On Faith and Scienceis one of those books where the title says it all. Throughout the pages of this volume, the authors provide both historical and philosophical analyses of the interaction between science and religion within various fields of science. Ultimately, this book provides glimpse into the world of secular scholarship surrounding the relationship between science and religion. With that said, it should be noted that this is not an apologetics book. However, a sound understanding of the relationship between science and religion is indispensable to the apologist.
Edward Larson and Michael Ruse introduce the dialogue by asking a simple question: Whats the fuss? That is, what exactly is going on in this dialogue between science and religion? Most vocally, there are the New Atheists who villainize religion in the name of science. On the other side, many American evangelicals oppose the claims of the scientific establishment and instead push back with their religious doctrines. Both groups adopt the same model of relating science and religion, the conflict model, which views the claims ofscience and the claims of religion as fundamentally at odds with one another. Alternatively, many opt for a description of this relationship in which both science and religion complement each other in their overall claims. In response, Larson and Ruse consider both models to be oversimplistic; instead they seek to outline the complex nature of the relationship between science and religion.
Physics and Astronomy
Science began with the Greeks, and Greek science focused heavily on the universe. It is important to note here that it was the Greeks who gave rise to the scientific theory of geocentrism, an idea which persisted for centuries. As a result, Galileos feud with the Catholic church over his proposed heliocentric model, which is typically brought up as the prime example of the conflict between science and religion, was not actually a demonstration of science feuding with religion, but rather it was a demonstration of one scientific theory feuding with another. Along with the resulting shift to heliocentrism came a shift to viewing the universe as a machine. In many ways this was friendlier to classical theistic religions, such as Christianity, since the door was opened for a divine organizer. That being said, as science progressed from Galileo to Newton, God seemed to become removed from the day-to-day functioning of the universe, being only necessary, at most, to explain the initial design of the universe.
In the twentieth century, the Big Bang Theory gave creation-oriented religions like Christianity a major boost since prior to then the leading scientific theories involved a past-eternal universe. However, the mechanistic picture of the universe still only seemed to allow for an impersonal deity, if any.
The tides began to change with the arrival of quantum mechanics. Contrary to the determinism found in classical mechanical models of the universe, such as those of Newton and Einstein, the quantum mechanical picture appeared to do away with deterministic causality altogether, thus allowing room for divine intervention within the gaps created by observational indeterminacy. In addition to classical theism, different forms of Eastern religions also received an increased interest as a result of these quantum mechanical peculiarities.
Brain, Mind, and Soul
Traditionally, a split has been drawn between the body and the mind, the body being of purely physical substance and the mind being of mental substance. However, as the machine-like view of the world encroached upon studies of the mind, mental properties were reduced to mere products of physical processes, which posed a problem for theImago Deiof Christian theology. If mental properties are nothing more than natural products of the physical brain, then what room is there for the view that human consciousness results from being made in Gods image? Furthermore, such a physicalist view of consciousness leaves little room for an eternal soul. That is, if the physical body produces all aspects of human consciousness, then nothing about a person lives beyond the destruction of the body.
Geology and Paleontology
While many did not view the Bible as a text of science, certain Christians followed in the footsteps of archbishop James Ussher by tracing the chronology of mankind back roughly 6,000 years. Under this view, nothing interesting was thought to be gained by studying fossils since a traditional Biblical model indicated that all discovered bones were of extant species. However, as scientists studied geology further, it became clear that many different species had become extinct. Along with this came an extension of the geological timeline farther into the past. While this would seem to be a challenge to the Christian faith, through the work of Christian geologists such as George Cuvier and Adam Sedgewick, the Ussherian picture began to be replaced by one of progressive development whereby God was active within each geological epoch by creating beings well-suited for their environments. In no sense did advancements in geology and paleontology seem to hinder religious faith.
On the surface, Darwins theory of evolution and Christianity couldnt be more at odds with one another. Ruse and Larson point out, however, that evolutionary theory, in many ways, is like a child of Christianity. This is because evolutionary theory answers questions pertaining to origins, environment, and the overall role of human beings. These types of questions, however, would have never been asked in societies governed by philosophies found in ancient Greece or even modern Eastern religions. In contrast, monotheistic religions that emphasized both origins and the importance of humanity, such as Christianity, naturally led to such questions.
Nevertheless, evolutionary theory created problems for anyone who considered human beings to be special creations of God. Since the human soul was viewed as the distinguishing factor between man and beast, as the development of human cognition, which was a faculty associated with the soul, became increasingly explained as the result of natural processes acting on all species, it seemed the very essence of humanity began dwindling away. Religions were left with two options for responding to these developments: adjust their beliefs to fit the scientific consensus or reject the scientific conclusions altogether.
People and the Planet
The final chapters of the book focus on three main topics: sex, genetics, and ecological responsibility. Historically, science and religion have largely been on the same page when it comes to gender and sexual relationships, typically viewing males as the stronger sex. The two diverge, however, when it comes to sexual practice. Increasingly, social scientists are proposing that non-traditional sexual situations, such as those involving homosexuality and transgenderism, are normal. This is a view that most religions cannot accept. Relatedly, the common religious viewpoint that human life is fundamentally sacred has called into question attempts by people to use science to manipulate the process of human reproduction, such as with eugenics and genetic engineering, viewing the former as evil and the latter as a dangerous attempt at playing God.
Building off this theme of human responsibility, some have viewed religious beliefs as leading factors in the current ecological crisis. Religions such as Christianity, they argue, that place the earth under the dominion of mankind inevitably result in the abuse of the earth. Alternatively, however, some have taken this dominion language to mean that human beings have a responsibility to care for the earth since it is a gift from God, in which case any ecological crisis is not the result of a religious belief but instead is the failure to abide by a religious duty.
In summary,On Faith and Scienceis a well-written and insightful book written by two leading scholars in the interdisciplinary field of science and religion studies. Those who read this volume will undoubtedly walk away with a better understanding of both the historical and philosophical interaction between science and religion. If I may interject one minor quarrel, however, it would be with the absence of footnotes throughout the volume. Instead, the authors opted for an annotated bibliography at the end of the book, a section that should not be overlooked. It will lay the groundwork for the dialogue and provide beneficial direction on where to go next. As a result, this book is primarily beneficial for those beginning their studies on the relationship between science and religion.