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The Penultimate Curiosity

When young children first begin to ask 'why?' they embark on a journey with no final destination. The need to make sense of the world as a whole is an ultimate curiosity that lies at the root of all human religions. It has, in many cultures, shaped and motivated a more down to earth scientific interest in the physical world, which could therefore be described as penultimate curiosity.

These two manifestations of curiosity have a history of connection that goes back deep into the human past. Tracing that history all the way from cave painting to quantum physics, this book (a collaboration between an artist and a scientist sets out to explain the nature of the long entanglement between religion and science: the ultimate and the penultimate curiosity.


Roger Wagner & Andrew Briggs

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Praise for The Penultimate Curiosity 

This gripping work of history and reference deserves to be read on both sides of the science-arts divide. (John Cornwell, Financial Times)

well worth reading ... their narrative is fascinating and this is a beautiful volume, produced to a very high standard and enriched with many appropriate illustrations. (Richard Joyner, Times Higher Education)

If you read one book this year read this (Oxford Today)

An exciting display of erudition, packed with thought-provoking anecdotes and clear explanations of major scientific, religious and philosophical concepts(British Journal of the History of Science)

Hugely impressive (Jonathan Wright, The Catholic Herald)

The sweep of this book is magnificent, with fascinating stories about Paleolithic artistry, Islamic science, medieval theology, quantum mechanics, and an array of topics in between. The writing is spectacular. ... The history, art, and philosophy within this book give it great value to any thoughtful reader. Recommended. (M. A. Wilson, CHOICE)

It seems dense and unapproachable but the text has a magnetic quality that belies the initial doubts.(The Connexion French views)

 Here is magnificence. This book will magnify the heart and mind, in the sense of enlarging them to appreciate the scope of science and its underpinnings in the pursuit of theology. It depicts how insatiable – yet how creative and constructive – is the human curiosity for understanding and meaning, from prehistoric time to the present day. It leaves me in awe at the art of science: for the way it unveils the magnificence of God our Creator who stretches out the canvas. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Our species should be called Homo spiritualis rather than sapiens. Asking "Why?" about the world gave rise to Religion, Philosophy, and Science. The interactions and entanglements are outlined in this book of amazing scope and interest. Jean Clottes, Senior Scientist of the Chauvet Cave

A stunningly original and wonderfully engaging book, which opens up some of the deepest questions about human identity and purpose. Alister McGrath, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion University of Oxford, UK

This book offers a fascinating perspective on the perennial human quest for understanding and meaning. Its two distinguished authors - with contrasting backgrounds - have meshed their expertise together to create a thought-provoking and original synthesis. Lord Rees, Astronomer Royal

In The penultimate curiosity, Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs have written a path-breaking account, vast in scope, thrilling in detail, about how our ultimate curiosity as to what lies beyond the visible universe has danced a minuet through time with our penultimate curiosity as to how the elements of the universe relate to one another. A challenging and persuasive account of the sometimes fraught but often mutually enriching relationship between religion and science.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

This book is a remarkable achievement in that whilst reaching from prehistory, through ancient Greece to the present day, it draws upon the distinctive intellectual resources of a distinguished artist and art historian and a researcher at the cutting-edge of contemporary science. The resulting, beautifully illustrated volume, is a feast of interdisciplinary thinking at its best. It raises profound questions, The Penultimate Curiosity, posed for millennia by philosophers, religious people and more recently scientists, and points to constructive answers. Malcolm Jeeves, St Andrews University, UK

Evidence-based scientific rationality is very good at finding answers to the how questions. How did the Universe evolve from the Big Bang? How does matter arrange itself into objects ranging from atomic nuclei to human beings, planets and stars? But when it comes to the why questions, science does not necessarirly have the answers. Instead of putting science and religion in opposition to each other, we should therefore be asking if dialogue can exist between the two, whether they can respect each other and accept each other's points of view. In the Penultimate Curiosity, Andew Briggs and Roger Wagner demonstrate that it is not only possible, but also enriching to follow such a course. Rolf Heuer, Director General, CERN