Science and Religion in Dialogue

Science and Religion in Dialogue

Author: José Manuel Fidalgo. School de Teología, Universidad de Navarra
Published in: review de Melville Y. Stewart (ed.), Science and Religion in Dialogue, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford, 2010 (3rd printing), 2 Vol, 1120 pp., 18×25, ISBN 978-1-4051-8921-7. Expanded version of article published in Scripta Theologica 43 (2011), pp. 465-469.
Publication date: 2010

Today's extensive bibliographical production on the so-called "frontier questions of science" is a symptom of the great resonance these topics have for existence and the meaning of human life: the origin of the universe and of life, evolution and the origin of man, the mind-brain connection, the order and purpose of the physical universe, the possibility of demonstrating the existence of God from the universe, etc. In this context, the need arises to establish an adequate and fair relationship between the cognitive spheres of science and religion. In this context, the need arises to establish an adequate and fair relationship between the cognitive fields of science and religion. Are they simply two independent spheres in terms of content and methodology, as is sometimes made to appear, or do they have a real point of meeting that opens up the possibility of a real, serious and fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue, taking into consideration "what the other deserves to be heard" (p. 3)?

Benedict XVI told the participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 28 October 2010 that "while the ever-increasing achievements of the sciences increase our wonder at the complexity of nature, there is a growing need for an interdisciplinary approach linked to philosophical reflection leading to a synthesis". Melville J. Stewart, publisher of the book, points out to this purpose other words of the Pope in 2008 in which he affirmed to a group of scientists - among them Stephen Hawking - that there was no contradiction between belief in God and empirical science (cf. p. 527).

It is along these lines that the book before us moves. It is a work of B interest. This is not only because of the breadth, scientific quality and recognised prestige of the authors of the texts presented, but also because of the variety, relevance and the correctness of the treatment of the topics presented.

The two-volume work is the English edition of the project Science and Religion Series. The publisher, Melville Y. Stewart (Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, areas of Philosophy of Religion and Science, at Bethel University, Minessota, USA) was in charge of coordinating a team of renowned experts (scientists, philosophers, theologians... many of them members of the Society of Christian Philosophy), who -financed by the Templeton Foundation- gave a series of lectures between 2005 and 2009 in the best Chinese universities: Wuhan, Fudan, Shandong, Peking and Tsinghua. Each of the professors gave three sessions at one area of their specialization program with the idea of specifically addressing the connection between scientific issues and religion. The collected and thematically arranged lectures (also published in Chinese translation) are available at publishing house Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

The book is well edited. The articles are recent and of high scientific quality. Many of the authors are internationally renowned scientists from various fields of science and Philosophy: Biological Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, Philosophy of Religion and Anthropology, Neurology and Neurosciences, Medicine, Systematic Theology, Chemistry, etc.... Some of these include Francisco J. Ayala (award Templeton 2010), Stephen M. Barr, Paul Davies, Owen Gingerich, Alvin Plantinga, etc. In general terms, they belong to what is known as Anglo-Saxon Christian thought, and on occasions one can detect in the background the intellectual polemics (typically North American) between deism and atheism. The authors come from various universities in the United States and England with a Christian identity: Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and Reformed universities. The main institutions of origin are Calvin, Oxford, Notre Dame, Bethel, Carnegie Mellon University, and others.

In addition to the two introductory texts on publisher (an introduction to each of the volumes), the book is structured in 26 parts. Each part is usually composed of three chapters (lectures) written by the same author. Each chapter consists of an initial abstract, internal subtitles, notes and bibliography itself. There are biographical sketches of the authors of the articles. The final pages contain a glossary of scientific and theological terms of great didactic interest as well as an index of proper names and conceptual terms. Some figures and tables are included to illustrate some (not many) expositions.

The themes of the 26 parts are as follows [own translation]:

  1. Has science really destroyed its own religious roots (D. Ratzsch)?

  2. God and Physical Reality: Relativity, Time and Quantum Mechanics (T. Greenlee)

  3. Relations between science and Christianity (D. Haarsma)

  4. Relationship between scientific and religious knowledge on evolution (L. Haarsma)

  5. The universe presents as probable the existence of a God (R. Swinburne)

  6. A palaeontologist reflects on science and religion (P. Dodson)

  7. Christian faith and biological explanation (S. Matheson)

  8. Religion, naturalism and science (A. Plantinga)

  9. Science and theology as human activities born of faith (G. Patterson)

  10. Cosmology and Theology (D. Page)

  11. Science under Stress in the 20th Century: Lessons from the Case of Early Nuclear Physics (R. Peterson)

  12. The Science of Religion (M. Murray)

  13. Belief in God (K. J. Clark)

  14. Issues for dialogue between science and religion (o. Gingerich)

  15. Stewardship and Economic Harmony: Sustainability of Life on Earth (C. DeWitt)

  16. Cosmology and Theism (W.L. Craig)

  17. Theology and science in the postmodern context (N. Murphy)

  18. Darwin and the design Intelligent (F. J. Ayala)

  19. The Laws of Physics and Bio-acceptance (P. Davies)

  20. Time and "open theism" (D. Zimmermann)

  21. Science and Writing (P. van Inwagen)

  22. The mutual relationship of science and theology (A. Padgett)

  23. Physics and scientific materialism (S. M. Barr)

  24. Biotechnology and Human Dignity (Hurlbut)

  25. Science, emergency and religion (P. Clayton)

  26. Theories and unobservable elements: The realist/non-realist discussion in science and religion (B. Reichenbach)

We could point to some relevant initial developments:

Del Ratzsch in part 1, discusses whether science has really destroyed its own religious roots. He argues that many of the operating principles of science have their roots in the religious belief in creation. Science arises precisely when culture assumes the idea of creation. The split between science and religion is a fiction that does not stand up to serious scientific analysis.

