The subject matter of the interaction between science and religion is one fraught with misunderstandings. For a while now, there has been a growing tendency to view these two disciplines as polar opposites of each other, and to characterize the interaction as that of a conflict. It does not help that many scientists are atheists, and many believers are not well versed in science. Consequently, each field is perceived as a caricature of itself when viewed through the eyes of its opponents. And yet, what each one offers in its own right and with the respect to other is much more nuanced and rich than these caricatures would imply. The recent spate of neo-atheist books has rekindled interest in the connection between the two. This new atheism bases itself largely on scientism, the idea that religion is false because it is not science.
There is a paucity of good books that do justice to both fields, which makes it difficult for the serious and intellectually honest novice to receive an objective and yet comprehensive account of them. Thomas Dixon's "Science and Religion - A Very Short Introduction" is a welcome exception and probably the best first introduction to the subject. In line with the other "very short introduction" books, this one is sophisticated and does not condescend to its readers by calling them "dummies" or "idiots." Nevertheless it is a very accessible book that sheds a lot of light on its subject. It would be unreasonable to expect a book this slim to cover all of the different approaches to religion and science, and some adjustments need to be made. For the most part, it uses Christianity as the primary example of religion, and discusses those scientific theories and discoveries that have historically posed the greatest challenges to the Christian worldview. It includes all of the "greatest hits" of the debates between science and religion - the Galileo affair, Darwin and evolution, creationism and intelligent design, and mind and morality. Dixon approaches all of these controversies with a lot of historical insight and manages to stir clear of catering to facile misinterpretations that have become popular in the public conception. Thus, the Galileo affair is viewed against the backdrop of the seventeenth century political and scientific events, from which it becomes clear that much of the latter interpretations are mere mythologizations of the events in question. On the other hand, Dixon is equally careful to avoid the trap of revisionist apologetics that underplay the severity of the punishment that Galileo had to endure and the chilling effect it had on his further scientific endeavors.
By focusing on concrete events and controversies, Dixon enhances the readability of the book. Too often a potentially intellectually honest appraisal of the connection and the interaction between science and religion assumes too much or too little of the reader, and consequently falls into either of the two categories of scholarly philosophizing or amateurish polemicizing. Nevertheless, the right balance can be achieved, and anyone who is new to this subject would greatly benefit from reading Thomas Dixon's succinct yet informative volume.