- Paperback: 266 pages
- Publisher: eLectio Publishing (11 Oct. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0615903657
- ISBN-13: 978-0615903651
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.5 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,486,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Big Picture: An Honest Examination of God, Science, and Purpose Paperback – 11 Oct 2013
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The author seeks to find answer to the universal questions such as, "Who am I", "Why am I here?" and "What is my purpose in life?"
He uses his scientific and engineering training to deliver an open-minded examination of the provenance and plausibility of popular claims and arguments, and the underlying information and misinformation, in an attempt to cut through the historic baggage, dogmatism and judgementalism on both sides of that fence.
The book presents his conclusions and his arguments for a consistent, healthy and constructive worldview based upon sound evidence, which he calls Minimalist Christianity.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone that similarly seeking answers to the big questions of "life, the universe and everything" and even to those that already think that they have those answers; it may challenge some of your preconceptions!
Chapter 2 looks at the science of the universe with wonder and surprise. It shows both the strengths and the weaknesses of the author's approach. The results of scientific inquiry are accepted as true, but not uncritically so. We are taken on a whirlwind tour through physics and biology: you will not find a moral inquiry into reality here as, say, a Ravi Zacharias might do. Covering such a wide sweep of knowledge, there are statements one could quibble with (e.g., "neither [entangled electron] has a spin until we measure it"--they do certainly have spin, but it will be a superposition of spin states until measured, p32). No such detail can however detract from the overall solidity and thrust of Phil's argument: the universe is a stranger and more wonderful place than most of us realise, and we have by no means exhausted its depths yet.
The next chapter builds on the preceding by examining the fine-tuning of physics and the role of chance in biological evolution, concluding that these are "indicative of, or at least consistent with a goal or purpose to the universe" (p120). This leads straight into Chapter 4, "Not Everything Can Be Explained By Science," where Phil (rightly) notes that we cannot assume that the scientific method covers everything that is worth knowing, and negotiates a truce between science and faith. Again we cover a wide area of topics from the origin of the universe through evolution to subjective experience and free will--including a theistic-evolutionist rewrite of Genesis 1 (p128ff). I would have appreciated a deeper exploration of scientific truth vis à vis other kinds of truth, though to be fair that might have detracted from the focus of the book.
This line of reasoning is followed through to the end in Chapter 5, "Reason Leads to a Sound Definition of God." The big question left by the previous chapters--why the universe looks the way it does--is taken to God with a bit of help from Anselm of Canterbury. The danger here is that you might arrive at a "God of the gaps". The author clearly senses this, because he now also explores arguments based on morality and meaning. These could have benefited from a solid foundation laid in a separate chapter ; as it is, we are not plumbing the sort of depth we reach on the scientific side.
Having arrived at a God who looks remarkably like the God of the Christian Bible, the next chapter covers his revelation in the figure of Jesus as described in the gospels, covering historicity, the synoptic problem (why Mark, Matthew and Luke look the way they do), apocrypha and other extra-biblical sources. "The most rational conclusion of who Jesus was and what he did," he writes, "is that which is recorded in the gospels" (p191).
Having settled the fundamental reliability of the New Testament, we explore its contents in Chapter 7, with a clear emphasis on Jesus' teaching and authority. What we get in this 20-page sketch is "red letter Christianity," majoring on purpose and love but light on the atonement and apocalyptic elements. Phil's Christianity isn't mine, but it has its own integrity. He rounds this off with a more personal reflection on his own journey from atheism to life as a "minimalist Christian."
This book covers an considerable amount of territory in its 253 pages. If you are attracted to one or two aspects that you'd like to explore in great depth, this is probably not the book for you--though it might offer you useful starting points. If you are precious about scientific or religious orthodoxy, you will be challenged and annoyed. But if you are an ordinary human being, with no specific expertise but a lively curiosity about faith and the natural world, who shares the author's scientific mindset, and want to go on an intellectual journey more likely to stimulate your own thinking than force the author's viewpoints on you, this is a wonderful little book.
Disclosure: Phil and I organised a series of "Science and Faith" discussions together in Rugby.
There is real hope (and poetry) in Phil's conclusions, including about who we are as human beings: 'Of all creatures, we are permitted to glimpse the canvas and participate in the dance; characters created by the dance. Characters emerging as individual caring, loving, interacting beings partaking of some of the glory that is the story...' Phil also offers helpful correctives to some of the commonest barriers to faith, arguing for the importance of developing a true idea of what God might be like: 'A false view of God will lead to misunderstanding and conflict, and will obscure the truth about our purpose.'
Phil advocates a 'minimalist Christianity' but it is a deeply radical call and if we all become as convinced as he is about Jesus' revolutionary message, we will respond by living according to the dictates of love alone. I recommend this book to all thinking people - we might just change the world.
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