REVIEWS of Beauty in Science and Spirit
(1) by Jerome A. Stone
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy---William
Rainey Harper College
Delightful, stimulating to thought and feeling, full of insights and spiritual depth. This book shows how science and spirituality are mutually enhancing, how science reveals beauty and helps us understand beautiful forms. It takes us on a journey to butterflies, nebulae, cathedrals, fractal geometry, mandalas, Haydn and Michaelangelo, stopping for conversations with Emerson, Thoreau, Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Tillich and Brian Swimme, among others. Paul Carr is a physicist with over eighty published papers in refereed scientific journals, ten patents, prizes for nature photography, active in the Thoreau and Tillich societies, and winner of three Templeton awards for his work in bridging religion and science. There are magnificent color and black and white photos and a helpful bibliography.
(2) By V. V. Raman
Retired Professor of Physics and Humanities.
Rochester Institute of Technology,
Published in "Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith," vol. 59, no. 2, pg 152 (June 2007).
In this age of conversation and conflict between science and religion, between reason and faith, it is seldom that we hear about the aesthetic dimensions of life and thought. And yet, ultimately, as Keats reminded us, "Truth is beauty and beauty truth." Beauty, whether visual or conceptual, touches us deeply and moves us to elevated levels of experience. There is much in the world around us to admire, appreciate, and marvel for their sheer symmetry and grandeur, from colorful flowers and patterned butterflies that nature has wrought to magnificent cathedrals and meaningful mandalas that Man’s spiritual yearnings have created. Those who have tasted science and are sensitive to humanity’s religious heritage will see in all this an unfathomable mystery that no amount of rational analysis can deconstruct.
In this delightful little volume Paul Carr has brought together for the reader a variety of examples of such beauty. With photographs and reflections he gives us a guided glimpse of so much of aesthetic value in the world, reminding us that there is much to be grateful for in life, beyond palatal pleasures and creature comforts. The work is clearly the result of considerable reading and reflection as revealed in the numerous quotes and extensive bibliography that are part of the book. Any reader is bound to be enriched by its pages and pictures.
(3) By Stephen Horowitz, Ph. D.,
published in the April 2007 issue "The
Pepper Tree: A Literary Magazine,"
Beauty is described in many ways, with each culture providing its own definitions in art, music, and literature. Beauty can be found in a variety of utilitarian objects, such as a washing machine or telephone, and is the result of a melding between technology and design. The author believes that a sense of beauty is important in science, religion, and spirituality, without which a part of humanity is missing. Dr. Carr’s spiritual stories answer the "why" of beauty and give guidance and motivation for living now and in eternity. Scientific theories explain the "how" of beauty and give an objective account of measurements and making predictions. Dr. Carr strives to make the reader look beyond the surface of common objects to see a sense of beauty in all things. His book is filled with provocative material to help enhance our reflections on beauty.
The author describes beauty as a fine balance between order (boring) and chaos (total randomness) that is found in nature, mathematics, and music. An analogy of this balance is the integration of the right and left sides of our brain (i.e., the right side is more holistic/subjective, and the left side is more logical/objective).
Objective beauty is relatively easy to measure, such as the rise in hormonal levels when a man sees a "beautiful" woman. Mystical beauty, while more subjective, is something that we feel (i.e., beauty is in the eye of the beholder). An example of this balance between subjective and objective beauty is the vibrant colors of a flower and the functional beauty that attracts insects for pollination and reproduction.
Throughout the book, Dr. Carr provides the reader with many examples of beauty found in the mystic, scientific, and subjective experiences in our lives, and goes into depth explaining how beauty and functionality can coexist despite their differences. This interplay between order and chaos, and science and spirit are found in nature, characterized in fractals and evolution.
There are many things I like about this book. Dr. Carr suggests that beauty is harmonious and balanced, and I believe that he accomplished this harmony and balance in his book with the inclusion of mind-provoking quotes, beautiful photographic plates, helpful figures, narrative, and poetry. The reader should be aware that Beauty in Science and Spirit, while an interesting book, is not meant for easy reading. However, it is definitely worth the time and effort it takes to fully appreciate the concepts and ideas described within it. The book is 171 pages and includes references, two appendices, sixteen color plates, and forty-two figures.
