Review of Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction

[References to Dixon’s book are to location numbers in the Kindle edition. There are 2548 locations in the book, so those using the print edition should be able to access the general page vicinity of the quote based on the percentage of the book traversed at the location number indicated. This, by the way, raises a question for publishers of ebooks. They should include page numbers for the sake of scholarly reference.]

This is a worryingly confusing and confused book, as I shall try to show in detail. It purports to be a very short introduction to a field of academic study, and yet it does not really address the question of whether or not there is such a field. The existence of journals or even university departments of ‘Science and Religion’ is not sufficient to establish the existence of academic specialities. No doubt, from the religious point of view, the problem of relating science and religion is pressing, since religion is multiply challenged by science and scientific methodology. However, from the scientific point of view this is not only not a pressing issue, it is not an issue at all. What may be an issue is the continuing attempt by religionists to claim a relationship between science and religion, an attempt to harmonise religion with science, and to accommodate science to religion. But this cultural struggle is not a scientific concern, except insofar as it interferes with the proper function of the sciences; the pretence that it is, and that there are meaningful parallels between science and religion, is the entire burden of this book. In my view the case is simply not made.

Let’s get the first misunderstanding out of the way. Despite its comprehensive overthrow by the Enlightenment – what Jonathan Israel calls “theology’s loss of hegemony in the eighteenth century” (Israel, Jonathan. Enlightenment Contested (Oxford: University Press, 2006), 68) – religion still has a disproportionate footprint in the public sphere, even in places where the Enlightenment originated and flourished. Counter-Enlightenment forces were very effective in preserving the structures of ecclesial power that existed in Europe and in societies whose majority populations derive from European immigration. Religious belief itself made successive accommodations to scientific discoveries and the liberal, democratic political arrangements that originated in foundational philosophical works of the Enlightenment. These continued accommodations were in the nature of a steady retreat of religion and theology in the face of the growing success of science in producing reliable descriptions of the natural and human world. The liberal face of religion, thus revealed, acknowledged these successes, yet the heart of religion remained obdurate and unmoved. The forces which kept religions united and effective, as religions, were the beliefs which had been subverted by science. Surrounded by the protective glacis of liberalism, these beliefs were the citadel, without whose existence religion as religion would have simply perished.

This is why, when churches consult together, they still, even in the midst of the bitterest disagreements, claim to be seeking God’s will, and carrying out God’s plan for them. Though there is no conceivable basis for speaking of God’s will in regard, say, to specific questions such as the acceptance or rejection of homosexuality, or the ordination of women, continuing as a religion means that such speech must be privileged. In non-religious contexts such disagreements would be about matters of fact, or about disagreements regarding ethical principles which are, at least in principle, resolvable. In religious contexts the assumption is that there is one correct answer to the questions in dispute, and that God knows that answer. The task of the religious is, in humility, to seek to know God’s will, and when found, to submit, in humility, obediently to it. Yet there is no conceivable way of resolving the issues in dispute, if that is what they are. We will come to the question of revelation in due course, but it is clear that where claims are made to revelation, they are always to sources which are unquestionably human and fallible, and, moreover, open to interpretation. There is simply no way that this problem of sources and authority can be solved, except, of course, by main force. So, the simple truth is that religion’s continued prominence cannot underwrite religion’s claim to epistemic respectability. And yet it is almost entirely upon this that its claim to relationship with science is based. There is no sound epistemological basis for relating religion and science. If religionists wish to form a bastardised academic speciality it should be called ‘Religion and Science’, not ‘Science and Religion’. But it cannot be a field of knowledge for the simple reason that theology is not one.

That may seem an unpromising point from which to consider Dixon’s book, but it is, after all, not so unreasonable as it seems, for Dixon raises the issue of authoritative sources of knowledge without addressing any of the problems associated with the idea of authoritative knowledge. Religion, throughout the book, is merely assumed to produce knowledge. The bona fides of this purported knowledge and its sources are nowhere examined. However, clearly, to show that there is a substantive or meaningful relationship between religion and science, some epistemological work must be done. Dixon, however, never raises the question at all – not once. Yet he makes it clear that the “field” of Science and Religion is about harmonising science and religion. He says, for example:

Academic work by scientists and theologians seeking to develop a harmonious interdisciplinary dialogue has been supported by a range of institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, through the work of the Vatican Observatory, and also the John Templeton Foundation in America – a philanthropic organization particularly committed to supporting research that harmonizes science with religion. (411–14 [italics added])

Earlier he had remarked that  “The goal of a constructive and collaborative dialogue between science and religion has been endorsed by many Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the modern world.” (248) The reader will have noticed a trend. The relationship between religion and science is being sought by religions, not by scientists. The decision has already been made. The Templeton Foundation supports research harmonising religion with science. (Notice how different it sounds when you turn it around like this, and put the word ‘religion’ first.) The idea of constructive and collaborative dialogue is an odd one in this context. How would scientists and religions collaborate, and what constructive contributions can religion make to the work of scientists? Those questions are never asked and therefore never answered in the course of this book.

