Wednesday, September 11, 2013

John Hedley Brooke on Mapping Human History

The work of John Hedley Brooke is unavoidable in the study of religion and science. His reflections on the state of the field can be read as a response to Ian Barbour typology of various forms the relationship can take. Barbour's work is focused on the period after the 17th century, when people begin to perceive a radical difference between something called religion and something called science. Brooke's work has a much broader focus, including the 16th and 17th centuries, when the people were more likely to speak of something called natural philosophy, which contained elements of both religion and science. As a consequence, Brooke talks the language of religion and science (because that is what his readers recognize), but everywhere he suggests it is not as simple as thinking about how religion relates to science. We should also question how religion differs from science, and we should question whether the terms actually serve the purpose we intend them to serve.


In the paper 'Religious Belief and the Natural Sciences', Brooke sketches, using Barbour's terms, out a number of other possible relationships between religion and science.

1) Religious Belief as a Presupposition of Science...

as happens when the human mind and the natural order are presumed to be created by the same God, who creates the possibility of a correspondence between the two and renders the world intelligible.

2) Religious Belief as a Sanction for Science...

as happens in the Two Books conception of the sources of human knowledge, one book divinely revealed in human language, the other read off the nature of observable things.

3) Religious Belief as a Motive for Science...

as happens when scientific study is understood to be God-glorifying.

4) Etc., etc.


Each of these possibilities most closely corresponds to what Barbour calls the 'Dialogue' between religion and science. Brooke may use Barbour's terms, but he doesn't speak as if something called religion and something called science are talking to each other. Instead he is interested in how religious beliefs, on the one hand, influence scientific study and practices, on the other hand. This may seem to be a trivial point to make; but it is Brooke's contention that what you emphasize matters.

Why? If you hold 'religion' and 'science' at arms length and try to figure out how they relate to each other, you just might forget that religious beliefs and scientific knowledge are very often found in the head of the same person.