SCIENCE AND RELIGION: A Historical Introduction

By Leegwater, Arie | Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, June 2018 | Go to article overview

SCIENCE AND RELIGION: A Historical Introduction


Leegwater, Arie, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


SCIENCE AND RELIGION: A Historical Introduction, 2nd ed. by Gary B. Ferngren, ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017. 484 pages. Paperback; $32.95. ISBN: 9781421421728.

What can one truthfully say about the second edition of a book? To say that the number of chapters remain the same (30) would be a triviality. Or to say that the price has increased by $13 would be an obvious no-brainer. But, to say that the quality of the second edition has improved rather dramatically is worth exploring. Gary Ferngren, Professor of History at Oregon State University and a professor of the history of medicine at First Moscow State Medical University, has been compiling history of science and religion, medicine and religion readers for a number of years. The first edition of Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction (2002) was given a short review in PSCF 56, no. 1 (2004): 62-63. A snippet of Fraser Fleming's laudatory review is on the flyleaf of this newer edition.

Of the many introductory books on the topic of science and religion, Ferngren's Science and Religion set a standard. The first edition was a shortened version (selected entries) of the much longer The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland, 2000). Contributions by leading scholars, such as John H. Brooke, Ronald Numbers, David Lindberg, James Moore, Nicholaas A. Rupke, David Livingstone, among others, gave the book an authoritative voice and thus it served as an extremely attractive choice for instructors teaching undergraduate courses on science and religion. This new edition will certainly play a similar role.

This second edition is more expansive and more in tune with contemporary discussions. The book has a short introduction by Ferngren, stating that the purpose of the volume is "to provide a comprehensive survey of the historical relationship of the Western religious traditions with science from Aristotle to the early twenty-first century" (p. xii). Ferngren also widens the field of discussion to include various other non-Christian traditions, which have gained influence in the West, by adding chapters on Judaism, Asian traditions, and even atheism. This edition also has a revised and updated chapter on premodern Islam. In short, there are a number of chapters retained from the first edition that have been updated in content and given a new bibliography. There are eleven new chapters to whet one's appetite, a number of them in the social sciences. Consequently, some chapters in the first edition were excised or retired. For example, chapters by Colin Russell on the conflict of science and religion and David Wilson on the historiography of science and religion have been dropped. Margaret Osler's chapter on mechanical philosophy and Ronald Numbers's on scientific creationism have also been excised. Interestingly, the chapter by William Dembski on intelligent design has also disappeared.

The book has six parts: Part I (one chapter): Science and Religion: Conflict or Complexity; Part II (four chapters): The Premodern Period; Part III (five chapters): The Scientific Revolution; Part IV (five chapters): Transformations in Geology, Biology, and Cosmology, 1650-1900; Part V (seven chapters): The Response of Religious Traditions; and Part VI (eight chapters): The Theological Implications of Modern Science. …

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