Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives

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Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (1991) is a book written by John Hedley Brooke. It has received two prestigious awards: the American History of Science Society Watson-Davis Prize (1992) and the John Templeton Foundation Prize for Outstanding Books in Science & Religion (1995). It has been widely reviewed in academic journals—examples, the science journal Nature, the religious journal The Journal of Theological Studies, and the history journal Isis.

Main themes

The book identifies three traditional views of the relationship between science and religion found in historical analyses: conflict, complementarity, and commonality. The book portrays all three as oversimplifications. It offers up the alternative notion of complexity, which bases the relationship between science and religion on changing circumstances where it is defined upon each particular historical situation and the actual beliefs and ideas of the scientific and religious figures involved.[1][2]


It has eight chapters and a postscript section. Chapter one "Interaction between Science and Religion: Some Preliminary Considerations." Chapter two "Science and Religion in the Scientific Revolution." Chapter three "The Paralllel between Scientific and Religious Reform." Chapter four "Divine Activity in a Mechanical Universe." Chapter five "Science and Religion in the Enlightenment." Chapter six "The Fortunes and Functions of Natural Theology." Chapter seven "Visions of the Past: Religious Belief and the Historical Sciences." Chapter eight "Evolutionary Theory and Religious Belief." Postscript "Science and Religion in the Twentieth Century."

Bibliographic essay

The book also has a bibliographic essay (pages 348-403), which according to the American Historical Review "identifies and the text incorporates the results of virtually every significant and relevant article published in the past fifty years." [3]

List of reviews

  • Howell, Kenneth J. (December 1994). "Science and Religion Some Hisotrical Perspectives (Book reviews)". The Journal of Modern History 66 (4): 779–782. 
According to a popular and still relatively influential view of science and religion, the ascendancy of modem science in the modem era coincided with (and possibly caused) a corresponding decline in the authority and value of religion. The reasons for this displacement are rooted in an antagonism that arose from the breakdown of the medieval fusion of science and theology. In this scenario, a defining feature of modemity is the increasing separation of science from its theological moorings, the successes of which continue to eclipse religious belief.

John Brooke challenges this view with an admirable historical survey. He argues that a finer brush is needed to paint the complexity of intellectual debates involving science and religion, and he shifts the focus away from contrasting cosmologies and programmatic separation to examine the intellectual debates and the integratedness of individual thinkers. An important result is an awareness of the need for various levels of differentiation and integration. Brooke admirably criticizes historiographical methods that describe the relations of science and religion in a unidimensional fashion. For Brooke, there is no single relation between science and religion; rather, "it is what different individuals and communities have made of it in a plethora of different contexts" (p. 321). He notes how many of the early modem advocates of separation were really arguing for clear disciplinary boundaries and methodology rather than pennanent separation. In addition, he gives ample evidence of a recurrent phenomenon in the actual history of science which I dub the "historical one-to-many problem." Particular scientific conclusions and particular religious belief systems rarely, if ever, exhibit a one-to-one correspondence.</blockquote>

  • Olson, Richard (February 1994). "Science and Religion Some Hisotrical Perspectives (Book reviews)". American Historical Review 99 (1): 191–192. 
This is an astonishing book about one of the most important problems facing our culture. Down the ages, the relationship of science to philosophy and religion has changed in countless ways. The main theme of the book is the almost unbelievable subtlety, complexity and diversity of this relationship. One cannot help but admire the author's vast reading, his penetrating critical power, his grasp of detail and his ability to summarize.
  • Davis, Edward B. (September 1992). "Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Book reviews)". Isis 82 (3): 469–470. 
This is a very cautious book, a detailed, nuanced description of complexity and diversity that lacks an argument of its own. In my view this betokens historiographical maturity rather than lack of nerve, a conclusion supported by a perusal of the extensive bibliographic essay that rounds out the volume. I find here an almost astonishing balance, not only in terms of Brooke's refusal to cave in to ideological arguments-which tendency has marred so many existing studies of science and religion-but also in his refusal to promote any one type of historical study over another. The best work of every major school in our discipline is brought to bear upon the topic, in such a way as to stimulate a desire for deeper understanding rather than an argument about how best to proceed.


...I have no hesitation in saying flatly that every scholar in our discipline, and many others as well, should benefit from reading this work. So make the time to do it: of how many books can this honestly be said?
  • Cantor, Geoffrey (October 12, 1991). "Science and Religion (Book reviews)". New Scientist 132 (1790): 57–60. 

Further reading


  1. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. H.N.V.Temperley. Nature, Oct 22, 1992 v359 n6397 p685-687.
  2. Kenneth J.Howell. The Journal of Modern History, Dec 1994 v66 n4 p779-781.
  3. Richard Olson. American Historical Review, Feb 1994 v99 n1 p191(2)