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5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force, March 24, 2007
This review is from: The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (Oxford Handbooks) (Hardcover)
This massive, impeccably crafted edited volume represents the very best thinking in science-and-religion so far, with two exceptions (which I shall come to in a moment). The original essays featured show that science-and-religion is a field of inquiry which has truly come of age and is of immense relevance to broader academic discussions. The first part consists of relatively brief introductions to the field as seen from the standpoint of particular religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.). Especially interesting are those from a Buddhist and Hindu perspective, as they do not often feature in Western discussions. It is clear, however, that both religious traditions have sophisticated perspectives to offer and at least one impressive research program in the form of scientific studies of meditation.

The second part deals with particular issues in science-and-religion, such as evolution, cosmology, etc. Here there are not many new reflections on offer, as they aim to provide a general map of different issues to take into consideration. The third part is considerably more interesting, as we examine the contributions which specific disciplines can make to the discussion, such as philosophy of science, history, systematic theology, etc. It is here where the interdisciplinarity of the field becomes most evident. Religion-and-science is truly all-encompassing, and the best work in the future will have to draw on all these different disciplines. Part four highlights some particular approaches to the discussion, including naturalism (a remarkable essay by Owen Flanagan), post-modernity (Nancey Murphy), etc. Part 5, by far the longest of the book, features extended debates over the more prominent ideas and positions in science-and-religion, including divine action, panentheism, emergentism, intelligent design, etc. The final part includes perspectives on value issues in religion and science.

It will be clear from this whirlwind summary that one cannot possibly do justice to the rich arguments and scholarship presented in this volume. All the essays are well worth reading, except unfortunately for the two I mentioned above, by William Provine and Peter Atkins respectively. In stark contrast to the careful, wide-ranging research and nuanced discussion featured in the other essays, all Provine and Atkins can offer is the same old rhetoric dating back to Huxley and Haeckel about how science and religion are incompatible and how evolution has disproved God. These essays should never have made it into this volume. Surely more sophisticated proponents of atheism could have been summoned, such as Taner Edis whose book "The Ghost in the Universe" is one of the best defenses of the idea that modern science is most consonant with an atheistic worldview (though even he fails to make a persuasive case that theism is unlikely).

Several individual essays stand out as primus inter pares. Philip H. Wiebe is undoubtedly the most articulate proponent of the evidential value of religious experience in contemporary philosophy of religion, and unlike many other authors he has read extensively in the neuroscientific and biological literature. His essay on "Religious experience, cognitive science and the future of religion" is worth the price of the book (which is admittedly a hefty $160; thank heavens for research libraries!). Robin Collins essay on contributions from the philosophy of science also stands out. He presents a novel argument against reductionism from quantum mechanics and defends a view of the religion-and-science relationship which he calls Theistic Non-Reductive Intelligibility (TNRI) which certainly merits further consideration. Owen Flanagan's essay on naturalism is very insightful, especially in his conclusion that the only tenet common to all varieties of naturalism is the rejection of super-naturalism. If this is the case it is hard to see how one could debunk, say, religious experience without begging important questions. At the same time it makes naturalism a much harder 'target' for theistic apologetics, which I see as a good thing. Theism would be better served, as John Haught and William Jaworski have pointed out, by providing a comprehensive, intellectually attractive and scientifically informed alternative to naturalism, rather than simply trying to refute naturalism per se. Finally, Michael Silberstein in his essay on emergentism makes extremely important points about the project of natural theology.

All in all, then, a feast for the mind. For those who are interested in science-and-religion questions, either from long experience or for the first time (although the book presupposes a college education; the essays are rigorous and demanding), I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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