Heidi A. Campbell and Heather Looy, eds., A Science and Religion Primer (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), $15.99.
Dialog about the relationships between science and religion is usually an interdisciplinary endeavor, with all the jargon and assumed knowledge you can shake a stick at. The editors decided a “crib sheet” of key terms and figures would provide “a way in” to the currently central discussions about religion and science (13). The first section of the book contains intro essays about the respective roles of history, philosophy, theology, and technology in discussions of religion and science. The second half is a collection of A to Z entries on a bunch of different SR topics, including Chaos Theory, Darwin, Ecofeminism, Emergence, Fideism, Intelligent Design, Metaphysics, Panentheism, Spinoza, Theodicy and a bunch more. Each entry contains key points and suggestions for further reading. I worried that the book would be a bit boring, but each article is written by a talented and knowledgeable scholar who brings a unique voice to their subject without straying from the introductory purposes of the book. If you’re looking for a nice intro, I definitely recommend this book. I could see it coming in handy at seminars and in study groups like the one Steve Peck recently participated in at BYU.
Ronald L. Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), $17.95.
The currently fashionable tale of science’s brave triumph over outdated obstructivist religion is oddly unscientific. The historical evidence doesn’t support the tale. No doubt there have been and continue to be religious people who see science as evil, and scientific minded folk who see religion as hopeless superstition. But this is far from the whole picture. The contributors to this really fun volume–some religious and some not–seek to dispel 25 myths which obscure the truth about the relationship between religion and science. Medieval Christians didn’t think the earth was flat. Organic evolution isn’t based on circular reasoning. Darwin almost certainly didn’t reconvert to Christianity on his deathbed. Einstein didn’t believe in a personal God. Galileo didn’t go to jail, and much of the opposition to him occurred on scientific grounds. These and other stories are pithily but soundly explored in order to inject your brain with a little due complexity. History is the perfect avenue into discussions of science and religion. Most importantly, the chapters not only explore reasons the myths are inaccurate, they also discuss how and why the myths arose to begin with. Strongly recommended.
Thomas Dixon, Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), $11.95.
Oxford’s VSI is a great little series. Almost every volume I’ve read has been excellent, this one not excepted. Dixon smartly chops us this complex subject with three main concerns: historical perspectives, philosophical assumptions, and moral implications. He shows that remarkable possibilities for dialog exist between the extremes of dogmatic New Atheists and fundamentalist Creationists. The story gets a little bogged down in the current debates about Intelligent Design (which Dixon clearly does not find persuasive). It’s a hot topic especially for American public education policy, so he gets a pass. He calls for more rigorous religion and more humble science. This very short intro is a very handy intro. If the first two books don’t catch your eye, start with this one. (Unless you’re looking for a defense of “Intelligent Design”!)
Philip Clayton and Zachary Simpson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), $55.00.
This gigantic tome (1000+ pages!) is the most comprehensive one-volume treatment of SR dialog I could find. I was especially eager to read Part I, which contains chapters on science and Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Indigenous Lifeways, Naturalism, and Atheism. While each of these chapters has good things to offer, I was disappointed that none of them present a historical overview of how each tradition accommodates or conflicts with the natural sciences. Instead, they focus on particular subjects each tradition attends to; like consciousness, well-being, anti-intellectualism, creation, idolatry, etc. The atheism essay literally amounted to “science rules, religion drools” without bothering to actually define those terms. Other chapters later in the book, however, are sufficient to overturn such dogmatism. Perspectives from all over the place get a hearing here–anthropology, social sciences, philosophy, systematic theology, postmodernism, etc. Methodological considerations, current theoretical debates, and concerns about ethics and values all receive attention. There’s even a pro-et-con exchange between William Dembski of the ID movement and Robert Pennock, who testified in the 2004 district court case which prevented ID from being taught in Pennsylvania schools. Contributors include heavy hitters like John Polkinghorne, John Hedley Brooke, Alister E. McGrath, and John F. Haught. As a giant collection it suffers a bit from lack of central focus, so while I’m having plenty of fun with it you might try it out at the library before deciding to give it a home on your bookshelf.