GUIDE: Books on Christianity and Science

Here’s my list of resources for those interested in the history of religion and science, both pro and anti-religious.

THEIST

For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery by Rodney Stark

Stark argues that faith in God encouraged Christians to invent science. Having read other books making the same claim, I think Stark’s approach to this question is one of the best. Not only does he go over the development of technology in the so-called “Dark Ages,” and show how the “Enlightenment” picture of Copernican era science is a myth, he studies 52 key early scientists, and shows that more than 60 % were “devout,” while only 2 were skeptics. The critic below who asks why Christianity did not produce science in Russia did not read attentively: Stark argues that faith in God was a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of the rise of science. Other factors were also involved. ~ From this excellent review

GalileogoestojailGalileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion by Ronald L. Numbers

Defining myth as just ‘a claim that is false,’ editor Numbers and 24 other scholars debunk 25 falsehoods about science and religion. The most familiar that the church imprisoned and tortured Galileo, that medieval Islam was hostile to science, that medieval Christians thought the earth was flat, that the church fought against anesthesia’ have long been discredited, yet the briefs on them so admirably distill their history that Wikipedia should swipe them. Others ‘that the church suppressed science, prohibited dissection, and martyred Giordano Bruno for his scientific work’ still have their propagandists. Some remain quite lively, such as that Christianity birthed modern science (see Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God, 2003), that intelligent design challenges evolution scientifically, and that creationism is a strictly American phenomenon. Many are known primarily, perhaps, to specialists, and one or two may startle those who thought themselves in the know about such figures as Descartes and Newton. The pieces on all 25 have been written and edited for accessibility, making the book excellent for ready reference as well as recreational reading.

The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

It is a commonplace to think of Christianity and rationalism as opposite historical and philosophical forces. In this stimulating and provocative study, Stark (The Rise of Christianity) demonstrates that elements within Christianity actually gave rise not only to visions of reason and progress but also to the evolution of capitalism.

Stark contends that Christianity is a forward-looking religion, evincing faith in progress and in its followers’ abilities to understand God over time. Such a future-based rational theology has encouraged the development of technical and organizational advances, such as the monastic estates and universities of the Middle Ages.

What’s So Great about Christianity Study Guide: Your Guide to Answering the New Atheists by Dinesh D’Souza

Though he is a favorite whipping boy of atheists (I think of him as the Chrsitian Richard Carrier, their level of apologetic seems about the same to me), Dinesh D’Souza is engaging and I really enjoyed the book, probably my favorite from last year.

I have to say, I didn’t agree with his old earth approach, and his chapter on philosophy was informative but long.

This book is worth the price just for the chapter that reexamines the Galileo case in light of the true history rather than in light of the Hollywood myth.

What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us?: How It Shaped the Modern World by Jonathan Hill

This book is interesting because the author is not explicitly grinding a Christian axe – that is, he seems to be writing as a social historian, not as an apologist. I have one of his other books and find him an able historian. From the description:

Why do we seal wine bottles with cork? Where did musical notation come from? How did universities get their start? And why was the world’s first fully literate society not in Europe, Asia or North America? As Hill tells the story of the centuries-long entanglement between Christianity and Western culture, he shows the profound influence that Christianity has had–from what we drink to how we speak, from how we write to how we mark the seasons. Employing a rich, narrative style packed with events and people and illustrated throughout in full color, he describes the place of Christianity both in history and in the present day. What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? is an enlightening and often humorous tour of culture and thought, the arts, the landscape, education, society, spirituality and ethics, and social justice.

How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmidt

This is Schmidt’s magnum opus, one of the most complete historical treatments of Christianity’s positive influence on the west.

Western civilization is becoming increasingly pluralistic, secularized, and biblically illiterate. Many people today have little sense of how their lives have benefited from Christianity’s influence, often viewing the church with hostility or resentment. How Christianity Changed the World is a topically arranged Christian history for Christians and non- Christians. Grounded in solid research and written in a popular style, this book is both a helpful apologetic tool in talking with unbelievers and a source of evidence for why Christianity deserves credit for many of the humane, social, scientific, and cultural advances in the Western world in the last two thousand years. Photographs, timelines, and charts enhance each chapter. This edition features questions for reflection and discussion for each chapter.

INDEPENDENT

The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate by Adam Frank

While this book unfortunately confuses the difference between historical claims and the mythical power of the Christian story, it does bring a little humility to the scientism approach to knowledge.

The elevation of human empirical research into an all-encompassing worldview is a basic ontological error. When all is said and done, it’s an attempt to elevate a finite ability to an absolute. Most good scientists are aware of this, and refrain from the dangers of dogmatism (“scientism”). But some don’t. A scientist stuck in this mentality will tell you, “well, science is the only way we have of determining the accuracy of our understanding…”. Yes, I know that. But even that entire mentality is limited. ~ Amazon review

The Religion and Science Debate: Why Does It Continue? (The Terry Lectures Series) edited by Mr. Harold W. Attridge

Both sides of the debate are represented here, though I’m not sure how well, since I haven’t gotten to this one yet.

Why does the tension between science and religion continue? How have those tensions changed during the past one hundred years? How have those tensions impacted the public debate about so-called ‘intelligent design’ as a scientific alternative to evolution? With wit and wisdom the authors address the conflict from its philosophical roots to its manifestations within American culture. In doing so, they take an important step toward creating a society that reconciles scientific inquiry with the human spirit.

Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction edited by Gary B. Ferngren

Compilations of various authors always seem to have better content than a volume by one author.  This one should not disappoint. As Library Journal said, “An essential purchase for any library that does not have the larger volume.”

This volume consists of 30 articles, all taken from the 103-article The History of Science and Religion: An Encyclopedia (Garland, LJ 8/15/00).

While exploding a number of myths that make up the popular image of the warfare between science and religion, the writers show that there was actually a complex relationship operating in both directions.

When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners?

This author actually takes the view that science and faith cover independent spheres, which is a more liberal position held by anti-theists.

In each chapter, Barbour recognizes four possible ways of responding to the dilemmas posed by these topics: conflict, represented by Biblical literalists and atheists, both of whom agree that a person cannot believe in both God and evolution; independence, which asserts that “science and religion are strangers who can coexist as long as they keep a safe distance from each other”; dialogue, which invites a conversation between the two fields; and integration, which moves beyond dialogue to explore ways in which the two fields can inform each other. Barbour notes that his own sympathies lie with dialogue and integration.

ANTI-THEIST

Religion and Science by Bertrand Russell

Russell, philosopher, agnostic, mathematician, and renowned peace advocate, offers a brief yet insightful study of the conflicts between science and traditional religion during the last four centuries. Examining accounts in which scientific advances clashed with Christian doctrine or biblical interpretations of the day, from Galileo and the Copernican Revolution, to the medical breakthroughs of anesthesia and inoculation, Russell points to the constant upheaval and reevaluation of our systems of belief throughout history. In turn, he identifies where similar debates between modern science and the Church still exist today. Michael Ruse’s new introduction brings these conflicts between science and theology up to date, focusing on issues arising after World War II.

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails by John Loftus

John Loftus is to be congratulated for assembling such a fine collection of papers from such a diversity of fields. This book is not simply an anthology of atheist thought, but a wide sweeping attack on the basis of Christianity. Using these various approaches, the authors subject Christianity to a rigorous critique: challenging it from the psychology of belief to the origins of morality, the historical Jesus, Christian exceptionalism, and claims of eternal truth despite the constant evolution of that religion. The end result is that Christianity is demonstrated to be just one of the many religions humans have invented for themselves.