Book review: Atoms & Eden

by Steve Paulson

★★★★★

If you really want to start an argument, ask a room full of physicists this question: Are the laws of physics fine-tuned to support life? This question and others are debated in Steve Paulson’s collection of interviews. In the great “religion vs. science” debate, this is a meet-the-players book, from renowned atheists Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to Roman Catholic John Haught to affirmed Muslim Nidhal Guessoum. En route, you’ll talk with Karen Armstrong, Daniel Dennett, Ken Wilber, Robert Wright, Elaine Pagels, Paul Davies, Steven Weinberg, and more … 20 interviews in all, and these are big names!

These are some of our greatest thinkers, and none are closed-minded. You won’t find anyone here who rejects the overwhelming evidence for evolution; Paulson purposefully excludes fringe theorists like “young earth” believers and intelligent design proponents, preferring to stay on the cutting edge of both science and religion. But what you will find here is an appreciation for today’s mysteries, like consciousness.

There’s another hot spot that’s sure to start an argument: the whole mind-body question. It’s very hard to figure out what’s going on when you throw together 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections, but is our mind (in religious terms our soul) hidden in there? Surprisingly, the majority of our greatest thinkers punt on the subject, sometimes suggesting consciousness is a topic we’ll never understand. As Dawkins says, “consciousness is … a very, very big problem.”

I found the book fascinating and, of course, highly intelligent; the best of its kind I’ve read. This is not a book about accepting or rejecting a particular caricature of God, such as the Judeo-Christian God. It is about the big questions: Can consciousness survive after death? (atheist Sam Harris: “I just don’t know.”) Is human existence a lucky evolutionary accident? Does the universe have a purpose? Is faith evil or necessary?

Buy this one.

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