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Book reviews >

Science and Religion: A reader

T & T Clark £12.99  (0-567-08243-1) Church Times Bookshop £11.70

Reviewed with The Science of God: An introduction to scientific theology by Alister E. McGrath,  T & T Clark £12.99 (0-567-08353-5) Church Times Bookshop £11.70

and

SCM Study Guide to Science and Religion: Footprints in space by Jean Dorricott SCM Press £14.99 (0-334-02975-9) Church Times Bookshop £13.50

 WE live our lives embedded (rather like war journalists at the front line, but without any choice) in a mysterious reality. We can respond to this reality in many ways: with awe or anger, with gratitude, indifference, or poetry. But two responses stand out: religious faith and the scientific enterprise. The one is searching for meaning, the other attempting to describe and then manipulate the world. They complement each other, overlapping, but asking different sorts of questions. Both are necessary.

Most of our contemporary fears and nightmares (whether of terrorist bombs, global pollution, pandemics spread through air travel, or climate change) can be traced back to modern science and its technology. As the manipulative power of technology develops, society needs, even more, a strong guiding faith to cope with the hazards and opportunities.

We have moved beyond the sterile, tabloid simplicity of "science or religion", and there are at last many books that take both seriously. Science and Religion: A reader is part of the "Problems in Theology" series. It contributes to the revival of theology as an exciting option for undergraduates. The editors bring together a collection of short passages from some of the best writers in the field, under four headings: Conflict or complement; God and modern physics; Creation through evolution; and A designer world? Each section is followed by some suggested topics for discussion (or private reflection).

In the fourth section we find Richard Dawkins giving a spirited defence of reductionism; Darwin’s letter to Asa Gray expressing his theological bewilderment when contemplating the revolting practices of parasitic wasps; and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem on suffering, In Memoriam. Mary Midgeley offers a powerful critique of the anthropic principle, identifying it as a modern myth, dismissed by Stephen Jay Gould as "this newly touted but historically moth-eaten argument".

Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford and a critical realist, offers us a systematic theology in his The Science of God. He presents the big picture, a coherent vision of reality in which theology is enriched by the natural sciences. The book is a summary and readable guide to his recent three-volume work A Scientific Theology. Theology is developed as a robust discipline that is able to engage with the world in responsible debate, faithful to the Christian tradition, yet open to the insights of the sciences.

Much is made of the failure of the intellectual totalitarianism of the Enlightenment. The swing to post-modernism is also rejected for its inability to take seriously the "way things are" when explored by mathematics or the natural sciences. McGrath writes as an Evangelical with a high doctrine of scripture as prime deposit of revelation, but he defends natural theology from the criticisms of Karl Barth. To view nature as Creation is already to see the universe and its history as a meaningful revelation bearing the imprint of the Creator.

The author makes a good case for using the term "scientific" in conjunction with "theology". He argues that theories, whether scientific or theological, are constructed in response to an encounter with existing reality. Christian doctrines are theories generated in response to the experience of revelation.

Science and Religion, an SCM study guide by Jean Dorricott, contains an excellent bibliography. The text, though brief and butterfly-like in its treatment of everything, is at times touchingly down to earth, as in its description of a child with a helium balloon: "a little piece of pure Big Bang bobbing at the end of her string".

The Revd Adam Ford is a former chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls in London.

To place an order for this book, contact CT Bookshop

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