Modern Physics and Ancient Faith

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith

Stephen M. Barr
University of Notre Dame Press, 2005. Paperback, $18.00, 312 pages.

Taking liberty with the Three Objects of the Theosophical Society, we could say that this book covers the Second Object completely. Anyone that is scientifically, theologically, and philosophically oriented will find this book to be one of the most rigorous in recent years. Even though it is from the Notre Dame press, a liberal reading allows it to be of any faith, including Theosophy. To establish academic credibility we are told that Dr. Barr is a professor of theoretical particle physics at the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware.

Just as Copernican revolution upset popular thought during the 1500s, the introduction of non-materialistic quantum mechanics in the 1920s transformed the static world of materialistic Newtonian mechanics. Today we are on the verge of finding out if unified field theory and our scientific model are complete, or if there is more to come.

The Standard Model of physics has allowed us to unify three of the four fundamental forces of the universe: electromagnetism, the strong force, and the weak force. The fourth force, gravity, is currently the "missing link" in the Standard Model. To bring gravity into the fold will require the newest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is located in Switzerland and is scheduled to go on-line in September 2008. Scientists are hoping for constructive data by the end of the year. The LHC will be trying to create the predicted and hoped for Higgs boson. If observed, the Standard Model would be verified and would help to explain gravity's role in unified field theory.

If the elusive Higgs boson is produced, Barr's book will help in understanding the excitement. If no Higgs boson is found and the theory remains incomplete, this book will still provide a more fundamental understanding of what is at stake in future models.

The science, as presented by Barr, is quite complete with the more difficult parts found in the well-written Appendices. Dr. Barr probably comes from the Roman Catholic tradition and his sophisticated understanding of Christian theology is very apparent. I imagine that a few philosophers will take issue with some of his arguments, but they are well-presented and well-defended.
The book is arranged into five parts: "The Conflict between Religion and Materialism"; "In the Beginning"; "Is the Universe Designed?"; "Man's Place in the Cosmos"; and "What is Man?" As you can see, by replacing the word religion with Theosophy, these divisions could also appear in any Theosophical book.

However, I have come up with my own arrangement of the material. I feel that organizing the sections as: "The Big Bang--A Discussion of First Cause"; "How Nature Fine Tuned Its Constants"; "The Failure of Materialism"; "How Gödel Showed That the Mind is Not a Computer"; and "Quantum Physics Requires a Non-physical Observer" more accurately reflect the contents of the book.

In summary, presently, religion (Theosophy) offers a more credible and coherent understanding of the universe than the scientific materialists. As experimental data is reported and analyzed, there may a convergence of the non-materialistic quantum school of thought and the Theosophical. Only time will tell.

Ralph Hannon

The reviewer is a retired Professor of Chemistry at Kishwaukee College, a long time T. S. member, and past co-editor, with the late Dora Kunz, of the Theosophical Research Journal.