Define Universe and Give Two Examples – A Comparison of Scientific and Christian Belief
Reviewed by Richard Fairbanks
Define Universe and Give Two Examples – A Comparison of Scientific and Christian Belief is a book with an unusual title, and the text is equally thought-provoking. This is a rare and powerful book for those interested in both an up-to-date and ageless comparison of science and religion.
In its fundamental belief, science is unchanging. Barton E. Dahneke, the author, uses descriptions and evaluations of scientific methodology that are fundamental and timeless, and maintain its validity despite the ever-evolving nature of scientific knowledge.
Pertaining to knowledge, “new” science is drastically different from “old” science. I found the difference surprising and refreshing. To compare the essence of scientific versus LDS belief (represented in the book as “the doctrine of Christ”) requires strict and thorough care in the evaluation of both, particularly and ultimately at the level of essence or meaning. This requires an author who has thought deeply and broadly in both. Dahneke is that person.
Thumbing through the pages of this book might leave the reader with the impression that this is only for those familiar with the intricacies of science and the mathematical formulas it uses. But thanks to Dahneke’s skill in presenting the material, the reader has two viable options: delving into complete, popular-language scientific explanations or simply (initially) skimming them and enjoying the summaries provided at the end of the technical chapters.
The treatment is complete with technical details and, where necessary, non-popular-language explanations contained in endnotes and appendices so as not to bog down the read.
One of the great things that I enjoyed about the book is the clear and cogent way that the doctrine of Christ is presented. This is very instructive for both LDS and non-LDS readers. The book is worth reading for this information alone.
The bonus is that in addition to an exposition of the doctrine of Christ, positions of fundamental and current scientific thought are also clearly presented. Scientific disciplines addressed include fundamental scientific methodology, physics, chemistry, biology and evolution, and psychology with the focus being generally on physics and, in particular, mechanics.
The fundamental methodology of science is critically analyzed and shown to be twice fatally lacking in ability to establish truth (defined as an accurate description of reality). The doctrine of Christ, on the other hand, contains no such philosophical flaws.
I was not familiar with the emerging recognition in science of its inherent tentativeness and unknown meaning. My understanding of the scientific position was that science provides “the explanation” for everything, if not now then in the future, and is the sole definer of reality and its meaning.
Dahneke explains why this position must change because of the inherent deficiencies in scientific methodology.
Those who have held to the religious explanations of reality may have been timid about their position as it stood in contrast to the “hardness” of science. Dahneke argues that an adequate truth criterion and a reliable vision of reality stand more firmly in the doctrine of Christ than in science. The argument is compelling.
Indeed, Dahneke’s comparison of science and Christianity, focused ultimately on the level of meaning, makes this book unique, deep, interesting, and exciting. He does not consider the trivial.
An earlier review,1 although quite positive, focused primarily on the technical content of this book. The reviewer characterized the book as being about “natural philosophy” or science, perhaps because the reviewer is an expert scientist.
But such a review ignores the larger part of Dahneke’s story and the depth of insight he provides in comparing science and religion, especially at the level of meaning. Through parallel treatments of science and Christianity, deep insights are obtained into both subjects and the inherent limitations of science are recognized as severe, compared to no limitations in the doctrine of Christ.
This book is a must-read for those interested in, or who struggle with, the science-versus-religion debate or wish to become knowledgeable and conversant in this topic. Scientific knowledge aside, it is enlightening to discover how scientists think and decide in contrast to how Christians should and, in many cases do, think and decide.
This knowledge about thinking and deciding allows one to evaluate for himself the relative values of science and religion and their meanings. I also believe that the book is a particularly clear exposition of the doctrine of Christ and the way it alone provides an adequate truth criterion and reliable vision of reality and meaning.
It has been a great read for me and has reshaped my paradigm about science and religion. It is all so much simpler now.
1 Owen, Noel L., BYU Studies 46, Number 3, 2007, 160-163.
Barton E. Dahneke, BDS Publications, 2006. http://defineuniverse.com.