The Religion and Science Debate: Why Does It Continue?

The Religion and Science Debate: Why Does It Continue?

Harold W. Attridge (ed.), YaleUniversityPress

The title of this book is perhaps a little misleading in that, instead of being about the religion and science debate generally, it is primarily about the teaching of evolution in American public schools — a debate which has been going on for some 80 plus years.

The book came out of the centenary celebrations of the Terry Foundation Lectures at Yale University, which brought together a group of eminent persons from a variety of fields to probe the contemporary version of the debate. Interestingly, they also offer some suggestions for raising the level of the debate in both its scientific and religious spheres.

Keith Thomson, a professor emeritus of natural history, introduces the controversy from a historical perspective. His paper briefly summarises and contrasts the contributions of the other authors and rightly highlights that which all at least infer — that much of the contemporary debate is driven by ignorance instead of insight — from both sides.

The Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow explores the fertile ideological ground of the debate and highlights the difficulty of compartmentalising science and religion into different spheres in one’s life without creating deep cognitive dissonance.

For example, the conflict that comes when considering the content of hymns sung on Sunday alongside the material benefits that come from scientific advances in computer technology or medicine.

As the final contribution in the book, Wuthnow does address the ongoing nature of the debate: why does it still continue? Because both sides of the floor are guilty of pretty much the same things: ignorance of their own tradition, as well as of the tradition in which their opponents stand.

That is, the faulty equation of science and secularism or of religion and fundamentalism, or the preference for scoring points instead of addressing the genuine issues within a believer’s and in an unbeliever’s position.

Peter Harvey

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