The Big Picture is exactly what it's title proclaims, a book the tackles the big questions about human existence. Why does the universe exist? Is there evidence for the existence of God? How did life on Earth begin? Is humanity special somehow? Do we continue to exist after we die? Does our life have purpose? These are just some of the queries that Sean Carroll tackles in this impressive book. But this is no religious or purely philosophical treatise; rather it is a work examining the critical questions of existence through the lens of theoretical physics.
The book is divided into six parts: Cosmos, Understanding, Essence, Complexity, Thinking, and Caring. In each part, the author discusses a major facet of existence. In each, he argues that our current understanding of physics and biology is sufficient to explain how and why life is the way it is. Carroll makes a compelling case for the atheist stance, but does not intend or attempt to attack theists. Instead, he carefully and deliberately explains what physical evidence exists for the origin of the universe, the beginning of life, etc., and how the evidence does not require a supernatural explanation. And yet, Carroll argues, life still has meaning and value. Throughout the book, the author takes what he calls the “poetic naturalist” stance: the one true world that simply acts according to fundamental principles. These principles can be understood by scientific inquiry alone, but humans can produce goodness and beauty regardless.
Sean Carroll is a renowned expert in his field, and it shows. Throughout this book, he explains dozens of complex scientific theories: The Big Bang, string theory, field theory, gravity, chaos theory, quantum mechanics, evolution, and many more. However, the reader won't need a graduate degree to follow along. The author describes these complex concepts in language at a level that any undergraduate college student could follow. His case is compelling, and his ideas thought-provoking. Sean Carroll will have you reexamining your own world-view, and that is never a bad thing.
AMANDA L. GLAZE is an Assistant Professor of Middle Grades & Secondary Science Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. In addition to science teacher education, she has taught courses in biological sciences for grades 7–12 and undergraduate students over the last ten years. Her interests include evolutionary biology, science and religion, and the intersections of science and society—specifically where scientific understandings are deemed controversial by the public. Glaze holds degrees in science education from The University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University. Her address is Department of Teaching & Learning, Georgia Southern University, PO BOX 8134, Statesboro, GA 30458; e-mail: email@example.com.