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Midwife to science

Midwife to science

Philip Ball, science writer and editor of the journal Nature, reviews Magisteria for The Times Literary Supplement. 02/03/2023

If after the fall of Rome atheism had pervaded the Western world … science would have developed earlier and be far more advanced than it is now.” This untestable counterfactual, posited by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne in 2013, reflects a common belief that religion and science are antithetical, and that the cultural hegemony of religion before modern times retarded scientific progress. However, as Nicholas Spencer shows in his new book, the idea of a fundamental conflict between science and religion is largely a modern invention that evaporates on contact with the documentary record. The relationship between the two “magisteria” – to use the biologist Stephen Jay Gould’s terminology – has certainly not been uniformly harmonious, but it is more interesting than a simple narrative of conflict.

With patience, balance and deep learning, Spencer – a research fellow at the London–based think tank Theos who presented the BBC radio series The Secret History of Science and Religion (2020) – dismantles the myths that have accumulated around Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin and other scientific figures widely held to have fallen foul of religious dogma. “The science and religion debate has been much like a swimming pool, with most of the noise up at the shallow end”, he says. Magisteria is a guide to the depths, filled with wit and wisdom.

Read the full article here


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Nick Spencer

Nick Spencer

Nick is Senior Fellow at Theos. He is the author of a number of books and reports, including Magisteria: the entangled histories of science and religion (Oneworld, 2023), The Political Samaritan: how power hijacked a parable (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Evolution of the West (SPCK, 2016) and Atheists: The Origin of the Species (Bloomsbury, 2014). He is host of the podcast Reading Our Times.

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Posted 2 March 2023


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