A new book on science and theology

March 22, 2012 • 5:03 am

Because it contains a really nice essay by physicist Sean Carroll,”Does the universe need God?” (online for free), I was interested in buying The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianityedited by J. G. Stump and A. G. Padgett (Wiley). But now I see that it’s going for the absolutely ridiculous price of  $199. And there’s another reason to avoid it: Carroll’s piece, which decries the infusion of faith into science, is probably an outlier among a bunch of accommodationist essays. Here, for example, is the evolution section:

Denis Alexander is director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, which was originally funded (and still gets funds from) the Templeton Foundation. He’s also on the Board of Trustees of the Templeton Foundation.

We already know Michael Ruse, who is sympathetic to religion and, in fact, despite his atheism is very generous (and ingenious) in offering the faithful arguments for reconciling religion and science. I would hope his piece would highlight the incompatibility between Darwinism and religion, but I’d bet heavily against that.

The work of Simon Conway Morris, a paleontologist at Cambridge who studies evolutionary convergence, is supported by a grant from the Templeton foundation to the tune of nearly one million dollars. He believes that convergence (the independent evolution of similar features in diverse lineages) is evidence for God.

Stephen C. Meyer is an intelligent-design creationist and director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

Francisco Ayala won the one-million-pound Templeton Prize in 2010.

John Haught, whom I debated in Kentucky last year, is a theologian at Georgetown University who is famous for concoting the “Argument for God from Hot Beverages.” He is a member of the Board of Advisors of the John Templeton Foundation.

Paul Draper, a philosopher of religion at Purdue University in Indiana, is a Templeton Research Fellow.

Of the seven authors in this section, all are sympathetic to religion, and five are or have been associated with or supported by the Templeton Foundation. One is a creationist. Yet this book is not published by Templeton, but by Wiley, a (formerly) reputable publisher.

It’s distressing that the ties between a commercial publisher and the Templeton Foundation are so close (how did they choose the authors?), and even more distressing that there doesn’t seem to be one article in the evolution section that takes a critical stance about the connection between Christianity and evolutionary biology (granted, I haven’t read the book yet, as it isn’t out). One of the pieces is even by a creationist who touts that cells are too complex to have evolved!

(A side note: I just read Ayala’s book, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, which argues that the conundrum of evil in the world as evidence against a loving and omnipotent God was absolutely and permanently resolved by Darwin’s idea of natural selection.  No longer do we need to wonder why there is suffering in the world: it’s an inevitable byproduct of the way God chose to evolve His creatures! But of course that’s no solution, because God could have chosen some other way to produce his creatures that didn’t involve suffering. After all, he’s omnipotent! This is yet another case of a scientist sympathetic to religion making a theological virtue out of a scientific necessity.)

h/t: Dom

16 thoughts on “A new book on science and theology

  1. Hmmm, I’d been less than comfortable about Simon Conway Morris’ position since reading his book – whose name I’ve forgotten – a decade or so ago. A quick browse around that Map of Life website http://www.mapoflife.org/index/ which I’ve looked into before and not found terribly interesting for whatever I was following up at the time.

    One shouldn’t condemn a man by the company that he keeps. There’s nothing wrong in taking money from the godly to do useful work.

    Quite how useful the convergent evolution work is, is another question. It could well be that he’s documenting that there are only a relatively small number of ways of achieving a biological, structural, end using biologically compatible materials.

  2. I’ll be interested to see what Paul Draper’s contribution is, since he’s actually responsible for one of the most important versions of the Evidential Argument from Evil. If you have JSTOR access, you can read it here. It’s also in Howard-Snyder’s anthology The Evidential Argument from Evil, which everyone should own.

    He also has an interesting argument defending naturalism from considerations about natural selection here.

    So I wouldn’t bet strongly on him being too sympathetic to theism or to accommodation.

  3. Why a book on science and theology? Why not one on science and magic, or science and astrology, or science and necromancy, or science and demonology, or science and the study of things that go bump in the night, or science and shit that comes out of Santorum’s mouth?

    I mean, really — what is it that distinguishes theology from any of those other subjects, and what on Earth does science have to do with any of them?


    1. Are you going to take the same attitude to Victor Stenger’s new book on the subject? I can see why you might disagree with a book that says, “Science and theology are compatible” (though surely your disagreement should be provisional, pending reading the book and considering its arguments) and why you might prefer a book that says, “Science and theology are incompatible.”

