on 4 August 2010
In this book, Keith Ward discusses the view that belief in God is a valid, perhaps a more valid, starting point for engagement in scientific investigation than that of the non-believer. The book seems to be written as an apologetic in the light of Dawkins' popular and influential recent anti- religious polemics, most notably The God Delusion. It is well written and accessible to the general reader, although he does presuppose some familiarity with philosophical and theological terms. There is a thorough bibliography and index which mean that the interested reader can follow the selection of evidence for themselves, in whole or in part.
He looks at a wide range of current scientific theories, and explains how they are not incompatible with belief in God, and that speculation on such things as other universes, non-materialistic explanations of matter, such as quantum theory, may fit with what religions have said all along. By the end of the book he doesn't answer the question which everyone wants the answer to: can we prove there is a God in the same way that we can prove that the table is in front of me? Can I do an experiment which shows there is a God, which can be replicated for anyone who wants to know the answer, as sulphur turns red when you heat it in a test tube?
The reader of this book or Dawkins' book, will come to either with a frame of mind which will determine who they believe. On the very last page, Ward says: "In the end, however, without personal experience of transcendent mind and without some experiential evidences of such a mind in history (what the religious call 'revelation'), this will simply remain speculation." "This" being the book's assertion that it is reasonable to see compatibility between the discoveries of modern science and belief in God. The interpretation of the subject matter of science in such a way that it does not seem incompatible requires a religious outlook in advance. This quotation could have also been put on the first page of the book as well as the last, as it underpins the argument.
The conclusions Ward draws are not the result of logical steps provided by his reviews of scientific understanding in the main body of the book, but they are a reasonable, credible and fair interpretation of a selection of evidence. Dawkins, it has to be said, also draws a reasonable conclusion which is that his selection of evidence does not give us any reason to suppose that there is a reasonable ultimate mind behind it all. Both present their arguments as though they are the right interpretation, of course.
If we were to imagine that the material we select to support an argument are like pieces of scaffolding which we join together to make a tower, the aim of which is to reach our conclusion. The actual scaffolding poles we select are those which will make the type of tower we want to build, and which will take us to a place which we believe is there already. It is no surprise, then, that we find it. Dawkins and Ward take different scaffolding poles and construct different "ladders". Dawkins builds his up the side of mount improbable, and Ward's leans against mount probable. They both select reliable subject matter and they both show that it could be pointing in a particular way, but that is more down to the selection than to a specific demand which the data puts on them to point itself in their chosen directions. The view you have in advance, or the selection and interpretation you prefer. will probably determine who you go with.
One other issue is that although Keith Ward does make a case for theism, in that the sense that the idea of God may be interpreted as being in accord with modern scientific findings: but I am unclear how you get from this to what most of us would recognise as religion. Religion is filled with very specific ideas about God. Christians not only believe that there is a God, but there is God of Love, and that Jesus was this love in flesh form. I'm not going to defend this here, as it is a faith statement, based on the revelation of the New Testament: but, Keith Ward does make a jump from what he calls the "ultimate mind" to God as a moral being, made known through personal interactions - in the light of revelation. How is this compatible with science? In this respect perhaps he goes a step too far.
On balance, I think Ward gives a far less partisan account than Dawkins, and he more gently suggests what may well be, rather than calling those who don't see it his way as being delusional. For those who have read Dawkins' The God Delusion and want a set of counter arguments which too engage with science at a serious level - and make a reasonable case for God - I would recommend that you read this book.