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THEOLOGY AND NATURAL SCIENCE: BEYOND THE TRUCE? A REVIEW DISCUSSION * AUMBER OF BOOKS and conferences in recent years have given expression to a growing dissatisfaction with " the uneasy truce between science and theology "--John Habgood's label for the state of affairs that obtains if we accept the popular thesis that, if properly understood , theology and natural science can have no bearing on one another, so conflict cannot arise.1 In the present political situation , in this country at least, that thesis has its appeal. Nonetheless , in a world in which natural science and technology affect life and thought so pervasively, generating moral problems and dangers and (a point less often stressed in this context ) turning situations we previously could do nothing about into potentially tractable problems, many are convinced that the truce isn't good enough. Among recent manifestations of this conviction are an international symposium of theologians, philosophers, and scientists , held at Oxford in 1979 and now published as The Sci- * A. R. Peacocke, ed., The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth OenturyJ (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981). Thomas F. Torrance , Ohristia1i Theolog11 and Scientific Oulture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981). Harold P. Nebelsick, Theolog11 and Science in Mutual Modifiqation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981). I was also invited to review W. A. Whitehouse, Oreation, Science and Theolog11: Essays in Response to Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981). The subtitle better reflects its contents than does the main title. Of this collection of essays and sermons by the Congregational theologian, mostly written between 1945 and 1970, only two deal to any great extent with science. Several are expositions of Barth for British readers; the rest address a wide range of topics, sensitively and thoughtfully. 1 John S. Habgood, " The Uneasy Truce between Science and Theology," in A. R. Vidler, ed., Soundings (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1962), pp. 21-41. 433 484 WILLIAM H. AUSTIN enoes and Theology in the Twentieth Century; and a series of volumes published under the sponsorship of the Templeton Foundation and the general editorship of T. F. Torrance, of which the first two are Christian Theology and Scientific Culture (by Torrance) and Theology· and Science in Mutual Modification (by Harold Nebelsick). I will be reflecting on these books in this essay. It may be helpful if I briefly indicate the perspective within which I am writing. I write as a philosopher of, roughly speaking , the "analytic" persuasion (and of the subspecies oriented toward logic and the philosophy of science), who once studied theology (in a liberal Protestant setting) but is no theologian. What is offered here, thus, is a not-completely-uninformed outsider 's view of the discussion. On an overall view of the books under consideration, three general features stand out. The first is that the theology that appears in these volumes is virtually exclusively the theology of the Western religious traditions. John Bowker, as befits one who teaches in Ninian Smart's department at Lancaster, mentions the importance of considering Eastern thought, and one or two other contributors to the Oxford symposium allude to it, but none pursue the matter. This may seem quite unremarkable . The problem of the relation between science and theology, and the problem of the relations among religious traditions , are usually thought of as far removed from one another , and seldom do both capture the sustained attention of one theologian. One can't talk about everything at once, even in theology. But we will find that the plurality of religious traditions turns out to be pertinent at more than one point in our discussion. The second striking feature is the wide diversity of views of what " theology " is that informs the contributions of the various authors. Torrance and Nebelsick, along with several of the Oxford symposiasts, have confessional theology in mind. But some, notably the physicist Richard Schlegel, take " theology " more broadly, to include the work of people like Whitehead THEOLOGY AND NATURAL SCIENCE 435 and Hartshorne. And the confessional theologians differ notably among themselves in their conceptions of their task-in particular, in their ways of understanding revelation and dogma and how the.ir work is to be controlled thereby. This...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 433-449
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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