Review of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Science
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION, J. Wentzel Vrede van Huysteen,
Editor in Chief. Macmillan Reference USA, 2003. xxxviii + 1050 pages.
This is a most useful compendium of the present state of the discussion and debates, excellent for reference, self-study or use in classes. It is genuinely comprehensive, with over four hundred entries.
The editors, Van Huyssteen, Niels Gregersen, Nancy Howell and Wesley Wildman, are scholars of international stature assisted by Ian Barbour as consultant. The 218 contributors are top names in their fields. They are truly international, from 18 countries plus the Vatican. They represent a wide variety of scientific and humanistic disciplines and religious orientations. Religions represented, usually by scholars from within the tradition, include Buddhism, Baha’i, Chinese (Confucian and Daoist), Christianity (Anglican, Evangelical, Lutheran, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Radical Reformed, Reformed, Roman Catholic), Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Shinto plus agnostics and religious naturalists. The sciences range from cognitive and neurosciences (22 entries), computer science/information technology (15 entries), and physical cosmology through ecology genetics and mathematics to medicine, feminism, and technology.
The intended readers range from high school through casual readers to advanced researchers. This goal has largely been reached, although a few entries might be a little advanced for the average high school student.
The entries are of a uniformly high caliber, some outstanding. They give an historical perspective and indicate the major debates and often emerging perspectives on a topic. The division into long, medium-sized, and short articles is very appropriate. A helpful feature is the set of twenty biographies from Aristotle, Ibn Rushd and Niels Bohr to Stephen Jay Gould, Maimonides and Whitehead. There are excellent suggested readings and cross references and an excellent nine page annotated bibliography divided into twelve topics from General Introductions and Textbooks to Science, Religion, & Ethics.
There are a few questions.
At first I questioned the brevity of the article on the Big Bang until I followed up on the cross references. Three articles on technology are by the same author, Frederick Ferré. He is balanced, thoughtful, a good writer and covers the issues well, but one wishes for other viewpoints. The production is good and the proof reading is excellent, with a very occasional misspelling (confusing “populace” for “populous,” for example). One misses reference to James B. Ashbrook and Carol Rausch Albright’s The Humanizing Brain: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet.
The ethics of disclosure requires me to reveal that this reviewer is the author of a medium sized article.
The general public will be well served by this encyclopedia in grasping vital contemporary issues. A beginning student or teacher in this area will find this immensely helpful. The scholar will find this work priceless in extending her knowledge of this complex and changing field.