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Posted June 10, 2003
For anyone interested in issues at the interface of science and religion, this collection of interviews comes highly recommended. Chief among the merits of this volume is its level of engagement, and it is the people involved in this project who insure that the level of this conversation will be deep and its range wide. The core of the book is a set of interviews of twelve scientists conducted by philosopher Philip Clayton and science writer Gordy Slack. They are taken from the proceedings of a 1997 meeting in Berkeley (facilitated by the Science and the Spiritual Quest program under the auspices of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, a pioneer in the field of science and religion), where an international pool of sixty scientists met to discuss the relationships between their scientific work and their religious and spiritual lives. Interviewers Clayton and Slack set a philosophically sophisticated tone and manage at the same time to invite the scientists to talk at a more personal, intimate level, without letting them descend into grandstanding or evoking defensive apologetic. The nuances of each scientist¿s perspective surface in the interaction. Clayton and Slack probe; they push and encourage scientists to refine their thinking and their statements. It is also the caliber of scientists that makes the depth of engagement here possible. Their caliber as scientists is beyond dispute; two of the twelve are Nobel laureates, most of the rest are at the top of their fields. But, clearly, they have also been chosen for inclusion in this volume for their ability to articulate and explore their faith or spiritual quest as it interfaces with their lives as scientists. The twelve come from a range of scientific disciplines and of religious stances and spiritualities, and their level of spiritual-religious maturity or of commitment to a particular tradition varies. There are Islamic scientists who speak more of complementarity between modes of knowing than of conflict between science and religion. Others among the twelve are Jewish, Roman Catholic, Anglican. Spiritual struggle is displayed and addressed; the various approaches and traditions are honored. Taken together, these interviews constitute profound evidence for faith in science in several senses. They exhibit phenomenological evidence that at least some ranking scientists integrate deep faith and excellent science. In addition, the conversations turn, time and again, to points of personal struggle. There is struggle to find integration between one¿s life in science and one¿s religious tradition, to resolve epistemological issues, to reconcile belief in human freedom with evidence of bio-genetic determinism. The conversation is revelatory, as well, of the faith that science itself entails. There are choices to be made at the confluence of science and religion, to be sure. But the choices cannot be distilled into one between purely rational science and a (supposedly irrational) life of faith. Science relies on doctrines, tenets, rituals, and customs which must be taken on faith, and no one seriously arrogates unto him- or herself absolute objectivity anymore. There is, then, an implicit (and sometimes stated) critique of scientism here, an exposure of the beliefs implicit in reductionistic science. Scientists and theologians ought especially to find this book provocative and perhaps evocative of further discussion. The interviews could be excellent classroom discussion starters and the book could serve well as a sourcebook for courses in religion, the history of science, and in epistemology. Clayton and Slack have provided models, as well, for how to deepen discussion and help people refine their thinking about the science-religion interface. In the middle of his talk with physicist Arno Penzias, Slack quotes Wittgenstein: ¿We feel that when all scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely unanswered.¿ To this, Penzias repliWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.