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on 9 July 2017
He is a great writer on this subject
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Paul Davies is perhaps the most prominent of a nouveau species of scientist: the philosopher physicist. Here in The Mind of God he goes all out in an attempt to "trace the logic of scientific rationality back as far as it will go in the search for ultimate answers to the mystery of existence." (p. 223) And yes he runs into "turtle trouble." (You'll recall that the world is a flat plate resting on the back of a giant turtle... And what is the turtle resting on? It's turtles all the way down.)

I think it's fair to say--and this is my belief--that the human mind cannot fully grasp the whole of which it is a part, nor can it see beyond a certain distance, either out into the cosmos or into the very small, instead only to somewhere near the Big Bang, and only tentatively into the future, to the Planck limit perhaps. Clearly the mind of any God worthy of the appellation is far, far beyond our reach. And as for a theory of everything? Well, someday there may be a broken statue in the sand like that of Ozymandias, only this time it won't be that of an emperor drunk with self-importance, but of a humble physicist looking for a TOE.

Davies who is a recipient (1995) of the Templeton Prize which is given to people whom the judges think foster human understanding of divine creativity. Typically they like to give it to a scientist who believes in God, although the Rev. Billy Graham and Charles Colson of Watergate infamy have been recipients. After reading this book, and just from what is in this book, I believe that Davies does believe in God, but in a God that is a bit removed from the personal gods of the major Western religions. (But you might want to Google "Paul Davies" yourself and get a more definitive statement--or not, since what he writes in this book speaks for itself.) He clearly believes in free will (see page 139) and in a universe that could easily be designed. He also believes in "the progressive nature of biological evolution" (p. 183) which is a no-no for most evolutionary biologists, and in something he sometimes calls "the good" or simply "good" (e.g., p 183 and elsewhere). In short Davies is a man straddling two worlds, that of science and religion, who is finding a consilience in philosophy.

Let's look at some of the ideas and discussions in the book, most of which are still viable and fascinating even though the book was first published in 1992.

On the famous, often asked question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" the gist of an answer coming from much of what Davies writes is, "it couldn't be otherwise." From my point of view, the best way to say much the same thing is to recognize that nonbeing has no meaning without being. Of course this subjects the cosmos to the limitations of human logic! But that is what a lot of this book is about, the limits of human logic and human understanding.

Another point nicely made by Davies is that the incompleteness theorems of Godel and the self-referential paradox from Russell strongly suggest that we cannot hope to understand the universe. Those are logical obstacles. A physical one is the problem of getting to the Big Bang as opposed to getting very, very, very close to the Big Bang, which is where we are now and where we are likely to stay. In fact, Davies argues somewhere here that even if we could get to the very instance of the Big Bang that would not explain everything.

Davies is decidedly not a postmodernist. He believes that we discover the laws of the universe. He even sees mathematics as a discovery. However, I think some of the philosophical difficulties in this book would resolve a bit if Davies kept in mind that mathematics is a language, a very precise language with a great grasp but a language that so far as we know is only spoken by human beings. Davies is of the school that finds it surprising that mathematics should be so effective in describing and helping us to order the world. Personally, I am not so surprised since mathematics is part and parcel of the world, as inescapable as the law of gravity. The essence of mathematics is abstraction which is the talent that most clearly separates us from other animals. Mathematic abstraction comes from verbal abstraction, an evolutionary adaptation which allowed us to talk and think concretely about yesterday and tomorrow and things not in our immediate presence.

It appears that Davies believes in God as "a necessary being." He argues that "if"--Davies uses the conditional a lot, perhaps to avoid making the direct statement--"if the universe really has an explanation and it can't explain itself, then it must be explained by something outside itself--e.g., God. But what, then, explains God? This age-old...conundrum is in danger of pitching us into an infinite regress. The only escape, it would seem, is to assume that God can somehow 'explain himself,' which is to say that God is a necessary being..." (p. 177) Personally, I am not so unenamored with the infinite regress. In fact my mind cannot avoid it, despite the "turtles all the way down" parody.

As for marveling at the various "lucky flukes" (Fred Hoyle's term) of physics that allow us to exist in this universe (c.f., the anthropic principle), I want to say that had things been different, there would be no one around to do the marveling--no one around, no marveling--or those doing the marveling would be different from us in such a way as to be the recipients of some other lucky flukes of matter and energy, which they would marvel at.

This is the kind of book--delightful as it is--that makes one understand the need for experimental proof!
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The Mind of God: Science and the search for ultimate meaning, by Paul Davies, Simon and Schuster, 1992; Penguin, 1993, 304 ff.

Can science contribute to the search for meaning in life?
By Howard A. Jones

The book takes its title from the final paragraph of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Hawking says that if scientists could unravel a unified field theory, it would inform `the question of why it is that we and the universe exist . . . for then we would know the mind of God.' Davies revisits this issue a decade after his book God and the New Physics, but is no nearer finding a solution. Professor Davies is currently at the Arizona State University.

