Science and the Soul. New Cosmology, the Self and God

Written by Angela Tilby Reviewed By Howard Taylor

As modern science penetrates ever deeper into the fundamentals of all physical existence, it cannot avoid questions of God and the soul. When such questions as ‘What is the origin of the universe?’, ‘What is the reason for the laws of nature being what they are?’, are asked, one has reached the boundaries of all scientific enquiry. These questions naturally prompt the further question as to whether or not there is Someone beyond who is the creator of the universe. With the advent of the new cosmology, relativity theory, quantum physics, chaos theory, challenging as they do the old materialistic, deterministic and reductionist assumptions of an earlier science, these fundamental questions become even more relevant to our existence, enabling us to address questions as to purpose, meaning and freedom in the universe.

From very different perspectives (materialist, pantheist, Christian) there have been many books expounding these themes. Angela Tilby’s book Science and the Soul was written while she was engaged in making a TV series on the same topic. Written from a relatively liberal theological perspective, she nevertheless clearly believes in the transcendence of God. For her he seems to be a God who not only creates and preserves his universe but continues his process of creation whilst responding to the way in which his universe evolves.

The book is well written, containing one of the best explanations of the new science for the layman that I have read. For this reason alone I definitely recommend this book for all who want to know what the new science is about. She also gives very illuminating insights into the lives and attitudes of such scientists as Newton, Einstein, and a number of others who are still alive. She confirms what this reviewer has also experienced, that scientists, being human, are just as likely to be governed by irrational fears of the reality of God and the soul as any group of people. Like other people they are a very mixed bunch.

The book is at its weakest when she gets into theology, social ethics and other such subjects. Here she is sometimes rather confused and she occasionally lapses into unhelpful sermonizing. She tries to draw a parallel between the scientists who are clinging to an outdated materialism and conservative theologians who hold on to absolute faith. In doing so she misrepresents the latters’ view by, for example, confusing absolute faith in God with a legalistic interpretation of doctrine and ethics. She also thinks that evangelical theology is anti-material. With its clear belief in the resurrection of the body this is too great a generalization.

In this reviewer’s opinion the heart of her theological problem is the lack of appreciation of the incarnation and the atonement (they are hardly mentioned). Standing as I believe they do at the centre of God’s purpose for the cosmos, they should be for us the great interpreting principle of the place of nature and humanity in the awesome purposes of God in his creation, preservation, and redemption of all things.

In spite of this, Angela Tilby is to be congratulated on giving us a very readable, clear, full, and in places profound explanation of the new science. She has the courage to take on the materialistic prejudices that are still far too common in the scientific community, and also to challenge the world of theology to be less cowardly in facing these issues.

At the end of the book her notes are full and helpful, there are useful suggestions for further reading, and a good index is provided.

Howard Taylor

Glasgow Bible College