2. The connection between the topic of relativity and the religious knowledge appears on several occasions. Thomas Greenlee, for example, after an analysis of the differences (and implications) between classical mechanics and the special theory of relativity, concludes that the idea of an eternal God, outside of time, is in particular harmony with the theory of relativity. By summarising the main interpretations of quantum mechanics (Copenhagen interpretation, parallel universes interpretation, hidden variables) Greenlee endeavours to clarify the compatibility of quantum mechanics with the Christian view.

3. The relationship between science and religion itself and the possibilities of methodological interrelation between the two fields of knowledge is a theme that is particularly emphasised. Deborah B. Haarsma analyses the different models of the relationship between science and religion, far from a position of conflict which is not well justified (the position of conflict often uses Galileo as the archetypal case). Basically, he points out, the big problem is how to reconcile the ancient texts of the Sacred Scripture with the claims of modern science (especially centred on the question of the chronology of the world). Three main Christian alternatives are presented: one interpretation is the Day-Age Interpretation and the Gap Interpretation, which aim to give a concordist interpretation of Genesis by looking for keys to equate it with astronomical times (one day = one epoch). A more profound interpretation would be that of the "hermeneutic principle" by which the reading of Genesis must be done in theological core topic (it is not a book of astronomy) and it is also necessary to understand the cultural context of the story (which tries to distance itself from other stories about the origin of the world in nearby civilisations such as Egypt). Interesting for the clarity of the exhibition is chapter 9 (pp. 141-149) in which Haarsma exposes the responses (Christian and atheistic) to the current cosmology that revolves around the Big-Bang theory. He highlights the exhibition of how the universe is fine-tuned for life, so that any small variation in its characteristics would have determined a universe without any possibility of life (and intelligence). Other treatments in the same vein appear in Part 5: "The Universe makes it probable that there is a God" by R. Swinburne; "Religion, naturalism and science" by Alvin Plantinga. design Of particular interest in this line are the chapters corresponding to part 14: "Reflections on the scientific revolution" and "Designing a universe congenial for life" by O. Gingerich. Also interesting is part 22: "The mutuality of Science and Religion" by A. Padgett.

4. The relationship between science and religious knowledge at purpose of the topic of evolution occupies a central place. The two types of knowledge are on different levels and do not necessarily conflict. In the USA, numerous Christian groups have reacted to the claim that the theory of evolution refutes the Bible (and generally reject evolutionary theory). Groups: Young Earth creationists, progressive creationists (the "Theory of Intelligent Design" is one of their more peculiar forms). More moderate positions (admitting evolution) are found in theistic evolutionists or evolutionary creationists: God creates the initial life forms and at the same time is the author of the mechanisms of evolution. Several authors deal with these questions. knowledge For example, part 4: "Interplay of scientific and religious knowledge regarding Evolution" by L. Haarsma; "Christian faith and biological explanation" by S. Matheson; part 18: "Interplay of scientific and religious knowledge regarding Evolution" by L. Haarsma; "Christian faith and biological explanation" by S. design Matheson; part 18: "Darwin and Intelligen Design" by F. J. Ayala; part 19: "The laws of Physics and Bio-friendliness" by P. Davies.

The central topic which gives unity to all the articles is the following: God has produced two books: that of Nature and supernatural Revelation, two revelations that are accessible to man who is prepared to grasp and interpret them with properly-functioning belief-forming mechanisms (pp. 1-2). In some of the positions developed in the lectures there is a perhaps over-simplistic (though well-intentioned) blending of physical, philosophical and theological perspectives. In our opinion, theological readings are sometimes too hasty and not really justified on the basis of (often hypothetical) assertions of empirical science. To draw a theological conclusion about God or creation from the theory of relativity is in our opinion imprudent (even from a methodological point of view). Underlying some articles is a somewhat fideistic conception, typically Protestant, in which a fiducial faith (in the end not well argued rationally) seeks points of meeting (somewhat artificial and forced) with scientific positions. It is one thing to show compatibility and another to deduce truths of faith from empirical data and scientific theories. It is important to distinguish clearly (many of the authors do this adequately) a "theological note" from a "theological deduction" from the scientific claims of science. The well-meaning rashness of a Christian scientist (in response to the ideological and unscientific rashness of an atheist) never - in the long run - endorses the rational seriousness of the Christian faith.

Apart from these indications, which are applicable in some texts, final is a good work, with highly topical issues, with a serious and profound approach to the subjects dealt with, and a serious and profound presentation . It is not in vain that there are scientists and philosophers of recognised prestige behind these texts. A valid book for readers who are experts in the issues dealt with, but also interesting for all subject readers with an interest and a certain knowledge on subject. The approach of the authors' positions is varied; sometimes -we think- debatable; but the basic thesis is interesting and valuable: the existence of a confluence (not a fracture) between science and religion. The search for truth, which is so necessary in our contemporary culture, and the elaboration of a unitary vision of knowledge is a permanent (and important) part of human thought challenge .