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4.0 out of 5 stars A historical perspective in the science and religion debate, 27 Nov. 2009
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Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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Reconstructing Nature: The engagement of science and religion, by John Hedley Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1998, 396 ff.

A historical perspective in the science and religion debate
By Howard A. Jones

John Hedley Brooke and Geoffrey Cantor are both Professors of the History of Science: Brooke formerly at the Universities of Lancaster and Oxford and now at Durham, Cantor at the University of Leeds. Given their specialisms, it is no surprise that this book deals with the science and religion debate from a historical perspective. The book is a written form of the 1995-6 Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Glasgow. As lectures delivered under the bequest of Adam, Lord Gifford, the main thrust of the volume is Natural Theology - an attempt to justify the existence and work of God as Creator and Designer of the universe in rational and scientific terms.

In the first two chapters, there is more detail than is usually readily accessible concerning the views of Copernicus, Newton and Descartes regarding the structure of the heavens and planetary orbits; the evolutionary theories of Cuvier, Lamarck and Darwin; the positivism of Auguste Comte and its consequences; and the significance of the geology of Charles Lyell.

In Chapter Three, there is some sharp criticism of the historical stance of authors such as Paul Davies and Bryan Appleyard, and even more swingeing criticism of Fritjof Capra's "Tao of Physics" as `one of the canonical texts of the New Age movement'. The authors query whether Davies, Appleyard and Capra have ever pursued historical research and thereby accuse them of Reconstructing History (Section II). There are many of us in trouble if these are to be grounds for rejecting commonly held views of the history of science, held by many of us who have not specifically studied this specialism, partly because this has disappeared from most syllabuses in schools teaching the subject to university entrance standard and formed no part of my degree courses in science or mathematics.

Section III of the book deals specifically with Natural Theology, while Section IV presents some Biographical Narratives of writers in this field from previous centuries, like John Tyndall, Adam Sedgwick, St George Jackson Mivart and William Benjamin Carpenter.
The book concludes with some speculation as to how future historians might assess the current religion and science debate.

While the degree of detail here is fascinating, I would suggest that this is a book more for undergraduate students of theology, philosophy or the history of science. It is quite readable for the layman, but readers will need to be familiar with the theories and texts referred to for this book to have any meaning for them.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

The Watch on the Heath: Science and Religion Before Darwin
Understanding the Present: An Alternative History of Science
Science and Theology since Copernicus
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cheering study of interaction of science and religion., 10 Jan. 1999
By A Customer
Review by Michael Fuller in Church Times, 1 January 1999: "Various things can prompt people to cheer out loud: the scoring of a goal, a fine soprano aria. If, like me, you can be moved to such a response by a good book, then have planty of throat medication to hand for this one. You'll need it.
The authors ... present a series of essays (originally Gifford lectures) illustrating a wide range of approaches to the historical study of the interactions of science and religion....
The copious references make this book an excellent resource as well as a good read.
Brooke and Cantor's approach allows them to suggest ways in which science and religion might continue to shape each other in the future, as they have clearly done in the past; and it offers many insights into a variety of topics. In all this praise, it would be unworthy of me to single out for comment the delicious demolition of Peter Atkins on p.234 -- but there, it just slipped out."
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