What Are You Reading and Why?

On Faith and Science

Edward Larson and Michael Ruse, Yale University Press, 2017

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

The intersection of scientific discovery and religious belief have consistently resulted in comment, controversy and sometimes violent dispute.  On Faith and Science offers perspective on the always complex relationship between science and religion, exploring cosmology, geology, evolution, gender and the environment.  Larson and Ruse avoid rancor and polemic as they identify the key issues under debate by the adherents of science and the advocates of faith.  They write compellingly of the interaction of science and religion that focused on conflict as the paradigm for the relationship of science and religion.

Another major perspective is that of complementarity, illustrated by Muslims and Christians, with a major emphasis on natural law, cause-and-effect relationships in nature:  the complementary perspective, religion fostering science, although  the writers’ summary of students at UCLA identified a conflict model.  They also point out the ways in which evangelical and fundamentalist churches have participated in this struggle ‘the conflict model still survives among historians and philosophers of science (p 13)’.  ‘The world works according to unbroken law and … G-d stays out of it’ (p 45).

The writers focus on the religious perspective with their inclusion of Buddhism as a religious contribution to the science/religious debate (p 151-154).  Their final chapter deals with environmental issues, citing both a religious and a non-religious spokesperson (pope Frances and Lynn White), which represents the perspective of complementarity.  ‘The inhabitants of this earth face social and physical issues…  No one should feel threatened by differences.  Hard thinking about the science and technology combined with deep moral seriousness and the religious conviction of believers are absolute requirements…  Sympathy and understanding are essential’ (p 276).

A good treatment of the rich diversity of ideas where science and spiritual belief meet.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.