International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Encyclopedia of Science and Religion (MacMillan Reference USA) - Volumes 1 and 2

edited by J. Wentzel van Huyssteen , Nancy R. Howell , Niels Henrik Gregersen , Wesley J. Wildman

Introductory Essay by Nancey Murphy

Editor in chief van Huyssteen writes in the Preface to the Encyclopedia that the editors “have created a rich reference resource that is well suited to diverse library environments.” Had the work not been planned far in advance of the Templeton-sponsored Library Project, one might think that it was designed specifically for such varied use.

The two volumes include 1050 eight-by-eleven inch pages, covering over 400 topics, arranged in alphabetical order. To assist readers in finding related articles, the first volume contains a six-page “synoptic outline” that lists major topics (e.g., cosmology) followed by all of the articles relevant to that topic (age of the universe, anthropic principle, astronomy, etc.). The articles vary in length from approximately 100 words to several thousand, each with cross references and a bibliography. The audience for which they are written is largely students (including high school students) and teachers, but they are written by experts in the relevant fields (numbering approximately 180 authors).

At the end of the second volume there is a ten-page annotated bibliography. This is the one (somewhat) disappointing part of an otherwise magnificent work. Recognizing, of course, the limitations of space, it was surprising, for example, that under the topic of divine action there is no mention of what has become a bit of a classic in setting up the problem, Owen Thomas’s edited collection God’s Activity in the World (Scholar’s Press, 1983). Nor is there mention of what is referred to as the Vatican Observatory’s “divine action series” (although these books are all in the bibliography of the divine action article itself).

An extremely valuable aspect of the encyclopedia is the extensive index, running to 106 pages, with references to entire articles in bold-faced type.

One of the major reasons that van Huyssteen is correct in claiming that this encyclopedia is well suited to diverse libraries is that it is both global in scope and incorporates important issues from a wide variety of religions: Buddhism, Bahá’í, Chinese religions (Confucianism, Daoism), Christianity (including entries for eight sub-traditions: Anglican, Evangelical, etc.), Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Shinto. The range of sciences included goes well beyond the typical focus on cosmology, biology, and physics, to include behavioral science, cognitive neuroscience, computer and information sciences, ecology, genetics, primatology, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, paleontology, and anthropology. These assorted religious and scientific topics are considered not only in their contemporary but also historical form, thereby illustrating the dynamic nature of the science-religion interactions.

In addition to being an encyclopedia of religion and science, it could also be called an encyclopedia for religion and science. That is, many of the entries are not about the science-religion dialogue per se, but about issues one needs to understand in order to comprehend the science-religion dialogue, such as epistemology and philosophy of science, mathematics and logic, philosophy of religion, ethics, technology; and the effect of the internet on current scholarship. In this respect, as well as the intended level or readership, the Encyclopedia resembles A Science and Religion Primer, edited by Heidi Campbell and Heather Looy (Baker, 2009), but the Primer is only 230 (six- by nine-inch) pages.

A comparable and complementary reference work to the Encyclopedia is The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, edited by Philip Clayton and Zachary Simpson (Oxford, 2006). This book is of comparable number, but again smaller, pages. It is complementary to the Encyclopedia in that it is arranged in the form of 56 chapters, organized under major headings, averaging perhaps 12 to15 pages each. The Handbook also provides an exceptionally detailed index. One book I would recommend as another complement to the Encyclopedia is The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, edited by Robert Audi (Cambridge, 1995). It is approximately the same size as The Oxford Handbook, alphabetically arranged, and again covering a vast number of topics that one needs in order to understand science and religion issues, both contemporary and historical.

I suspect that the Encyclopedia will be one of the most widely used books in the Library.