International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Science, Religion, and Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture and Controversy - Volumes 1 and 2

edited by Arri Eisen , Gary Laderman

Introductory Essay by Ronald Cole-Turner

Science, Religion, and Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Controversy is a valuable survey that provides 86 short essays on topics that fall broadly under science and religion. Despite being entitled an Encyclopedia, the essays in this two-volume resource are not ordered alphabetically but arranged in eight sections: general overviews; historical perspectives; creation, the cosmos, and origins of the universe; ecology, evolution, and the natural world; consciousness, mind, and the brain; healers and healing; dying and death; and genetics and religion.

Essays range from the history of the interaction between science and religion to contemporary conceptual and social issues. All the world’s major religions are represented by several essays, often more than one in each section. Indigenous traditions are also represented by several essays, mainly from the Americas and Africa. In addition, some of the authors are agnostics or atheists, while others advocate positions like “intelligent design.”

While some sections, like those on cosmology and the brain, offer relatively standard science-and-religion fare, the sections Healers and Healing and on Dying and Death extend the discussion into areas not often addressed in the science and religion literature. These sections, though unusual, make a distinctive contribution. For those who are familiar only with the standard Western science and religion discussions, these essays provide rich sources of information. Furthermore, they show how the human desire to integrate the spiritual and natural is worked out in various cultures and settings, particularly around themes of healing or death. Finally, some of the essays offer critical or naturalistic perspectives on these religious phenomena, while others weigh the evidence for the health benefits of religion.

The range of essays and the diverse pool of authors make this a helpful resource. Some of the authors, such as John Polkinghorne, are well-known and their views are familiar to many. An essay on evolution by Francisco Ayala is likewise very useful, not for its depth or originality, but because here a prolific writer offers a recent and succinct summary. Other authors are not represented elsewhere in the standard literature and deserve the introduction this volume provides. More important, however, is the way this collection expands the meaning, for example, of cosmology. In this volume, cosmology includes not just (for example) western theological perspectives on big bang cosmology but two essays on traditional African cosmology and one on the cosmology of ancient Mesoamerica. These essays not only fill in gaps in the literature but may provoke the reader to entertain a broader range of possible solutions to standard problems in the field.

The strength of the resource is not in its depth but in its breadth. While the essays often seem too short for the assigned topic, they are easy to read. They provide a useful starting point for the beginner while, at the same time, challenging more advanced scholars to broaden their perspective on what is included in science and religion or whose voices should be heard.