This leaves a difficult question. If the supposed constructive and collaborative dialogue is not what the field of Religion and Science is all about, what is it about? The answer to that question is unclear. So far as I can tell it is not really about anything in particular. It raises a lot of questions that are raised for religion by the growth of science, but there is no obvious or consistent relationship between the questions that are thus raised. Certainly, if Dixon’s book is a fair introduction to the “subject”, as he claims it is, then at least this reader came away wondering what “subject” the book was really about. At no point, for instance, are any epistemological issues raised which show some relationship between scientific knowledge and religious belief. Dixon does tell us at one point that “[s]cience is unable to tell us why there is something rather than nothing.” ( 888–89) Clearly, Stephen Hawking would disagree (see Hawking and  Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010). But even if it should turn out that Hawking is wrong about this, it is still not obvious that religion can do this either. Religions can certainly tell us what they believe to be true, but they cannot produce good reasons for thinking that they are right.

The truth seems to be that the principal subject matter of the supposed “field” of Religion and Science is to call into question the claim that some religious believers think has been made, namely, that, to use Dixon’s words, there is “an inevitable conflict between science and religion.” ( 236) It is worth saying at the outset that there is really very little question about conflict between science and religion, and the claim that there is such conflict is quickly shown by, to take but one example, the religious insistence that creationism should be taught along with evolutionary biology in the science classroom. However, the idea that there is an inevitable conflict is a different claim altogether, and one that has seldom been made. In general, science and religion do not conflict, because science deals with knowledge of the world, and religion does not deal with knowledge. Conflict arises only at those points where there is disagreement between the findings of science and the deliverances of supposed religious revelations. Where religion has not spoken – for example, with respect to theoretical entities like quarks and leptons – there is no occasion for conflict, because religion is simply silent about such things. So, in general, the task of Dixon’s “academic field” of Science and Religion is to show that there is some kind of harmony between religious claims, based upon revelation, or the authority of churches and other religious bodies to define what will constitute reality for them, and those scientific issues which seem to be in conflict with those claims.

Accordingly, the emphasis is placed just where one would expect to find it, on historical instances where it seems that there has been conflict between the growing epistemological confidence of science and the authoritative pronouncements of religious authorities. Two notable examples of this conflict are the condemnation of Galileo in 1633, and the religious response, often though not invariably negative, to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Clearly, there was deep conflict in both cases, especially in the case of Galileo, who was not only threatened by the Inquisition with torture, but was also actually forced to recant, assigned penitential discipline, and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Yet the new “discipline” of Science and Religion holds that this was all a misunderstanding of the complex issues involved at the time. It follows that, in reality – if scholars in the “field” of science and religion are right – when the Vatican, in 1992, apologised for the condemnation of Galileo, they need have done no such thing, since the condemnation had nothing to do with a conflict between religion and science, which is simply based on a misunderstanding of the complex relationships between science and religion.

The question, for Dixon, seems to be about the kind of conflict involved. There obviously was conflict, because someone ended up being punished. But was it a conflict between religion and science? According to Dixon, who suggests that he is giving us the tools to take an even-handed, dispassionate approach to the question, it was not a conflict between science and religion at all. As he says:

The only thing to avoid is too narrow an idea of the kinds of conflicts one might expect to find between science and religion. The story is not always one of a heroic and open-minded scientist clashing with a reactionary and bigoted church. ( 252–4)

So, how would Dixon describe the conflict between Galileo and the church, if not as a conflict between science and religion? Now, this is where Dixon’s discussion becomes very murky. Instead of coming right out and saying what kind of conflict he thinks is involved he becomes all “philosophical” and wiggly. His aim, as he says, is

… to look historically at how we came to think as we do about science and religion, to explore philosophically what preconceptions about knowledge are involved, and to reflect on the political and ethical questions that often set the unspoken agenda for these intellectual debates.  ( 271–73)

But there is a basic misunderstanding here. Dixon wants to dissolve the science-religion conflict into its political and ethical dimensions, as well as to show some kind of weak parallel between supposedly religious “ways of knowing” and scientific ways of knowing, between religious authority and the authority of science. And this is where Dixon’s discussion becomes hopelessly confused.

