Nicholas Spencer’s book Magisteria: The entangled histories of science and religion debunks many myths about the relationship between that old couple. As well as an author, he is Senior Fellow at the Christian thinktank Theos
Was there a moment when you thought, that’s it, someone’s got to write a book about religion and science?
Yes, but years and years ago. I’ve been interested in this field for a long time, at least since the Darwin anniversary in 2009. I started getting into the academic literature, which is very, very good, and interesting, and extensive. It’s totally turned the history of science and religion on its head in two generations or so. And it has almost totally failed to filter down to a popular level.
I was struck by the fact that there was no popular-level history of the relationship between science and religion. There’s tons in the academic world, there’s popular opinion, which is completely at odds with that, and there was nothing bridging the two. So I thought, someone needs to write that.
The Facebook status ‘It’s complicated’ – would that be a fair summary of the true relationship?
It wouldn’t be unfair. It’s easier to say what the relationship is not: it’s not war. That has been the controlling metaphor for 150 years or so.
The argument of the book is twofold. One, that the science and religion relationship is entangled. They are partially overlapping magisteria, or authorities. [The biologist Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion as ‘non-overlapping magisteria’, as only ever talking about completely different subjects.] The second argument is that they most frequently and most interestingly overlap when it comes to the question of ‘How do we understand a human being?’…
This is an extract from an article published in the May 2023 edition of Reform