The opening chapter is as much philosophy as physics dealing as it does with the differences between Reason and Belief. Davies states the existentialist and materialist `leitmotif of science' that consciousness is merely an insignificant happy accident and that `there is no significance in human life beyond what humans themselves invest in it'. He then briefly surveys some of the religious and philosophical views of creation before describing some of the scientific views, including the Hartle-Hawking Theory. The ideas of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and Leibniz are skilfully woven into a discussion of the Laws of Nature and the difference between Real and Virtual Worlds in constructing scientific models of the universe. There is an interesting discussion about whether mathematics is invented or discovered and the status of the laws of nature: Has the human mind invented mathematics and physical laws or are these eternal Ideas, `objective truths about the universe', as Plato suggested, and more recent mathematicians like Kurt Gödel and Roger Penrose and most physicists like Davies believe. Whitehead's Process Theology of a continually evolving deity is brought in as a theme in the discussion of time. Most of the cosmology here is found in the final two chapters on a Designer Universe and The Mystery at the End of the Universe, which is where mysticism comes in. There is also reference to Lawrence Henderson's 1913 version of the `anthropic principle', several decades before it was proposed as such by Brandon Carter.

There is a mass of information in this book - facts and theories - and the author skilfully weaves it all into a fabric that I found intriguing and thought-provoking. The material is well presented but it is a demanding book to read simply because it covers complex issues from a number of different disciplines. If you are looking to this book for answers to the Big Questions, these you will have to find for yourself, but there are many interesting facts and challenging ideas to ponder over here. There are Notes, a short Bibliography and an Index at the end.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Reason and Reality: Relationship Between Science and Theology
Process and Reality (Gifford lectures)
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on 3 July 2003
I have to be honest, but I found this book pretty difficult to get through. But some things are worth labouring over.
It wasn't exactly as I thought it would be. I expected more of a discussion about science versus specific religions. However, it certainly made me think and question my beliefs (and my belief in myself, and the things that I thought I already knew).
I must warn you that since reading this book I have become something of a party bore, attempting to discuss philosphical concepts with anybody still coherent at 2 in the morning.
Still, an excellent read and extremely insightful. Highly recommended.
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HALL OF FAMEon 1 March 2006
Paul Davies book, `The Mind of God', is a follow-up to is book, `God and the New Physics.'
Davies explores in more depth and detail the philosophical implications of modern physics and how the theories and ideas of modern physics can help in the understanding (and occasionally, deepen the confusion) of ideas that have been in the traditional purview of philosophy and theology. In this respect, science has a basic question that comes to the root of all systems of thought -- why?
`Scientists themselves normally take it for granted that we live in a rational, ordered cosmos subject to precise laws that can be uncovered by human reasoning. Yet why this should be so remains a tantalising mystery. Why should human beings have the ability to discover and understand the principles on which the universe runs?'
Davies discusses certain conceptual principles that are essential to the discussion. The division between rational and irrational, particularly in light of 'common sense' -- not too long ago science held itself to be rational because it more conformed to 'common sense' than did 'irrational' religion; as science edges toward the irrational (defined in common sense terms) it loses the ability to use that argument against religion.
`It is a fact of life that people hold beliefs, especially in the field of religion, which might be regarded as irrational. That they are held irrationally doesn't mean they are wrong.'
Davies admits his bias toward rationalism, but leaves room open for discussion. He discusses metaphysics in terms of Kant, Hume, and Descartes, drawing into question the very idea of rationality and the terms of existence in which the scientific universe operates.
`No attempt to explain the world, either scientifically or theologically, can be considered successful until it accounts for the paradoxical conjunction of the temporal and the atemporal.'
From this opening discussion, Davies proceeds to examine the creation of the universe, asking the interesting question in terms of quantum realities -- does the universe have to have had a creator? And, even if scientifically the universe can 'spontaneously' come into being (as some mathematical models and theories seem to allow), how do we account for the construct of laws of nature that permit such a spontaneous generation? Once again, the question 'where is God?' can still have meaning.
Davies spends a great deal of time looking at the nature and use of mathematics in understanding the 'real' world and 'virtual' worlds. Does mathematics exist independently of the universe, or independently of the human conscious construct of mathematics? At what points does mathematical meaning break down (for instance, in the very early universe, when the volume falls below the so-called Planck time, where the universe is theoretically too small for mathematics to be operative).
In the final chapter, Davies returns to the ideas of mysticism and the limits of science.
`Mysticism is no substitute for scientific inquiry and logical reasoning so long as this approach can be consistently applied. It is only in dealing with ultimate questions that science and logic fail us. I am not saying that science and logic are likely to provide the wrong answers, but they may be incapable of addressing the sort of 'why' (as opposed to 'how') questions we want to ask.'
While many scientists have mistrust of religion and mysticism, there are nonetheless notable exceptions, scientists who themselves are deeply religious or have a mystical turn of mind, such as Einstein, Pauli, Schrödinger and Heisenberg.
This is another fascinating trip through the realm of modern science with a particular emphasis on how we know what we know and what there really is to know, and what is in fact knowable.
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on 12 January 2003
The book raises one of the most debated issues of our times? Will the progress of science and the extension of human knowledge eliminate the mere concept of a being above and beyond nature? Is the structure of our universe the pure result of the hazard? Is God just another name for the unknown?
Pr Davies' sensitive and flexible approach of the subject, backed by his extensive mastering of modern physics, leads to unexpected conclusions. Mandatory - although not easy -reading.
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on 11 November 2013
I used to teach an A' level Religious Studies course on religion and science and found this book immensely helpful; to my understanding. It has very helpful analogies for we lay people.

