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The Fire in the Equations

Science Religion & Search For God

The Fire in the Equations by Kitty Ferguson
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“ In this beautifully and intelligently written book, Ferguson not only reports on some of the intellectual tremors jolting the world of thinking women and men, but also considers the basic questions with penetrating analysis, yet at a very readable level. . . . An excellent book.” Choice

Heralded for its readability and scholarship, The Fire in the Equations offers a fascinating discussion of scientific discoveries and their impact on our beliefs. The book’s title is derived from Dr. Stephen Hawking’s pondering, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

Originally published in the U.S. in 1995, it provides an excursion through new theories of quantum physics and cosmology, ranging from the nature of time, the big bang, the “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics, laws of nature and their possible relation to God, chaos theory, black holes, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, particle physics, Darwin's theory of evolution, and the role of God in all these equations. It even raises such questions as “how God might answer prayers” from the point of view of physics.

While she gives no absolute answers, Kitty Ferguson takes the reader through a world of paradoxes and improbabilities, explaining how it is possible to believe both in a pre-determined universe and in free will as a theory of human behavior. She concludes that what we know about science doesn't necessarily make God inevitable, but does not rule God out either.

Templeton Press; July 2011
335 pages; ISBN 9781599470399
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: The Fire in the Equations
Author: Kitty Ferguson
At 8 o’clock in the evening of Tuesday, 25 April 1882, the horsedrawn funeral car carrying Charles Darwin’s coffin arrived at Westminster Abbey. The sixteen-mile journey in the rain from the Kentish village of Downe had taken all day. The coffin was borne through the cloisters of the Abbey and placed in the Chapel of St Faith, a spare, sepulchral, vaulted chamber, ice-cold and lit only by two flickering lanterns. It was a magnificent coffin, but not the coffin he and his family had wanted. That had been an oak box, ‘all rough, just as it left the bench, no polish, no nothin,’ said John Lewis, the Downe village carpenter who built it. ‘When they agreed to send him to Westminster . . . my coffin wasn’t wanted. This other one you could see to shave in.’1 But Charles Darwin belonged to the nation now and to history, not to his family and his village, and at noon the following day he would be buried in state in the Abbey. On the previous Sunday the news of Darwin’s death had brought forth paeans of praise for him and his scientific discoveries from the pulpits of London, and the newspapers had continued the theme: ‘Darwin’s doctrine is in no wise inconsistent with strong religious faith and hope,’ proclaimed the Daily News.2 ‘True Christians can accept the main scientific facts of Evolution just as they do of Astronomy and Geology,without any prejudice to more ancient and cherished beliefs,’ pontificated the Standard. Canon H. P. Liddon, in an afternoon sermon in St Paul’s Cathedral, compared Darwin to St Thomas—‘doubting’ Thomas. Canon Liddon chose not to condemn Darwin’s religious scepticism but to commend ‘the patience and care with which he observed and registered minute single facts’. St Thomas had refused to believe in Christ’s resurrection unless he could put his hand into the wounds inflicted during the crucifixion. Darwin, like Thomas, had insisted on evidence,what Canon Liddon called ‘the clearly ascertained report of the senses’.4 The Guardian reassured its readers that they should not have ‘any misgivings lest the sacred pavement of the Abbey should cover a secret enemy of the Faith’. The honour of burial there should be seen as ‘a happy trophy of the reconciliation between Faith and Science’. What? Hadn’t Darwin ended any possibility of believing strongly in both science and the Judaeo-Christian God without indulging in intellectual dishonesty? Extremes of opinion among both scientists and religious people ever since would certainly have it so. Darwin demolished the literal interpretation of the biblical Creation story and undermined one of the most eloquent arguments for the existence of God, that the world was a place perfectly designed for the survival and sustenance of human beings. Evolution and survival of the fittest provided a natural explanation for what had seemed a miracle. Yet there have been many scientists since Darwin, and there are many now in the twenty-first century, who are devout believers in God. Do they, as someone said of physicist Max Planck, forget their faith when they go into the lab, and forget their science when they go into church? On 26 April 1882, the skies were still leaden. The gas-lit Abbey was dank and gloomy, thronged with sombrely dressed luminaries of government and science as well as middle-class citizens who came without black-bordered tickets and were allowed to fill the less desirable seats. The funeral was a religious service with readings and anthem texts from the Gospels and the Psalms. The Abbey organist, J. Frederick Bridge, had composed an anthem to be sung for the occasion.He had chosen words from the Book of Proverbs: ‘Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and getteth understanding.’6 Later the chief mourners and the public filed past the grave to the accompaniment of the ‘Dead March’ from Handel’s Saul, a march which in the original was a dirge for a king who had torn himself away from the love of God to rely on the power of himself.