Science and Religion

Beyond Warfare and Toward Understanding

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Joshua M. Moritz
  • Winona, MN: 
    Anselm Academic
    , January
     2016.
     318 pages.
     $31.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781599827155.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

A friend once told me that when teaching her university courses, she typically keeps the best book on the topic for herself to guide her instruction on the topic, and assigns the second-best one to her students. Although it would be a great shame to keep Joshua Moritz’s Science and Religion: Beyond Warfare and Toward Understanding from students, the book does such a good job of introducing readers to current questions and debates in the field that it would be entirely understandable if many teachers of the subject—especially those not already familiar with the extensive and ever-growing scholarly literature—decided to keep it for themselves. 

Science and Religion could also have been called Science and Christianity, given that it deals almost exclusively with Christian theological ideas. The specificity of its focus on a particular religious tradition, rather than on religion-in-general (whatever that may be), may reduce the book’s appeal to some audiences. Yet for those who care about Christianity’s relationship to science, such specificity allows for a depth of examination and exploration that would not otherwise be possible. 

The ten chapters of the book are loosely divided into two groups. The first four chapters look at what Moritz calls the “much-disputed borderlands” (10) between science and religion, primarily through historical and philosophical lenses. The historical material is largely taken from the detailed work done in recent decades by historians of science, work that cumulatively has shown that past Christianity-science relations are more complex than at first seems to be the case, and that they almost never fit neatly into the popular but mythical stories about inevitable conflict that have circulated since the 19th century. On the basis of this historical scholarship, as well as astute philosophical analysis of the boundaries and limits of science and faith, Moritz concludes the first part of the book with the claim that whatever tension or conflict does arise between the two is more often than not the product of one (or both) reaching beyond their proper limits; in the case of science this means scientism, while for Christianity it means fideism. This identification of an “essence” of the tensions between Christianity and science is a little surprising from someone who clearly eschews historical and philosophical essentialism and embraces a complexity perspective (85). Yet Moritz is doubtless right that in many cases scientism and/or fideism do induce stresses and strains in relations between the two.

Chapters 5 through 10 address particular contemporary sites of interaction and contestation between theological ideas and scientific theories: cosmogony and cosmology; the origins of life; the nature and destiny of humanity; miracles and laws of nature; creaturely suffering and theodicy; and the destiny of the cosmos. Moritz does a uniformly excellent job of judiciously selecting and summarizing key aspects of the literature on each topic, and at points, he brings his own original scholarship into the mix. The extensive footnotes and suggested readings for further study in each chapter are valuable for those not already familiar with relevant literature on each topic.

For those who think Christianity’s relationship with science need not be one of unavoidable conflict, the second part of the book is rewarding in that it displays one person’s view of the kind of Christianity that might steer clear of protracted discord. Moritz sees Christianity as an active tradition of reflection, one that draws on past insights but which is also not stuck in the past. It robustly engages with all facets of human endeavor and knowledge, including science, and it does not shy away from modifying its ideas and practices in light of science. This kind of Christianity is modelled by many of the sources on which Moritz draws and which he cites in the book: key early Christians including Irenaeus, Basil, and Augustine; contemporary scientifically-informed theologians such as Robert John Russell (co-editor of a number of books with Moritz, and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union where Moritz received his doctorate), John Polkinghorne, Nancey Murphy, and William Stoeger; analytically-inclined philosophers of religion—figures like Richard Swinburne, Michael Murray, Michael Rea, and Thomas Tracy—who have pondered the bearing that scientific issues and ideas have on the faith; and others. Moritz thereby locates himself in a long line of Christian thinkers for whom open and honest engagement with worldly learning is embraced.

If Moritz’s theological engagement with science in the second part of the book has any unique characteristics in contemporary science-and-religion engagement, it is perhaps his consistent focus on the Bible. For example, in contrast to Catholic theological engagements with science—ones in which canonical figures like Thomas Aquinas and magisterial texts from the Catholic intellectual tradition together guide how interaction between Christian theology and scientific ideas and concepts should proceed—Moritz prefers to work as directly, and in as unmediated fashion as possible, with Christianity’s scriptures. He frequently draws on Hebrew and Greek translations of texts to support preferred construals of key Christian claims, and unpacks the relationships between those claims and the relevant aspects of science. While broadly orthodox in character, the vibrant Christianity Moritz depicts in the bookis shaped by arguably more Protestant than Catholic or Orthodox attitudes toward the Bible.

Even if one doesn’t share all of Moritz’s theological commitments, anyone interested in an historically informed, philosophically sophisticated, and theologically and scientifically rich examination of Christianity-science relations will learn much from Science and Religion: Beyond Warfare and Toward Understanding. Through his mapping of one significant region of the intellectually challenging and highly contested terrain of science and religion, Moritz has done teachers of the subject—and their students, if they can get their hands on it—a great service.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Peter Jordan is Research Coordinator at the University of Oxford.

Date of Review: 
August 21, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Joshua M. Moritz is Lecturer of Philosophical Theology and Natural Science at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco.

Keywords: 

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