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The Constant Fire

The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate

Adam Frank
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Constant Fire
    Book Description:

    Eloquent, urgent, and inspiring,The Constant Firetackles the acrimonious debate between science and religion, taking us beyond its stagnant parameters into the wider domain of human spiritual experience. From a Neolithic archaeological site in Ireland to modern theories of star formation, Adam Frank traverses a wide terrain, broadening our sights and allowing us to imagine an alternative perspective. Drawing from his experience as a practicing astrophysicist and from the writings of the great scholars of religion, philosophy, and mythology, Frank locates the connective tissue linking science and religion-their commonality as sacred pursuits-and finds their shared aspiration in pursuit of "the True and the Real." Taking us from the burning of Giordano Bruno in 1600 to Einstein and on to today's pressing issues of global warming and resource depletion,The Constant Fireshows us how to move beyond this stale debate into a more profound experience of the world as sacred-a world that embraces science without renouncing human spirituality.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94203-5
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PROLOGUE: House of the Rising Sun
    (pp. 1-16)

    Newgrange, Ireland.The entrance was barely wide enough for a grown man to pass through. Unlike the bright Irish summer day behind us, the path ahead was dark, cool, and damp. The ceiling hung low, and the walls pressed in close. We threaded single file down a narrow passageway. The stone walls around us had been set in place a full half millennium before the pyramids were finished. The passageway opened into a low circular chamber set into the stone. As my Irish astronomer colleagues and I circled the chamber to make room for our guide, the silence of five...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Roots of Conflict: Science and Religion before Divorce
      (pp. 19-34)

      It is winter in Rome. The new year and the new century, 1600, are little more than a month old. In the Campo di Fiori, a popular square near the heart of the city, a crowd gathers, anxiously awaiting the spectacle of an execution. Today Giordano Bruno, philosopher, astronomer, and former Dominican monk, will be burned at the stake. People stand tiptoe and crane their necks to get a good view. The doomed prisoner is led out. His crime is heresy. Across a lifetime of writing and teaching in many of Europe’s greatest cities, Bruno has made many enemies. The...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Conflict We Know: Religion, Science, and the Modern World
      (pp. 35-56)

      Anthony Tucci was a hard guy. That meant he came from the Silver Lake region of Belleville, the town in northern New Jersey where I grew up. In Belleville you learned to stay away from Silver Lake boys unless you wanted trouble. I wasn’t looking for trouble, but my early scientific convictions put me on a collision course with Tucci’s surprisingly strong religious beliefs. Tucci and I were in eleventh-grade study hall together, and in the absence of studying we would often fall into arguments about science and religion. In spite of his tough reputation (he and his friends had...

    • CHAPTER 3 Science and the Sacred: Telescopes, Microscopes, and Hierophanies
      (pp. 57-89)

      It’s the fourth day of a weeklong conference on star formation. More than one hundred fifty astronomers from around the world are packed into a lecture hall on the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Outside the day is blinding in its perfection. If you face west you can see the Pacific Ocean. Face east, and you stare into a redwood forest. The sunlight is sharp in the cloudless sky. It would all be wonderful if any of us actually went outside to admire it.

      While the day is warm and bright and graced with a mild pacific...

    • CHAPTER 4 Not the God You Pray To: The Varieties of Scientists’ Religious Experience
      (pp. 90-106)

      Being a genius did not help. Wolfgang Pauli was tired and cold. He had wandered the winter streets of Zurich all night. It was January 1932, and the young physicist had reached bottom. To the world outside he was still a star, a vibrant, newly minted professor of theoretical physics at the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. At just thirty-two years old he had proven himself a mathematical physicist of extraordinary depth even among the giants of his age—Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg. His demand for accuracy and clear reasoning earned him the nickname “the conscience of physics” from...

    • CHAPTER 5 Science, Myth, and Sacred Narratives: The Universe as Story
      (pp. 107-138)

      The third-graders sit in a constantly shifting half circle. In spite of their teacher’s protests, they squirm and bounce, blurting out astronomy facts and non sequiturs. The kid with the blue shirt and runny nose knows the speed of light to three significant digits. The girl with the checkered pants has a hamster named Biz who got steamed to death over a heat vent last night.

      It’s ten in the morning at the Rush Elementary School, twenty miles outside of Rochester, and I’m hoping we’re all having fun. I’m here attending a question-and-answer session with students who just Wnished the...


    • CHAPTER 6 The Origin of Everything: Big Bangs, the Multiverse, and the Parade of Ants
      (pp. 141-168)

      Indra was king of the gods. Brave, noble, possessed of a compassionate heart, he looked after the domains of both the divine and human worlds with the steady hand of a wise father. When a great dragon broke free of its prison and left the realm of men and gods in devastation, Indra stood alone as the world’s last, best hope. The dragon had swallowed the waters of heaven and lay immovable at the top of a mountain. Indra called to the dragon to release the waters, but the beast refused. The battle that followed was terrible, shaking the cosmos...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Deluge This Time: Climate Change and Flood Myths
      (pp. 169-196)

      It began as a labor dispute of cosmic proportions. For eons the mighty high gods of Babylon had forced the lesser deities into service. Anu was the god of heaven, Enhil the god of the Earth, and Enki the god of the freshwater oceans. Each ruled his domain as an absolute lord with power over the lower gods. Enhil was a builder. He had grand plans for the Earth: vast cities and farmlands. For thousands of years he had pressed the lower gods into labor, endlessly building lifelines on the land, digging canals, and dredging the Tigris and the Euphrates...


    • CHAPTER 8 Music of the Spheres: Truth, Myth, and Science
      (pp. 199-227)

      The work had been interminable, exhausting, and fruitless. After months of failed attempts to extract the chemical structure of benzene, the German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé was spent. He had wasted another evening, and there was no good to come from it. There was nothing else to do now but let it go. He turned his chair to the fire and in the silence of his study drifted asleep. Then the dream came. Kekulé’s quest was the mid-nineteenth century’s holy grail of chemistry.¹ Benzene is a hydrocarbon, a set of hydrogen and carbon atoms bonded together into a single molecule....

    • CHAPTER 9 A Need Born of Fire: Mythos, Ethos, and Humanity’s Most Dangerous Century
      (pp. 228-254)

      Robert Goddard was condemned to see futures that eluded everyone else. He was a born dreamer, but he had the intellect and resolve to patiently work his vision into physical form. It was on the weight of Goddard’s shoulders that the great mythic narrative of the twentieth century would be forged. What Goddard dreamed was spaceflight. From the wellspring of his imagination humanity would find the ancient story of the hero’s journey transformed into a common endeavor played against the boundless frontier of the stars. But his own journey would be marred by ridicule and neglect.¹

      Goddard’s aspiration to spaceflight...

  8. Epilogue: Fire in the Open Mind
    (pp. 255-268)

    Scene I: “Oh, no. I’m in trouble now.” The guy standing up looks pretty angry. I brace myself.

    I just finished a talk titled “The Constant Fire” at a local university. It was the first time I presented my thinking on science and religion before a scientific audience. Actually, it was the first time I admitted that I think about this kind of thing at all. I’m still feeling pretty nervous. I don’t know what to expect exactly, but I have an intuition that some hostility may be involved. Turns out I have good intuition.

    It seemed like the talk,...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 269-282)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 283-288)