Turner, Frank M. Review of David C. Lindberg; Ronald L. Numbers (Editors). God and Nature:

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Turner, Frank M. Review of David C. Lindberg; Ronald L. Numbers (Editors). God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science. xi + 5l6 pp., bibl., index. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, l986. $50 (cloth); $17.95 (paper). In ISIS 78:2:292 (l987), pp. 269-270. [Frank M. Turner is Professor of History at Yale. The author of Between Science and Religion: The Reaction to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian England (1974) and The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain (1981), he is pursuing research on the Oxford Movement and a history of Victorian intellectual life.] Put quite simply, this collection is the most outstanding treatment now in print of the theme of the conflict of science and religion in Western culture. The editors have achieved that rarest of all scholarly accomplishments in the humanities--a genuinely state-of-the-art collection of essays. No one henceforth can either teach the subject or engage in new research without thoroughly studying and assimilating these papers. This volume, which originated in a conference at the University of Wisconsin in 1981, covers the various seminal issues of the relationship of Western science and Christianity from the early Church through present-day creationists in the United States. The quality of the papers and of the research informing them is very high throughout. Especially excellent are those of David Lindberg on the early Church, William Shea on Galileo, Richard Westfall on the Scientific Revolution and the decline of orthodoxy, Martin Rudwick on earth history, James Moore on the interpretation of Genesis, Frederick Gregory on Darwin and Protestant theology, and Ronald Numbers on the creationists. Taken as a whole the collection rejects what (despite considerable scholarship to the contrary) has long remained the working premise of much intellectual history--that there has existed a necessary and natural conflict between Christianity and the development of the natural and physical sciences. This assumption, itself a product of late nineteenth-century cultural tensions, has generally stood as an unexamined, uncriticized, and presumably self-evident truth. In place of this polemic-become-explanation, the authors of this volume emphasize the cultural and sociological grounds for debate between spokesmen for science and religion. Their conflicts over the centuries are portrayed as disputes arising between persons with different cultural, professional, or even political goals, rather than as intellectual clashes between adherents of different ideas. This general approach to the alleged conflict of science and religion is possible because these historians now view both science and religion as social entities or social enterprises. Rather than a natural or inevitable conflict of epistemologies or of naturalism versus mythopoetic views of nature, they discover differing social goals that lead to conflict. Even Galileo's fate might have been different had he enjoyed better political alliances in Rome. I have myself contributed to, and I subscribe to, this analysis of the conflict of science and religion. However, with the publication of this seminal volume it is perhaps appropriate to begin to exercise just a bit more caution. It would be ironic and wrongheaded for intellectual historians and historians of science to conclude or even to imply that ideas are not important or do not in and of themselves produce social, political, and cultural consequences that may give rise to conflict. Intellectual conflict can and does have its basis in society, but the outcome of social conflict can and does influence what ideas may be acceptable, debatable, and even publishable. Various modes of religious faith and science can and have coexisted, but is is far from certain that the scientific enterprise can flourish in a church- directed culture. With this caveat (which is a self-criticism as much as a criticism of the colleagues who have produced these remarkable essays), this volume with its splendid bibliography should be given the widest possible circulation in classes and in the profession.


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