Although I generally focus on classic literature as well as English and American literature, there are a few science oriented and religious texts I can recommend. In this review I highly recommend the book, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. This jumps up on my list primarily because of the movie, The Theory of Everything, released in theaters over the past twelve months. Hawking’s book has been around for a long time and has gone through multiple revisions. The movie is not about the book, but the contexts of the book and his drive to answer the universal questions goes towards the parallel of his drive to live and succeed in spite of his physical infirmity.
Topics Covered in Dr. Hawking’s Book [Note: this review is based on the 1996 edition.] include both commonly excepted theories and the controversial concepts including: Cosmology, Big Bang, Black Holes, Light Cones, Relative Mathematics, Time Travel, Wormholes and the fun – but sometimes confusing – Quantum Physics. The chapters in the book breakdown topics as follows:
Chapter 1: Hawking presents a brief but effective review of the history of physics; inclusive of Aristotle and Ptolemy.
Chapter 2: Space and Time, the motion of planets, how gravity works, and the ideas of absolute rest and absolute position.
Chapter 3: Talks about a very popular topic that has helped to provide supporting evidence for Big Bang, the theory of the expanding universe.
Chapter 4: Present the Uncertainty Principle.
Chapter 5: Discusses Quarks
Chapters 6 and 7: Cover Black Holes
Chapter 8: Explains the start of the universe, the Big Bang, and the possible end of the universe.
Although I’ve yet to read the 2005 edition titled: A Briefer History of Time, consider tracking that book down in-lieu of the 1996/1998 version. The latest edition has updated content inclusive of the discoveries relative to 1999-2005.
The movie of the man named Dr. Stephen Hawking
Mixed Reviews: The Book not the Movie
The public reviews of this book have been mixed. Mixed that is – based on whether or not the readers felt the content threatens religious beliefs. Hawking is never actually refuting faith in this book, in spite of some of the negative comments you might have heard. Much of this book is actual a history of scientific discovery in the world of physics, theoretical physics, astronomy, cosmology, and more. He covers a lot of ground very quickly and brushes, with broad strokes, through some complex theories. This issue has been one of the biggest criticisms of the book: some readers can’t accept the science unless they personally understand and accept all the scientific conclusions. All too often I heard or read: If I can’t understand it, it must not be true.” This is not a physics text-book; you will not learn and be a theoretical physicist or cosmologist.
This is not a book intended to be used as an anti-religious text. This point needs to be mentioned because all too often Dr. Hawking’s work is criticized by folks that strongly attach everything they think they know, and prefer to believe, with a God (or gods). Strongly religious folks might find many aspects covered in the book as heretical since God and religion are not a part of the answer to all or any question. Hawking’s makes no apology for being a member of the “No-God” group (my term, not his).
I find it quite interesting and perplexing that that average person cannot, in detail explain all the working parts of an automobile (including the engine, electrical system, transmission etc.); thus, they are perfectly willing to believe it works. They trust that if a mechanic tells them that there is a problem and what it is and how it works, they accept the information as given by the expert. People don’t say, “I don’t have to believe the mechanic; God makes the automobile move and that’s all I need to know.” Yet, if science tells them that evolution works, and that the universe is billions of years old, they reject it because God’s not in the answer and they don’t understand how it could be otherwise than through the hand of a creator. This, of course, has caused problems for some readers. Yet, in spite of the possible belief-faith-reasoning-logic contradiction or discomfort this might cause the person that must have a God solution in all things, if you have an open mind, it is quite the fascinating, entertaining and informative.
Science versus Religion
It’s not the job of science to answer the question of a “God” or gods existence. Nor is it the job of religion to answer all the questions addressed in science. If the second were the case, as some God proponents to include the “creationist” theorists, there would be no science, not research, no discovery, no learning outside that what falls within religious text as taught by the appointed religious leadership. This was the case faced by Galilei and Copernicus. If you don’t know their story, I suggest researching them; Wikipedia is not a bad place to start. The primary point is that the “Church” threatened both men and required them to reject and change their scientific discoveries to be more consistent with the scriptures.
Another comment that is often made by the God, Creationists, and anti-science folks is that “science hasn’t answered or proven a particular issue; thus, the answer is God and any answer science later discovers and proves must be wrong because the previous religious solution being “God”, cannot be wrong, because God cannot be wrong. That is not logic; that is a form of para-rational perspective. If you’ve studied philosophy and logic, you’ve probably heard of the concept of “a priori.” This is the most common form of argument against any answer proposed or proven by science. It means that “if I believe in God and God must be at the center of everything and the answer to all unanswered questions, I don’t need to go any farther; thus God is the correct answer. This of course tosses out anything that is proven to the contrary of the God solution.
Don’t misunderstand me to think I’m saying that I reject religion; however, any serious attempt to read or listen to this book, or any scientific and historical study for that matter, must understand how you honestly view things. Do you reject anything that is not consistent with your religious beliefs? Then you are making a choice, not based on logic, but based on a belief-choice. Religion is belief based on faith, even emotions of fear, contentment, and desire. Science is logic based on facts derived through experimentation, the “scientific method” and math. If you are Catholic or familiar with the Holy See, the Vatican and the Papacy, even in that center of Christianity, they accept many of the scientific answers in the universe. And, they have their own scientists that conduct research to discover and verify scientific discoveries. If you can’t separate religious views from science, you will be wasting your time with this book/audiobook, or any legitimate study in science and history.