"God's Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion" is the new book from Brother Guy Consolmagno, who is, in no particular order, a scientist, a Jesuit, a science fiction geek, an MIT alum and a Vatican Astronomer. Obviously, religion is a central part of Brother Guy's life, but so is technology, rationalism and science.
God's Mechanics is a relgionist's explanation of his faith, in terms aimed at showing techies how one of their own can simultaneously believe in supernatural phenomena and practice rigorous, materialistic science. The most interesting part of the book is an amateur ethnography of geek faithful, in which Brother Guy schleps up and down Rte 101 between San Francisco and San Jose, interviewing engineers, scientists and programmers about their practice of faith. Their answers surprise Guy (and they surprised me, too) with their variety and distinctiveness. There doesn't seem to be a single way, or even a small cluster of ways that technologists square up their religion with their science.
For my part, I'm a second-generation atheist. I think that our experience of the numinous is both undeniable and entirely biological: the state of spiritual peace is the result of tickling some evolved center of our brain, a bit of neurology that conferred a survival advantage on our ancestors whose numinous hallucinations of a higher order in the universe drove them to catch more antelopes, eat better, and have more babies. I have no need of, nor interest in a supernatural god or a supernatural universe.
But I'm not so blinkered that I believe all religionists to be deluded fools. There's clearly some serious value that smart, ethical people derive from participation in spiritualism and even organized religion. Brother Guy's exegesis on faith as a systematic way of organizing and exploring the human experience of the numinous was fascinating to me. It is is a thoroughgoing, charming, quick-paced trip through a wide variety of personal experiences of spirituality and religion.
The only place where this book lacks is in its exploration of atheism as an alternative to religion. Brother Guy delves deeply into the reason for faith, but skims lightly over the reason for its absence. At times, it seems like he's addressing straw men from my side, not our strongest argument. This is the beginning of a discussion, but it's not the whole discussion.
Vatican astronomer on ETs
Update: Some great comments in this thread, especially Tom's note on Bayesian stats and faith: "We live at the beginning of the Age of Bayes, in the sense that the Bayesian understanding of probability and explanation is gaining ground on other views, and will probably supplant them at the end of the day. This is important because Bayesian reasoning makes it clear that 'faith' is synonymous with 'incoherent' in a precise sense."
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