Tessa Koumoundouros Reviews 5 Questions: Science and Religion
5 Questions: Science and Religion
Edited by Gregg D. Caruso
The recent encyclical by Pope Francis, and support from other faith leaders, has acknowledged that despite the common rhetoric that pitches science and religion as irreconcilable opposing forces, we can’t afford to be divided if we are to combat massive global challenges, such as climate change.
5 Questions: Science and Religion, edited by Gregg D. Caruso, offers a range of insights as to whether science and religion can get along, and the significant challenges this would entail. In each of the thirty three chapters, a scientist, philosopher or theologian (and even one magician!), explore science and religion through their personal history and views on whether science and religion can co-exist, while answering five interview questions. Due to the multiple contributors, the writing styles and quality vary with each chapter, with some akin to verbose academic articles, while other chapters are far more accessible.
If you have strong views about science and religion, you may find reading some of the interviews challenging: I was certainly gritting my teeth through sections, particularly where some theists imply religion has a monopoly on morality. The most verbose contributions seem to belong to those who possess the most polarised viewpoints. Their responses are reminiscent of online trolls, doing their best to drown out any possible opposing argument they can conceive of, with their own, as if they are also trying to convince themselves. These chapters had me wishing the editor, Gregg D. Caruso, had imposed a stricter word limit.
Other chapters had me wincing at their sharp dismissive brevity, which reveal where the impressions of haughty, ivory towered professors can stem from – I’m referring to some of the atheists here! Despite this, however, the majority of interviews are well written, reasonable responses from both theists and atheists, like Simon Blackburn, who reminds us that early western scientists such as Newton and Galileo were Christians. These chapters had me sympathising with views I do not agree with and provide a good example of how to tactfully communicate contentious issues.
The interviews introduced me to many religious and philosophical concepts that I’d previously known little about. But what I found most intriguing were the common themes that emerged, such as the theists’ views of science as emotionally sterile, overly reductionist, materialistic and entangled with capitalism. Former chemist and Islamic theologian Muzzafar Iqbal believes that religion can’t ignore the “Faustian pact” between science, technology and the economy, which has led to our current environmental crisis. This is paralleled by secular philosopher, Simon Blackman’s view that the “winner takes all capitalist world we are in” encourages less fortunate people to cling to the social and moral comforts of religion.
Diverse views are indeed on show here, however all but one of the contributing authors are based in Western countries and the theists we hear from are primarily Christians. This is understandable considering the books’ Western origins, but is also unfortunate, as some of the most interesting chapters are from the authors with religions I know little about, like Buddhism. It was a missed opportunity not to have sought the opinions of more people with lesser known religions, because these may provide unique insights on the topic that have not already been incessantly lashed out in the public arena. For example, how do the world’s numerous indigenous people’s belief systems interplay with science? There are many lesser known avenues that could be explored through this interface.
If science is to advance, it needs continued support from the wider community, including religious people. And, as theists rely on science to exist in our modern world as much as atheists, understanding these diverse perspectives is vital. 5 Questions: Science and Religion can help with this understanding. But only if you are able to keep an open mind.
I’m a science communication student, who loves science, writing and illustration. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Hons.) in Zoology and Genetics from The University of Melbourne, I have completed an editorial internship at The Conversation and have been a volunteer communications assistant for The Gould League.