This Month's Sample

Every month we are posting a new sample from the book.


There have been numerous publications on the conflict between science and religion. In the early history of science no real conflict with religion was perceived: science was seen as 'natural theology' and thus a supporter of religion. However, since the publication of Darwin's theory of evolution and the subsequent development of genetics, geology, biochemistry, molecular biology and other pillars of twentieth century science, there is no doubt that there is a conflict with religions that were developed in the pre-scientific era.

Science has been astoundingly successful, and the technologies that it has provided are clear testimony to that fact, in spite of protests from some philosophers. This very success is a threat to religious belief and practice.

Many documents about science and religion that I have read are by theologians with some knowledge of science. They tend to argue for a space for most of conventional religion to operate. My approach in writing this book is to work from what I know, starting from the science. The book is not a theological, biblical or philosophical argument. I rely on other specialists and scholars to supplement my own limited knowledge of those topics, particularly the books of the New Zealand biblical scholar Lloyd Geering, whose work I have followed with interest more than forty years. It was Geering's work, and similar work by others, that enabled me to stay within the church.

My background is that of a scientist who happens to be lay Christian. I am deeply impressed with the moral claims of Christianity, and feel the need for worship of God, even if, as will become apparent, God is completely indefinable.

In this book I attempt to spell out the science so that those with faith may appreciate the problems that many scientifically trained people encounter in Christianity or other religions, as they are expounded from pulpits, or worse, reported from the extremities. My Christian background means most of my discussion is framed by Christianity, but where possible I would like that discussion to extend to religion in general.

The book is based on our understanding of Nature through science and I commence by spelling out the science in very broad terms. I then discuss our subjective perception, free will and the relevance of scripture in our post-enlightenment and post-modern world. With that ground prepared I am in a position to address the question of whether religion, at least in some form, is still viable. A second intention of the document is to encourage those who have abandoned their faith, or have chosen not to enter into a faith, to re-examine their position.

By starting with the teachings of Jesus as we understand them, I argue that a contemporary person can still participate with honestly in religious practice, even though he or she may be well aware of how the world works and that much scripture is clearly not factually true.

I maintain this approach is not 'Christianity-Lite'. If we put aside the magic and take the actual core teachings of Jesus seriously, we have a hard road to travel. It is no use piously saying we believe and are therefore saved. It is no use praying for the world and waiting for God to do the work; improving the world is our job.

This book cannot be a final answer, even for myself, and I should state that it was originally written primarily for me to clarify my own position — at present. I believe that if religion is not viable in the modern or postmodern world, human life will be the loser.

Much of the prose discussing the science and philosophical issues in this book is necessarily objective, or at least attempts to be. To balance that, I have inserted at the end of each chapter, poems where I spell out a personal response, or deal with some of the matters raised with more emotional involvement. Being oblique and general they do not necessarily directly address the text around them; if there is any pattern in their placement, it is that they tend to anticipate the topics discussed. They contribute, I hope, to the overall effect.

The ideas I present are by no means original, although this document is written from my own knowledge and experience; I am prepared to personally own it.

Inevitably my ideas have been influenced by a wide range of reading, lectures and sermons. Although some of my sources are listed in the bibliography there are too many sources to specifically acknowledge. I also must thank my family and friends for numerous discussions in which the ideas expressed have been refined and clarified. The support and encouragement of family and friends have stimulated me to make my thoughts more public than it has been hitherto.

And I must particularly thank the Ashton Wiley Charitable Trust for the opportunity presented by the award for my manuscript in the Unpublished Manuscript, 'Mind. Body and Spirit genre', under its original working title: 'Science for Vicars'. The generous prize made me believe that its publication was both possible and desirable.

Our culture and morality is embedded in our religion, and without making a space for worship in our lives there is the constant danger of lives being overwhelmed by trivia and banality, as Wordsworth perceived in 1807:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours
We have given our hearts away...'