A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Robert C. Newman
How do Christianity and science relate to each other? This is one of some forty books in Zondervan’s Counterpoints Series, of which around five relate in one way or another to origins and science. Three experts in the subject of philosophy of science here debate and discuss this relationship. Using the four categories proposed by Ian Barbour this book omits the conflict view, which is felt to be no longer warranted by historians (despite the claims of New Atheists). The other three views: independence, dialogue, and integration, are here treated.
Michael Ruse, born in England in 1940, grew up as a Quaker; he rejected Christianity at age 20 and now considers himself an agnostic, or as he prefers, a skeptic. He did graduate work at McMaster University in Canada and his Ph.D. at the University of Bristol, UK. He taught philosophy at the University of Guelph in Canada for 35 years, then retired to teach at the Florida State University. He has written extensively on evolution and debated with William Dembski, a proponent of intelligent design. He considers Christianity and science to be independent.
Alister McGrath born in Northern Ireland in 1953, was once an atheist. He studied chemistry and molecular biophysics at Oxford, receiving his Ph.D. in the latter subject in 1977, and first-class honors in theology in 1978. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1980. He has taught theology at Oxford, Drew University, Regent College, and Kings College, London. He has published extensively on science, historical theology, and related subjects. He is currently Gresham Professor of Divinity and considers Christianity and science to be in dialogue.
Bruce Gordon was born in Canada in 1963, received a degree in applied mathematics from the University of Calgary, a masters in analytic philosophy from Calgary, a masters in apologetics and systematic theology from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, and a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from Northwestern University. He taught at Baylor University and was head of the Baylor Center for Science, Philosophy, and Religion. Since 2005, he has been at the Discovery Institute and became the director of its Center for Science and Culture in 2008. He has also taught at the King’s College in New York and is now a professor of history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University. He is a proponent of intelligent design and considers Christianity and science should be integrated, but in a constrained way.
The usual format for Counterpoint books is followed here: each of the three gives a presentation of his views on Christianity and science, followed by responses from the other two, and then he gives a rejoinder. The whole is introduced by Christopher Reese and concluded by Paul Copan, who gives very helpful discussions.
The use of a non-Christian as one of the presenters is unusual in the Counterpoints series, but not unprecedented. Michael Ruse has a great interest in both Christianity and science and is not so hostile to Christianity as are New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, whom he frequently denounces. Still, he doesn’t believe in God, certainly not the God of the Bible. He is firmly convinced of the truth of evolution and views Christianity as an independent faith-commitment. He claims it is a mistake for Christians to present evidence for Christianity (he tends to see faith as independent of evidence and the opposite of reason). He sees Christianity as obviously mistaken in its orthodox form. Ruse gives several of the more important objections to Christianity in his presentation. Some of his presentation is rather aggravating, but Christians would do well to be familiar with these sorts of arguments.
Alister McGrath believes that Christianity and science should be in dialogue, feeling that each can learn many helpful things from one another. He believes that methodological naturalism is an inherent (and proper) feature of science, but that it should not be mistaken for ontological naturalism (that nature is all that is). McGrath is a theistic evolutionist. He feels that the intelligent design movement is trying to make itself a part of science, which he claims it is not, but rather a part of theology. McGrath is a fairly easy to understand writer. He makes some good points on the relationship of science and Christianity, using the “two books” metaphor for Scripture and nature as two modes of God’s revelation. He notes that Christianity had an important role in the origins of modern science and that the “fine-tuning” of nature points to God but doesn’t prove it.
Bruce Gordon believes that intelligent design points unmistakably to a mind behind the universe and provides a good discussion of this. He thinks that naturalism (materialism) does not make sense of the rationality of humans nor even the regularity of nature. He believes that reality is a form of idealism (with God the supreme mind and other created minds), though with matter as really existing unlike (say) the religion Christian Science. He believes that methodological naturalism is mistaken and is strategically unwise for Christians to adopt and defend. His discussions are sometimes hard going, as he uses some philosophical concepts and quantum mechanical terms which will leave many readers in the dust. I would see Gordon’s views as closest to my own, though I have problems with his treatment of the nature of the Adam and Eve narrative. Young Earth Creationists will surely be unhappy with all three of these presentations!
I think this book can be helpful to those who are interested in science, philosophy, and Christianity, but it may be a difficult read for many. The introduction and conclusion are valuable in orienting readers.
Robert C. Newman is retired professor of New Testament at Biblical Theological (now Missio) Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, two master’s degrees in theology. He is the author of Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth and What’s Darwin Got to Do with It? and is a contributor to Three Views on Creation and Evolution.
Buy the books
THREE VIEWS ON CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE, by Michael Ruse, Alister McGrath, and Bruce L. Gordon