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The Fire in the Equations

Science, Religion, and the Search for God

Kitty Ferguson

“ In this beautifully and intelligently written book, Ferguson not only reports on some of the intellectual tremors jolting the world of thinking women and men, but also considers the basic questions with penetrating analysis, yet at a very readable level. . . . An excellent book.” —Choice

Heralded for its readability and scholarship, The Fire in the Equations offers a fascinating discussion of scientific discoveries and their impact on our beliefs. The book’s title is derived from Dr. Stephen Hawking’s pondering, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

Originally published in the U.S. in 1995, it provides an excursion through new theories of quantum physics and cosmology, ranging from the nature of time, the big bang, the “unreasonable effectiveness” of mathematics, laws of nature and their possible relation to God, chaos theory, black holes, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, particle physics, Darwin's theory of evolution, and the role of God in all these equations. It even raises such questions as “how God might answer prayers” from the point of view of physics.

While she gives no absolute answers, Kitty Ferguson takes the reader through a world of paradoxes and improbabilities, explaining how it is possible to believe both in a pre-determined universe and in free will as a theory of human behavior. She concludes that what we know about science doesn't necessarily make God inevitable, but does not rule God out either.

"An enlightened and readable exploration of the theological questions that inevitably arise out of reflection on this century's physics and astronomy." The Washington Times

"Ferguson is by turns whimsical, poetic, reverent, theological and authentically speculative in her study, which could be used as a wonderful text for any group or classroom wanting to think in a deeply interdisciplinary way about the body, the soul, the spirit and their relation to the laws of the universe."San Antonio Express-News

Preface / xi

A Word about Inclusive Language / xiv

Acknowledgements / xv

1 ‘They Buried Him in Westminster Abbey’ / 1

2 Seeing Things / 4

  • Is the rational universe an illusion? / 12
  • ‘In Nature’s infinite book of mysteries . . .can we read very much at all? / 19
  • Is objective reality a mirage? / 25
  • Are we really free agents? / 30
  • Is the universe a uni-verse? / 33

3 Almost Objective / 35

  • Where is fancy bred? / 37
  • The spectacles-behind-the-eyes / 44
  • The muse of science: Is truth beautiful? / 59
  • Does truth surpass proof? / 63
  • The elite of science / 66
  • The spirit of the times / 69
  • The essential Godlessness of science / 73
  • At the limits of scientific truth / 78
  • First steps beyond the mind’s-eye view / 80
  • Is there anything else? / 81
  • The insidiousness of God / 86
  • The morality of science: Is truth good? / 87

4 Romancing the Creation / 89

  • The uncomfortable concept of a beginning / 90
  • The Gordian knot of singularity / 102
  • The magic of imaginary time / 108
  • The pulsing universe and the arrow of entropy / 117
  • The mysterious wobbling of nothingness / 123
  • ‘Reality (whatever that may be)’ / 126
  • Reality in the absence of apples / 129
  • What place for a creator? / 134
  • The third candidate / 137
  • The mother of all chicken-and-egg stories / 139

5 The Elusive Mind of God / 143

  • God as the embodiment of the laws of physics / 145
  • A presence behind the process 146
  • The leap to purpose: The God who wishes to drink tea / 147
  • The watchmaker / 149
  • The universe as a ‘put-up job’ / 163
  • Second Gordian knot: The anthropic principle / 164
  • Hacking at the second Gordian knot / 166
  • The inflationary universe / 167
  • Baby universes to the rescue! / 171
  • Not the ether again! 173
  • The longing of Johannes Kepler / 178
  • The fiddler on the roof / 184

6 The God of Abraham and Jesus / 185

  • The law-breaker / 189
  • The hard edge of legalism / 191
  • The soft underbelly of legalism / 195
  • The death of the God of the Gaps / 204
  • Chaos meets Control 205
  • ‘Top-down’ determinism? / 221
  • ‘I AM’ / 225
  • When truths collide / 228
  • The ultimate self-confirming hypothesis / 231
  • The masterful use of parallel perfect fifths / 234
  • Who is the ‘I’ in ‘I AM’? / 239

7 Inadmissible Evidence / 241

  • Public vs. private knowledge / 242
  • Admissible evidence? / 245
  • The spectacles-behind-the-eyes, revisited / 246
  • The cloud of witnesses / 247
  • A game of ‘I Doubt It’ / 251
  • The Lucy problem / 253
  • ‘I should not believe such a story were it told me by Cato!’ / 254
  • ‘The Invincible Ignorance of Science’ / 259
  • ‘For the Bible tells me so’—the evidence of scripture / 260
  • Is there proof in the pudding? The evidence of results / 263
  • Armchair truth: The argument from reason / 266
  • The argument from explanatory power / 270
  • The argument from nature / 274
  • The argument from availability / 277

8 Theory of Everything . . . Mind of God / 279

Notes / 284

Bibliography / 293

Index / 301

Ferguson weaves together science, philosophy, and theology with verve and clarity.

John Polkinghorne, Queen's, Cambridge

This is a clear account of the ultimate question.

Stephen W. Hawkings

Science and Theology News

Kitty Ferguson says that science and religion can coexist symbiotically. Asserting that modern science does not interfere with the existence of a personal and miraculous God, she says in The Fire in the Equations (2004) that science is unable to lend to either believers or atheists irrefutable public proof of their positions. Ferguson is a scholar of physics, mathematics, astronomy and theology, and has written about black holes and the world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking. Also a professional musician, Ferguson studied at the Julliard School and both conducted and performed before switching to science writing.

Journal of Chemical Education

f you are an atheist, you have to ask where the universe and the big bang come from. If you are a theist, you have to wonder where the creator, God, comes from. Science is helpless in answering the question of God’s existence and His role in the world, but its successes surely change the manner in which the questions are formulated. Stephen Hawking, distinguished for his contributions into the nature of black holes, has attempted, fruitlessly in my opinion, to formulate a way in which the universe creates itself. It’s the fire in the equations he has derived which makes in his mind the universe come into being. Kitty Ferguson, a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, professional musician and latter day science writer, has taken this as the title of her fascinating, accessible book on the interrelationship of science, philosophy and God. I don’t think there is a question that anyone has ever asked about God that isn’t addressed in this book.

If you enjoy Kitty Ferguson’s book, you will undoubtedly like Chet Raymo’s paean to pantheism,Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection between Science and Religion, and Charles P. Henderson’s brilliant defense of theism, God and Science: The Death and Rebirth of Theism.