RECONSTRUCTING NATURE: THE ENGAGEMENT OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION.
Employing recent methods of historical analysis. Brooke and Cantor conclude that the relationship between monotheistic religions and the natural sciences during the 17th to 19th centuries defies a simplistic master narrative like "conflict" or "harmony." The authors are historians of science who value their discipline's mandate to disclose the past accurately, and they extended their 1995-96 Gifford Lectures to produce ten illuminating chapters grouped into four sections in which they examine religion-science topics through the lens of philosophical, linguistic, biographical, and sociological tools used today in sub-specialties of history. Their findings indicate a highly complex interaction with evidence of complementary reflection and practice by individuals and groups.
In section 1, B. and C. point to the many diverse stories of scientists and theologians that counter the "over-arching schemata" (8) that have been superimposed on selective facts by writers to drive their own agendas. The authors of this book join other historians in eschewing myopic and skewed approaches to the religion-science relationship and argue for a scholarly approach that taps the insights and methods of contemporary historians. Attention turns to the importance of language, and the terms "science" and "religion" are examined using 19th-century "scriptural geologists" and Comte's Religion of Humanity as examples. Similarities and differences in the use of these terms surface and prompt the authors to underscore the benefits of analyzing language when investigating religion-science topics.
The need to approach data from a non-judgmental perspective is stressed in section 2. Popular renditions of the history of science by Capra and other "New Age" scientists are criticized for having overlooked historians' findings and having proffered characterizations of the science-religion engagement that do not coincide with the data as shaped by practice, society, technology, and politics. Events surrounding the trial of Galileo serve as a case study of these factors, and the popular myth that Galileo was condemned by the Church for having found "the truth" is dispelled through a litany of findings already made familiar by historians. B. and C. here show how Galileo's biographers reconstructed history to suit their political purposes.
Section 3 explores natural theology in various historical contexts with emphasis on the literary styles of early scientists. Discovered in the natural theologies of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scientists are their intentions to promote their religious faiths by turning knowledge about the world into arguments for its having been designed by God. The rhetoric of Newton, Ray, Paley, and others who, from scientific findings, reflected on God's relation to the world suggests that they were aiming to persuade the wider public to acknowledge God's presence in their lives and to fulfill moral as well as intellectual purposes. A philosophical analysis of scientists' progressions from the elegance and beauty of the world to theological discourse demonstrates how their faith prompted them to investigate the world, yielding brilliant results with enduring significance. The complementarity of religion and science resonates throughout this section.
Biographical and sociological approaches to the engagement of religion and science are applied in section 4. The lives of four 19th-century scientists are charted to discern how they worked out religion-science issues within the contexts of their times. The value of this approach shines as B. and C. identify several ways in which these individuals related their theological discourse and practice to their scientific endeavors as the circumstances of their lives changed. A flag of caution is raised against attributing definitive stereotypes to an individual's way of relating the disciplines. Focus turns to the Quakers who exemplify a somewhat systematic approach to relating theology and science through their openness to many avenues to truth, attraction to scientific fields, and contributions to the Royal Society of London.
The final chapter presents chilling ramifications for the future. Snapshots of Boyle, Priestly, and other chemists disclose their enthusiastic thinking about improving upon nature as a way of collaborating with God. B. and C. observe parallel rhetoric today among genetic engineers who insist that they are collaborating with and not violating nature. Among contemporary theologians are some who envision human beings as God's co-creators in need of principles to guide their interventionist technologies (340). B. and C. argue that moral theologians can play a crucial role in identifying these principles in cooperation with scientists and secular ethicists, a conclusion I wholeheartedly endorse.
Embellishing this fruitful demonstration of historians' scholarly methods are detailed illustrations of natural phenomena by early scientists, natural theologians, and philosophers. Endnotes packed with citations of primary and secondary sources should facilitate further research. While this study is eminently appropriate for history of science courses, theology professors may find it valuable as a teaching text on the complexities of the theology-science engagement and the religious faith of early scientists.
JAME SCHAEFER Marquette University, Milwaukee
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2001|
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