I was initially reluctant to take on this book because I didn’t want to get embroiled in the debate. But having read it, I’m glad I did. The book is informative and thought provoking.
The author, Dr. Ron Frost, is a professor of geology at the University of Wyoming and a practicing Buddhist.
The book is divided into three parts. Frost begins with the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each of the men feels a portion of the elephant and each comes away with a different version of reality. This sets the tenor of the book.
Part 1 is a statement of the problem. Frost gives a brief history on the philosophies of science and religion and how they came to diverge. Frost starts with the geocentric view of natural science expounded by Aristotle and Ptolemy and codified into Catholic dogma by Thomas Aquinas. This was disrupted by the heliocentric observations of Nicholas Copernicus: the sun, not the earth was the center of the solar system. This work was expanded by Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei and created a rift between observation and religion.
Part 2, How we got here, is an excellent summary of the evolution of the universe and of life. Just these two sections make the book worth reading.
The heavy lifting comes in Part 3: Metaphysical Implications. Here, Frost examines the nature of consciousness. Is consciousness merely a result of electrical signals in the brain or is consciousness transcendental and something accessed by the brain? In Nature, as living beings and environments change, new life niches are opened. Does self-consciousness open a new niche for us?
Throughout the book Frost deconstructs Creation Science and Intelligent Design. He also takes issue with the purely materialistic view of atheists. In the last chapter, The future of the debate, Frost says that religious fundamentalists will have to give up their thrall to the literal interpretation of their sacred texts. (I know from other reading that Buddhists are not bound by texts, even their own: precepts change with new evidence.) Likewise, Frost says that atheists and pure materialists have to realize that they don’t know it all.
In the last chapter Frost recounts the problem presented by quantum physics on the nature of light. Light behaves as both particles and waves depending on how you observe it. To me, that is analogous to the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Reality depends on how you look at it and perhaps we don’t yet know its true nature.