Thomas Dixon – Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction

dixon

Dixon has written a concise yet precise chronology of the relationship between science and religion, especially considering the length of this book. The text is littered with references to cases like the infamous Scopes “Monkey” Trial in 1925 to the more recent Judge Jones vs Dover Board case over Intelligent design in 2005, all of which provide a foundation of knowledge for a reader approaching this topic. Dixon sees “Science and Religion” as an academic field in its own right and something that deserves increasing amounts of attention, particularly given present relevance in education and politics.

Many scientists and followers of the three monotheisms are drip fed to us throughout the book, some without much context. But given the nature of the text it is likely the author was citing people like Paine, Dawkins and Bishop Wilberforce for further study on part of the reader. The author raises some interesting points that I hadn’t thought of, most notably that many public displays of religion or atheism in history were politically charged. For example, in the famous case of Galileo, Dixon claims “The church was certainly not opposed in general to the study of mathematics, astronomy, and the other sciences” but that Galileo stepped across a threshold that created an unintentional threat to the political authority of the church in affecting it’s follower’s lives.[1] A less well-known, but nevertheless symbolic, case of Dixon’s argument was the apparent miracles in New Delhi in September 1995 when religious statues were said to be drinking milk offered via spoons. Scientists quickly delivered a rational explanation for this phenomena as an example of capillary action of porous rocks. The rumours of the miracle continued in circulation, however, due to the right-wing Hindu party who sought power, denouncing the scientists as communists.[2] Dixon concludes that perhaps not all public religious or anti-religious displays are just that, rather, they are a pretence for political manoeuvring.

As an introduction there isn’t much to fault as Dixon’s summary of the main discussion points as well as an overview of the context serves its purpose well. The profits of this book, I imagine, will go towards buying some more fence for the author to sit on, as for many of the arguments he presents, Dixon does only that. Intelligent design is about the only point where Dixon reveals some tenacity in denouncing its legitimacy but beyond that not much is offered in the department of critical judgement. However I suspect this is above the call of duty for “A Very Short Introduction”, which is actually a great book and an easy read.

[1] Dixon, T. Science And Religion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press 2008) p. 23.

[2] Ibid., p. 40.

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