Brandon is a mountain on the west coast of Ireland. It has been a site of significance for Celtic culture, early Irish Christianity, and, in modern times, for the geology and cartography of Ireland. Chet Raymo who lives part-time near Mount Brandon utilizes the idea of climbing the mountain as a metaphor for examining issues concerning the interface between science and religion.
The connecting thread throughout Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland’s Holy Mountain is his discussion of early Irish Christianity from the time of Saint Patrick to the ninth century. Because of its isolated location and unique culture, Christianity in early Ireland differed from mainstream Christian theology which was transcendent, other-worldly, and outside of nature. In contrast, the early Irish Christians accommodated the pantheistic beliefs of the Celts into a Christianity of immanence that celebrated the divine in nature. Although this remote past cannot answer all our present dilemmas, Raymo finds inspiration in this attempt to unite the Christian religion and the material world.
This book has much to offer particularly in a time when the rigidity of religious fundamentalism and the empiricism of scientific inquiry are polarized. As Chet Raymo puts it, “the battle is not between religion and science; it is between two inadequate worldviews, which might be called mystery without science and science without mystery.” He argues for a “New Story” based on a scientific view of the cosmos infused with a spirituality that embraces the universality, complexity, and beauty of the universe. Although he presents a compelling vision of science with mystery, his case, stated with poetic eloquence, is unlikely to persuade religious fundamentalists to abandon their mystery without science.