Dictionary of Christianity and Science
The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science
- ISBN: 9780310496052
- Published By: Zondervan
- Published: April 2017
As soon as one reads the title of this book, it seems to set up confrontations between any number of science topics and Christianity. Many, though not all, contributors take an evangelical Christian perspective, which is in keeping with the publisher’s outlook. Nevertheless, there is a fairly wide latitude of views included in the Dictionary of Christianity and Science. It seeks to fairly represent various perspectives within evangelicalism on the topics included.
One hundred and thirty-five contributors are included, representing well-established scholars in religious/theological and scientific fields (including psychology), medical professionals, and some doctoral students. Most are from American institutions.
Any attempt to create a reference book is immediately met with choices, primarily deciding what to include or not. In the introduction, the editors state that the work is “not meant to be exhaustive…but it is wide ranging and accessible” (11). While some notable omissions will be detailed below, generally speaking this work has significant breadth for a one-volume reference work. It is certainly a welcome volume given the relative paucity of reference works in this specific subject area.
The editors took an interesting approach to organizing the entries. They fall into three basic types. There are “introductions” to topics, which are basically shorter summary entries of the sort one would expect in any dictionary. There are also “essays,” which elaborate more fully on topics, giving “a thorough introductory synopsis” (11). What makes this reference work particularly interesting are the “multiple-view discussions,” which are meant to foster debate on significant topics. These include separate articles on the same topic by authors of varying stances. The editors report that “the viewpoint authors did not read one another’s entries prior to publication” (11). This last type of grouping of entries is a positive aspect of the work, though at times there is a lack of consistent editing (for example, there is a multiple-view discussion on “creation,” but then later there is a separate entry for “days of creation”).
Each entry has a section of “references and recommended reading” at the conclusion, which is typical of many such reference dictionaries. Unfortunately, with some entries there are very few sources listed, while in others there is an abundance. This choice may have been left to the author of each entry. Within many entries, cross-references to other entries in the Dictionary are given in bold text, which is a nice feature once the user figures it out.
One thing any reference tool ought to strive for is consistency in the editing of entries submitted by the various authors. Realizing that some topics will be given more attention because of the three types of entries employed, there is still too much inconsistency in how much space is given to some topics. The very first entry is on “abortion,” which barely covers three-quarters of a page – fairly astounding for such a controversial topic. Meanwhile a full page is allotted to “dissection, human” and one and one-half pages for “bioethics.” There is also a half-page entry on the contemporary organization, “Biologos,” which is commendable for showing awareness of contemporary sources. But overall the length allotted to the entries mentioned above is not balanced in a helpful way.
Users will find multiple-view discussions on subjects such as “Adam & Eve,” “climate change,” and “creationism,” all of which make sense in such a tool. There are also several pages covering “evolution,” yet curiously only one page for “DNA.” Some topics included seem to have little relation to science, such as “fall, the,” “incarnation,” “prayer,” and “language, origin of.” Then there are some topics of a more historical nature like “flat earth” and “Hypatia”; such entries seem out of place in a reference work seemingly geared toward recent topics. Perhaps the oddest entry is “pi in the Bible.”
There are some notable omissions of topics, including biological diversity, Christian Science (denomination), end of life issues/euthanasia, fundamentalism, global warming, number theory, and Scientology. Undoubtedly there are others which could be identified.
Some entries may seem a little too biased or slanted for some users who may expect dispassionate entries in reference works (if such is even possible). But some bias is almost unavoidable considering the focus of the subject matter. There are numerous biographical entries, including some on people still living (some reference works make a point to not include living figures). There are even entries on some of the contributors, though written by others—this seems particularly unusual. Some biographical entries are far too uncritical, even lionizing at times (for example, see “Fred Hoyle”).
Though one could wish for better editing and more consistency in the types of entries as well as how much space is allotted to each topic, this is still a valuable reference work. Some of the material pertaining to science will become dated in the near term, so it will be interesting to see if the publisher will issue newer editions later. Nonetheless, this is a volume that belongs in any academic library which deals with religion and/or science, as it can provide users with ready and helpful summaries of topics which will be helpful for their research.
Kenneth McMullen is associate professor of theological bibilography at the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina.Kenneth McMullenDate Of Review:September 19, 2017