Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Grand Contraption

I recently read The Grand Contraption: The World as Myth, Number and Chance by David Park, a delightful book for those who enjoy both history and science. Dr. Park explores how religion and science grew side by side in the history of western civilization, and were never seen as antagonistic to each other until early modern times. As the author explains: "The so-called war between science and religion is not really a war. Many scientists are sincerely religious and many people who follow a religion respect what scientists think. For them, what is known as a war is at worst a boundary dispute." (p.224)

From Publishers Weekly:
This elegant work is, first and foremost, a fine introduction to the history of cosmology in the West. Park (The Fire within the Eye) covers a staggering range of beliefs in this slim volume, examining the heroic battle myths of ancient Israel, Egypt and Mesopotamia; writings on the squabbling Greek gods; the astrology of the Babylonians and Akkadians; the cosmology of the Ionians and pre-Socratics; Plato's world myth and Aristotle's ""Prime Mover""; Ptolemy's spheres and the atoms of Epicurus; the Copernican revolution and Descartes's vortices; and modern chemistry, field theory and the big bang. While many earlier theories of the universe may strike modern readers as absurd, Park approaches each with empathy and intelligence, uncovering the profoundly human struggle to make sense of the world that lies at the heart of premodern science. In so doing, he renders these ideas less fantastical-almost reasonable-for his readers. And, perhaps more importantly, by the time he reaches the 20th century, the fantastical aspects of our own cosmology are more than apparent. In the end, Park's engrossing work suggests that the difference between modern and ancient cosmologies has little to do with progress in the technical foundations of science; even the most ancient cultures he discusses had advanced methods of calculation and a commitment to observation and experiment. (Read more.)
Dr. Park insists that the sphere of the scared should be respected and should not be seen as a contradiction to scientific discovery but rather as having a unique function in human society. It pulls together a great deal of information in a coherent fashion and is a book for believers and non-believers alike. Share

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