The Big Questions in Science and Religion

 
Author:
Ward, Keith
Publisher:
Templeton (2008)
ISBN:
9781599471358
Purchase:
Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

Keith Ward is a man of sharp wits and genial style who specialises in making very complex subjects relatively easy to understand; and so he is ideally equipped to compare the theories of science and the world's major religions on the ten major questions which frequently divide the two 'camps':

Ward, from an apparently neutral standpoint, but actually sympathetic to religion, umpires each of these topics and scores each round a draw. He is scrupulously fair in spite of his known bias and this book will disappoint the anti Dawkins lobby even though he trounces Dawkins much more comprehensively than fiercely partisan theologians.

Although the book makes a somewhat tentative beginning and an equivocal conclusion, the middle chapters on the soul and the nature of truth are the most powerful and interesting.

It is not easy to work out who this book is for. Like Stephen Hawking's best-sellers, it is unreadable without a grasp of scientific and philosophical concepts in this case spread across a number of topics, from Hilbert space to the Copenhagen interpretation of Heisenberg's quantum theory, from Thomas Aquinas to Alfred North Whitehead and from Plato to process philosophy. Its justification, if any, is that it synthesises the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of being, physics, cosmology and a little psychology, social science and aesthetics. It claims to look at religion from a broad perspective that includes not only the abramic religions but the diverse religions of Asia, including various types of Buddhism and Hinduism but this latter group is never convincingly woven into the text and the coverage of Islam is weak with Maimonides, for instance, being given nugatory coverage compared with his Christian equivalent Aquinas.

Overall, as a theology MA with a first degree in history (with a major focus on philosophy) and a good grasp of the science, I still found the book hard work which leads me to ask how useful it might be for specialists when the more specialised you are, say, in physics or theology the less likely you are to be able to grasp the subtleties of other disciplines.

Nonetheless, there was enough here in the detailed argument to interest and occasionally to excite. If nothing else, I will re-read Whitehead.