An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Little Book for Scientists by Reeves and Donaldson - a review

A Little Book for Scientists
Why and How to Study Science
Josh A. Reeves and Steve Donaldson
Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2016
144 pp; pbk; £9.07
ISBN: 978-0-8308-5144-7
Publisher’s website here

There is much I liked in this book - however, for me, this was marred by the adoption of a two books approach.*

The authors are both based at the Stamford University Centre for Science and Religion, so are well placed to write this introductory book. The main aim of the book is ‘help Christians studying and practicing in the sciences to connect their vocation with their Christian faith’ (13). 

The first part of the book looks at why we should study science. The answer is not only has it improved our lives, but also, from a Christian perspective, they see it as being rooted in the metaphor of God’s two books (22) (i.e. Scripture and nature). Science helps us to understand one of these two books, hence, the Christian motivation for doing science.

My concern with the two books metaphor is that it can promote the notion that science is neutral as regards faith.  It can lead to science been seen as an autonomous activity and not one done under the lordship of Christ.

They then turn to the history of science and clearly show how Christianity has been closely related, that is until the end of the nineteenth century. At this stage science became professionalised rather than the domain of the amateur. Also, methodological naturalism became the dominant paradigm of scientists. Methodological naturalism then became full blown scientific naturalism, which meant that God was excluded.

The third chapter looks at ethics - they write: ‘Modern science is too big and powerful—both in terms of the resources it requires and the outputs it produces—for Christians to leave scientific research to others’ (43). Here they show that the fact/value distinction as leading to a misleading view of the scientific enterprise. This is an important point and I felt it needed to be developed further. (See Reeves paper on this here.)

Part Two looks at the characteristics of faithful scientists. Here they offer good sound advice on how to work under difficult situations, how to work with other scientists and the need for intellectual integrity.

In Part Three they examine Science and the Christian Faith. They cover important topics such as the approach to scripture, they offer some principles:
1. Having the Holy Spirit as out Teacher does not make us infallible
2. We must read the Bible in community
3. Not just a literal interpretation
4. To know what the Bible means for us today, we should first understand what the Bible meant to its general audience
In Chapter 8 they pose the question: ‘Are scientists mostly atheists?’ They maintain that atheists have three problems: the first too large a view of science, the second too tired a view of religion and third too lofty a view of humans. They illustrate these very well in their excellent critique of J.B.S. Haldane assertion that ‘My practice as a scientist is Atheistic’. 

The final chapter looks at what scientists can do for the church. This is particularly pertinent as the Science and congregations project is aiming to do just that.

There area name and subject indexes and a two pages of further reading - I was surprised at the inclusion of Owen Barfield and the omission of the excellent Science & Grace by Tim Morris and Donald Petcher. 

The book has much to commend it. It is full of practical insight and wisdom, however its use is impaired by the adoption of a two books metaphor and its implicit adoption of a complementary view of science and religion.

* See the comments for a clarification by one of the authors.

There is an interview with the authors here

Part I: Why Study Science?
 1. God and the Book of Nature
 2. Christianity and the History of Science
 3. Science and Ethics
Part II: The Characteristics of Faithful Science and Scientists
 4. Hope in the Face of Adversity
 5. Life Together: Working with Others in a Scientific Community
 6. The Known Unknowns: Science and Intellectual Humility
Part III: Science and Christian Faith
 7. Science and Scripture
 8. Are Scientists Mostly Atheists?
 9. Science for the Good of the Church
For Further Reading
Name and Subject Index
Scripture Index


Josh said...

Steve, thanks for the review. As co-author of the book, I will say that I think you are reading more into the two-books metaphor than we suggested in the book. The main lessons I draw (since I wrote that chapter) is not that science is neutral with respect to faith, but that some knowledge of God is evident in nature and that we shouldn't expect science and scripture to contradict. As I argue in the third chapter, anti-Christian values can be evident in conclusions that some scientists draw, and there are almost always multiple ways to interpret empirical results. I could say more, but overall, I would argue that one can accept the two-books metaphor without thinking that scientists provide us with a neutral, value-free account account of the world.
Best, Josh Reeves

Steve Bishop said...

Hi Josh, many thanks for reading and commenting on my review.

I was pleased to see that your adoption of the two books metaphor didn't imply for you that science is neutral with respect to faith.

I tried - obviously without success - to imply that it wasn't necessarily your view but that the two books approach nearly almost always can lead to an independence approach with science being religiously neutral.

Thanks for clarifying your position. Cheers, Steve