(4) By KEVIN SHALVEY
published with a photo in
"The Bedford Bulletin,"
(5) By Hannah Onoroski
published with a photo in
(6) Dave Brooks, in The
N.H. man’s book explores science’s fit with art, religion
physicist Paul Carr, of
"Beauty in Science and Spirit" Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM
Which is more beautiful: The spiral shell of
a nautilus plucked from the sea, or the infinite continued fraction 1 + 1/(1 +
1/(1 + 1/(1 + . . . ?
The answer, of course, is both are equally beautiful, because at a deep level they are the same: The equation leads to the Golden Ratio exemplified by the seashell.
This may be true, but with such an explanation, most people wouldn't say "of course" at all.
And they are part of the target audience for the small-press book, "Beauty in Science and Spirit," by Paul Carr of
"To take a complex idea and distill it into something comprehensive – to me there's an element of beauty there," said Carr in a recent interview.
That's a point of view I'll embrace whole-heartedly. Number-hating poets of the world think that to analyze something is to ruin it, but I've never understood why. I'm just as dazzled by that nautilus shell as any math-o-phobe, and so is Carr.
Carr, 72, is a retired physicist (he received physics degrees from MIT and a Ph.D. from
But his goal is not only to point out that the scientific pursuit can produce beauty as well as the artistic pursuit does. He's also interested in helping bridge the modern antagonism between religion and science.
The son of a minister in northern
"I hope to grab onto the people who doubt
Carr has no sympathy for people who read the Bible literally – "the cosmology is way out of date" – and writes a whole chapter pointing out the conceptual flaws behind intelligent design.
But he also has no sympathy for the other extreme, epitomized by biologist Richard Dawkins, whose book "The God Delusion" says religion is a cancer on humanity, and anybody who's not an atheist is a deluded fool.
"When my wife died (in 1986), leaving me with five daughters, science didn't have any answers for me. I was very thankful for my religious grounding," Carr said.
He pointed to the eighth chapter of Romans,
which attests that "neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord," as providing a comfort
that was real, even though it can't be measured.
Providing an intellectual and philosophical underpinning for this duality – this complementary beauty – is the main point of "Beauty in Science and Spirit"
"Spirituality, the independent source of the world's religions and wisdom, provides the 'why' which beautifully complements the 'how' of science," he writes in the book. "The complementary beauty of science and spirituality offers a better alternative to atheistic materialism than (does) intelligent design."
As for beauty, he thinks it could be considered the overlap of spirituality and science, of the things we can analyze with our minds and the things we can feel with our . . . well, whatever it is we feel with. That would help explain why beauty is a universal concept with such deep-seated appeal.
"My hope is that the mystical beauty of ancient stories can nurture the mathematical beauty of a new story," he writes. He thinks a new sort of creation story is possible, providing both the deep satisfaction that comes from the tales that underlie the world's theologies, as well as the accurate detail of modern science.
Carr doesn't think he has created such a New Story himself – nor, alas, am I certain such disparate points of view can be melded – but he thinks it's possible.
Can humanity reconcile two of its deepest drives: the drive to understand the things we see, and to understand the things we feel? If so, that would be beautiful indeed.
Science from the Sidelines appears Wednesdays in The Telegraph. David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(7) By Alejandro Garcia-Rivera Professor of Systematic Theology Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
Published in ZYGON: Journal of Religion & Science, vol 44. pg 1005 – 1006, December 2009.
It is refreshing to see in the vast literature that constitutes the science-and-religion
dialogue a work about beauty. It has puzzled me why one characteristic of the
universe—it is beautiful—and one of the divine names of God—Beauty—have
played such a small role in the science-and-religion dialogue. If ever a term could
be an interconnecting nexus between the two, Beauty would be that term. Yet,
even if mentioned, Beauty has scarcely been used as a serious perspective to
understand both the bridges and the chasms between science and religion. Therefore,
it was with great delight that I received a copy of Paul Carr’s Beauty in Science
Carr, a retired physicist who led an AF research laboratory for many years,
takes a sustained look at the role Beauty plays between science and spirituality.
