Thursday, May 25, 2006

My review of How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science by Michael Shermer.

One of the deepest and most spiritual books that I have every read.

This book is written from the unique perspective of a born again Christian who loses that faith and becomes the editor of Skeptic magazine. However; unlike many skeptics he has no grudge against religion, he only seeks to undersatnd it. Unlike most scientists and religious faithful he does not try to make one disprove the other. He has found a way that they can both peacefully co-exist.

Shermer describes three different ways that people think that science and religion are related.
First, The belief that science and religion are competitive, that one will disprove the other. I think that most people fall into this category.
Second, The belief that science and religion are harmonious. I think that many LDS members fall into this category. They want to believe that the natural laws and the physical evidence will all somehow support the gospel. James E. Talmage obvious believed this way. "Within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is room and place for every truth thus far learned by man or yet to be made known."
The problem with both of these views is that they do serious damage to both science and religion. Any attempt to interject faith into science goe s against reason. Conversely trying to discount or prove matters of faith using science is a no win situation. Once something becomes provable then, by definition, it is no longer a matter of faith.
Shermer presents us with a third option. Science and religion exist in completly different spheres. Science exists in the realm of reason and religion exists in the realm of faith. As long as we respect the role that each has to play then there is no conflict and also no need to try to make them harmonize either. "O, ye of little faith. Why do ye need science to prove God? You do not. These scientific proofs of God are not only an insult to science; to those who are deeply religious they are an insult to God."p.123
I believe that for years I have been stuck on the second level but very uncomfortable with the conflict and inconsistancies that I was seeing in trying to make it all work out. This book has inspired me to stop trying and just deal with the fact that they are not even meant to be harmonized.


  1. I'm going to have to read this book. I probably agree with Shermer that religion and science lie in separate realms, but there is a fine line between what kind of questions can be answered by science and those that are only answerable by faith.

    Since you've read The Davinci Code, you may also be interested in Angels and Demons, another Dan Brown book. The writing is on the same level as the Davinci Code, and it has an interesting take on the faith/science question.

  2. I have read Angels and Demons. I enjoyed it very much. He had a few silly parts that kinda annoyed me, skydiving with a helecopter windshield cover? give me a break. But in general I liked the spy book type format but with a religeous foundation rather than a political.