On Science and Religion


Science meets religionLike many people, I have found myself returning over and over to questions about the relationship between religion and science, such as whether scientific knowledge has enhanced belief or made it irrelevant.

The following recently published  titles are available through the San Mateo County Library system and should give you some things to think about. They may also perhaps better inform discussions with your family and friends.

In this new book, the famous novelist writes about meetings with a number of great scientists, in particular Richard Feynman, and what he has learned in his long life about how understanding science can strengthen one’s faith (in his case, Judaism).

Drawn from interviews on her Peabody-award winning radio show, Speaking of Faith, these conversations with some of the deepest thinkers around show how, in Tippett’s words, both science and religion are "pursuits of cohesive knowledge and underlying truths.”

In this book, NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty, a former Christian Scientist, explores scientific findings about spiritual experience and practice, and also interviews others who, like her, have had mystical or out-of-body episodes.

Wright covers the evolution of the three monotheistic religions, which he regards as human constructs rather than divine revelations, as shown through their scriptures and later writings. He suggests that Christians, Muslims and Jews can find common ground with each other and with science in modern views of God as the moral order of the universe.

As the title says, Wade has concluded from his examination of anthropology, evolutionary psychology, etc. on that faith is an instinct like hunger, which has been hardwired into human beings because it serves an adaptive purpose. He disagrees with the recent best-selling atheists whose premise is that “religion is bad, and therefore must be non-adaptive.”

Frank, an astrophysicist, endeavors to connect scientific inquiry with the sacred. Like Tippett, he sees both science and spirituality as pursuits of the truth.

Journalist Lebo covered the trial from Harrisburg when a group of parents sued the school board in Dover, PA, over its decision to include intelligent design along with evolution in biology classes. Apparently, she does not pretend to be objective, but strongly criticizes the proponents of intelligent design.

In this work, Ward brings up ten questions such as, “Has science made belief in God obsolete?” “How did the universe begin?” and “Do the laws of nature exclude miracles?” The value of his book lies especially in his in-depth understanding of many different world religions, as well as atheism and agnosticism. Ward is a professor at Oxford.

This Canadian professor attempts to find a connection between religion and science in complexity theory, identifying God with what he calls the “creativity” in the universe. This is not, however, the same as God the Creator, and Kaufmann may lack an understanding of theology.

Koenig is a well-known psychiatrist at Duke University and a specialist in gerontology and religion/spirituality and health. His studies support a role for faith in health and medicine, and he recommends that physicians routinely include patients’ faith practices in their evaluations.

 Slack, a writer who was formerly the editor of the natural history magazine of the California Academy of Sciences, gives a lively and mostly even-handed account of the clash of cultures in Dover. His book excels in explaining the intellectual issues involved.

Ayala trained for the Catholic priesthood in Spain before becoming an evolutionary biologist. His book offers an excellent explanation of biology and natural selection, then uses the theory of evolution to answer the question of why an omnipotent, benevolent God could allow suffering and death.

 From the Tibetan Buddhist leader: “A personal view of the relationship between science and religion explains how the two fields can work together to alleviate human suffering, arguing that we need to see and understand the connections between science and faith and that such enlightenment holds the key to achieving peace both within oneself and the world at large.” (Publisher’s summary)

 This book is a dense, thoughtful discussion of the evolution of ethics, showing why, in his view, you don’t have to be religious to be a good person (and why people are not all good or all evil).

Thirty essays discuss the complex interactions between science and religion in the Western world in the last two thousand years.

Many theologians and clergy on the one hand, and scientists on the other, are rather uninformed about each others’ fields. In this work, Richardson, an Australian geneticist, offers a clear, readable explanation of the scientific method and evolutionary theory, then goes on to explain why he thinks evolution and ecology are compatible with Christian thought, with which he is familiar.

This work is all of a decade old, but I recommend reading it early in your explorations, because Barbour, a physicist and theologian, offers an excellent framework for thinking about these issues.

Not Enough for You? 

There are many more out books out there, so you might want to look for some more answers to big questions in the San Mateo Library catalog. (And don’t forget to click on “Reviews and More,” where you’ll get more detailed summaries and reviews than I am able give here.) Or just post a comment and I can give you a few more suggestions.

Author Bio:

Vaughn Harrison works at Half Moon Bay Library and on the Bookmobile. She holds a degree in Religion from Swarthmore College. Her reading interests include anthropology, archaeology, ethnic relations, religion, mysteries, and travel writing.

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