In the new introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of his book Science & Religion: A Critical Survey, Holmes Rolston III focuses on his increasing concern about human uniqueness and human responsibility in the new millennium. Exploring the implications of an open future in which “the increase of human knowledge and power has increased the paradox of our evolving out of nature with novel capacities to change human history” (xiv), Rolston reflects upon the natural, personal, social, and cultural changes and exigencies that have arisen in the years since his survey was first published. While the critical issues that Rolston analyzed in the first edition have doubtlessly intensified in the intervening 20 years, his exploration of the biological, physical, and social sciences in dialogue with religion remains a timely standard in the dialogue between science and religion.
From Rolston’s perspective, such dialogue is not only possible but crucial. He contends that although each discipline investigates similar experiences, they do so with different aims. Science observes events and experiences to determine causal relationships with the goal of prediction, while religion observes the same events and experiences with the goal of discerning meaning. As a result of this distinction, Rolston eschews the hard distinctions that are often drawn between the natural and the supernatural, suggesting that the phenomenon of emergence in the cosmos and its creatures exemplifies the tendency of nature to supersede itself in form and function in the process of evolution. Unfolding his thesis, Rolston combines philosophical, scientific, and religious insights in a work that is both scholarly and engaging. In the midst of detailed descriptions of phenomena in areas as diverse as quantum physics, biological evolution, psychoanalysis, and social structures, Rolston interjects religious and theological wisdom that draws the reader into the depth of meaning that underlies the relationships that the sciences uncover.
Because of this rhythm to his study, the sciences tend to drive the discussion for most of the book. However, Rolston’s final chapter “Nature, History, and God” clearly centers on the theological issues at stake in the dialogue. He proposes three types of theism that might arise from the accounts of nature, society, and culture explored in his text: scientific-existentialist theism, process theism, and transscientific theism. Lifting up transscientific theism as “classical theism become modern” (322), Rolston presents an impassioned account of God’s action in history as a narrative of love and freedom that finds its ultimate expression in Jesus of Nazareth and that calls the human person to respond in kind. It is this sole focus on Jesus of Nazareth, however, that triggers one cautionary note from this reviewer. Although Rolston frequently references the concepts of other world religions, the millennial hope for Rolston is centered in God’s revelation in Jesus as the “righteous love [that] is the key to the drama” of history (330). Suggesting that “sooner or later others will be drawn to its lure,” Rolston characterizes other religious interpretations of the world as only “limited truths” (330). This seems unfortunate in terms of his concerns for human uniqueness and responsibility in the 21st century. Moreover, it tends to limit the God of absolute freedom and love whose Presence in all of nature and history Rolston is at pains to make known.