For example, he suggests that there is a parallel between religious ways of responding to the night sky and scientific ways of doing the same thing. The point that he is trying to make is that both science and religion do violence to what we perceive by our senses. For example, science tells us that the solid objects around us are constituted mainly of empty space and the forces between “particles” (and we put the word ‘particles’ in scare quotes, because Dixon wants to allow for both realism about the entities of physics and anti-realism or instrumentalism). But we must ask: In what way is this to do violence to our senses? Part of what physics does, whether we are realists or anti-realists about the theoretical particles of physics, is to explain why things appear to our senses in the way that they do. The very complex theories that help to explain this show that, in order to come up with reliable explanations, we cannot simply take what appears to us as the end product of explanation. We have to do complex research and experimentation in order to distinguish reliable theories from unreliable ones – or in epistemological terms to distinguish what is true from what is false.

For instance, Galileo did some very simple experiments with mass and motion, and concluded that what we think will happen – that heavy objects will fall faster than lighter ones – is mistaken. But this doesn’t do violence to our senses. It gives us a more precise description of what we can verify by means of our senses. Same with his telescope. By seeing the moons of Jupiter, he completely overturned what appears to be the common-sense account of the universe, that the earth is at the centre of things and everything revolves around the earth. But everything doesn’t. Some things revolve around Jupiter.

Now see how this fits in with Dixon’s idea of the relationship between science and religion. Science, he says, is mediated by a tradition of inquiry, a tradition of authority. But religion is just the same. It is mediated by tradition too. So, when the scientist looks at the night sky, and gives an account of it, he or she is doing the same thing that is done by the religious person, only the conclusions that they arrive at are mediated by different traditions. Take what Dixon says about the religious person’s response to the night sky.

In the religious case, what intevenes between the light hitting your retina and your thoughts about the glory of God is the lengthy history of a particular sacred text, and its reading and interpretation within a succession of human communities. … Religious teachers, as much as scientific ones, try to show their pupils that there is an unseen world behind the observed one. ( 327–30)

He prefaces this astonishing remark with the claim that “[i]ndividual religious experiences, like modern scientific observations, are made possible by long processes of human collaboration in a shared quest for understanding.” ( 326–7) But this is simply a false equivalence. We are not talking about unseen worlds. We are talking, when we are talking about science, about something which explains why we see what we do. The long process of human collaboration, in the case of religion, contributes nothing to this. It is only dubiously called a “quest for understanding” at all. Understanding what? is the question that springs immediately to mind, and Dixon has no answer. Certainly, it has nothing to do with unseen worlds.

The world that science seeks to explain is not unseen at all. It’s the one that we live in. The unseen worlds of religion have no comprehensible relationship to the world of the senses. Religious “explanation” has no relationship to scientific explanation. We know this, because religion doesn’t explain the world. In fact, religion exists within a multitude of conflicting traditions of interpretation, all with their own incompatible stories of how the world came to be, and how we came to be in the world.

Dixon says that the strategy of the “field” of Science and Religion is, first, “to replace the overarching image of conflict with that of complexity, and to put emphasis on the very different ways that science-religion interactions have developed” (Dixon, 2008, 333-34) in different times and places, local circumstances, and even national differences. And then he goes on to suggest that, though there are real conflicts, the conflicts are really political, not between science and religion at all. For example, in the United States, the conflict between science and religion is really a conflict over who should control “the educational agenda” (350), and not a conflict between religion and science in any ordinary sense. But of course, while it is true that science-religion conflicts almost always have a political dimension, this doesn’t diminish the sense in which it is really science and religion which are in conflict.

There is almost a sense of passing through the looking glass in the Dixon’s discussion of science-religion conflicts. For example, he speaks, in defence of the fact that the science-religion conflict is really political, of “… the recent development of ‘science and religion’ as an academic field in its own right,” (402) as though the existence of this “field” raises no questions. And then he immediately speaks of “the relationship between natural knowledge and revelation,” (403) as if this is simply unproblematic. But is there any reasonable epistemological basis for speaking of revelation? Even if there are different interpretations of what science does, whether scientific conclusions are understood realistically or instrumentally, say, there is good epistemological warrant for them. But where is the epistemological warrant for the idea of revelation? Just because religions speak about revelation is not sufficient to give authority to revelation as a source of knowledge. After all, there are so many incompatible “revelations” that the chance of any one of them being a genuine revelation of a god is vanishingly small.

