Hobart, “The Great Rift”

9780674983632-lgThe future belongs to people who can do math–which suggests a rather grim future for most of us law professors, who are, let’s just say, more comfortable with words. A new book from Harvard University Press, The Great Rift: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Religion-Science Divide, argues that the divide between the numerate and the literate goes back to the Renaissance, which saw the birth of a new, abstract mathematics, as distinguished from an older arithmetic. The author, Michael E. Hobart (Bryant University) argues that the development of the new math opened a divide between science and religion in the West. Looks very interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In their search for truth, contemporary religious believers and modern scientific investigators hold many values in common. But in their approaches, they express two fundamentally different conceptions of how to understand and represent the world. Michael E. Hobart looks for the origin of this difference in the work of Renaissance thinkers who invented a revolutionary mathematical system—relational numeracy. By creating meaning through numbers and abstract symbols rather than words, relational numeracy allowed inquisitive minds to vault beyond the constraints of language and explore the natural world with a fresh interpretive vision.

The Great Rift is the first book to examine the religion-science divide through the history of information technology. Hobart follows numeracy as it emerged from the practical counting systems of merchants, the abstract notations of musicians, the linear perspective of artists, and the calendars and clocks of astronomers. As the technology of the alphabet and of mere counting gave way to abstract symbols, the earlier “thing-mathematics” metamorphosed into the relational mathematics of modern scientific investigation. Using these new information symbols, Galileo and his contemporaries mathematized motion and matter, separating the demonstrations of science from the linguistic logic of religious narration.

Hobart locates the great rift between science and religion not in ideological disagreement but in advances in mathematics and symbolic representation that opened new windows onto nature. In so doing, he connects the cognitive breakthroughs of the past with intellectual debates ongoing in the twenty-first century.

Ecklund & Scheitle, “Religion vs. Science”

9780190650629Here is an interesting-looking contribution from Oxford University Press to the sociology of religion in the United States: Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund (Rice University) and Christopher P. Scheitle (West Virginia University). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the authors conclude, after a five-year study, that media portrayals of an anti-science bias on the part of religious Americans are simplistic. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

At the end of a five-year journey to find out what religious Americans think about science, Ecklund and Scheitle emerge with the real story of the relationship between science and religion in American culture. Based on the most comprehensive survey ever done-representing a range of religious traditions and faith positions-Religion vs. Science is a story that is more nuanced and complex than the media and pundits would lead us to believe.

The way religious Americans approach science is shaped by two fundamental questions: What does science mean for the existence and activity of God? What does science mean for the sacredness of humanity? How these questions play out as individual believers think about science both challenges stereotypes and highlights the real tensions between religion and science. Ecklund and Scheitle interrogate the widespread myths that religious people dislike science and scientists and deny scientific theories.

Religion vs. Science is a definitive statement on a timely, popular subject. Rather than a highly conceptual approach to historical debates, philosophies, or personal opinions, Ecklund and Scheitle give readers a facts-on-the-ground, empirical look at what religious Americans really understand and think about science.

Shavit, “Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam”

This month, Routledge released Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam: A Critical Reading of the Modernist-Apologetic School by Uriya Shavit (Tel Aviv University). The publisher’s description follows:

Scientific and Political Freedom in IslamThe modernist-apologetic approach to the relation between revelation and science and politics has been a central part of Arab discourses on the future of Muslim societies for over a century. This approach introduced historical and theological narratives and interpretative mechanisms that contextualize reason and freedom in Islamic terms to argue that, unlike with Christianity, it is possible for Muslim societies to be technologically and politically advanced without forfeiting revelation as an all-encompassing, legally-binding guide.

Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam critically examines the coherence and consistency of modernist-apologetic scholars. This is done through a discussion of their general theorizing on reason and freedom, which is then followed by discussions of their commentaries on specific scientific and political issues in light of their general theorizing. Regarding the former, the focus is Darwin’s theory of evolution, while the universality of the “Biblical flood,” the heliocentric model, the Big Bang model and Freudianism are also discussed. Regarding the latter, the focus is Islam’s desired structure of government and concept of participatory politics, while individual freedoms are also discussed. The book argues that the modernist-apologetic approach has great potential to be a force for liberalization, but also possesses inherent limitations that render its theory on the relation between revelation and freedom self-contradictory.

Introducing a significant body of new information on the reasons for the failure of secularism and democracy and the attitudes towards Darwinism in the Arab world, this book is a valuable resource for students and scholars of Islamic Studies, comparative religion, democracy studies and evolution studies.

Thomson, “Private Doubt, Public Dilemma”

Last week, Princeton University Press released Private Doubt, Public Dilemma, 9780300203677by Keith Thomson (Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

Each age has its own crisis—our modern experience of science-religion conflict is not so very different from that experienced by our forebears, Keith Thomson proposes in this thoughtful book. He considers the ideas and writings of Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin, two men who struggled mightily to reconcile their religion and their science, then looks to more recent times when scientific challenges to religion (evolutionary theory, for example) have given rise to powerful political responses from religious believers.

Today as in the eighteenth century, there are pressing reasons for members on each side of the religion-science debates to find common ground, Thomson contends. No precedent exists for shaping a response to issues like cloning or stem cell research, unheard of fifty years ago, and thus the opportunity arises for all sides to cooperate in creating a new ethics for the common good.

Harrison, “The Territories of Science and Religion”

The distinguished cultural historian Professor Peter Harrison’s (Oxford) 2011 HarrisonGifford Lectures concerned the relationship of religion and science. Now comes his new book, The Territories of Science and Religion, (this was the title of his first Gifford Lecture) just published by the University of Chicago Press. The first Gifford Lecture concerned the basic concepts of religion and science and their history, the changes that the concepts have undergone, and the utility (and disutility) of the concepts. The publisher’s description follows.

The conflict between science and religion seems indelible, even eternal. Surely two such divergent views of the universe have always been in fierce opposition? Actually, that’s not the case, says Peter Harrison: our very concepts of science and religion are relatively recent, emerging only in the past three hundred years, and it is those very categories, rather than their underlying concepts, that constrain our understanding of how the formal study of nature relates to the religious life.

In The Territories of Science and Religion, Harrison dismantles what we think we know about the two categories, then puts it all back together again in a provocative, productive new way. By tracing the history of these concepts for the first time in parallel, he illuminates alternative boundaries and little-known relations between them—thereby making it possible for us to learn from their true history, and see other possible ways that scientific study and the religious life might relate to, influence, and mutually enrich each other.

A tour de force by a distinguished scholar working at the height of his powers, The Territories of Science and Religion promises to forever alter the way we think about these fundamental pillars of human life and experience.

Ruse, “Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know”

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know”  by Michael Ruse (Florida State University). The publisher’s description follows:

Over the last decade, “New Atheists” such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have pushed the issue of atheism to the forefront of public discussion. Yet very few of the ensuing debates and discussions have managed to provide a full and objective treatment of the subject.

Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know provides a balanced look at the topic, considering atheism historically, philosophically, theologically, sociologically and psychologically. Written in an easily accessible style, the book uses a question and answer format to examine the history of atheism, arguments for and against atheism, the relationship between religion and science, and the issue of the meaning of life-and whether or not one can be a happy and satisfied atheist. Above all, the author stresses that the atheism controversy is not just a matter of the facts, but a matter of burning moral concern, both about the stand one should take on the issues and the consequences of one’s commitment.

Nadeau, “Rebirth of the Sacred”

I wouldn’t be the first to point out that popular environmentalism has a lot in common with pantheism. But one doesn’t have to make environmentalism a religion in order to see that the movement shares concerns with traditional religious worldviews. For example, the present Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew, has earned the nickname “the Green Patriarch” for his efforts in encouraging Christian stewardship of the world’s resources. Oxford has released a new book by Robert Nadeau, Rebirth of the Sacred: Science, Religion, and the New Environmental Ethos (2012), that explores the relationship between spirituality and environmentalism. The publisher’s description follows.

