• Mon. Mar 20th, 2023

The entangled histories of science and religion by Nicholas Spencer


Mar 17, 2023

THIS book (extract, Comment, ten March) is subtitled The entangled histories of science and religion, and that is what it is — a quite complete account of the a lot of unique relationships of science and religion all through history. The account is complete. It ranges from the murder of Hypatia by a Christian mob in 415 to attempts by modern post-humanists to replace humans with artificial intelligences. Along the way, it visits the condemnation of Galileo, the golden age of Muslim science, the physico-theological functions of Paley, the Oxford debates about Darwin, the Scopes “monkey” trial, and considerably a lot more.

The author patiently deconstructs a lot of of the legends and polemical readings of these events, and demonstrates that they had been considerably a lot more nuanced and complicated than is frequently believed. The scholarship is impeccable, and the style often readable and informative. Any one who wishes to study an unbiased remedy will be in a position to dip into this book and will nearly surely see what occurred in a new light.

Several superior books about the varied relationships involving science and religion have appeared lately, and this have to be accounted as amongst the most effective. At times, scientific findings have been utilized to bolster religious claims, and, in some cases, they have been utilized to undermine religion. This is not a book that does either of these points. On the contrary, it shows how a lot of complicated problems have been at stake, and what diversity there has often been amongst these who have been involved.

Of course, the author has a view, but he regularly pleads for higher understanding of the information, and points to the underlying problems at stake. These, he says, are essentially twofold: who has the authority to speak on particular subjects, and what the nature of human personhood is.

As far as authority goes, relevantly certified scientists have authority to speak about the physical nature of points. But they do not have sole authority to pronounce on the ethical or spiritual dimensions of reality, even although physical variables may perhaps surely have an effect on such pronouncements. When it comes to human nature, the author emphasises the embodied, vulnerable, dependent, social, and mortal nature of human beings. He is not considerably in favour of dualism (by which he suggests the possession of an immortal but invisible soul), but is unconvinced by 1-dimensional accounts of humanity which look to cut down it to purely genetic, cognitive, or physical elements.

That, in this book, is as far as the author goes in revealing his individual views — fairly correctly for this is a history of a complete set of complicated problems which has all also frequently been marred by ideological propaganda, regardless of whether for or against religion. In my view, this history is illuminating, judicious, scholarly, and dependable. It deserves to be a canonical text for all who take an interest in this vitally essential subject, and who want to keep away from prejudiced or ill-informed opinions about it.

Canon Keith Ward is Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.


Magisteria: The entangled histories of science and religion
Nicholas Spencer
Oneworld £25
Church Occasions Bookshop £20