Dixon even gets so carried away by the complexity of the “field”, that he thinks of Richard Dawkins as a contributor to it! The strange thing is that when he speaks of Dawkins’ contribution, he changes the word ‘field’ to ‘topic’ (cf. 422) And when he speaks about the “field” it is very clear that it is a religious undertaking, and has no relationship with science at all, as the following (already quoted passage) makes clear:

Academic work by scientists and theologians seeking to develop a harmonious interdisciplinary dialogue has been supported by a range of institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, through the work of the Vatican Observatory, and also the John Templeton Foundation in America – a philanthropic organization particularly committed to supporting research that harmonizes science with religion. (411-414)

But in what sense does this describe an “interdisciplinary dialogue” and not just an attempt by religiously inclined scientists and scientifically inclined religionists to assimilate science to religion? Until religion can provide epistemic warrant for its claims, there isn’t even a discipline of theology. Dixon acknowledges that the concern to harmonise religion and science is, as he says, “partly driven by apologetic motives” (425), but it is not clear that he ever fulfils his promise to show that there are “purely academic considerations” (427) involved.

Take the case of Galileo. Usually, this is taken – correctly, in my view – as the opening round in the conflict between science and religion. But Dixon suggests a retelling of the story in such a way that it becomes “a disagreement among 17th-century Catholics about how to read the Bible.” (469) Dixon puts this retelling in the context of an account of how we know anything, and suggests that if we think of what was happening in this disagreement in philosophy of science terms we will see that what was happening in the disagreement between Galileo and the Inquisition was a more complex disagreement about the nature of human knowledge, and less a simple conflict between science and religion. He does this by considering two metaphors, Bacon’s metaphor of natural knowledge as something of God’s own planting, and the metaphor of the book of nature. So we have two books, the book of nature, and the book of God’s revelation, both of them coming from God, and both of them requiring interpretation. And then he says:

… the project of discerning an author’s intentions in a text is a difficult and controversial one. The histories of science and religion reveal that these difficulties have been experienced in full measure in relation to both of God’s books. (499-500)

And this he follows up with the claim that “[n]either nature nor scripture offers a transparent account of its author’s intentions.” (501) And, while acknowledging that we don’t need to think of nature as a book in need of interpretation, or of scripture (which scripture did he have in mind?) as revelation, he nowhere provides any basis at all for speaking of revelation. He seems to take it for granted that there is a revelation, so that we can speak without complication of “[r]evealed knowledge [as] produced by a supernatural uncovering of truth,” (511) but there is simply no convincing evidence that we have such knowledge, and Dixon provides us with none.

In the absence of such evidence the conflict between Galileo and the Inquisition is not one about the authority of different sources of knowledge, (cf. 516-17) it is simply a conflict between science, with its empirical evidence, and religion, with its unfounded claim to ‘a supernatural uncovering of truth.’ And even if the religious try to “reconcile their readings of God’s two books without doing violence to either” (527), there is simply no reason to suppose that God has written anything at all.

So, when we come to the conflict between Galileo and the church, and Dixon brings all these ideas into play, he concludes that Galileo’s argument, that the distinction between knowledge of the world by means of observation, and experiment, and knowledge of salvation by means of scripture and revelation, applied to his case, (532-33) did not convince the authorities, and that this failure did not amount to a conflict between science and religion. After all, says Dixon, “there were limits to show how far the authority of the Bible and the of the church could be challenged by an individual layman like Galileo. He went beyond those limits.” (533-34) Well, yes, he did, didn’t he? And that’s just where the conflict between religion and science comes into play.

