Fine Structure

Adam Frank and The Constant Fire

If you're looking for Adam Frank's blog about his book, The Constant Fire, you can follow this link.

I usually take a neutral stance on the normally vigorous Science vs. Religion debates simply because I don't see much purpose in fighting against someone who can never be convinced to look critically at their own views. I try to keep a fairly open mind, at least considering to listen to anyone with an argument who can keep from turning things into a screaming match. All the same, I read through Adam Frank's new book: The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate.

I'm a sucker for historical details on why things are the way they are today and Adam provides that in spades. The Constant Fire is a history book above all else (and not in a bad, boring sort of way) which really does lend some interesting light on the origins of Science vs. Religion. I mean, it's fairly common knowledge that a lot of pre-enlightenment scientists like Copernicus, Galileo and Newton held some form of religion and even struggled with what the results of their findings meant for their beliefs. Adam delves into more examples of these types of scientists than you could ever want, making assholes out of some and truly troubled souls out of others.

The book delivered everything I expected before the end of part one. Adam had covered the historical schism between science and religion from it's roots right up to the modern day. But there's more detail that Adam wanted to get to (this is the "Beyond" part, I think) which is covered in part II. Here he covers the commonality of all religion, the sacred, and not just in modern day religion but over all of human history. In not these exact words, Adam essentially ties all these ideas about what religions consider sacred in with what means most in science, in some sort of spanning-time-and-space group hug. It's not necessarily touchy-feely but I don't think his arguments will convince anyone to abandon any hatred they might have for "the other side" (either science or religion). It's a very rational argument and, as we all know, passion hates rationality.

Here's where it gets weird. The third part has Adam on a climate change explanation and rationalization, tying it back to the story loosely by common flood mythology. It's actually a very succinct account of how humans started learning about climate change and why those fractions of a degree of warming on average make for a big deal down the road. I just don't think it really belongs here. Anyway, it does all return to its stated purpose at the end, especially the epilogue, and is thusly concluded.

While not incredibly mind-altering, it was very informative. Adam manages to pack a lot of interesting history and information into a friendly, non-aggressive style which scientists will surely enjoy and followers of religion might not mind either. It's a moderate viewpoint, which means it's clearly not going to be as inflammatory (or popular) as if, say, Dawkins put out a book with the same title, but then again, most of us are moderates anyway. Maybe this is just the book for the rest of us.

This book review was solicited by the publisher, University of California Press, and the book was comped. See the book review policy for more information. This book is available for one lucky reader who would like to read it themselves.


For me - being a freedom-loving person - I get very disturbed by those religious fanatics. I guess I should read this book to gain a calmer mindset about them.
The problem with religions is that they tend to degenerate into a rigid set of rules that have little to do with true spirituality in my opinion.

December 30, 2008
4:22 AM

From Kai

I agree with your assessment of the climate change stuff. It seemed really out of place. Otherwise there was a lot of interesting stuff.

January 12, 2009
4:25 PM

From Jess Evans