The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science & Religion Debate
by Adam Frank
University of California Press,
304 pages, $24.95
Frank finds his spirituality in science, spirituality being the human longing for narratives and mythic explanations of who we are, why we are, where we are, and how long we get to stay here.
Where religion and mythic story once provided the spiritual narrative of human meaning, now science—properly spiritualized, one may guess, under the guiding hand of scientists who are spirituality friendly, like Frank—can and will shape a new mythic narrative to satisfy the human need for a story with sacred depth. I don’t think so, not from Frank, at any rate. Where most religions say we are embodied souls, Frank says instead, “We are embodied social animals.” Cool. If we can but channel our religious impulse—drained of sullen creationist, fundamentalist, intelligent-design stuff—toward a spiritual appreciation of the Big Bang and all that, our species will thrive. The book is not without some value. Frank deconstructs “silly science,” such as The Tao of Physics, pretty well. But as a writer explaining his sense of reverence drawn from an encounter with the universe, let’s just say the legacy of Loren Eiseley is secure.
Rather than resolving the debate between religion and science, I suggest that it is a good thing to let it go on, and long may it continue. I see little good in upgrading science to a spiritual exercise, as Frank does, and even less value in suggesting that science may confirm religion (or the other way around), as Hugh Ross attempts in Why the Universe Is the Way It Is. Religion must keep itself open to the findings of science, pointing in faith to the wonders of creation revealed. But at the same time, science must respect the boundaries around its inquiries and restrain itself from answering questions it may not properly ask.