Even if Galileo was in a minority amongst the scientific community of his day, as Dixon claims (537), and even if the astronomy of Ptolemy was better at making some calculations than the Copernican system which Galileo accepted, Galileo’s observations showed that Ptolemy couldn’t have been right, since there is more to astronomy than just making calculations about the positions of the planets. The pope may have taken an instrumental or anti-realist view of science, as Dixon suggests (642-43), but there are other things that Galileo’s observations explained that Ptolemy’s astronomy did not explain, such as the reason why Venus and Mercury can only be seen at dusk and twilight, and why some satellites, like Jupiter’s moons, did not orbit the earth. Dixon thinks that an objective observer “would have pronounced the scientific question an open one ….” (630) But, even if that were true – which in my opinion it is not, since, after all, this is the path that science followed shortly thereafter – the question of the authority of the Bible is still simply irrelevant to these issues. Dixon says that Galileo was punished “for disobeying the Church, rather than for seeking to understand the natural world through observation and reasoning ….” (624-25)

But this is just silly, since Galileo produced the evidence for his observations and reasoning, and he was forced to recant the conclusions to which he was led by them. Dixon has an answer to this. Since the history of science is the graveyard of dead theories, Dixon says, and “there is no reason to suppose that today’s successful theories are true,” (674-5) there is, presumably, no reason for faulting the pope for dismissing Galileo’s arguments. But there is every reason in the world for supposing that today’s theories are true, because these are the theories that are supported by the evidence, and others are not. The theories may have to be held provisionally, since they may come to grief, but there is every reason for believing them to be true, and until contrary evidence is found, no reason to believe them false. When the church disciplined Galileo, and forced him to recant, it dismissed his evidence and reasoning, not based on contrary evidence, but on the belief that the church’s sacred text had authority over any claims that were made about the nature of the world. And what is this but a conflict between science and religion. The only acceptable way of resolving this conflict was by doing more scientific observation, not by condemning Galileo for going beyond the limits of acceptable challenge to the authority of the Bible and the church.

Not only that, but Dixon even accuses Galileo of forcing the church to declare these conclusions heretical! So, not only did Galileo exceed his authority, he’s really to blame for the church’s conservative reaction. It seems that, in order to assimilate science to religion, no response is too absurd:

By drawing new attention to Copernicanism and to the Church’s attitude to scripture, Galileo had succeeded in having the former declared heretical and in seeing the latter hardened and entrenched in a more conservative position. (599-600)

What can one say to that except – “Wow!”? Or maybe “Whoa, baby!” We are told that the conflict between Galileo and the church was not a conflict between science and religion, but then we are told that Galileo’s actions hardened the church’s conservative position and forced the church to declare Copernicanism heretical!

There’s got to be something deeply wrong with this conclusion. Indeed, it shows, clearly, I think, that the whole “field” of Science and Religion is misconceived from the start. It is built on the assumption that there are two different sources of knowledge, each with its own legitimate authority, and the task of the “field” of Science and Religion is to come up with some way of harmonising these authorities. But surely the simple truth is that religion has not been able to provide an authoritative source of knowledge, or a method for distinguishing between what is true or false in the religious account of the world. The multiplicity of religions is alone enough to confirm this.

But there is something else that is particularly notable about Dixon’s treatment of the trial and condemnation of Galileo, and the lengths he appears to be willing to go in order to exonerate the church. For, there is not one mention of the Index of Prohibited Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) in Dixon’s book – not one. Now, surely this is a remarkable oversight in a book that claims to be providing the tools for thinking reasonably about the relationship of religion and science. The Index was established in 1559, a good 74 years before the trial and condemnation of Galileo. And while Dixon says that the Galileo forced the church to declare Copernicanism heretical, Johannes Kepler’s Epitome astronomiae Copernicianae, was on the Index from 1621 to 1835, and Copernicus’ work was already there, placed on the Index in 1611, and it also remained there until 1835. The last edition of the Index was issued in 1948, and the Index was not abolished until 1966. Surely, not to mention a religious institution that lasted for so long, and which prohibited, in its time, most of the greatest works of science and scholarship of the modern period, is a serious lacuna in a study aimed at exploring the relationship between science and religion. The failure betrays a degree of scholarly bias which leads one to wonder how the book got past the Oxford University Press editors, and alone calls into question the basic premise of the book about the existence of an academic “field” of Science and Religion.

When I began this review I had intended to look in some detail at the conflict between religion and science as it pertains to Darwin and the theory of evolution. Of course, it is evident that there is an incredible amount of conflict between forms of fundamentalist religion and evolutionary biology. Dixon may, as we have seen, want to see this conflict as mainly political, but this is irrelevant. It is political because it is a conflict between religion and science, which is bound to have political ramifications. And while it is true that many learned religious people, especially in the mainstream of Christianity, accepted evolution, as the evidence clearly requires, it is still true to say that there is a fundamental incompatibility between religion and evolutionary biology. It was an incompatibility that was recognised by Darwin. And while it is true that some religious people are prepared to accept evolution as a purely algorithmic process, most religious people, even very liberal religious believers, cannot dispense with the notion that, whatever we may say about the rest of life on earth, the existence of human beings is somehow purposed and therefore privileged.

