Wednesday 11 August 2021

Science and Religion The Myth of Conflict - Stephen M. Barr - CTS Explanations

Science and Religion: 
The Myth of Conflict
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860827273
eISBN 9781784692933
CTS Booklet EX37

This is the first volume from the pen of Stephen M. Barr that I have read, and I believe he only has three other books published. They all deal with science, and three of them deal with religion. This is the seventh volume that I have read in the CTS Explanations series. In the last few years I have read over 200 books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society. Based on the CTS number books the highest in this series I have encountered is EX49 and the list at the back of the book there are at least 49 books in this series. 

Some have eBooks, some are out of print, and a few are still available both in print and digitally. This is a fascinating series, it tackles some hard questions. And they give clear and concise summary of Catholic Teachings on those topics. The description on the back of this book is:

“Professor Barr overturns the widespread notions that the history of science and religion is one of conflict and abuse. He looks at the historical, philosophical and scientific claims of enmity between science and religion and proves that they have very little basis in fact. Indeed in many places they are the very opposite of what history and science have to tell us. The myth that scientific discovery over the last four hundred years has debunked Christian belief is also thoroughly unpicked.”

We are also told:

“Looking at the historical, philosophical and scientific claims of enmity between science and religion, Professor Barr overturns the widespread notions that the history of science and religion is one of conflict and abuse.”

The chapters in this volume are:

Three forms of conflict
The historical myth
God, nature and the supernatural
Church and science in the middle ages
The scientific revolution and priest-scientists
Has the church been a persecutor of scientists?
Discoveries of science and Catholic belief
God, the laws of physics and the design of the universe
Does nature have any purpose?
Science and the human spiritual soul
The Big Bang, the beginning and creation
Extraterrestrial life
Recommended reading

The book begins with these words:

“It is often claimed that there is a conflict between religion and science. This claim takes three forms: historical, philosophical, and scientific.”

So of the passages I highlighted while reading this volume were:

“In the Middle Ages, theologians distinguished two ways in which God acts in the world. He can act directly and in a supernatural manner (for example, turning water into wine), or he can accomplish his will through the operation of natural causes and processes. In the latter case, God is said to be the “primary cause”, while the natural causes are said to be “secondary causes”.”

“It has always been the Catholic view that while God can and sometimes does act outside the course of nature he ordinarily acts in and through nature. In the words of the great Scholastic theologian Francisco Suarez (1548-1617) “God does not interfere directly with the natural order where secondary causes suffice to produce the intended effect”. This was also the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) and other medieval theologians. This principle was important for science.”

“God is not to be found in nature as a part of nature any more than Shakespeare is found in his plays as part of the scenery. But nature gives “evidence” of its Creator in the same way a play gives evidence of its author.”

“Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) was a German Cardinal and an important figure in both the medieval Church and in medieval philosophy. For theological and philosophical reasons, he suggested that the universe is infinitely large, has no center, and that all bodies in it, including both the earth and the sun, are in motion.”

“Where was the Catholic Church in all this? We all know about the condemnation of Galileo in 1633. What is much less known is the enormous positive role the Church played in scientific research and discovery from the 1600s to the present day.”

“Prof. Lawrence M. Principe of Johns Hopkins University has written that “it is clear from the historical record that the Catholic Church has been probably the largest single and longest-term patron of science in history, … .””

“For the Catholic Church, the physical processes by which plants and animals formed, like those by which stars and planets formed, are a matter of natural “secondary causes” and for the natural sciences, not theology, to concern themselves with.”

“Science has shown us a universe that is cold, uncaring, inhumanly vast, and governed by “blind, impersonal laws.” This suggests to some people that religious believers are engaged in wishful thinking in imagining that a personal, loving being is behind it all. Christians, however, have never imagined that the physical universe cared about them or was personal in any way. The impersonality of the physical world may be an argument against pantheism or paganism, which see nature as a god or as filled with gods, but not against Judaism or Christianity, which sharply distinguish nature from God.”

“A point that Gödel, Lucas, and Penrose all emphasize is that the human mind is capable of doing something that mere computing machine cannot, namely understanding concepts and grasping meaning.”

This book was a fascinating read. It is an excellent read. Some of my favourite parts of the book are the brief biographies of scientists nuns, priest and religious throughout the ages. Highlighting some of their contributions and advancements in their respective fields. 

This series covers a wide range of topics. But this one counters many myths and legends believed by many. I highly recommend it. 

Another great read in the CTS Explanations Series.  

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Stephen M. Barr:
Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
A Student's Guide to Natural Science
The Believing Scientist: Essays on Science and Religion
Science and Religion: The Myth of Conflict

Books in the CTS Explanations Series:
Marriage Annulment in the Catholic Church
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Does the Church oppress Women?
Organ Transplant – and the definition of Death
Be Yourself An Explanation of Humility - William Lawson SJ
Gene Therapy – and Human Genetic Engineering
Prenatal tests
Gift of life and Love
Cloning and Stem Cell Research
Contraception and Chastity
Freemasonry and the Christian Faith
Intelligent Life in the Universe
Spirits, Mediums & The Afterlife

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