Editorial - REVER number march, year 7, 2007

Religião e Ciência - Tendências atuais (Parte I)

We are witnessing today, worldwide, an attempt to reconcile traditional religious beliefs with new findings in the natural sciences and, more generally, with the modern scientific outlook. Since the sixties of the 20th Century, this effort has grown into a full-blown academic discipline, usually called “Religion and Science” (or “Science and Religion”), with its own journals, academic societies and centers, university positions, and conferences.

“Religion and Science” is a popular, albeit somewhat misleading, label assigned to what can also be regarded as a new trend in the study of religion. It is an awkward title, since no other discipline connects two nouns with an “and.” Yet, we use it to call forth a feeling of familiarity in the reader, without burdensome conceptualizing tasks. The term means at least four different things.

First, connected to its origins, “Religion and Science” encompasses efforts to promote dialogue between religious people and scientists, as well as between scientists of different religious persuasions. It resembles earlier efforts to bridge a presumed gap between faith and reason, science and theology, faith and science, and other such pairs. It contains further ambiguity, for “religion” and “science” are hardly comparable--they belong to different orders of things; so it is better to talk of a dialogue between “science” and “theology” (and several authors do in fact use this term).

Second, the term also evokes the ontological and epistemological tasks of providing a common ground between, on the one hand, the facts, theories and the Weltanschäung of science, and, on the other, religious ideas, doctrines, and practices. It is more of a theoretical task, involving conceptualization and philosophical analysis. “Religion and Science,” in this case, is still not a neutral approach to the issue - it aims at dialogue and rapprochement between the two sides, still assuming that the dialogue between these “two cultures” has been marred with misunderstandings.[1]

Third, the term points to reinterpretations of traditional religious doctrines in terms of contemporary scientific knowledge. Within the realm of Christianity, for example, doctrines of Creation, of human beings, and of Salvation, have been reassessed. This is both a historical and a systematic task.

Fourth, and closer to what is usually meant by a study of religion, the term also comprehends the use of the theories and findings of science in order to better understand religion. Recent trends include various evolutionary approaches to understanding the origin and function of religion.

Although the latter meaning is closest to the mandate of a journal like REVER, the others should not be disregarded for the lack of greater “scientific” import. In this light we decided to include articles exemplifying each of these four branches of “Religion and Science,” even though the borders among them are somewhat fuzzy.

The purpose of this issue of REVER, as well as of the next one, is to present some outstanding essays in the field to readers less knowledgeable to these developments (especially in Latin America). Besides the properly scientific interest, then, we also aim at providing readers not familiar with Anglo-American literature with translations of some recent essays by recognized experts. In addition, some original essays, including some by South American authors, are also included.

One of the advantages of this field is that philosophical matters susceptible to ontological and epistemological questioning are dealt with in a particularly robust manner: as a new field, it needs to assert itself as such. We ask our readers less familiar with these subtleties to be patient with this important, if challenging, work of establishing foundations and exploring novel perspectives. After all, such work in newer areas in the study of religion often opens new possibilities for other areas in the field.

In organizing this very disparate group of essays, we decided to move from the most general and historical to those that deal with more particular and recent issues.

We start with a Portuguese translation of an essay by historian Peter Harrison, also concerned with “’Science’ and ‘Religion’: Constructing the Boundaries.” His historical analysis asks hard questions about the viability of “Religion and Science” as an area of historical and cross-cultural comparison, based on a careful historical contextualization of both of these terms, ’science’ and ‘religion’.

Philosopher, James A. Marcum, follows with “Exploring the Rational Boundaries between the Natural Sciences and Christian Theology”. As this paper is a sequel to an earlier one, entitled ”Holistic Rationality and a Complement Model for Natural Sciences and Christian Theology Interaction”.

From a renowned Argentinean theologian, we have a more theological piece, “Las Ciencias en la Teologia” (“The Sciences in Theology”), a demanding tour-de-force through the history of theology.

As science does not live by the natural sciences alone, we also include an essay by Czech Mathematician Ladislav Kvaz, “The Invisible Link between Mathematics and Theology,” in Portuguese translation.

Moving now to the contemporary issues of creationism and Intelligent Design, we offer a Portuguese translation of “On the Assumption of Design”, in which Stanford University scientist Patrick Frank offers scientific reasons to regard these two issues as not falling within the scope of the sciences.

Of course, “science and religion” is not restricted to genial dialogue between backslapping partners. Indeed, Indian scholar Meera Nanda passes a stern judgment in many unwarranted proclamations of dialogue, in her essay, “How Modern are We?” Incidentally, Daniel Dennett’s latest book, “Breaking the Spell”, borrows its title from an essay written by Meera, indicating the relevance and topicality of her argument.

Finally, we resume the presentation of a latecomer among perspectives in the study or religion, the cognitive sciences (cf. Luther H. Martin, “Towards a Cognitive History of Religions.” REVER, vol. 5, no 4 [2005], 7-18), with the essay by well-known Brazilian psychologist, Geraldo J. Paiva. The article is entitled “Psicologia Cognitiva e Religião” (“Cognitive Psychology and Religion”).

We trust that this substantial and wide-ranging set of essays, illustrating key themes in an increasingly important sub-field in the academic study of religion, will inaugurate this new period of REVER with attentiveness to the most current issues in the field and with high standards of scholarship.

Eduardo R. Cruz and Steven Engler (PUC-SP), Guest Editors


[1] A history of this field, centered on a central figure, Ian Barbour, can be found in Robert J. Russell, ed. Fifty Years in Science and Religion: Ian G. Barbour and His Legacy. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.