Each of the books listed below has a specific claim on our attention -- each is excellent; each truly invites an understanding of the natural world; each is well-written. Many authors are Catholic; not all. Each author invites us into the purity specific to science -- the search for truth in the realm of the physical world.
Entries with an asterisk actually cross many disciplines, but start out in the given field.
1. The Universe in 40 Jumps by Kees Boeke. This little volume portrays the universe as seen in size jumps of 10x. It is out of print as a separate book, but can be found online, and also in a the great Books for children titled
2. *A more modern and less childlike version was done by Scientific American under the title Powers of Ten.
3. ** Because children need to understand size (or magnitude) and the size of man in the universe, Ye Hedge School offers a science course called The Universe in My Hands which introduces the magnitudes and helps the student begin a magnitudes notebook for his further investigations.
4. *For the lowest orders of magnitude, I have enjoyed reading The Search for Infinity, by Gordon Fraser, Egil Lillestol, and Inge Sellevag, a discussion of the very small and the very large. This I received as a birthday gift, and I don't know what else is available to introduce so many of these matters to the non-specialist. It is well illustrated and has a certain amount of biography and history, but is centered on introducing the strange world of numerous sub-atomic particles and large world of quasars and the other very large, very powerful, and very distant objects in the universe.
1. First on my own list would be the article on the history of physics from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia online. The reason for this choice is that the author, Pierre Duhem was one of the towering thinkers of the early 20th century, and himself wrote a ten-volume work, Systeme du Monde, in which he composed a unified presentation of the physics up to that time. His work was original, moreover, in that he found certain neglected men at the foundation of physics, -- religious thinkers, in fact -- the record of whose thoughts proves the intimacy between all forms of human thought. Duhem was uniquely able to comprehend the power of their intuitions (Do you hear that? Scientists with intuitions!) in the shaping of modern physics. He had a profound understanding of physics. But above all, this article is important, and unique, because it is actually a history of the development of scientific ideas, not history of scientists-and-their-ideas, good-or-bad.
2. Thinking Physics by Lewis Carroll Epstein is a collection of what one might call physics puzzlers, with answers and explanations in the back. It is a small-dose way of training one's intuition to recognize how the physical world works.
Chemistry -- and Bio-chem
1. The Periodic Kingdom by Peter Atkins is a presentation of the periodic table which is quite sober and yet has the whimsy of viewing the table as if it were a geography -- stormy and dangerous here, dull and deserted there. It is a wonderful imaginary visual. Not for the totally ignorant, but as soon actually study the periodic table, very helpful, very insightful. The more you know, the more you will appreciate it.
1a. Molecules by the same P. W. Atkins introduces 160 molecules, some small and familiar, some large and exotic, familiar by their activity, but not by name. This is slight more than a casual read, but you don't need to be a chemist. It's lots of fun, very interesting, and will change the way you see things.
2. Darwin's Black Box is by a good Catholic, Michael Behe, who is part of the Intelligent Design movement, but not committed to young-earth creationism, like most of them. It's an immortal discussion of the cell, with a truly elegant definition of intelligent design. (page 39) Much of the text involved Behe's specialization, bio-chemistry, but this good author has cleverly put all the professional chemistry in brackets so the rest of us can just read the narrative. One of the seminal works on the topic of design. This book is the subject of hot controversy, some claiming that he has overstepped his field of expertise. I think this assessment is too quick and too partisan. Behe has clearly shown the great delicacy of the bio-chemical world, and, without calling natural events miracles, has given a sharp challenge to the idea that it's all a thoughtless accident.
3. Genome by Matt Ridley is an exploration of the cutting edge -- the human genome. He is not Catholic, and occaional forays into the matter of evolution may be annoying, but the work is just fascinating, and if you want to be in on the conversation about the genome, this is a very striking and accessible work.
1. Fabre's careful and delighted observations on The Insect World are presently accepted in classical circles, and are now available both online http://www.e-fabre.net/ and in an illustrated edition. Do not miss "The Great Peacock" from The Life of the Caterpillar.
2. Somewhere between biology and geology lies the mysterious realm of Paleontology, and Basic Questions in Paleontology by Ottto Schindewolf is a wonderful old volume full of surprises. (John Davison -- see below -- told me about it.) Although it was actually composed in the 30's by a German Darwinian, it challenges Darwinism in amazing ways that are not even under discussion. Remember that Darwinism has many meanings -- Schindewulf considered himself a Darwinian because he thought the world was old, and biological entities had appeared in a sequence. But his thoughtful work argues for law and order in that sequence, and not for random slopping about. Every page is a surprise, even if you don't read the chapters in sequence -- as I did not.
3. When I taught botany, I found Botany in a Day the most useful text and reference. It isn't exactly a narrative, but it is very well done. I know of no narrative for this topic.
4. I have forgotten the author of Patterns in Nature, but this book and
5. D'Arcy Thompson's On Growth and Form and
6. Theodore Andrea Cook's The Curves of Life are certainly classics, and
7. **These three have an entirely worthy and well-done modern sequel and development in The Self-Made Tapestry, by Philip Ball. This is a beautifully illustrated essay on eight types of natural pattern and the kinds of interaction that produce each one at many different orders of magnitude.
8. The Concentration Can is about Jerome LeJeune's work on the earliest stages of life. In fact, it is about a legal case, but this great Catholic is an important name in the whole discussion.