There is also a large and growing consensus in the scientific community that resolving the environmental crisis will require massive changes in our political and economic institutions and new standards for moral and ethical behavior. In this groundbreaking book, Robert Nadeau makes a convincing case that these remarkable developments could occur if sufficient numbers of environmentally concerned people participate in the new dialogue between the truths of science and religion.

Those who enter this dialogue will discover that the most fundamental scientific truths in contemporary physics and biology are analogous to and fully compatible with the most profound spiritual truths in all of the great religious traditions of the world. They will learn that recent scientific Continue reading

Asher, “Evolution and Belief”

Fascinating looking book by the paleontologist Robert Asher (Cambridge), Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist (CUP 2012).  The publisher’s description follows.

Can a scientist believe in God? Does the ongoing debate between some evolutionists and evangelicals show that the two sides are irreconcilable? As a paleontologist and a religious believer, Robert Asher constantly confronts the perceived conflict between his occupation and his faith. In the course of his scientific work, he has found that no other theory comes close to Darwin’s as an explanation for our world’s incredible biodiversity. Recounting discoveries in molecular biology, paleontology and development, Asher reveals the remarkable evidence in favor of Darwinian evolution. In outlining the scope of Darwin’s idea, Asher shows how evolution describes the cause of biodiversity, rather than the agency behind it. He draws a line between superstition and religion, recognizing that atheism is not the inevitable conclusion of evolutionary theory. By liberating evolution from its misappropriated religious implications, Asher promotes a balanced awareness that contributes to our understanding of biology and Earth history.

Ahmad Dallal on Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History

This year, Ahmad Dallal, Provost and Professor of History at the American University of Beirut, has published Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History (Yale, 2012).  An ambitious project, Prof. Dallal’s volume traces the rich tradition of scientific thought in the Muslim world, a history of confluence; conflict; and mutual religious, political, and cultural stimulus.  See further reflections on Dallal’s new text here.  Likewise, please see the publisher’s description after the jump. Continue reading

Classic Revisited: Whitehead, “Science and the Modern World”

Alfred North Whitehead was an important philosopher of science and metaphysics writing primarily in the early twentieth century.  Here is an interesting section from his book, Science and the Modern World (1925), dealing with the conflict between religion and science.  We are sometimes deceived into believing that these disputes are only quite recent, but of course they are not.  They are old tensions, and many writers have had provocative things to say about them.  Here is a bit of Whitehead:

The conflict between religion and science is what naturally occurs to our minds when we think of this subject.  It seems as though, during the last half-century, the results of science and the beliefs of religion had come into a position of frank disagreement, from which there can be no escape, except by abandoning either the clear teaching of science, or the clear teaching of religion.  This conclusion has been urged by controversialists on either side . . . .

When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them.  We have here the two strongest general forces (apart from the mere impulse of the various senses) which influence men, and they seem to be set one against the other — the force of our religious intuitions, and the force of our impulse to accurate observation and logical deduction.

A great English statesman once advised his countrymen to use large-scale maps, as a preservative against alarms, panics, and general misunderstanding of the true relations between nations.  In the same way in dealing with the clash between permanent elements of human nature, it is well to map our history on a large scale, and to disengage ourselves from our immediate absorption in the present conflicts.  When we do this, we immediately discover two great facts.  In the first place, there has always been a conflict between religion and science; and in the second place, both religion and science have always been in a state of continual development . . . .

[A]ll our ideas will be in a wrong perspective if we think that this recurring perplexity was confined to contradictions between religion and science; and that in these controversies religion was always wrong, and that science was always right.  The true facts of the case are very much more complex, and refuse to be summarised in these simple terms.

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