THIS book (extract, Comment, ten March) is subtitled The entangled histories of science and religion, and that is what it is — a quite complete account of the numerous distinct relationships of science and religion all through history. The account is complete. It ranges from the murder of Hypatia by a Christian mob in 415 to attempts by modern post-humanists to replace humans with artificial intelligences. Along the way, it visits the condemnation of Galileo, the golden age of Muslim science, the physico-theological performs of Paley, the Oxford debates about Darwin, the Scopes “monkey” trial, and significantly additional.

The author patiently deconstructs numerous of the legends and polemical readings of these events, and demonstrates that they had been significantly additional nuanced and complicated than is generally believed. The scholarship is impeccable, and the style constantly readable and informative. Anybody who wishes to study an unbiased remedy will be capable to dip into this book and will just about undoubtedly see what occurred in a new light.

Lots of very good books about the varied relationships involving science and religion have appeared not too long ago, and this have to be accounted as amongst the ideal. Occasionally, scientific findings have been employed to bolster religious claims, and, often, they have been employed to undermine religion. This is not a book that does either of these items. On the contrary, it shows how numerous complicated concerns have been at stake, and what diversity there has constantly been amongst these who have been involved.

Of course, the author has a view, but he regularly pleads for higher understanding of the details, and points to the underlying concerns at stake. These, he says, are generally twofold: who has the authority to speak on particular subjects, and what the nature of human personhood is.

As far as authority goes, relevantly certified scientists have authority to speak about the physical nature of items. But they do not have sole authority to pronounce on the ethical or spiritual dimensions of reality, even even though physical components may perhaps undoubtedly influence such pronouncements. When it comes to human nature, the author emphasises the embodied, vulnerable, dependent, social, and mortal nature of human beings. He is not significantly in favour of dualism (by which he suggests the possession of an immortal but invisible soul), but is unconvinced by 1-dimensional accounts of humanity which appear to lessen it to purely genetic, cognitive, or physical elements.

That, in this book, is as far as the author goes in revealing his private views — really effectively for this is a history of a complete set of complicated concerns which has all as well generally been marred by ideological propaganda, regardless of whether for or against religion. In my view, this history is illuminating, judicious, scholarly, and dependable. It deserves to be a canonical text for all who take an interest in this vitally critical subject, and who want to steer clear of prejudiced or ill-informed opinions about it.

Canon Keith Ward is Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.


Magisteria: The entangled histories of science and religion
Nicholas Spencer
Oneworld £25
Church Instances Bookshop £20

By Editor

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