A review of:

Stardust: Our Cosmic Origins – By Stephen Welch

‘Stardust’ is both a journey through the major scientific discoveries of recent history and a passionately-argued polemic against religious belief.

Stephen Welch argues that religion stands opposed to the kind of thinking which is fundamental to science: that impartial pursuit of truth which is always receptive to challenge and always open to revision. It is only when we can shake ourselves free from the shackles of superstition and the constraints of religious dogma that we are able to engage in clear-sighted scientific enquiry and become truly appreciative of the awe-inspiring grandeur and mystery of the world around us.

At every turn, man is de-throned: we are neither the chosen of the gods nor the pinnacle of evolution. But we are – uniquely among the animals in our world – able to reflect upon our position in the universe. The author encourages us to exploit this ability to the full as he takes us, briskly but with admirable clarity, through the complexities of astronomy, particle physics, evolution and psychology. Informative and entertaining in equal measure, he delights in the surprises that science provides: the ‘emptiness’ of apparently solid matter; the insignificance of mankind and the superiority of bacteria; the deceptions practiced upon us by our brains and the illusion of self-hood. En route, we learn how difficult it would be to colonize other planets and how to calculate the probability of the existence of aliens. We are led from the seconds following the Big Bang to the dizzying possibilities of future artificial intelligence; it is a roller-coaster ride.

The author’s knowledge of his subject is extensive and his enthusiasm infectious; the book is a celebration of science and it sparkles with wit and excitement. Most of all, there is an unfailing sense of wonder; this drives the scientific quest and occasionally spills over into poetry.

Religion is abandoned but nothing is lost: the miracle of creation, the power of love and the moral imperatives are re-examined under a brighter light and emerge more clearly defined. Nothing is lost; rather everything is gained.

This is a book which may provoke controversy but will certainly inspire its readers to think deeply about mankind’s place in the universe. Above all, its fast pace and engaging style ensure a great read.

Anne Padley MA
Philosophy Lecturer (now retired from)
The University of Kent