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HTS Theological Studies

On-line version ISSN 2072-8050
Print version ISSN 0259-9422

Herv. teol. stud. vol.64 n.4 Pretoria Oct./Dec. 2008





Du Toit, C W 2007 - Viewed from the shoulders of God: Themes in science and theology

Publisher: Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa. 371 Pages. Price: Unknown

Reviewer: Prof Dr Jerome A Stone (Chicago, U S A)

This book covers many of the topics current in the debates about science and religion. Its stance is that we should "accept the multifaceted biological nature of existence without surrendering the values that are essential for the human spirit to survive." Its orientation "is basically Christian, with due regard to possible approaches from other religious traditions" (p vi).

"The aim of the science-religion debate is not to 'rescue' religion from science. The gods don't need protection, they speak for themselves." Rather, the goal should be "to clarify humankind's apparently incorrigible religiosity, and to reconcile the substance of faith and the concomitant expectations with our understanding of the physical functioning of the cosmos." Further, "to highlight the irrationality of religion - as scholars like Dawkins do - is easy. Pointing out misuses of religion is our duty; … hushing up scientific findings that appear to threaten religion is dishonest; denying the personal value that religion has for millions of human beings is a fallacy" (p vi).

Topics covered include evolutionary biology, the analogy between human organizations and autopoietic cell systems, cognitive science, the anthropic principle, intelligent design, and neuropsychological models of religious experience. The author does well in exploring religion and science from the point of view of metaphor, narrative, cartography, language, traditions and worldviews, including such key phrases as nature, the imago Dei and natural law. The discussion of Karl Barth is generally illuminating, as is that of Arthur Peacocke, Hume and Voltaire.

There is an excellent discussion of the proto-logical (not eschatological) literature of Genesis 3-11 portraying the human quest for dominance. Moving beyond Adam and Eve, this section models how Biblical insights can be utilized in a non-literalist fashion in the science-and-religion discussion. There is a brief but most illuminating discussion of the controversy between Robert Boyle and Hobbes about the significance of an air pump. This not only established the value of experimentation, but illustrates "how bias, ideology and worldview influence our interpretation of 'empirical reality'," for what was at stake was the nature of science, the relation between matter and spirit, and the democratic social constitution of Restoration England (p 116). There is an excellent discussion of the possibility and need for using the concept of "human nature" (p 136-137). The summary of seven models of the mind-brain relationship (dualism [Eccles, Popper], holistic dualism, reductive materialism [Churchland, Shoemaker], non-reductive physicalism [Murphy, Sperry, Searle], eliminative materialism [Monod, Rorty, Crick, Dennett], emergentist monism [Clayton], and supervenient theories of mind) is helpful, although proponents of these views might question whether their views can be adequately portrayed so briefly (pp 282-289). Treating naturalism (Boyle [sc], Davies, Dawkins) and supernaturalism (Haught, Dembski, Shannon) as a false dichotomy (contra Ruse) with Gregersen, Drees and Moltmann in the middle is helpful, though Paley is hardly a naturalist.

This book would be better if it had expounded specific issues in greater detail for readers new to the topics. On the other hand, it needs greater depth of analysis or a clearer viewpoint to be significant for the advanced reader. This reviewer often found it difficult to ascertain the writer's position in a particular passage, that is, when he passed from expounding a problem to setting forth a proposed solution. On a couple of minor notes, Charley Hardwick is misidentified as a woman (perhaps because of the spelling) and in the bibliography Crosby is misspelled. This book covers many of the significant topics in the science and religion area and the bibliography is wide-ranging and covers well the European, South African, and North American discussions. It is a stimulating book, but beginners will need to supplement it.

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