John FEEHAN. The Singing Heart of the World: Creation, Evolution, and Faith. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2012. pp. 223. $26.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57057-984-0. Reviewed by Calvin MERCER, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858
It is almost always a pleasure to read a book about science and religion by a scientist who is theologically adept and spiritually sensitive. This book is a fine example of that.
The author is senior lecturer in environmental science at the School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, University College, Dublin. He has published numerous scientific works on Ireland’s environmental heritage.
Influenced by Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Lonergan, Feehan contends that science it not “scientific” enough, in that “it does not embrace the totality of experience, only those dimensions that can be measured and quantified.” (p. xiv)
Following a really excellent introductory chapter on the nature of science, his central contribution is the effective way he speaks about the natural world. Several central chapters, all with the title “The Architecture of Creation,” have subtitles “Cosmos,” Chemistry,” “Earth,” “Life,” and “Mind.”
Feehan wants our appreciation of nature and our theological reflection on it to be informed by deep and close attention to the details of our world. “The questioning that may result in an understanding of the mechanism whereby a particular part or aspect of reality works is only one facet of the human encounter with creation.” (p. 119) His appreciation of each of the “architectures” of creation is compelling. There is nothing new here; Feehan’s genius is in his exquisite description of each of these domains.
Understandably, he at times waxes poetic in his descriptions of the various domains of nature, e.g., the “mesmerizing complexity” of cells, being “dazzled” by life’s diversity. It is this direct—one could say “mystical”—experience of nature that yields the “information content of the universe of our experience.” (p. xiii)
The last chapters of the book reflect on the more explicitly theological insights gained from the sensory and mystical encounter with nature. He has sections on God as ground of being, virtue, telos, and community.
In his foreword, Feehan shares that he grew up close to nature, “born with the sound of a river in my ears, with meadows at my doorstep … Before I was ten I had fallen in love with birds and flowers.” (p. xiii)
This deep affinity with nature, refined though scientific rigor and theological reflection, shines through in this book with a revealing vibrancy that is well worth reading about.