both and how they relate to each other.” In the process he has made such complex ideas as quantum physics and ‘string theory’ understandable. Trainor also shows how belief in a sovereign creator God is not at odds with science, but rather science and theology compliment each other.


Trainor uses delightful, simple stories to explain the relationship between science and faith. He says we often think “if we can come up with a theory…say, about how the Big Bang unfolded over the past 14 billion years, we can now claim to understand the development of the universe without invoking the God of the Bible. This just doesn’t make sense.” He tells of his mother’s blueberry muffins to illustrate. “I didn’t know how my mother made the muffins…I always saw those muffins as…evidence of her love for me....One day…I cam across her blueberry muffin recipe…I had discovered the secret of my mom’s blueberry muffins…Did my discovery of my mother’s blueberry muffin recipe destroy my confidence in her love for me?...Of course not!” In the same way, learning more about the science of physics doesn’t leave God out of the process.

On the contrary, Trainor remarks that “when we react in fear to modern scientific findings, we are not demonstrating faith in God, but rather, I suspect, faith in our na├»ve reality.” He points to the Apostle Paul as another Christian who was faced with cosmopolitan and secular religious beliefs of the Corinthians. Paul states, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified…that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (I Cor. 2:1-4) In other words, faith approaches the questions of the universe from a different perspective than the scientist.

Trainor starts out by explaining the scientific process of discovering facts. This is done by observation, looking at the effect something has on other objects, and through witnesses. All of these are valid for religious seekers, too. Equally important is “trusting a relationship rather than (or in addition to) having facts.” The division between science and religion began back in the 1700’s with Galileo and Newton and continued with later discoveries such as Charles Darwin’s publication of Origin of the Species with “religion assuming a less important role in the minds of many scholars, and the Church [finding] itself on a slippery slope, poorly prepared to defend itself against the new findings of science.”

It is here that Trainor begins to explain where the true correlation between science and religion happens. He points out that the scientific concept of reality, size, distance, and time are really impossible to grasp. He says, “We should not expect to define, measure, prove, or disprove God by our meager grasp of reality.” We should remember, too, “the Bible was not intended to be a predictor of science and technology.” God’s emphasis is on “his relationship with human beings; it’s not to give a detailed explanation of how he created the universe.”
That very relationship is why we can all, whether we are learned physicists or ordinary folk, “know the mind of God, and it doesn’t involve understanding the origin of the universe…Having the mind of God is all about love.” It is not about facts or knowledge or about knowing what we do and do not understand.

In Grasp, Jim Trainor has given us a readable apologetic for both the Christian and scientific mind. His expertise from 30 years in the scientific world working with brilliant scientific minds and in some of the world’s premiere research institutions gives him a solid background to explain the science of physics in terms laypersons can understand. Trainor’s life-long search for a relationship with God that including “a period of rethinking and even rebelling” led to his ordination as a priest. It was then he realized the need to “better understand the relationship between the worlds of science and religious faith.” In fact, for Trainor and many scientists, science affirms the faith and vice versa.

Jim Trainor says that our view of life is like a house under construction. “Science builds upon the foundation of research…each brick is carefully evaluated and understood…we are like the entry level laborer working on the house…we have not been given the privilege of seeing the final plans.” However, “faith provides a different view of the house…we know its purpose is: to glorify God…we see the completed house, but only as through a fog…we believe the object of our faith is true, we cannot always explain it using scientific language.”

The study guide and reference section provide the option to delve deeper into the scientific and religious works cited in the book. Whether you are a scientist seeking to understand faith or a religious person trying to make sense of scientific concepts you will be informed by this book. Even non-believers may find that they come away with a deeper understanding of both sides of the coin.

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