Introduction: What’s the Fuss?
Two of the most distinguished, well-known historians and philosophers in the field of science and faith collaborate in another recounting of the historical encounter between science and faith. Much has been written on this topic and one might wonder what new insights could there possibly be. Yet, these skilled authors shed more light on the interface between these two paradigms.
Ed Larson is University Professor of history and Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. His most acclaimed work is the book Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1998. He has written 9 other books, half of which deal with evolution and creation and has made frequent appearances in public forums to discuss faith and science.
Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor and director of the history and philosophy of science program at Florida State University. He taught at the University of Guelph in Ontario for 35 years and has been at Florida State since 2000. Though a self-described atheist not subscribing to Christian faith, Ruse argues that Christianity and evolution are compatible and he disagrees sharply with the harsh arguments of the so-called “new atheists.” He has published numerous books and articles and appeared in countless public occasions to make his case.
Larson and Ruse set the stage for their discussion by reprising Salman Rushdie’s account of the 12th-century philosopher, physician, and jurist Ibn Rushd. In essence, 800 years ago, Rushd suffered banishment for his defense of divinely created natural law as opposed to the prevailing view that God “…could easily intervene to make causes ineffectual and later effects if He so chose.” This Islamic version of the Western world’s Galileo affair demonstrates the universality of the notion of conflict between science and faith. Yet, historians not just in the 20th century but in the last few centuries have duly noted that the relationship between science and faith is neither merely conflict or compatibility, but a complex interaction.
The authors “favor what might be called a “coexistence” approach, which views religion and science as two big messy and sometimes internally inconsistent categories of human perception and understanding that coexist in the same place and time, sometimes in a complementary or conflicting relationship but most often in a complex one, with both categories currently growing in influence and authority in many regions.” (p. 12) The conflict model exists and thrives as well as the complementary approach with a wide range of complex interactions in between. The persistence of these extremes and the diversity of interaction prompted this historian and philosopher to join together to take a fresh look at a well-worn topic.
The approach taken by the authors is to devote nine chapters to various fields of discipline, alternating authorship for each one. To them, “it is a story of science and religion, not science or religion.” (p. 16) They intend to encourage readers to join in the dialogue and make it into a conversation.