Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


Article excerpt

THE WARFARE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION: The Idea That Wouldn't Die by Jeff Hardin, Ronald L. Numbers, and Ronald A. Binzley, eds. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018. 358 pages. Paperback; $39.95. ISBN: 9781421426181.

As the teacher in Ecclesiastes declares: "Of the making of books there is no end and much study wearies the flesh." This word of wisdom applies doubly to the genre of books describing the interaction of science and religion. Religion and science matter and they seem to matter ever more in our current tribal society. Each month seemingly presents us with a new exemplar. The Warfare between Science and Religion is only the latest, but it is one of the more important and timely additions.

This book stems from a three-day conference held in 2015 at the University of Wisconsin, devoted to the so-called warfare thesis that pits religion and science in an interminable conflict. Twenty-two distinguished scholars, mainly historians and sociologists, contributed to this volume: an introduction by David Livingstone and Mark Noll is followed by seventeen chapters, authored by some of the leading scholars in the religion/science discussions. The book is ably edited by Jeff Hardin, Ronald Numbers, and Ronald Binzley. One reviewer, Edward J. Larson, describes The Warfare as the "best single-volume collection of separate-author essays about the history of science and religion in the major modern monotheistic Western traditions" (back cover).

Approaches to this subject have been marred both by polemical intentions surrounding the warfare or conflict thesis and by an inability to grasp and cope with the complexity of the issues involved. What is clear is that a variety of interpretive frameworks have been utilized to depict the historical relations between science and religion. Despite various readings, the conflict model is by far the dominant one, both in the public's mind and for many professional scientists as well. For many hard-nosed proponents, science and religion reflect a tribalism that is set in stone. While fundamentalists cast science as a misguided or even malicious source of information, polemicizing scientists argue that religion is not just wrong or meaningless but also dangerous.

The Warfare is centered on the warfare thesis as classically formulated by Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper in the nineteenth century (chap. 1, "The Warfare Thesis," by Lawrence Principe). What follows is a close analysis of the viability of the warfare thesis as an adequate account of the relation of science and religion in many different historical and social-cultural contexts. First, we look back in time to the most celebrated warfare account, "The Galileo Affair" (chap. 2 by Maurice Finocchiaro). This is followed by an analysis of nineteenth-century developments in the United States, "Rumors of War" (chap. 3, Monte Harrell Hampton), by English "Victorians" (chap. 4, Bernard Lightman), and in "Continental Europe" (chap. 5, Frederick Gregory). Then, successive chapters describe the perspectives of different religious communities on the warfare thesis: "Roman Catholics" (David Mislin); "Eastern Orthodox Christians" (Efthymios Nicolaidis); "Liberal Protestants" (Jon Roberts); "Protestant Evangelicals" (Bradley Gundlach); "Jews" (Noah Efron); and "Muslims" (M. Alper Yalcinkaya). The last six chapters (chaps. 12-17) describe morecontemporary events and persons: "New Atheists" (Numbers and Hardin); "Neo-Harmonists" (Peter Harrison); "Historians" (John Brooke); "Scientists" (Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle); "Social Scientists" (Thomas Aechtner); and "The View on the Street" (John Evans).

It would take us too far afield to consider each individual chapter. Let me begin with some general comments. Many historians of science have considered the relationships between science and religion. David Livingstone, for example, has identified four relationships: conflict, competition, cooperation, and continuity. …

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