Reviewed: Religion and Science: The Basics by Philip Clayton

Religion and ScienceA strike of lightning reminiscent of a scene from an old, mad scientist film—or perhaps a lightning bolt from the heavens covers Philip Clayton’s book, Religion and Science: The Basics. In today’s society, the debate of religion versus science is highly contentious. Considering this topic’s significance, Clayton posits, should we be asking about religion versus science or religion and science 1?

Many readers’ opinions on the existence and the qualities of God range variably. However, many religious philosophies compose the same questions that science is asking. Religion has its answers to some of these questions—but so does science. How was the world formed? Creation from nothing, the big bang, evolution, matter always existing—these core principles of life are still theorized and fairly debated within the realms of science and religion. Can these two seemingly conflicting and incoherent topics merge? Author Philip Clayton expands the typical Western Christian mindset to include diverse ideologies from worldwide religions and religious thought. This effectively welcomes readers into a foundational comprehension of these religions. He also addresses many components of established scientific thought, successfully creating stimulating, provoking arguments that are subtle but cause the reader to ponder—no matter what his or her stance might be.

religion and sciencePhilip Clayton is a distinguished professor of Religion and Philosophy as well as the Dean at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. Additionally, he is Provost of Claremont Lincoln University. His credibility is further maintained by his authorship of some twenty books and his prominence within the field of religion, philosophy, and science.

Clayton recognizes that the field of religion and science is highly valuable. In his preface, he acknowledges, “the questions that arise at the boundaries between the sciences and the religions will likely be with us for as long as there are humans to ask questions” 2. America was founded upon religious freedom but also values science. Clayton illustrates the need to address these challenging topics that are often misconstrued by stereotypes. This book pertains to anyone interested in expanding his or her mind; after all, as the back cover claims, “knowledge begins with the basics.”

Clayton’s book’s organization is clear and accessible. The book is welcoming to readers with all sorts of backgrounds. It is structured into clear sections with titles and explanations aiding the content. This structural choice is one of my favorite components of the book. The book is compartmentalized, focusing on four major concepts:

  • Science or religion, or science and religion?
  • Intelligent Design vs. the New Atheists
  • The role of scientific and religious ethics—designer drugs, AI, and stem cell research
  • The future of science and the future of religion

Each chapter is concluded with discussion questions. Clayton does a fair job of staying neutral and attempts to encourage readers to deduce their own thoughts of all these conflicting concepts.

Clayton is fantastic at pulling readers into the realm of awareness. He writes emphatically and intelligently, keeping people fascinated with these debates occurring between religion advocates and scientists. He acknowledges that most people are not aware of the reality of these types of debates other than the negative stereotypes media and bloggers emit. However, by showing readers a potential debate and then following up with appropriate explanations and elaborations, he allows room for readers to discern and decipher their own beliefs, opinions, and stances—prompting his audience to consider whether religion and science are indeed in combat or are potentially compatible.

lightning The second major theme Clayton presents is “The Two Most Famous Foes.” These foes are proponents of Intelligent Design and the New Atheists. These opponents would certainly seem to be in support of the theme of “religion versus science” as Clayton notes, “[a]t the end, each side hopes, only one contestant will remain standing” 3. However, once again, Clayton breaks stereotypes and brings rationality to each side of the argument, while also revealing flaws from both sides, ultimately prompting readers to evaluate their own understandings of the topic. Clayton urges readers: “As you read, try to determine which group has the most convincing arguments. Where would you locate yourself, and why?” 4.

Clayton pulls from numerous, credible sources, ranging from Immanuel Kant to Richard Dawkins, heightening the validity of his overall work. It is clear that there is no secret agenda, but in fact, it appears that Clayton wants readers to evaluate their own opinions.

After reviewing some of the sciences, Clayton advocates this concept: “it at least appears to be possible to be scientific about one’s religion and to be religious about one’s science” 5. Throughout, readers recognize the simple notion that religion and science may be more compatible than is vocalized or acknowledged. Yet this potential compatibility may lead to even more questions.

Clayton notes, “by this point some readers will be tired of all these questions about what is true and what is not true, what can be known and what cannot be known” even claiming, some “may have become agnostic…in the light of the complex and apparently unresolvable debates between scientists and religious traditions” 6. When exploring the concepts of scientific and religious ethics, Clayton illuminates a codependency of the two topics. Clayton hits upon all the most controversial topics within scientific and religious ethics, including: stem cell research, ethical issues at the end of life, the rights of subjects in scientific experiments, and warfare technologies.

After much examination, Clayton closes with five potential options for the future of science and religion, concluding the final chapter with this prompt: “They’re your questions now” 7.

I appreciate how Philip Clayton employs many diverse sources throughout his book, considers various religions for examination and comparison, and also gives reasonableness to each side of the argument. Perhaps the only downside of the book is the fact that Clayton is so objective. He leaves everything very open, causing much curiosity and pondering; however, it is through this objective lens that the book functions most effectively. This book serves to alert people to consciously choose what to believe. The choice belongs to the readers and Clayton certainly reveals many choices throughout. If you are interested in just religion, just science, or both, you should read this book. It may cover things you already know, but it is bound to enlighten you in some sense. It is a quick, fascinating read. Read it!

Pros:

  • Religion and science are topics that will not go away from our culture.
  • This book is organized and clear; readers will be able to engage in the concepts presented.
  • This book will not tell you what to think; it challenges readers to think analytically and critically.

Cons:

  • This book is very objective; readers may become frustrated with all the open ends, desiring specific or definitive answers.
  • This book will not tell you what to think; it challenges readers to think analytically and critically.

You can check out the book here.

Footnotes:

  1. 2
  2. iii
  3. 17
  4. 17
  5. 82
  6. 121
  7. 167
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