International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Science and Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective

by Del Ratzsch

Introductory Essay by B. V. Subbarayappa

Science & Its Limits (2000) is the second edition of the author's earlier volume: Philosophy of Science (1986) with two significant additions – a chapter on “Intelligent Design” which is a current topic of debate within the Christian scientific community as well as  among theologians, and an Appendix which candidly deals with the nuances of some disputations like creation and evolution within the Christian community. The purpose of this volume “is to give Christians an initial understanding of what natural science is, what it can do, how and why it works, and what it cannot do” [9].

The author has creditably achieved his purpose by presenting relevant facts coupled with cogent reasoning. Any Christian (non-Christian, too) who reads this volume with surely enrich his mind thanks to its clear insight into the nature of science, its limits, and the problems of science and religion.

The title of each chapter (there are 10 chapters in this volume) is fine- tuned with the author’s incisive discussion of the subject matter under it. He has anticipated issues that are likely to confuse the non-technical reader and dealt with them clearly. Whether it is the traditional conception of science, philosophy of science, challenges to religious beliefs, or Christianity and scientific pursuits, Del Ratzsch has presented both sides of the coin in a fascinating manner.

Ratzsch has a judicious approach to the Baconian conception of Science, the fundamental empiricist principle of the verifiability criterion of positivism, Karl Popper’s refutations, and the Kuhnian view of science. “The Kuhnian movement has placed humans and human subjectivity (in the form of values of the commitment of scientists) firmly in the center of science. It has emphasized that science is decidedly a human pursuit” [50].

The author has brought out vividly the limitations of science, including its inability not only to explain the origin and existence of the universe but also the ultimate purpose of our existence. It is bound by its pre-suppositions such as the principle of uniformity of nature, and is incapable of dealing with questions of ethics and values in life.

Discussions on scientific challenges to religious belief have added greatly to this volume. He points out that “…even if challenges of religion could be properly raised, and even if they looked exceedingly powerful, believers would still not be obliged to wave white flags…“ [108].

As for the concept of design, supernatural design, or “Intelligent Design”, the author has a  balanced view. Ratzsch writes; “ultimately, of course, scientists themselves will have the most say on this issue, but my own view is that for the moment the question is genuinely open… But whatever the fate of formal scientific argument in this area, we are violating no broad principles of rationality in thinking of the creation around us – perhaps inescapably – in terms of supernatural design” [131-132].

The author holds that ”science does not constitute an effective weapon against Christianity” [41]. The three-in-one question: (i) whether science and religious beliefs are independent, (ii) whether they have any complementarity, (iii) whether they can be blended to some extent, has engaged the attention of many Christian scientists and theologians. Though such questions do not have precise answers at present, Del Ratzsch has examined them dispassionately.

This is a must-read book which sheds fresh light on the philosophy of science and issues of science and religion.