This first volume of Ian Barbour’s Gifford Lectures from 1989-1991 at the University of Aberdeen is a foundational text for the increasingly popular field of theology and science. The questions Barbour raises have only become more current in the passing decades and thus this work serves as a valuable guide for the development of the field and an introduction to science and theology more generally. The volume as a whole is concerned with five features of the scientific age that must be reckoned with. These are the success of the scientific method, the new view of nature that brings to the fore, the new context for theology, the role of religion in a globalised age and finally, the ambiguous power of technology. Through an investigation of these five challenges Barbour aims to explore the place of religion in an age of science resenting an interpretation of Christianity that can respond to both to the historical tradition of science as well as it’s modern achievements.
Beginning with Part One, “Religion and the Methods of Science,” Barbour outlines the initial conflict between scientific materialism and biblical literalism (with the expected reference to Carl Sagan and the Scopes trial of 1925) highlighting the fact that these two discourses function as two separate languages. ‘Science and religion do totally different jobs and neither should be judged by the standards of the other.’ It is perhaps unsurprising then that it is in natural theology that Barbour sees most promise in reconciling between the religious and science. From there, after discussing some methodological parallels as well as some similarities and differences Barbour goes on to discuss reality and evolution. Despite the advances made in scientific terms in explaining and revealing reality we still ask why is there anything at all? Why are things the way they are?
The final section, “Philosophical and Theological Reflections” begin with a section on human nature, contrasting biological and cultural evolutionary views. From here Barbour contrasts these views with those of religion, both as forms of belief and patterns of living. Theology offers an integrated view of the human subject rather than the mind/body split that science proposes. It is this that offers some hope in light of a technological future – we are ‘created co-creators’ called to peace, justice and participation within the world. Finally Barbour closes with a call for a process theology that represents Gods action in ‘the non-human and human spheres…within a common framework…a single story of continuing creation…life and new life.’ This call opens the way for Barbour's discussion of ethics and technology which is contained within volume two.