International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science

edited by Philip Clayton , Zachary Simpson

Introductory Essay by John F. Haught

This impressive work is an especially welcome addition to the growing list of substantive publications on religion and science. Carefully edited and neatly organized, the volume consists of fifty-six chapters, all written by recognized experts in science, theology, philosophy and the history of science. Each author addresses a special set of questions in religion and science in terms of his or her own area of expertise.

The Handbook is divided into six parts: science as interpreted by some of the world's major religious traditions; religion in the light of contemporary science; how some of the major fields of academic study approach the question of religion and its relationship to modern science; different methodological approaches; central theoretical debates; and, finally, values issues in religion and science.

What makes this work distinct from, and at the same time more readable and interesting than many other reference works, is that each author is encouraged to set forth his or her own personal ideas and opinions on the particular area being investigated. As a consequence of this liberality, the collection turns out to be not only a resource to which readers may go for necessary scholarly information but also an arena in which they may observe at close hand the strong disputes and disagreements that exist among the various participants in the science and religion conversation today. For example, some chapters represent the perspectives of non-theists, agnostics, atheists and naturalists of various sorts, while other chapters are written from the perspective of Christian, Jewish and Muslim theistic belief, folk religion, native traditions and various other vantage points. The essays also include somewhat more dispassionate contributions from the perspectives of psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy of science, neuroscience, molecular biology, fundamental physics, cosmology, and ecology. One part of this massive work also looks at feminist approaches to science and religion.

No reference work is ever perfect of course, and it is disappointing to this reviewer that in this collection no mention is made of seminal contributions to the field by Bernard Lonergan and Teilhard de Chardin and that the important work of Michael Polanyi is mentioned only in passing. Nevertheless, as a whole, the Handbook succeeds in outlining and illuminating the most important topics at issue in religion and science, although some essays do this more competently and impartially than others. As one would expect, the discussion of religious faith and its relation to evolutionary biology, including defenses of and attacks upon the notion of Intelligent Design, rightly takes a prominent place in the volume.

Is this a publication that could be used in the classroom? Unlike other reference works or handbooks, the diversity and style of the presentations included here should arouse the interest of both graduate and undergraduate students. In spite of its heavy physical weight and the prospect that teachers of science and religion will find it difficult to cover the whole spectrum of positions and methods on exhibit here, it could be the main text in a one-semester course (it is now available in paperback). Students and teachers alike will find that many of the essays are provocative enough to stimulate useful class discussion and critical reflection on what should now be one of the most important areas of study in contemporary higher education. The Handbook will also be of interest to general readers.