Paul Davies argues that the human mind tends to spot patterns, even where none exist. Our ancestors saw animals and gods amid the stars. We have looked for faces in clouds, rocks and flames. Yet absurd to suggest that any regularity we see in nature is similar projection of human mind. Regularities are mathematical, objective fact. To call them 'laws' is human invention though - we formulate 'laws' based on what we have experienced. These laws have qualities formerly used of God:

- they are universal - no good if only work sometimes

- absolute - don't depend in anything else or on observer

- eternal, timeless

-omnipotent, all powerful

Archdeacon William Paley wrote in 1794 'Evidence of Christianity'. He remarked detailed examination of specific organisms and their remarkable fitness for the environment in which they lived proved that a clever God must have designed them. He used the example of watch proving there was a clever watchmaker. Now that people have seen the flaws in this `argument from design', theologians have retreated from the realm of science, only to see scientists stepping into the world of theology. Davies argues that the human search for meaning is more like a crossword than a clockwork mechanism - each new discovery is a clue and pattern slowly emerges.

Is God an objective reality which we are hard-wired to apprehend, or a projection of our own subjectivity? Davies typed this book on an Amstrad, then state of the art word processing technology. The machine's seemingly random collection of dots makes sense to us. Is this because we see patterns or because we created those patterns? Davies argues that detailed messages can be produced from random processes so monkey could, given time, type Shakespeare but Occam's razor suggests that the most plausible explanation is to look for the simplest explanation; e.g. if a radio astronomer picks up a simple signal - pulses, when arranged in sequence, make up the first million digits of pi - is this a random signal involving millions of ad hoc assumptions or did it come from a mechanism programmed to compute pi?

Someone suggested that, is misleading - it's judging whole series of bashing as leading to final goal. In fact, lots of little steps which make sense when you look back - but at the time each step made sense on its own.

Paul Davies suggests that modern physics has much in common with the emphasis in Eastern thought of holistic interconnectedness. It is not superior to Western thinking but both ways needed to study physical phenomena. Compare wave/particle.

Unlike our linear view of time, Hinduism believes in cycles. After entropy and decay, the universe is reincarnated: big bang, big crunch, another big bang. See you coming back? See you next time round?

Scientists and theologians need each other. No one person, says Davies, understands all the workings of a Boeing 747 but every part is understood by somebody.
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on 17 April 2007
This book is the intellectual equivalent of those training scenes from Rocky IV, where Sylvester Stallone prepares to fight the steroid-pumped Russian guy by running up vertical mountains, lifting granite boulders and doing one finger press ups. By the time you reach the last page you brain will be like a piece of iron, ready to tackle the toughest mysteries the universe can throw at you.

The regime covers physics, metaphysics, logic and God, among much else, and covers these subjects with such merciless curiosity that it'll make your brain glow.

If I had one complaint, and I do, it would be that The Mind of God keeps regressing to determine the cause of everything until Davies inevitably gives up, and then surrenders to possible spiritual or supernatural explanations.

However this 'God of gaps' position is certainly profitable. Davies won the Templeton Prize for his books, worth almost 1.5 million US dollars, an award given to scientists who "expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity". The prize has been criticised by Richard Dawkins, heavyweight champion of reason and rationality, as, "a very large sum of money given [...] usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion".
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on 10 January 2017
I have tried to gain something from it, but to me it seems long-windedly analytical while it wallows in hypotheses. It uses one theory after another to fill pages, only to refute them, one by one, by each chapter's end. The book seems too clever, but too silly to contend with. What Paul Davies misses is the fact that truth is essentially simple. His book isn't! Ergo, in its bulk it isn't true, so I have abandoned it.
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on 17 March 2015
Read this whether your a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or an atheist - it will expand your mind! Paul Davies writes very well, and has a wonderful big picture view of the research, and what people are thinking about the universe.
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