International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science

edited by David C. Lindberg , Ronald L. Numbers

Introductory Essay by John Bowker

This is a superb and brilliant introduction to the interaction between science and Christianity, an interaction which has been, in the words of the Introduction, "of profound importance in the shaping of Western civilisation" [ix]. The 18 chapters focus on major periods or episodes in that long history.  These chapters cover Science and the Early Church, Science and Theology in the Middle Ages, The Copernicans and the Churches, Galileo and the Church, Catholicism and Early Modern Science, Reformation Theology and the Mechanistic Conception of Nature, Puritanism, Separatism, and Science, The Rise of Science and the Decline of Orthodox Christianity: A Study of Kepler, Descartes and Newton, Christianity and the Newtonian Worldview, Laplace and the Mechanistic Universe, The Mechanistic Conception of Life, The Shape and Meaning of Earth History, Geologists and Interpreters of Genesis in the 19th Century, Christianity and the Scientific Community in the Age of Darwin, The Impact of Darwinian Evolution on Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, The Creationists, Modern Physics and Christian Faith, Protestant Theology and Natural Science in the 20th Century.

The chapters are written by leading authorities who also provide a brief guide to further reading. The book emerged from a conference and its follow-up in 1981. It might therefore be felt that the book will already be 'out-of-date'. That is far from being the case. The authors go back consistently to fundamental sources, and while it is true that many of the authors have developed their work extensively since 1981, their basic perceptions and understandings have remained remarkably consistent.

Thus, to give only one example, Martin Rudwick contributed to the conference (and to this volume) the chapter on the emergence of geology as a science in the 19th century. Since then he has written two magisterial (and weighty!) volumes, both published by the University of Chicago Press: Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution (2005), and Worlds before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform (2008). The details and the evidence are (to say the least) vastly extended, but the basic perceptions and arguments of his earlier chapter in this book are reinforced and confirmed, rather than contradicted.

This book, therefore, remains an indispensable point of departure for those who wish to understand better the history of the interaction between the sciences and Christianity. The editors set out specifically to correct a situation in which historians of science and religion had generally been addressing themselves only to fellow professionals. They have succeeded admirably in their aim.