2012-09-05

Readings on the Philosophy of Science and Religion



This post grows out of a conversation with one of our science teachers here at TMI.

One "package" of questions that students and adults frequently ask me about is the bundle of issues surrounding science and religion. They range from supposed scientific "proofs" of God's existence (or the star of bethlehem, or Noah's ark, etc.), to questions of evolution, creation, and the Genesis stories, to deeper questions about whether God has a meaningful role to play in a world where we have physical explanations (or at least hunches) for most empirical phenomena.

If you are interested in reading accounts of this from specialists in the field, I would like to recommend the following reading list. Both of these writers take science and religion seriously, without trying to do ideological "violence" to either. Both of these scholars understand Christian Scripture in an expansive way, and would regard the Genesis creation stories as metaphorical or mythological, not as empirical statements of the methods and timeframe used in Creation. Both of these writers hold to theological convictions that would make them credible to religious people here in the "Bible Belt" (i.e. both are practicing Christians who affirm the essential points of the Creed). And finally, both of them think that human origins are best explained by evolution through mechanisms of "natural selection", without recourse to Creationism or "God of the gaps" theories where God is forced to supernaturally step in and "prop up" evolution somehow.

The first writer I will recommend is John Polkinghorne, who for most of his professional life was a quantum physicist of some renown. In his 50's he began pursuing theological education and was ordained as an Anglican priest. He has PhD's in both applied science and systematic theology. I find his books immensely helpful, although he does tend to write in both a very English and a very Academic way at times.

Polkinghorne reading list (easier and more basic, down to more specialized):

Faith of a Physicist (Theology & the Sciences) (9780800629700): J. C. Polkinghorne (Very interesting book because he takes on "The Nicene Creed" from a physicist's perspective)

Quarks,Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science And Religion: John Polkinghorne: 9780824524067 (a nice, short primer on the subject very suitable to non-specialists)

Science and Providence: God's Interaction with the World (9781932031928): John C. Polkinghorne (although it does not directly answer the thornier specialist questions about evolution, it does provide a nice framework to embed the issue within)


The second writer I will recommend is Keith Ward, a philosopher of science, theologian of comparative religion, and Anglican priest as well. His writing comes from much the same philosophical and methodological bent as Polkinghorne, but his writing style is much more approachable. Ward also tends to draw from insights across world religions, whereas Polkinghorne deals mainly with Christian theology in conversation with science.

Ward reading list (easier and more basic, down to more specialized):

Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins (9780745953304): Keith Ward (In my opinion, one of the most respectful, scientifically knowledgable responses to Richard Dawkins' "God Delusion")

God Chance and Necessity (9781851681167): Keith Ward (In this, he deals well with probability theory and whether current physics allows for meaningful involvement of God in the universe)

More Than Matter?: Is There More to Life Than Molecules? (9780802866608): Keith Ward (Deals well with current explanations of human consciousness, and whether conscious experiences are reducible to merely physical epiphenomena)

The Big Questions in Science and Religion (9781599471358): Keith Ward (this is a fairly specialized book, but what is very interesting is that he tackles the questions from a pan-religious viewpoint, taking into account what insights other religions may have on these questions)

I hope you might find this interesting. If you have any suggestions for this list, please add in by commenting.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.