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Key Figures and Developments in the Science-Religion Debate

Much of the literature in this field builds on the pioneering work of Ian Barbour, who brought out Issues in Science and ReligionLondon: SCM Press, 1968 in 1966 and Myths, Models and ParadigmsSan Francisco: Harper & Row, 1974 in 1974. His Gifford Lectures of 1990, published as Religion in an Age of ScienceLondon: SCM Press, 1990 - republished in an enlarged edition as Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (London: SCM Press, 1998)and Ethics in an Age of Technology,London: SCM Press, 1992 gave a valuable overview of the field.

Two English theologians who are both Anglican priests and former research scientists have also done much to bring the science-religion debate to wider attention. Arthur Peacocke’s Bampton Lectures of 1979, Creation and the World of ScienceOxford: Oxford University Press, 1979 still read very well, and his Theology for a Scientific AgeLondon: SCM Press, enlarged edn, 1993 (1993) continues to be an important text. Sir John Polkinghorne, former Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge and since then a vigorous and articulate apologist for Christianity as compatible with science, has brought out an extraordinary number of books, of which the most adventurous and important is his Science and ProvidenceLondon: SPCK, 1989 (1989). His Science and Christian BeliefLondon: SPCK, 1994 - US title The Faith of a Physicist (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994) (1994) is the most comprehensive statement of his position.

Just as the development of the Chicago Center for Religion and Science (directed by Philip Hefner) and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at Berkeley (directed by R.J.Russell) were most valuable in establishing the academic integrity of the science-religion debate, so the endowment of the Starbridge Lectureship in Theology and Natural Science at Cambridge in 1994 marked another important landmark in the debate’s development. Fraser Watts, the first Starbridge post-holder, is a contributor to God, Humanity and the Cosmos. In 1999 Oxford University appointed the first Andreas Idreos Professor in this area, John Brooke.

Two other figures not normally thought of as theologians have also done a great deal to stimulate the debate. The first is the physicist Paul Davies, who has been drawn towards theism by the directions he has seen his scientific field take, and who has written of this journey in books such as God and the New PhysicsHarmondsworth: Penguin, 1990 and The Mind of God.Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993 The second is the biologist Richard Dawkins, whose vigorous dismissals of the claims of religion (see can reductionism rule out the truth of religion?) have had a most stimulating effect on believers interested in dialogue with science. Had Dawkins not existed, the Christian Church might have found it necessary to invent him.

The great explosion of work there has been in this area has been much facilitated by the work of the John Templeton Foundation, which has commissioned lecture series, funded courses and sponsored workshops which have greatly furthered dialogue between educators working in the field. It is in considerable part due to Templeton funding that there are at least 300 courses running in this interdisciplinary subject area in the U.S.A., and probably almost as many again in universities in the rest of the world.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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