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Science & Soul

UNSW Press, Sydney
RRP $34.95

Professor Charles Birch is a hero from my youth, for in 1963 he spoke at a Mission to the University of Adelaide. By the fifth of his five lectures there was no venue large enough to hold the crowd so he spoke in the open air.

That week he taught many of us to think about our faith.

In this book Birch (in his 90th year) introduces us to the colleagues who influenced his thought and spells out his convictions.

He writes about Niebuhr, Tillich and other theologians he knew and also about the philosophy that drove some of the great scientists he worked with.

These reflections lead on to a discussion of his personal philosophy, much influenced by Whitehead and the ‘Process’ philosophers.

Attempting a reconciliation of science and religion and working through the mind/matter problem he confronts Bertrand Russell’s question ‘is life matter-like or is matter life-like’ and argues for the latter.

This leads on to consideration of panentheism (God in all things), a non-theistic approach to thinking about God that I find helpful.

The book is eminently readable and tells the story of the spiritual growth of one of Australia’s great intellects.

While I think that current knowledge of psychology, evolution and neurobiology makes the mind/matter debate unnecessary this difference of opinion invalidates neither Birch’s personal testimony nor the rest of the work.

I thoroughly recommend this profound book to those trying to relate science and the indwelling God, and to those interested in the faith story of an outstanding scientist and a great Christian intellectual.

Reviewed by Dr Roderick W Rogers