Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Nearly Everything

I've been listening to an audiobook version of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything lately. It's a very good introduction to a really vast sweep of science, and I'm enjoying it very much.

But there's one thing about it that keeps bothering me. In fact, I don't know if I can even say that it's a quality of this book in particular so much as it is a quality of the secular scientific worldview more generally. The thing that bothers me is a consistent, almost arrogant, refusal to distinguish between data and interpretation -- to distinguish, for instance, between saying life is capable of evolving through purely natural processes and saying that therefore life has no purpose.

In fact, Bryson's book does a wonderful job of bringing to the forefront the immense beauty of the universe generally and life in particular, but he seems to feel the need to mention from time to time that it's all just a great, but meaningless, cosmic coincidence. But that is interpretation! Compare John Polkinghorne's vision of the beauty of God creating a universe that is capable of creating itself.

It's truly tragic. Isaac Newton once described himself as a schoolboy playing on the seashore and now and then taking delight in finding a more interesting shell while the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before him. Today's scientists, meanwhile, seem not to notice that there's an ocean there at all.

1 comment:

LutheranChik said...

I really like Bill Bryson's writing. But I detect a hesitancy on his part to talk about the "big questions," even in his humor books...he might touch on them, but then skitters away. Somehow I get the idea that he was mauled by ueber-Christians at some point in his formation as a young person and is still reacting to that.