Just finished God's Universe, a short book by Owen Gingerich, a noted Harvard astronomer. The book reprints the author's three lectures at the William Belden Noble Lectures, an annual event at which a noted scientist or public intellectual addresses Christian issues of the day. The book is much like the recent Francis Collins book The Language of God, except that it is much shorter and it is written by an astronomer rather than a biologist.
Like many other believing scientists, Gingerich tries to explain how he, as a scientist, can nevertheless believe in God, while at the same time making it clear he does not endorse the Intelligent Design movement. You may wonder whether there is any middle ground between the two perspectives or how someone can have a foot in both camps. Here is a paragraph in which Gingerich explains his own personal position:
Science works within a constrained framework in creating its brilliant picture of nature. But reality goes much deeper than this. Scientists work with physics, but (perhaps unwittingly) they also have a broader system of beliefs, metaphysics, a term that literally means "beyond physics." The lectures that follow present a scientific tapestry of the physical world, but they also wrestle with the metaphysical framework within which the universe can be understood. They argue that the universe has been created with intention and purpose, and that this belief does not interfere with the scientific enterprise. But I further contend that the current political movement popularly known as Intelligent Design is misguided when presented as an alternative to the naturalistic explanations offered by science, which do not explicitly require the hand of God. This does not mean that the universe is actually godless, just that science within its own framework has no other way of working.
I won't undertake a long discussion or summary of the book (which you can read yourself in about 90 minutes), but since I left little sticky tabs at a few choice quotes, let me share them with you.
To me, belief in a final cause, a Creator-God, gives a coherent understanding of why the universe seems so congenially designed for the existence of intelligent, self-reflective life. ... Somehow, in the words of Freeman Dyson, this is a universe that knew we were coming.
Thus, much as I might believe that the universe is best understood in terms of intelligent design, I don't think that would get a spacecraft to Mars or explain how the laser in the grocery store checkout line works. As a scientist I accept methodological naturalism as a research strategy.
"God created man in his own image, male and female created he them." What are these God-given attributes? I would suggest creativity, conscience, and consciousness, that is, self-consciousness, all essential human qualities. And the story of the tree of knowledge of good and evil surely describes the quintessential step toward becoming human, the origin of conscience: it was the fall into freedom, acquisition of the ability to make wrong choices and the self-consciousness to recognize wrong choices.
On contingency and the problem of pain:
This limited world is part of reality. Ours is a world of love and ecstatic joy, but also a world of suffering and excruciating pain. It is not a world of all or none, but a dappled world, where chance and randomness join with choice and inexorable law. Why creation is this way is perhaps the most unanswerable question of all.
Quoting Darwin, at the end of On the Origin of Species:
There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.
Endless forms most beautiful, indeed.