9. Everything by neurosurgeon Oliver Sacks is well worth reading as we reflect on the relationship between mind and body. A Leg to Stand On is his extremely engaging account of his own severe fall and recovery from an injury in his own surgical specialty. He is Jewish, with thoughts that are truth seeking and essentially friendly to philosophy and faith.
8. John Davison's essay "An Evolutionary Manifesto" is available online. It is a devastating critique of Darwinism -- exposing its major flaw, proposing a solution, and being rejected by the Darwinists -- for opposing Accident as the agent of Progress. Davison is a retired Professor of Zoology who (for other reasons) has since joined the Catholic Church.
1. Field Guide to Geology by David Lambert and the Diagram Group. I don't know enough geology to know what book is best, but for its diagrams alone, this little volume is incomparable for a beginner.
2. Annals of the Former World by John McPhee is a presentation of world geology from the perspective of a journey across the US on highway 80. McPhee is a real writer, and his presentation is engaging and fascinating. It would help to have some sort of reference nearby -- such as the Lambert book -- as well as a good dictionary.
3. Noah's Flood by Ryan and Pitman. The Black Sea Flood is interesting in itself; the reasons for thinking this is Noah's Flood are fascinating and persuasive. Geology, history, archeology, hydrodynamics -- not a child's book, but any good high school science student can handle this and learn many wonderful things
4. Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee is a discussion of the many tight requirements for life on earth, suggesting that life -- at least intelligent life -- cannot be commonplace in the universe as Carl Sagan and his many followers have so glibly claimed. Again, not kiddie lit, but within the general grasp of an interested high school student.
5. Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl will introduce your child to the ocean and to Easter Island.
6. By the same author, The Maldive Mystery introduces another part of the world in its nautical and paleontological context.
7. Glenn Morton's discussion of the Willison Basin is essential reading for the geological issues of creationism. It is available online, and Ye Hedge School has a simplified version available entitled A Doorway of Amethyst - Beginning Geology.
8. The Skeptical Environmentalist is a compendium of useful information for those who would like to be responsible about the earth and its resources but suspect that they are not getting honest information about what this really means. By Bjorn Lomborg, a formerly unskeptical environmentalist.
1. Light and Color in the Open Air, by Minnaert is a classic exploration of all the light displays in the sky. Published by Dover since 1954, it is unbeatable for the topic, although, being old, it is not illustrated in color.
2. Clouds by John Day is a portfolio of clouds by the international photographic expert on clouds.
3. It is a great misfortune that Eric Sloan's many admirers have not seen fit to keep his book about weather in print because its explanations are the best. How to Know the Predict the Weather should be revived.
4. Alan Watts' books, such as Instant Weather Forecasting, are very good, with well-chosen cloud scenes to illustrate what he is saying.
1. H. A. Ray's The Stars has been the best introduction to the workings of the sky for about 60 years. It still is, for anyone over about 4th grade. (Yes, the same author who wrote Curious George.) For the younger set, he has a simpler book, The Constellations.
2. The Search for Infinity, already mentioned in the physics section, is also wonderful for astronomy; it covers both the very large and the very small.
3. Galileo's "The Starry Messenger" is said to be readable and accurate in its presentation both of Jupiter's moons and of Galileo's thought process.
4. Hubble Space Telescope: New views of the Universe is too beautiful to ignore, though its claims to the classical are entirely a matter of photography. Nevertheless, it's the very response to the classically educated Luddite who thinks a telescope makes the sky unromantic.
Philosophy of Science
His letter to the Grand Duchess Kristina of Tuscany is also a classic in regard to a right understanding of the relation between science and scripture. Pope John Paul II recommends it; I pass on his suggestion. You can find it online or in Jane Meyerhofer's book on Copernicus and Galileo published by Ye Hedge School.
2. Jaki, Stanley
The single most important and neglected Catholic writer on the philosophy of science is Father Stanley Jaki. With a PhD in theology and another in physics, he is well qualified to speak of the relationship between science and faith. Furthermore, as his specialty is the history of science, he is full of interesting information about how we got where we are on this topic. A few of his books are:
The Savior of Science explains how the Incarnation of Jesus assures us of an orderly world, one that can be studied.
Science and Creation
Is There a Universe? There is. You'd be surprised to know how many people doubt it and why. Then you'll want to answer them.
Genesis 1 through the Ages The most misinterpreted book of the Bible gets its misinterpretations listed and critiqued, followed by a really useful explanation.
Pierre Duhem Scientist and Catholic is Jaki's tribute to the greatest physicist of the early 20th century.
But Jaki is not easy reading!
Haffner is an admirer of Jaki and an easier read. Try Creation and Scientific Creativity in the thought of Stanley Jaki if you can't figure out Jaki himself.
Haffner has also made a contribution to the volume The Cross and the Rainforest; a thoughtful volume addressing the critical issue of the care of world ecology as a sorry substitute for the Christian faith from which it draws its only serious and dependable strength.
This modern physicist has a book on science and Thomism in process, addressing the philosophical ignorance of modern physicists, and explaining what is essential to their wider education and to the wiser evaluation of their own work. The Science before Science. It won't be a child's read, but for the physicist who doesn't have a clue about philosophy -- the follower of Hawking -- it promises to be most enlightening. Since he found the solution for one of the most basic puzzles of modern physics -- the definition of angular momentum in the context of general relativity -- Rizzi's place in the physics hall of fame is assured