This work by Phil Dowe, senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia is especially timely in light of the op-ed piece by Christoph Schonborn (cardinal-archbishop of Vienna) that not long ago appeared in the New York Times (7/7/05). The NYT characterizes Schonborn's piece as "the official Catholic stance on evolution," but the Times' caption would have been more accurate if it had described it as "the Catholic stance on intelligent design." The cardinal's principal concern seems to be "scientific claims like neo-Darwinianism and the multi-verse hypothesis in cosmology" that deny "the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design" in the universe. Schonborn equates neo-Darwinianism with "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection." These same issues are prominent in Dowe's discussion of the interplay of science, reason, and religion.
Dowe identifies four basic ways that scholars relate science and religion. Two of them, naturalism and religious science see the relationship as antagonistic. He contrasts this approach with a third view that sees them as independent and wholly unrelated. Dowe espouses a fourth position that he makes clear at the outset, namely, that religion and science are complementary, even dependent on one another. He argues his case by exploring a series of case studies. As the title indicates he examines in some detail the life and work of Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin, and (to a lesser extent) Stephen Hawking. In passing he makes frequent reference to the teaching of the ancient Greeks and summarizes positions taken by Rene Descartes (image of God in humanity), Francis Bacon (science and technology), David Hume (miracles), and William Paley (design). The latter chapters deal directly with issues of creation and evolution (chapter 5), an infinite universe and the anthropic principle (chapter 6), and providence vs. chance (chapter 7).
As with many other works that address the interplay of religion and science, Dowe's work uses the history of science and philosophical argumentation to make his case. The occasional reference to the Bible, Church authority (as in the Galileo case), and theology are only incidental to the book. The first two chapters titled "Cosmology and Scripture" and "The Hermeneutics of Science and Religion" leave much to be desired. Much of the former concentrates on controversies surrounding the cosmology in the first chapters of Genesis without ever exploring how creation is presented elsewhere in the Bible (e.g. the Psalms, Second Isaiah, Job 37-38). Dowe draws on Augustine (without specific citations) and John Calvin to establish a hermeneutical principle in cases of apparent conflict between the Bible and science, namely, Scripture is to be read metaphorically and not literally where science is proven. In addition to a hermeneutic that guides the interpretation of particular passages in Scripture Dowe writes "we can also think about hermeneutics in terms of the whole enterprise of science or religion." In chapter two Dowe identifies two groups of "antirealists," and rejects them both as untenable. The "antirealist accounts of science" such as those of Andreas Osiander (apparently responsible for an unauthorized preface to Copernicus' On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), Pierre Duhem, and others reject any attempt at metaphysics based on science because science cannot grasp ultimate truth about the universe. They assign to theology the task of providing access to ultimate reality. The second group, according to Dowe, includes Feuerbach, Tillich, and Wittgenstein, hold "antirealist accounts of religion," that is to say, each in his own way has a reductionist view of religion.
Although Dowe is respectful he is never explicit about his understanding of religion and its relation to theology. Readers familiar with Big Bang cosmology, the anthropic principle, quantum physics, Bell's theorem, and similar topics are the most likely to appreciate Dowe's arguments even when they disagree with his conclusions. Others will find that the work is not an easy read.