But Darwin had noticed something that most religious believers simply have not even considered. It is said that after his beloved daughter Annie died of tuberculosis at the age of 10, Darwin stopped attending church. He would accompany his family to the church door, and then carry on with his morning walk. Why? Scarcely anyone asks this question. Why did his daughter’s death topple whatever semblance of faith he had managed to preserve, mainly for his wife’s sake, over whose letter expressing her sense that life would not be worthwhile if she could not believe that they would be reunited after death, he had so often cried? I think I know the answer. It was not just that someone deeply loved had died. The reason was that Darwin had seen, in the death of his ten-year-old daughter, the process of natural selection at work, and the horror of that process, the pain and suffering and the snuffing out of a bright life and all its hopefulness, made it brutally clear that this was an impersonal process, indifferent and blind to the suffering it caused. This was not the product of a caring or benevolent being. It was a mechanical process in which life was indifferently selected for or selected out, much like a stock breeder will choose between the animals that are chosen as studs for breeding and those that are turned into steers for slaughter. And Annie had been selected out. Belief in God could not survive that.

Dixon says that the world scarcely needed Darwin to point out that suffering, violence and death “were features of the natural world in general and of human life in particular.” (1192) Well, no, of course it didn’t. But Dixon misses the new dimension that Darwin’s theory adds to the problem of evil. Evolution plans suffering and death into the very process of “creation” itself. Indeed, evolution is the problem of evil magnified. It is one thing to recognise that there is suffering, violence and death in the world, and that, in itself, has been a virtually unsolvable problem for religion. Epicurus’ argument, quoted by Hume, seems to be decisive. “Is he willing to prevent evil but not able? then he is incompetent. Is he able but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both willing and able? whence then is evil?” (Dialogues of Natural Religion, Part X) But if God has planned additional suffering into the very process by which he creates life, then the problem of evil is simply magnified. Not being able to create life without suffering, violence and death is problem enough. But creating life by means of suffering, violence and death: that’s another problem altogether. This Dixon does not see.

Aside from its magnification of the problem of evil, the real problem with evolution from the religious standpoint is, as Dixon himself observes, that it obliterates the boundary between human beings and the rest of life on earth. (1198-99) But then he goes on to quote the pope (Benedict-Ratzinger):

We are not [says the pope] some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. (1234-35)

And then Dixon, misleadingly, I think, goes on to say this:

The Pope’s warnings are not against evolution as a science, but against adopting the idea of evolution as an overarching view that deprives the world of meaning and purpose. (1236-37)

This is simply a misunderstanding of what the pope said. The pope’s statement is the statement of a religious conviction that is in immediate and direct conflict with evolutionary science. It assumes that thinking of ourselves as the unpurposed products of evolution is to deprive the world of meaning and purpose. In response to this the pope contrives to spin evolution in such a way as to maintain the barrier between ourselves and the rest of life on earth. But this is imply a rejection of the theory of evolution. It is not a harmonising of religion and science, but a desperate subversion of the conclusions of science themselves.

And this is a misunderstanding that runs through the whole book. There are all sorts of other matters raised in Dixon’s book, questions about miracles, for instance, or about determinism and quantum indeterminacy, and how science and religion relate in each case. “Pity the poor theologians!” he cries, “They are faced with a seemingly impossible dilemma when it comes to making sense of divine action in the world.” (745) Either God’s acts are few, and inexplicable. Why in this case if not in that? Or God does not act at all, and simply creates the processes that govern the world, and lets things unfold as the laws of nature decree. In the first lemma, as he points out later, “divine inaction is as hard to explain as divine action.” (967-68) But in the second, God is simply a deist first cause, and not the god of religion at all. In the light of this, would it not be better simply to acknowledge that there is no reason for believing that there is any evidence for the divine anywhere in the world? And if there is no such evidence, what reason is there for believing? The attempt to harmonise religion and science (rather than science and religion) is in fact an attempt to reinterpret scientific findings in such a way that they can be reconciled with people’s religious beliefs, so that people can hold incompatible ideas in their minds without noticing the incompatibility. This will also make it look as if science and religion never conflict, but this is just for religious consumption. It has absolutely nothing to do with history, and even less to do with science.

Thomas Dixon, Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: University Press, 2008)

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