Science and Religion Reconciled?

Book Review:

Terence W. Picton, Creature and Creator: Intersections between Science and Religion (Terence Picton, 2013. £25.00. pp. 1 – 499, ISBN: 978-0-9920814-0-9)

The enormous complexity and diversity of the “science and religion” dialogue is at once the reason for its growing academic popularity and its ambivalent identity. Most ostensibly general treatments of the field therefore restrict themselves to specific religious, historical, or philosophical perspectives. Picton has taken a strikingly different approach, with the self-publication of a sprawling and eclectic survey not only of science and religion, but also of art, music, and literature.

Picton sees science and religion as two interconnected forms of truth-seeking: religion is a form of art, scripture is a form of poetry, and science requires imaginative insight analogous to the artistic process. He presents five chapters on creation and evolution, reality and imagination, knowledge and belief, freedom and morality, and death and immortality. The scope of each chapter is vast, with Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Chomsky vying for space alongside medieval theology and quantum mechanics. There is a frenetic and rather arbitrary rhythm: key figures and concepts in science and religion are cycled through extremely quickly, while subjects of relatively dubious significance (such as a long reflection on the role of colour in our perception of reality) are treated extensively.

To his credit, Picton makes a considerable effort to demonstrate the extent to which world religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, can illuminate the science-religion debate. This is evident in his discussions of identity, destiny, and mortality. However, such a multi-faith approach is not unproblematic. It clearly accounts for the unimaginative conclusions offered in the epilogue, including “many are the ways to religious insight” and “we exist in a plurality of belief.” Indeed, given the kaleidoscopic mass of scientific and religious thought he has presented, Picton’s “answers” on the final page are either lamentably bland (“What is this world we live in? It is real”) or unwittingly provocative (“There likely is no god in the sense of one who is particularly concerned with us”). Likewise, his contention that Christ’s resurrection can be “meaningful without being literally true” is an attempt to dissolve the particular facts of the event into a universally acceptable story about transformation in a way that would be deeply unacceptable to many Christians.

To cover the full breadth of issues in science and religion, and to arrive at some kind of reconciliation between them, is difficult—if not impossible—to achieve in a single volume. While ambitious and learned, Creature and Creator serves primarily to highlight this dilemma.

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