Book review -- The Numinous Legacy: Modern Cosmology and Religion definitely not a casual read

Sunday, March 16, 2003

This book is not for the casual reader.

Since Copernicus proved the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the sun revolving around the earth, the Christian church has struggled to justify religious convictions in light of the findings of science.

It hasn't been easy. Publication of the findings of Copernicus included an inserted anonymous preface terming his work as hypothetical, despite the fact that Copernicus dedicated the book to the pope. Later scholars who built upon his work were persecuted and killed.

Copernicus' findings refuted the then-accepted belief of crystal-like spheres surrounding the earth with layers for sun, moon and stars, and, ultimately, heaven. Suddenly, mankind was not at the center of the universe, throwing many fundamentalist Christian beliefs into a tailspin.

In the 20th century, the findings of Albert Einstein became the foundation of many theories, some of which have been proven, at least under certain conditions, and many which remain conjectural but are given considerable credence. The later include theories about additional dimensions, elasticity of time, and extraterrestrial life, to name just a few of the conjectures.

That is not to mention Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The conflict of science with religion is natural, science being fact-driven while religion is a matter of faith.

Butchins is largely successful in resolving the conflict. Though certain fundamentalist beliefs are refuted, he leaves room for modification, thanks in large part to the reputedly simplified accounts of the Bible, especially in the first few chapters of Genesis. While he continually returns to the concept of deism, he consistently allows for the possibility of an active creator God.

Similarly, he explores scientific theories which could allow for resurrection of the dead, though he is skeptical of such an emulation.

He indicates that belief in God is not an unreasonable position to take. He appears open to the view of intellectual William B. Drees, who holds that God's primary location is the present, but that that does not make Him identical with the present. Drees attributes three components to God: transcendence and immanence; the locus of values and possibilities; and the source of actuality.

Butchins has digested a number of religious problems in the light of both scientific facts and theories, including anti-matter, germs, near-death experiences, UFOs, and a host of other lesser and greater issues.

The responses in the back of the book, from various religious authorities, are an appreciated inclusion, demonstrating that the bulk of scientific theories and facts, including the possibility of life on other planets, is not necessarily in conflict with monotheistic Christian, Jewish and Islamic theology. Lack of conflict with polytheistic and agnostic Eastern beliefs almost goes without saying.

Most interesting is the comment of Rabbi Dr. John Rayner, rabbi emeritus of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London: "Do we have to reject the concept of man as 'the Crown of Creation'? No, we only have to add: in the corner of the universe that we inhabit."

Unfortunately, many evangelical Protestant lines of thought, such as Baptist, Assembly of God, and Nazarene doctrines, are not represented.

Butchins is to be particularly commended for his talent in breaking down complicated scientific and theological concepts to a level which can be understood by the reasonably intelligent reader.

Still, certain Christians might be better served by not reading The Numinous Legacy. After all, even Butchins allows that faith is a highly personal experience.

The Numinous Legacy: Modern Cosmology and Religion; Adair Butchins; 268 pages with index, bibliography, glossary, and responses by religious authorities; Albatross Press, England; distributed by Book World Companies, Sarasota, Florida.

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