Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction

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OUP Oxford, Jul 24, 2008 - Religion - 168 pages
The debate between science and religion is never out of the news: emotions run high, fuelled by polemical bestsellers like The God Delusion and, at the other end of the spectrum, high-profile campaigns to teach 'Intelligent Design' in schools. Yet there is much more to the debate than the clash of these extremes. As Thomas Dixon shows in this balanced and thought-provoking introduction, many have seen harmony rather than conflict between faith and science. He explores not only the key philosophical questions that underlie the debate, but also the social, political, and ethical contexts that have made 'science and religion' such a fraught and interesting topic in the modern world, offering perspectives from non-Christian religions and examples from across the physical, biological, and social sciences.. Along the way, he examines landmark historical episodes such as the trial of Galileo by the Inquisition in 1633, and the famous debate between 'Darwin's bulldog' Thomas Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce in Oxford in 1860. The Scopes 'Monkey Trial' in Tennessee in 1925 and the Dover Area School Board case of 2005 are explained with reference to the interaction between religion, law, and education in modern America. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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The subject matter of the interaction between science and religion is one fraught with misunderstandings. For a while now, there has been a growing tendency to view these two disciplines as polar opposites of each other, and to characterize the interaction as that of a conflict. It does not help that many scientists are atheists, and many believers are not well versed in science. Consequently, each field is perceived as a caricature of itself when viewed through the eyes of its opponents. And yet, what each one offers in its own right and with the respect to other is much more nuanced and rich than these caricatures would imply. The recent spate of neo-atheist books has rekindled interest in the connection between the two. This new atheism bases itself largely on scientism, the idea that religion is false because it is not science.
There is a paucity of good books that do justice to both fields, which makes it difficult for the serious and intellectually honest novice to receive an objective and yet comprehensive account of them. Thomas Dixon's "Science and Religion - A Very Short Introduction" is a welcome exception and probably the best first introduction to the subject. In line with the other "very short introduction" books, this one is sophisticated and does not condescend to its readers by calling them "dummies" or "idiots." Nevertheless it is a very accessible book that sheds a lot of light on its subject. It would be unreasonable to expect a book this slim to cover all of the different approaches to religion and science, and some adjustments need to be made. For the most part, it uses Christianity as the primary example of religion, and discusses those scientific theories and discoveries that have historically posed the greatest challenges to the Christian worldview. It includes all of the "greatest hits" of the debates between science and religion - the Galileo affair, Darwin and evolution, creationism and intelligent design, and mind and morality. Dixon approaches all of these controversies with a lot of historical insight and manages to stir clear of catering to facile misinterpretations that have become popular in the public conception. Thus, the Galileo affair is viewed against the backdrop of the seventeenth century political and scientific events, from which it becomes clear that much of the latter interpretations are mere mythologizations of the events in question. On the other hand, Dixon is equally careful to avoid the trap of revisionist apologetics that underplay the severity of the punishment that Galileo had to endure and the chilling effect it had on his further scientific endeavors.
By focusing on concrete events and controversies, Dixon enhances the readability of the book. Too often a potentially intellectually honest appraisal of the connection and the interaction between science and religion assumes too much or too little of the reader, and consequently falls into either of the two categories of scholarly philosophizing or amateurish polemicizing. Nevertheless, the right balance can be achieved, and anyone who is new to this subject would greatly benefit from reading Thomas Dixon's succinct yet informative volume.


List of illustrations
Chapter 1What are sciencereligion debates really about?
Chapter 2Galileo and the philosophy of science
Chapter 3Does God act in nature?
Chapter 4Darwin and evolution
Chapter 5Creationism and Intelligent Design
Chapter 6Mind and morality
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About the author (2008)

Thomas Dixon is Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London. A member of the International Society for Science and Religion and an expert on modern intellectual history, he writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, and has published books about the history of psychology and about Victorian moral philosophy.

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