Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Struggling to decipher God's codebook

Even though I followed a career in business I've sometimes wondered what might have happened if I'd pursued other interests instead - interests which (at the time) didn't promise much in the way of financial rewards but which I imagine might have been more rewarding in other ways. Don't get me wrong - I'm good at what I do and generally enjoy it - but I always enjoyed most the science and biology classes in school and my hobbies still run along those lines. But I'm also a religious person, and while I don't see a problem with reconciling science and religion, they often seem at odds in today's highly polarized and contentious world, each sneeringly scornful and antagonistic toward the other. At least, that's how they're usually portrayed.

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern WorldYet that relationship was very different when some of the greatest leaps of scientific understanding occurred. In The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World, Edward Dolnick gives us excellent and readable biographical profiles of the greats like Galileo and Kepler, Leibniz and Newton as well others who were instrumental in the birth of modern science. He says "Newton's intent in all his work was to make men more pious and devout, more reverent in the face of God's creation. His aim was not that men rise to their feet in freedom but that they fall to their knees in awe." (pg 308)

But this book is about much more than just the religious thoughts of some of history's greatest thinkers. It also profiles the world they lived in, from the superstitions and diseases the people faced to the unsanitary conditions that produced such maladies (and pity those who had access to the doctors!). And it quotes frequently from these geniuses and humanizes them (most were pretty ill-tempered) even though they had talents the rest of us can only dream of. It also seeks to convey - in layman's terms, thankfully - a basic understanding of the principles and truths discovered by these geniuses, and why they were so earth-changing.

In all honesty, physics was never a branch of science that I had much of an aptitude for and just reading Dolnick's discussions of time and distance and infinity made my head spin! But it's a very interesting read, particularly for those of us who aren't as familiar with the history of these men or their discoveries. Actually, (as Dolnick points out) we're more familiar with them than we might realize (from math classes) and this book excels not only in pointing out how momentous the discoveries were but also in presenting them in a way that those of us who struggled with physics and math in high school can follow (or almost follow!). The chapters are short and easy to read and understand, and surprisingly hard to put down. And neither side in the science vs. religion debate should find anything to be offended by here.  (Note: I received this book from Amazon Vine.)


  1. Thanks - that's always nice to hear. I kind of have fun writing them. And I hope you find something to read sometimes, too.