The Religion and Science Debate: Why Does it Continue? edited by Harold W. Attridge (Yale 2009).
This volume, like the Gifford Lectures, is part of a series. According, as found in the introduction of this volume, to the deed of Dwight Harrington Terry, the object of the the Lectures on Religion in the Light of Science and Philosophy is that,
a series of lectures be given by men eminent in their respective departments, on ethics, the history of civilization and religion, biblical research, all sciences and branches of knowledge which have an important bearing on the subject, all the great laws of nature, especially of evolution . . . to the end that the Christian spirit may be nurtured in the fullest light of the world’s knowledge and that mankind maly be helped to attain its highest possible welfare and happiness upon this earth.
A number of notable titles have come out of the Terry Lectures, including Pail Tillich’s The Courage to Be, John Dewey’s, A Common Faith, Erich Fromm’s Psychoanalysis and Religion, Paul Ricoeur’s Freud and Philosophy, and John Polkinghorne’s Belief in God in an Age of Science (among a number of others). The Religion and Science Debate is from the one-hundredth such lecture, which was structured not as a single speaker giving a series of lectures from which a tome might arise, but rather a series of panel discussions with a resulting anthology of articles. Because it has taken the form of an anthology, this debate may not rise to the heights of the very best from the Terry Series, but it is a timely volume that may be with us all for some time.
When one brings up the topic of what is supposed to be a conflict between science and religion, one does not look first at method (although one might wish to look at Descartes Bones) but at the peculiar controversy over evolution. By in large, the contributors to this volume focus on the later to illustrate the former. All the contributors are veterans of this debate, and a some (Ronald Numbers and Alvin Plantinga) have been highlighted in this blog before. Let us simply look at each essay in its turn. Read the rest of this entry »
Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion, edited by Ronald Numbers (Harvard University Press 2009).
Myth is a strong word that requires a certain amount of demystification before seeing how it applies to the subtitle of this commendable collection. As a literary form, a myth is a sort of cosmic story. To be much more specific than that simply indicates what sort of myth one would be talking about. So taken, what truth one might find in a myth lies behind the story, and that truth ought to be genuinely profound. Conventionally the idea of myth tends to weigh more on the aspect of something being a story or more broadly a fiction. In this sense myths are just dressed up falsehoods, with no deep meaning to be found. In Galileo Goes to Jail, myth finds a middle way. The myths dealt with here are stories that say more about story-teller than any relation the story may have to some truth, deep or otherwise. This subtle distinction is necessary because the in the various essays, the myths dealt with are not simply false. The stories may be true, but they don’t support the moral the stories lead to, or they are mostly true, or partly true, or we really don’t know the truth of the matter. Given the state of the debate on religion and science, a bit of subtly is a welcome thing.
The myth of myths in this case is Religion and Science are at war. If one is on the side of Science, every woe of humankind and every roadblock to progress can be laid at the feet of Religion. Those on the side of Religion counter either that Science is founded on Religion or that the general depravity found in society is caused by Science abandoning Religion. The essayists Numbers assembles, deal mostly with the stories Science tells. Unlike some myths, where the story teller is lost to us, Numbers is willing finger the original Religion-and-Science-at-War myth-makers: Andrew Dickson White and particularly John William Draper. Indeed, Draper comes up in at least seven of the twenty-five myths examined. This is not to say Galileo Goes to Jail is collection of religious polemicists. Most of the contributors are not believers and few that are, are actually conventional believers. However, most are either historians, historians of science, or philosophers of science who have entered this fray more than once. Read the rest of this entry »