Fraser WATTS & Kevin DUTTON, editors, Why the Science and Religion Dialogue Matters. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006. pp. 150. $19.95 pb.
Reviewed by Alice L. LAFFEY, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA 01610

This volume arises out of the work of a meeting of the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) in Boston in August 2004. Several of the articles were presented at that meeting with a few others added to round out the effort conceptually. The book is divided into a preface, three parts and a conclusion. The three major sections include: 1) Why the Dialogue Matters; 2) The International Context, and 3) Perspectives from World Faith Traditions.

The first part of the volume contains three chapters, each of which supports the position that the dialogue between science and religion does matter. These articles are by George F.R.Willis, a Quaker from South Africa who works on models of complex systems, John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest who was formerly a theoretical physicist; and Holmes Rolston III, an American Presbyterian minister who is concerned with human biology and environmental ethics.

The second part of the volume places the dialogue in an international context. The first of its three articles is a paper originally given by John Polkinghorne as the inaugural presidential address of ISSR in Granada in 2002. In the article Polkinghorne describes the origins of the dialogue and its future. The second article, by Fraser Watts, was originally presented at a meeting of the Third World Academy of Sciences in Trieste in 2003. It makes a case for the international significance of science and religion. The third article, by Philip Clayton, originally published in the Journal of Islam and Science, describes an inter-religious project in the field of science and religion that could serve as a model for future work in the field.

The third and final part of the volume contains five articles from adherents to different world faith traditions. Each looks at his religion’s distinct relationship to science. Carl Feit, who is both a respected molecular biologist and an orthodox rabbi, offers a contemporary appraisal of Judaism and science; Munawar Anees, author of Islam and Biological Futures: Ethics, Gender and Technology, asks whether the science and religion dialogue is relevant to Islam; B.V.Subbarayappa, author of Indian Perspectives on the Physical World and Medicine and Life Sciences in India offers reflections on science and Hinduism. Their articles were first given at the ISSR meeting in Boston in 2004. Trinh Thuan, author of Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions in the Twentieth Century, writes on science and Buddhism at the crossroads, and finally, Heup Young Kim looks toward a “trilogy of humility,” bringing together the sciences, theologies and Asian religions. The book concludes with an article by Ronald Cole-Turner, author of Human Cloning: Religious Responses and Pastoral Genetics: Theology and Care at the Beginning of Life. His article provides a critical consideration of the field of biotechnology and the ethical issues that emerge from it.

Like any edited volume the quality of the articles in uneven. Some are, quite frankly, more substantive than others. To be fair to the authors, this may be because of the nature of the volume; most articles emerged from conference papers of a newly established international society. Space does not permit an analysis of each article here. I, as an educated reader, feel a responsibility to enter into this important dialogue, if only as an observer. I found Ellis’ and Polkinghorne’s articles especially interesting and provocative. I found Clayton’s and Cole-Turner’s articles less so. Still, the inclusion of their work in the volume is important and valuable because the perspectives they added increased the breadth of the dialogue. The volume may not be for everyone’s reading but everyone should be conversant with its content.

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