      But I don’t see why anyone could object to someone writing a book on the subject at all. It’s an important subject. Indeed, it’s a frequent topic of Jerry’s posts, which I assume you don’t object to. It’s also one of the topics of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Obviously, I could go on indefinitely with this.

      More generally, I keep seeing comments from people in the blogosphere that this or that is not a legitimate topic for a book. I find this surprising. If the topic of a book doesn’t interest you, don’t read the book. But please don’t tell other people what are or are not legitimate topics to write about. We do get to write books on topics that interest us, and which a publisher might consider commercially viable, it’s up to others whether they want to buy and/or read them.

      Disclaimer: My forthcoming book (being written with Udo Schuklenk), 50 GREAT MYTHS ABOUT ATHEISM, will have something to say on the subject, possibly quite a lot, though we haven’t finalised that yet. The line taken will probably not be far distant from what Stenger will be saying in his book, though that’s an educated guess as I haven’t read his book yet. I make no apologies for writing on this topic. Indeed, I’m thinking of writing a whole book on it myself.

      1. And indeed, a book on science and astrology (which might end up debunking astology on scientific grounds) could be very useful. Even if it just told us about some little-known historical connections between science and astrology, that might at least be interesting for some people.

      2. My point was more to the constant elevation of theology to the same status of science than anything else.

        Of course, there’s all sorts of valid reasons to investigate various forms of wackaloonery. Equating such wackaloonery with science, regardless of how popular the wackaloons are, is a problem.


  4. I am a great admirer of Sean Carroll’s writing. He makes some of the most complex and nonintuitive concepts of modern cosmology accessible to laymen like me.

    Sadly, however, he is so emotionally invested in accommodationism, in particular in defense of the Templeton Foundation’s funding, that he has shut down all discussion of the issue on his blog. He has recently explicitly stated that any discussion of Templeton or, in general, accommodationist approaches to science and religion will be deleted from his blog.

    It is an inexplicably irrational position at odds with the core values of scientific inquiry that otherwise characterize his work.

  5. “John Haught, whom I debated in Kentucky last year, is a theologian at Georgetown University who is famous for concocting the ‘Argument for God from Hot Beverages.'”


  6. If their other books are an example, then eventually this will be released in a paperback for the high but slightly less ridiculous price of about $40.00.

    In any case, assuming you’re talking about the Judeo-Christian bible, then of course the information contained therein is wrong and incompatible with science (this same can be said for all Abrahamic religions). The only ways you can get around this is, to be like the fundamentalist and reject science, be more liberal and make the bible more allegoric / mythical or simply admit that it contains errors and can’t possibly be the word of a deity.

    In any case I still think that rather than a war between science and religion, the first step is to get all of the young earth creationists to realize that they earth is billions of years old. Once they can admit that parts of the bible are incorrect, the easier it will be for them to let the other parts go. They probably won’t lose their faith, but perhaps they can use their own common sense on things like gay marriage / birth control.

    The thing is, we live in a democracy and if you want change you have to get the majority on board. With almost half the population being young earth creationists we have a long way to go. Its sad.

  7. Hmm it does seem it is written not even as accomodationist but even more ‘Templeton-like’, to give Christianty the veneer of scientific credibility.
    This is what the Wiley website has on the two ‘authors’:

    J. B. Stump is Professor of Philosophy and directs the philosophy program at Bethel College (Indiana, USA). He is the philosophy editor of Christian Scholars Review, and has published articles there as well as in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science and Philosophia Christi. He has co-authored (with Chad Meister) Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (2010).

    Alan G. Padgett is Professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. Long involved in the dialog between theology and science, he is a member of the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) and has lectured in Europe, Canada, the US and China on religion and theology. He has authored or edited ten other books, including Science and the Study of God (2003).

    That’s very light on science for a book that, based on its title, is about half science.

    Anything that links these two people to Templeton by any chance?

    1. To answer my own last question, not unexpectedly, here’s one link between JB Stump and templeton, from his Bethel College profile:
      “For three summers, 2003-2005, Jim [James B Stump, MV] was Fellow in the Templeton-Oxford Seminars on Science and Religion.”

      Similar for the other author, to be fair, over 10 years ago, maybe there are ties more recent, but Padgett has also received Templeton funding for the same series, from 1998-2001, plus a Templeton prize in 1996, and he gave a lecture (or published a paper) for Templeton in 2004.

      So basically Wiley employed Templeton loyalists to gather yet more Templeton loyalists to compile a book that shows lots of science is actually really supporting Christianity. Hmmmm.

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