A subject of some contemporary interest is addressed in a new work from our friends at V&R (and obtainable in America from ISD – till October 15th at a discount if you use code 273-14).
The emancipation of the natural sciences from religion was a gradual affair during the last four centuries. Initially many of the leading scientists were churchmen indicating a symbiosis between faith and reason. Due to the increasing specialization in the sciences this close connection came to an end often leading to antagonism and mutual suspicion. This book traces this historical development with its twists and turns in both Europe and North America. It depicts the major players in this story and outlines their specific contributions. The main focus is on the 19th and 20th centuries with figures such as Darwin and Hodge, but also Beecher and Abbott in the 19thcentury. In the 20th century the narrative starts with Karl Barth and moves all the way to Hawking and Tipler. Special attention is given to representatives from North America, Great Britain, and Germany. In conclusion important issues are presented in the present-day dialogue between theology and the natural sciences. The issue of design and fine-tuning is picked up, and advances in brain research. Finally technological issues are assessed and the status of medicine as a helpmate for life is discussed. An informative and thought-provoking book.
Not only does the book sound fascinating, it lives up to expectations to be fascinating. A glance at the TOC reveals a structure of nine chapters moving from the dawn of the age of science through the 19th century and its various attacks via materialism and evolutionary theory on theological notions and the reaction of theology to that attack. British empiricism features as the chief interest of chapter three while chapter four investigates North America’s problems with Darwin.
Chapter five is the highlight and here Schwarz demonstrates his acuity most excellently in his exposition of the contributions of persons like Barth, Heim, Torrance, and de Chardin. Chapter six is in expose of Ian Barbour and in chapter seven the voices of various and sundry modern scientists is proffered. Chapter eight returns to the theologians most engaged in the science and theology discussion (Pannenberg and Moltmann).
The final chapter, the ninth, summarizes the significance of the dialogue between science and theology, specifically in the question of creation ‘care’ (my term), brain science, and our shaping of the world as the activity of responsible beings.
The chief issue of the volume is simple- on the surface, and it is this:
… it makes sense … to evaluate the relationship between theology … and the natural sciences to detect how far our trust in these is justified and how they actually relate to each other (p 8).
Few topics are as widely discussed or in need of addressing as that one. With the seemingly never ending debates about creationism, intelligent design, evolution, etc. as well as claims that science can answer ultimate questions our era is awash in more uncertainty than ever before in recorded history. Blind faith in religion has been replaced by blind faith in science. But many are opening their eyes and observing that the emperor of science-ism has no clothes after all and that, in spite of its denials, science has become a de facto religion and its most rabid devotees just as fundamentalistic as any Islamic jihadist.
Schwarz’s volume is a curative to all such extremisms. Carefully, clearly, concisely, cogently, phase by phase and age by age he describes and discusses the core issues of the most pressing theological subject of our era. What the great Christological debates were to the early church, the relationship of science to faith is to ours. Schwarz proves himself to be the finest guide to yet attempt the construction of a map through the perilous land called ‘science and theology’ or ‘theology and science’.
Anyone even remotely interested in or concerned with this subject owe it to their intellectual development to read Schwarz. Especially those who exalt science to a religion. It has not always been worshiped as it is in some circles today and eventually it, like theology before it, will be superseded in the affections of the massa perditionis by something far less impressive and far less important.