Alameda Bookshelf: The Unity of Truth

Alameda Bookshelf: The Unity of Truth

Kristen Hanlon
The Unity of Truth

The Unity of Truth: Solving the Paradox of Science and Religion (iUniverse, 2012)
By Allen A. Sweet, C. Frances Sweet, and Fritz Jaensch

Photo courtesy of the authors.

Many of the seven billion people who live on the Earth look to either science or religion as the ultimate source of authority in their lives. In The Unity of Truth: Solving the Paradox of Science and Religion, three Alamedans bring their diverse expertise to bear on the question of how science and religion can be mutually supportive. The narrative incorporates physics, theology, and mathematics in its consideration of the “big questions”: the beginning of the universe, evolution, and the meaning of life. Recently, I met with two of the three authors to talk about the origins and development of the book.

You dedicate The Unity of Truth “to all who have felt, at some moment in their lives, that they must check their brain at the door of their church and/or felt that they must keep their religious faith to themselves so their scientific colleagues would not label them brainless, or worse.” Does this reflect personal experience?
Al: I’ve been in situations where colleagues have said some rather scathing things about religion, and religious people - to the effect that religious people are brainless or worse. It has caused me to keep a low profile with scientific colleagues on the subject, until I get to know them better.
Fran: Well, he also had the “misfortune” to marry a minister! (laughs)
Al: Yes, we are an interesting combination! Fran’s an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, and I work in technology and regard myself as a scientist. But, I have an advantage because when Fran entered the seminary the dean of the seminary allowed me to attend for free.
Fran: We were in the first graduating class of that seminary.
Al: It was a wonderful experience. We made lifelong friendships, and I came to appreciate some of the finer points of the weightier issues of our religion. I have found that, in general, religious people are more open to incorporating the truth of science into their beliefs.

You write that for the past six years you’ve met every Saturday night with coauthor Fritz Jaensch to discuss the parallels and contradictions of science and religion. How did these conversations evolve into a book? The book has a remarkably consistent “voice” even though there are three authors.
Al: We strived mightily to have a consistent voice, and you could say that the voice was forged in the crucible of meeting every Saturday night for all those years. My original attempt to get some of this down on paper was in 2000 - business was slow then, so I had some time on my hands, which is a rare thing for me. Around that time is when Fran got posted to Christ Church, which is where we met Fritz Jaensch. Fritz brought to the project a lot of rigor and focus - his background is in philosophy and history. I rewrote the whole thing during a trip to China. From that version, we wrote the third book from looking at the first two versions and The Unity of Truth is really an amalgam of all three manuscripts. We debated over what to keep and what to leave behind, and from that the final book took shape. It took a lot of effort and a lot of listening to each other for it to come together.
Fran: One thing that came out of the process was more respectful listening skills - we were friends, talking amongst ourselves, and so we couldn’t “bash” each other’s ideas when we disagreed.
Al: We learned that we could move from disagreement to agreement by trying to see what ideas underpinned the concepts we were disagreeing on.

Who are you trying to reach with The Unity of Truth? Do you have in mind an ideal reader for the book?
Al: I didn’t want to presuppose a scientific education in order to appreciate the book. I tried my very best to explain scientific concepts in a way a layperson could understand. I think any reader who picks up our book has to have some degree of openness - not be too dogmatic scientifically or religiously. I hope young people in particular will embrace it, but it’s too soon to tell.