In the popular American imagination, Charles Darwin’s “On The Origin Of Species” (1859) set up a rivalry — or even outright warfare — between science and religion that continues to this day. After all, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins penned “The God Delusion,” and the late Christian law professor Phillip E. Johnson put “Darwin On Trial.”
Yet, according to Greg Cootsona, lecturer in comparative religion and humanities at Chico State, that story distorts the complicated relationship of science and religion in U.S. history and in fact masks a trend among “emerging adults” (those 18-30 years old) that may fundamentally change that relationship.
Cootsona’s “Negotiating Science And Religion In America: Past, Present, And Future” ($44.95 in paperback from Routledge; also for Amazon Kindle), is intellectual history at its finest, taking readers through the changing understanding of “science” and “religion” as the U.S. has become increasingly pluralist.
In 1966 physicist Ian Barbour, who graduated from Yale Divinity School, proposed four ways science and religion meet each other. Yes, there has been conflict between the two, but also they’ve been seen as independent knowledge systems. At times they have been in dialogue with each other. And there is also the possibility of “integration.”
Yet Cootsona writes that such a model no longer fits what is happening among emerging adults. Religion has morphed into “spirituality” (many who report no religious affiliation — the “nones” — consider themselves spiritual) and emerging adults are creating “interactive networks” through technology that draw beliefs from many traditions in an increasingly pluralist context. Religion is not one thing and neither is science. There is “negotiation” on the personal level.
This collaboration shows itself in many of the vexing issues young adults must deal with as they become tomorrow’s leaders. Genetic manipulation ushers in the “specter of eugenics”; there is climate change, sexuality, artificial intelligence, transhumanism, the nature of race.
In these challenges Cootsona, in his ground-breaking and optimistic work, discerns a “unique American vitality” found in the interplay of the sciences and religions.
An interview with Cootsona is scheduled for Nancy’s Bookshelf with Nancy Wiegman on Wednesday, March 4 at 10 a.m. on North State Public Radio, mynspr.org (KCHO 91.7 FM).
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. Send review requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns archived at dielbee.blogspot.com.