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Has Science Killed God? The Faraday Papers in science and religion, edited by Denis Alexander

by
05 February 2021

Bethany Sollereder reads 20 papers on the scientific debate

IN THE summer of 2008, I flew to England to attend a Faraday course in Cambridge. I remember reading with great interest the various four-page pamphlets known as The Faraday Papers. I was just in time, as the first one had been published in April 2007. Now, the 20 papers have been assembled into a book: Has Science Killed God?

Reading them over again more than a decade later, and now that I teach science and religion at “the other place”, reminded me of all the reasons I enjoyed them the first time around. They are erudite, concise, and accessible.

The papers are all brief: roughly ten pages or so, which makes reading one in a sitting a possibility for anyone. The 20 essays are divided into six sections: the debate in general, history, theology, philosophy, psychology/medicine, and the earth and its sciences. In each, a leading scholar gives an informative take on a particular question from a Christian point of view. Specific topics range from interpreting Genesis in the 21st century to whether we are just a pack of neurons, and from the age of the earth to the historical context of Galileo’s house arrest for heresy.

There is some variation in reading difficulty as well. The first two essays, in particular, are more challenging than many of the others in their brevity and scope of argument. The first, by John Polkinghorne, addresses not only a general introduction to the similarities and differences between science and religion (a topic full enough for a whole book in itself), but goes on to tackle natural theology, creation, divine action, and miracles all in ten brief pages.

This is not, however, a book that needs to be read in order. Each chapter is a stand-alone essay and can be read on its own. Nor do readers need an existing knowledge of the various sciences under discussion. The authors do a good job of explaining the relevant points of each science as they discuss their topics, and indeed, as there is some overlap in the papers — the anthropic principle comes up several times — readers have a chance to familiarise themselves with more technical aspects that are discussed.

I do have a few quibbles with the book. A reader might sometimes feel that difficulties are glossed over: for instance, Ernest Lucas’s commentary on Genesis 1.28, in which he claims: “The Hebrew words for ‘dominion’ and ‘subdue’ do not, on their own, refer to aggressive or exploitative action.” This is roughly as accurate as saying the same of the English words. It is reasonably difficult to divest “subdue” or “dominion” of aggressive or exploitative content, and the same is true of the Hebrew, where the connotation of these verbs is overwhelmingly negative.

A similar critique could be raised in Robert White’s essay on the age of the earth, in which Young Earth Creationism is treated as if it were a product of 1960s American fundamentalism. In reality, there was a long debate in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Britain over the theology and science of the age of the earth. British publishers of the Bible continued to print “4004 BC” next to Genesis 1.1 long into the latter half of the 19th century.

My final quibble is probably the most obvious and tired critique: that every author is male and Caucasian. To some extent, this reflects the first generation of scholars in science and religion accurately. Yet it also reflects a lack of innovation and valuing of diversity which is distressingly common to leadership in both the Church and the academic world.

These criticisms apart, I still enjoyed this book immensely. It is a useful collection for anyone interested in a wide scope of questions about whether faith can flourish in the light of science. It wonderfully captures the voices and views of many wonderful scholars who have been pioneers in this emerging discipline.

 

Dr Bethany Sollereder is a Research Fellow in Science and Religion at Campion Hall’s Laudato Si’ Research Institute, and an Associate Member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion for the University of Oxford.

 

Has Science Killed God? The Faraday Papers in science and religion
Denis Alexander, editor
SPCK £19.99
(978-0-281-08133-2)
Church Times Bookshop £18

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