Pascal's fire - scientific faith and religious understanding

Pascal’s fire - scientific faith and religious understanding 

Keith Ward 

Oxford, UK: Oneworld | 2006 | 224pp | ?9.99 (SB) ISBN 1851684468 

Reviewed by Denis Alexander

In Pascal’s fire, Keith Ward, until recently Regius professor of divinity at the University of Oxford, UK, provides an urbane and witty defence of the plausibility of religious belief in the light of contemporary science. Ward launches his broad overview with the four critical transitions that characterise the emergence of modern science, exemplified by Galileo, Newton, Darwin and those who developed quantum theory, pointing out that religious belief was important in the lives of most of these key figures in the history of science. 

Far from disposing of faith, the author argues that our new understanding of the finely tuned universe, with its open future, is consistent with the idea of a God who has intentions for the universe. Science is no hindrance to faith and has itself revealed a universe with properties that provide a rational grounding for faith. Ward finds it ironic that the world of platonic ideals has been given a new lease of life, not by the philosophers, but by quantum mechanics. At the same time the author is acutely aware that arguments for God can sound like wishful thinking, facing head-on the problem of pain and suffering.  

The second half of Pascal’s firesurveys the ’God of the scientists’ and then the ’God of religion’, arguing strongly against the notion that science explains everything. Ward suggests that the God of religious belief fleshes out the rather abstract sketch of God hinted at by scientific insights. Some religious beliefs in turn, such as the idea of immortality, can more readily be conceptualised in light of current cosmological theories about multiverses.  

Ward is a reliable and entertaining tour guide who explains clearly an extensive arena of ideas in a concise, readable and logical manner.  

Atheists, agnostics and theists alike will find much in this book on which to chew.