When Science Meets Religion; a book review
WHEN SCIENCE MEETS RELIGION, Enemies, Strangers or Partners? by Ian G. Barbour. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000. 204 pages, index, notes. Paperback; $16.00. ISBN 0-06-060381-X.

In 1991, Ian Barbour published “Religion in an Age of Science: The Gifford lectures, 1989-1991, Volume 1. So well received was this book for persons concerned with science/religion boundary issues that he issued a revised, retitled and expanded edition of it, “Religion and Science, Historical and Contemporary Issues,” in 1997. The second of these holds a place of prominence on my own library shelf.

“Religion and Science” is a difficult read, however, and its 366 pages (of very small text) have discouraged many from learning from it. Partly for this reason, and partly because, I believe, Barbour has found more articulate methods of conveying his thoughts, this new book has appeared. “When Science Meets Religion” is Barbour’s attempt to summarize and make clearer his arguments on a somewhat less scholarly level. He has succeeded admirably.

Ian Barbour is retired from Carleton College where he was both a professor of physics and a professor of religion. Among his other well-known publications are “Ethics in an Age of Technology” and “Myths, Models and Paradigms.” He was the recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1999.

Those who have read my book reviews in PERSPECTIVES before know that I often refer to significant publications as “keepers.” This one is beyond that designation. For all ASA members, who are presumably interested in science/faith issues, this book is a requirement. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Barbour’s masterpiece can be described best structurally. He posits four wholly separate ways of thinking about science and religion, Conflict, Independence, Dialogue and Integration. In chapter 1 he discusses each of these. In chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5, he considers four areas of study which each view must necessarily consider, astronomy/creation, quantum physics, evolution and genetics. In each chapter he discusses each model, so one can visualize this book as setting forth, in clear and persuasive prose, each of the four ways of viewing science/religion for each of the four issues, a very neat 4 x 4 matrix. It may be of interest to those familiar with his earlier works that his previous subcategory, “nature-centered spirituality,” is omitted entirely in this volume. It is not clear if he has abandoned it or has left it out for reasons of space.

Barbour treats fairly the claims of the Conflict model, but argues against it. He accepts some of the insights of the Independence model, but, in the end, casts his lot with the proponents of Dialogue and Integration.

In a concluding chapter, God and Nature, having argued that both the Conflict and the Independence models are unsatisfactory, Barbour discusses how God’s actions in this world can be seen as consistent with a universe of apparent causality. Here he treats the models of Murphy, Polkinghorne, Whitehead and others; having done so, he leaves the evaluation of these models to the reader. His conclusion appears on page 180: “All models are limited and partial, and none gives a complete or adequate picture of reality. The world is diverse, and differing aspects of it may be better represented by one model than another. . . the use of diverse models can keep us from the idolatry that occurs when we take any one model of God too literally. Only in worship can we acknowledge the mystery of God and the pretensions of any system of thought claiming to have mapped out God’s ways.”

$16.00 for this book may well be the best book money you have ever spent.

Reviewed by John W. Burgeson,
Stephen Minister,
First Presbyterian Church,
Durango, CO 81301.

Submitted to PERSPECTIVES 5/15/2001

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