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The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion.

THE BEGINNING OF ALL THINGS: Science and Religion by Hans Kung. Translated by John Bowden. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007. 234 pages, footnotes, index. Hardcover; $22.00. ISBN: 9780802807632.

Hans Kung is president of the Global Ethic Foundation (Germany, Switzerland), having retired in 1996 as professor of ecumenical theology and director of the Institute for Ecumenical Research at the University of Tubingen. He is the author of more than fifty books, including his most well-known work, On Being a Christian. This book was written in German, and while the translation is excellent, the references are mostly in German and other European languages making them largely inaccessible to the North American reader. As I am learning, books on science and religion published by Eerdmans are quite technical and challenging. This book is no exception. The first two chapters alone covered 13.7 billion years of history, including the history of cosmology, physics, and mathematics up to the present. The five chapter titles are (1) A Unified Theory of Everything? (2) God as Beginning? (3) Creation of the World or Evolution? (4) Life in the Cosmos, and (5) The Beginning of Humankind.

Kung claims to believe in the common faith of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but few of his positions would resonate with sincere believers of any of those faiths. The closest he comes to recognizing God as a personal God is that "he can be addressed." Passing reference is made to his trust in the "crucified Christ," but he clearly sees all religions as many paths to a common end. While he argues that faith is the only hope-filled alternative to reductionistic materialism, the terms and meaning of this faith are vague and almost meaningless to evangelical Christians. The theological reflection is limited to vague universalistic concepts, with virtually no reference to the Bible. Consideration for evangelical Christian faith is largely limited to a consistent critique of American fundamentalism and literalistic readings of Scripture. This book is not particularly novel, but the breadth and lucidity makes it a worthwhile book to have on hand as a clear presentation of an ecumenical position. The book takes a historical critical view and assumes the JEDP hypothesis as a given.

Having said that, Kung challenges both fundamentalist believers and rationalistic scientists, both of whom are guilty of holding to a confrontational approach to theology and science, which he considers out-of-date. This book moves through paleontology, human origins, psychology, and brain science. Kung writes:
 If god exists, then there is a fundamental answer
 to such questions: we can understand in depth why
 we are very finite, defective beings and yet have
 infinite expectations, hopes, and longings.

So, he holds to a theistic position even in the face of challenging scientific concepts and data. From this perspective, this book makes for persuasive reading. For example, criticizing biochemical reductionism, Kung denies that the mental is merely an epiphenomenon of the neural, or that our mental choices lack freedom because their biochemical or neural processes demand a given outcome. His arguments leave open the window of faith, even though the faith argued for lacks content. Regardless, these arguments toward the end of the book are powerful, and would carry weight with secular readers who do not have a theistic worldview. His style is winsome and his attitude humble. This book is very readable and addresses many disciplines and schools of thought. It could serve as an upper level college-level course in science and faith. Students would need to understand his premise, but it would lead them to references and paths of discussion that many simplistic faith and science discussions would not.

Reviewed by Mark A. Strand, Shanxi Evergreen Service, Yuci, Shanxi, China, 030600.
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Author:Strand, Mark A.
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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