on 1 February 2010
This is not always an easy book to get through but is well worth the effort. Davies is a bit of a darling of the Templeton establishment which for atheists (like myself)may be a major turn off. But Davies manages to steer a course through science and theology without being overtly religious 9until the last paragraph of the book)
The science of complexity and chaos are described fairly well along with the 'spontaneous' events which at the edge of chaos seem to produce more complex emergent forms and processes.
Whether you want to believe that these probablistic events are somehow teleological or a blind emergent process is your preference. The book questions both ideas with equally well and the only way to really understand where allegiances lay is to understand the arguments.
Davies manages to pick out the inherent problems with evolutionary theory, reductionist science and holistic science to try to explain how complex forms emerge from simpler rules and forms using the new science of chaos and complexity theory. Certain sections one feels could have been more detailed to show how complicated the arguments are. I would recommend John Casti's book 'paradigms lost' & 'paradigms regained' for a more concise look at the problems of how replicating material may have evolved from the bare elements of the universe.
This is a well written book but should be read with an open mind about the processes being described. Self organising principles do not appear as if by magic and the new paradigm is beginning to show the way to help explain the theoretical gaps in evolutionary/reductionist/classical theory as regards emergent processes in nature which are complex from simple rules.
The 'interpretation' that these rules are God derived or an infinite process of emerging forms from nature alone is up to the reader. One thing that is certain is that if you start with simple elements ie hydrogen/helium and a little lithium you eventually end up with an amazing plethora of forms both animate and inanimate which could be infinite in their structure and possibilities. The old biblical idea of 'definitely ending up with bipedal human beings from such a process over billions of years must surely be questioned if not totally falsified bearing in mind this new information.
It seems we are still stuck in the trap of teleological 'common sense'thinking - and we know that 'common sense' thinking can often lead us down the wrong garden path.
Davies to his due is insistent in his view that any emerging new view about the apparent progress of structure and processes must have scientific basis or it is useless mystical nonsense. Any new ideas about the emergent processes and infinite complexities and structure of form in the universe must also be consistent and incorporate what we have already learned scientifically.
The process of shrinking God back to the pre big bang singularity and sub-sub atomic levels goes another step forward. There's not many places left to hide surely? Unless you wish to believe that the universe is somehow evolving itself toward consciousness, complexity and awareness ala De Chardin. Davies while writing from the standpoint of science and not really giving the reader HIS personal leanings toward religion in a direct manner eventually in the last paragraph states that 'something must be behind it all' is this strange sentence meaning a directed intelligence? or a non intelligent design? (whatever that may be)It would be more interesting if Davies would give us a more direct explanation of what he actually means? Is it a kind of placation to the religious believers? or leaving enough room so he gets the Templemen prize again?