His thesis, I believe, is expressed in these remarks: “Spirituality, the independent
source of the world’s religious traditions and wisdom, provides the ‘why,’ which
beautifully complements the ‘how’ of science. Science, unraveling the intricacy of
nature, and spirituality, revealing its ultimate purpose and meaning, have complementary
beauty” (p.37). The complementary beauty of science and spirit lead to
a “New Story” of cosmic import, a story that “transcends national and cultural
differences” (p. 37). Carr attempts to tease out this thesis by demonstrating how
the “mystical beauty” of spirituality nurtures and helps the “mathematical beauty”
of science to emerge. He does this by reflections on art, intelligent design, the
Music of the Spheres, the Big Bang, evolution, fractals, the
and the environment. These reflections lead to a proposal for a new paradigm
between science and spirituality.
a cue from Paul Tillich’s famous work The
Courage to Be (
Press, 1952), Carr proposes the courage to create Beauty as a way for science and
spirituality to find common ground. As he puts it, “scientific insight and spiritual
revelation are both creative. Nevertheless, creativity can lead to tension with
established paradigms and conflict with organized religion. . . . Conflict met with
courage blazes a path for the creativity of others. Conflict met with courage results
in dialogue between science and spirituality” (pp. 124–25). And when science
and spirituality enter into dialogue, “the integration of science and spirituality is
giving birth to a beautiful New Story . . . that transcends national and cultural
differences” (p. 125).
What is this New Story? It is a story of mathematical beauty nurtured by the
mystical beauty of ancient stories of spiritual beauty. It is a story in which theology
and technology can interact with beauty and power. It is a story “of increasing
complexity, specialization, and beauty emerging from simple beginnings. It is a
story of increasingly interdependent communities and ultimately humans, who
are conscious of beauty, have a moral conscience, and are creative” (p. 131).
Carr’s thesis and proposal is admirably sustained and focused in his book.
Each chapter reinforces his thesis and works toward his proposal of a New Story.
Does he succeed? This is difficult to answer. As one would expect, Carr is stronger
in the science and less adept with the theological and philosophical implications
of his proposal. Beauty is one of the most subtle of philosophical and theological
subjects. For example, Carr speaks of several beauties—spiritual, mystical, mathematical,
scientific, subjective, and objective—yet never gives a precise account of
his distinctions. To say that “tons of makeup, 1,484 tubes of lipstick, and 2,055
jars of skin care products” are measurable indices of the yearning “for the essential
beauty of the human body symbolized by such sculptures as Venus de Milo and
Michelangelo’s David” (p.7) seems rather reductionistic of both beauty per se and
the beauty of David. More subtle yet is the nature of scientific beauty. Does Carr
mean that scientific beauty is the beauty of its theories or the beauty of nature
herself? Is scientific theory beautiful in itself or is it beautiful because it reflects
the beauty of nature? These distinctions are not addressed.
Theologically, Carr seems to base much of his thesis on the theology of Tillich,
whose definition of religion as that of ultimate concern informs Carr’s understanding
of spirituality. In doing so, Carr seems to use religion and spirituality
synonymously, which breeds confusion, at least to Roman Catholics who have a
different understanding of spirituality. He tends to treat theological proposals
cavalierly such as in his critique of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Chardin’s Omega
point, he tells us, violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Yet Carr’s New
Story sounds a lot like Chardin’s law of complexification and interiority. Does not
the New Story also violate the Second Law? Also, the claim that Chardin’s system
is an example of the Protestant principle seems a bit amateurish.
Nonetheless, there is something of great value in Carr’s thesis: a sure instinct
that takes him to the heart of the relationship between science and theology, namely
Beauty. In this, I find him insightful. I am convinced by him that Beauty is the
key to understand how religion and science relate. That Carr had the courage to
enter into this thesis given the tremendous complexity of the task shows an author
who practices what he preaches: the courage to create Beauty.
Professor of Systematic Theology