When Science Meets Religion 
Ian Barbour,
SPCK, 2000. 205 pages.

Reviewed by Howard Taylor.

Ian Barbour is a major contributor to the fast growing subject of Science and Religion in Interface. (He tells us that in the 1990s 211 books per year were published on the subject.) Recently he was a winner of the prestigious Templeton Prize for progress in Religion. This is one of Barbour's smaller books which is meant to give an overview of the various beliefs, discussions and arguments that are most important for the subject. However a new comer to the subject would be advised first to read a simpler introduction such as John Polkinghorne's `Quarks, Chaos and Christianity', and then turn to books such as this. 

What is it all about?
For millennia philosophers and theologians have attempted to address such questions as:
1. Is the universe eternal or did it begin? 
2. Does the rational structure of the universe mean it must be the product of a great Mind?
3. Is there any purpose to human existence?
4. What is life and how has it developed?
5. Can the experiences of consciousness and self-awareness be reduced to the properties of the brain or do they imply the existence of a soul?

It is in the latter part of the 20th Century that some scientists have tried to get to grips with these most fundamental of fundamental questions. The discussion continues in the 21st Century and hence the increasing interest in the subject.

Ian Barbour is well known for his four models of the science-religion relationship namely: 
1 Conflict (Galileo, Darwin, Dawkins, Young Earth Creationism etc)
2 Independence (Stephen Jay Gold: they both address genuine issues but there is no overlap between them).
3 Dialogue (science raises questions that it can't answer - questions that religions usually address).
4 Integration. (There is enough overlap between science and religion's quest for truth that a genuine search for truth in one can illuminate the other.)

Each chapter in the book is built round this scheme.  The main chapters are: Astronomy and Creation; The Implications of Quantum Physics; Evolution and Continuing Creation; Genetics, Neuroscience and Human Nature; God and Nature. He tells us that he is writing as a Christian but nevertheless usefully discusses other religious worldviews.

In the text we meet such pioneer scientists, theologians, philosophers and controversialists as John Polkinhorne, Arthur Peacocke, Richard Dawkins, Michael Behe, Paul Davies, T. F. Torrance, Karl Barth, Neils Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein, Newton, Stephen Hawking, Cullman, Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Polanyi, Karl Popper, Ilya Prigogine and many others.
Although in the space of 200 pages Barbour's explanation of the discussions can only be a brief summary, he writes very clearly, almost always fairly and very concisely so that the reader really does get a good grasp of the issues. Just one example of this is his helpful summaries of how physicists themselves differ in their understanding of what quantum physics tells us about the nature of physical reality, and how both philosophers and theologians have interpreted the significance of these various scientific interpretations for metaphysics and theology.

For these lucid explanations alone the book is to be highly recommended as a very useful resource for teachers and students alike. At the end of each chapter he gives very useful summaries, not only of what he has been saying but also of his own views. This adds significantly to the book, which otherwise would simply be a helpful survey of various opinions.

A question I would like to ask Ian Barbour relates to my observation that among many scientists who are asking religious questions there seems to be a real apprehension about moving too far away from the metaphysics of materialism. (Of course, because of the legitimate fear of the 'god of the gaps' it is right to be cautious.)
However how do we react to a statement Barbour makes in the midst of his very good section on consciousness and the mind-body problem? 
He says "Most scientists today do not accept either body/soul or brain/mind dualism, though these ideas can still be defended on theological or philosophical rather than scientific grounds." My question would be: 'Do "most scientists" hold this view because the results of their research or because they fear getting too far away from a more respectable metaphysical materialism - a materialism which Kurt Godel, referring to the relevance of his famous theorem for our metaphysics, described as "the great prejudice of our day"?'

Another question I have relates to his 'conflict' model. One can imagine certain religious people being against science per se. That is clearly conflict. But what about those who are all in favour of science but hold views of the significance of science which are divergent from the views of present day scientific orthodoxy? Many may judge them to be in conflict with science but their claim is that they are pro-science. As examples of the conflict model he refers to two astrophysicists: Gerald Schroeder (an orthodox Jew) and Hugh Ross (an evangelical Christian who turned to Christianity after reflecting on the significance of discoveries in Maths and Physics). Neither is a young earth creationist and each accept the Big-Bang cosmology. But each holds relatively conservative theological views and both attempt to back up their theology from their physics. Both, I am sure, would put themselves in the 'integration' category but Ian Barbour places them firmly in the opposite 'conflict' category. Although he disagrees with some of Hugh Ross's views on the significance of Relativity and a multi-dimensional universe, he places them both in the conflict category mainly because he disagrees with their religious views. My question is then: Is present-day scientific respectability together with a relatively liberal theology necessary if one is to be granted a place in the dialogue or integration categories? Surely that must not be the case.

A possible omission. 
Ian Barbour says he is writing from a Christian perspective. 
When most people think of Christianity they think of prayer and worship and beliefs about Jesus Christ. There is little or nothing in the book about these topics. It is not as though scientists don't write about how their scientific view of the world relates to their experience of answered prayer or their beliefs about incarnation and atonement- some scientists who Ian Barbour clearly respects definitely do and very helpfully. Although one cannot expect him to cover everything, discussion of these topics would have added greatly to the interest of the book and also given it more 'warmth'.

The Contents and also the Index pages (names and topics separately), as well as the endnotes are very good and helpful.

Apart from a few criticisms mentioned above, the book is so clear, succinct and wide ranging that I certainly recommend it. 

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