We had our external reviewer Chris do another review for us since we are super busy organizing a readathon! This time, he reviewed the book God: Challenges from Philosophy and Science by Lynne Renoir. Check out his review below to see what he thought!
Synopsis: Philosopher Lynne Renoir questions the traditional view of God as an all powerful being who created the universe and governs it according to his will. She argues that such an idea can be challenged philosophically, and that it does not accord with discoveries in modern science. On the other hand, she suggests, it is evident that experiences of transformation can occur in the lives of individuals who wholeheartedly embrace religious beliefs. Her book explores possible explanations for this situation by proposing that truth is found in the inner dimensions of a person’s being, and is not something that can be imposed from an external source. Renoir’s work was the result of her own difficulties in experiencing the transformation she sought through her Christian faith, and followed years of research undertaken in the areas of philosophy, science, and psychology.
This book has three main parts: God and Philosophy, God and Science, God and Belief.
“The first section of this book discussed the thinking of some philosophers who use their differing experiences of the divine as a means of arguing for his existence. “
When authors write they usually have an audience in mind. Here, it is difficult to ascertain the audience the author means to reach. This isn’t a book for beginners or for those who wish to learn more about philosophy, or what a particular philosopher thinks. For example, you will not learn David Hume’s great contributions to philosophy or the things for which he is best known. You will learn a small portion of his thoughts about the divine—and even in that category you won’t learn the context of his views.
Each chapter in the first part stands alone. Chapters don’t build upon the previous chapter. You can read the chapters in any order and not get lost, providing you already have a good background in philosophy. The recitation of information tends towards the academic—concise writing, but unfortunately, this makes it dry reading.
All of this makes the first part of the book seem like an introductory section of a PhD thesis. Such a format does not engage readers. Engaging the reader requires the author tell them why they should care what these different philosophers think. Show how these ideas are relevant to current societal ideas, or how philosophy changed society or how philosophy mirrored the changes in society.
The second part, God and Science, is more readable. It starts in the sciences and ends in an overview of three main religions. The concise academic writing works in this section. It shows the weirdness of quantum physics or the big bang in just a few paragraphs (although the incorrect assertion that the big bang is an explosion is a wrong analogy that scientists have been correcting for decades). Like the first section, Renoir highlights different scientists to show their views on a variety of subjects (e.g., consciousness).
However, Renoir applies philosophy “rules” to science. In philosophy, one opinion is as good as another (broadly speaking). In science, you pay more attention to an expert in the subject matter rather than an equally brilliant scientist who doesn’t study that subject. E.g., Neil deGrasse Tyson’s thoughts on physics are not controversial whereas his thoughts on biology are often wrong at a high school level.
So, in the section on consciousness, Renoir mainly quotes scientists and mystics who lack background in the field of consciousness or lack background in science. Their opinions, regardless of their expertise in a different field, are meaningless from a scientific viewpoint. Being unable to recognize relevant expertise leads Renoir to incorrectly write, “In modern Western thought, the scientific understanding of the universe as conscious has arisen mainly as a result of quantum discoveries”.
No. It hasn’t. There is no “scientific understanding of the universe as conscious”. Quoting philosophical ideas from non-philosopher scientists and quoting scientific ideas from non-scientist philosophers does not make a “scientific understanding”. That’s not how science works.
Renoir’s thinking that philosophy and science have interchangeable standards continues to mislead her, as in “The idea that the universe if conscious creates problems both for believers in a personal God and for those who deny the existence of the divine”.
Again, no, it does not create a problem. The idea of a conscious universe is a philosophical concept, not a scientific concept. There’s no chain of scientific evidence that leads you to conclude the universe must be conscious; thus, you can solve the problem by rejecting the idea of conscious universe, or by devising philosophical work-arounds (which is what many philosophical ideas are).
The third part is God and Belief. This section looks at “mystical experiences from the point of view of the physiological changes involved”. I found this section had similar problems to the previous section, where people are quoted regarding things that are outside of their field of expertise. Still, it is interesting reading, such as Chapter 12 on religious experiences and transcendence.
As with the other parts, the topics covered are brief outlines. Anyone interested in these things can find entire books written for a lay audience on these topics.
In the end, I can’t say I liked this book. In the philosophical places I wanted more information to put the ideas into context. In the science section I found the blurring of the rules for philosophy and science aggravating. In the final section it felt like getting a few carrot sticks rather than the full meal you wanted.
Each section could have been expanded and made a book in its own right. Putting it together as one book meant far too much had to be left out, and what was left in required a more in-depth knowledge of philosophy and physics than the average reader possesses.
From a scholarly work probably 3.5-4/5 stars. As a book to communicate your ideas to the world at large 1/5 stars.
Book Rating: 1/5
You can buy this book on Amazon and find it on Goodreads.
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