God and Gravity

A Philip Clayton Reader on Science and Theology

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Philip Clayton
Editor(s): 
Bradford McCall
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , August
     2018.
     386 pages.
     $44.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532649561.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Few intellectuals today have contemplated the relationship between science and religion/theology the way Philip Clayton has. Clayton grew up as a fundamentalist Christian and identified as charismatic, but then attended Fuller Seminary and completed his doctorate in philosophy (specializing in philosophy of science and theology/religion) at Yale. Fast-forward through decades of teaching, there is now a substantial library of work from a remarkable thinker that few could hope to match. 

Thankfully, Bradford McCall—one of Clayton’s students from Claremont School of Theology (with a similar biography)—took it upon himself to compile a concise 300-page reader from Clayton’s various contributions to the science-theology arena. I stumbled onto this collection as (also) a former fundamentalist and professor with a deep interest in philosophy, science, and religion—and yet having never read anything of Clayton’s. The only exception is Clayton’s recent volume, Religion and Science (Routledge, 2018), which I simultaneously read and reviewed for Reading Religion. My remarks from that review also apply to the God and Gravity reader: “I became ‘a fan’ rather quickly. Clayton appears to frequently strike the delicate balance of relevance, scholarship, and critical thinking throughout his writings.” So if the goal of the book was to popularize Clayton’s work to a newer audience, it certainly worked on me!

In God and Gravity: A Philip Clayton Reader on Science and Theology, the content is far denser and richer than Clayton’s introductory Religion and Science. Most of the articles/entries are highly academic and require considerable background knowledge in theological and scientific studies. This difference in tenor was expected between the two books, but it was a little more jarring than I anticipated. One has better hope of eating an entire double-chocolate cake in a single sitting than reading God and Gravity in, say, a week. It will take some time.

However, McCall appears to have anticipated some of these challenges, providing an extremely helpful and thorough introduction to Clayton’s thought. Terms and concepts like “emergence,” “panentheism” (and twelve variants of it), “physicalism,” “Inference to Best Explanation,” and many others are clearly explained in a concise and logical narrative. This introduction—combined with Clayton’s own short autobiography and reflections—make up a solid forty-fives pages. 

There’s little time to elaborate on all (or any) of the contributions themselves—a grand total of six categories across forty chapters. McCall’s choices seem to be covering all the bases of Clayton’s general thoughts on science and theology. Though this required considerable editing/splicing, it was not too distracting. Most of what is cut seems to be the detailed material from the general points of Clayton’s contributions. At any rate, the material itself is witness to unusually thoughtful and relevant scholarship. I cannot imagine anyone seriously engaging the science/theology dialogue without dealing with Clayton’s sophisticated insights. 

Clayton’s work makes for an interesting comparison/contrast to others such as Alistair McGrath’s Science and Religion: A New Introduction (Oxford 2009), especially given Clayton’s integrated interfaith concerns and specific, articulated proposals on divine action, and God/creation. His application to process thought in social relations and economics (“Organic Marxism”) was also an interesting portion of the book, though noticeably experimental, undeveloped, and (in this economist’s eyes) less defensible than his other proposals. 

One of the best aspects of reading Clayton is a visible care for what the author is writing about. Like other theologians (I’m thinking of Sallie McFague, Daniel L. Migliore, Jürgen Moltmann, William C. Placher, among others), Clayton is not writing from an ivory tower to score academic points. However, no matter how abstract the analysis may get, there is always a return to “what now?” and “how are we to live?” God and Gravity is a wonderful book that I couldn’t recommend more highly.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jamin A. Hübner is Proessor and Research Fellow at several institutions and resides in Rapid City, SD.

Date of Review: 
March 4, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Philip Clayton is the Ingraham Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, CA.

Bradford McCall is a doctoral student at Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, CA. He is the author of many peer-reviewed journal articles.

 

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