International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words

edited by Nancy K. Frankenberry

Introductory Essay by Makarand Paranjape

Engrossing almost from the first page, this volume of what scientists “themselves have to say about God, religion, or the sacred” [vii] is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the relationship between science and religion. That this relationship has been shifting, changing, and evolving during these last four centuries goes without saying. As the editor, Nancy Frankenberry, puts it, the two domains have been constructed as “overlapping, complementary, separated, fused, or conflicted” [vii].

The twenty-one scientists featured in this volume, from Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) to Ursula Goddenough (1944-), represent some of the most interesting minds of their times. Their thoughts on God and religion are, thus, not just invaluable but also very readably presented. One might cavil at the selection of just eight “founders of modern science” from Galileo to Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), which make up Part One of the book, while considerably greater space is devoted to “scientists of our times,” the thirteen who make up Part Two. Invariably, I found that the first lot had far more significant things to say and were, indeed, epochal figures when compared to the second, though the latter include many of the usual suspects such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall, Steven Weinberg, John Polkinghorne, Stephen Hawking, and so on. Both sections, however, confine themselves to “Western” scientists, thereby reinforcing notions of conventional canonicity. In the contemporary section, there is not a single voice of a French, German, Russian, Latin American, Japanese, Chinese, or Indian scientist.

Originating in the classroom at Dartmouth College, the book still retains some of its pedagogical flavour, particularly in Frankenberry’s informative, lucid, and argumentative Introductions to each chapter. These not only bring us up to date with the current debates over each scientist’s position but also, at times playfully, offer a readable contrast to the more formal scientists’ presentation. Each chapter also has a “Further Reading” section that can be very useful to students and lay readers alike. In addition, each chapter has a short note on the concerned scientist’s distinctive contribution to knowledge.

What is striking about such a collection is the range and diversity of the views expressed by practicing scientists, but also the unexpected revelations of their personal beliefs and vulnerabilities. After reading this book it is impossible to declare that scientists have no faith; rather what they profess is a wide range of belief systems from conventional religions to atheism, and with many kinds of intermediate or alternate ideas including religious naturalism, pantheism, and highly developed systems of personal and collective ethics.

Overall, this is a very stimulating and useful anthology of primary readings on science and religion.