Seduced by Science: How American Religion Has Lost Its Way
American religion, Steven Goldberg claims, has fallen into a trap. Just at the moment when it has amassed the political strength and won the legal right to participate effectively in public debate, it has lost its distinctive voice. Instead of speaking of human values, goals, and limits, it speaks in the language of science.
In the United States, science has extraordinary influence and respect. American religious leaders seeking prestige for their point of view regularly couch their responses to technological developments, or defend their faith, in scientific terms. They claim, for instance, that medical studies demonstrate the power of prayer, that science validates the Bible, including its account of creation, and that patenting the genetic code is dangerous because genes are the essence of who we are.
But when ministers, priests, and rabbis expound on double-blind studies and the genetic causes of behavior, they do not elevate religion, Goldberg maintains, they trivialize it. Seduced by Science examines how, by allowing scientific discourse to set the terms of the debate, American religious leaders facilitate religion's move away from its more appropriate and important concerns of values, morality, and humility. Science can tell us a lot about what is but precious little about what ought to be and our religious leaders often miss the chance to add an important voice from a faith-based perspective to the public debate that follows scientific advances.
Discussing the most recent and pressing collisions between science and religion-such as the medicinal benefits of prayer, the human genome project, and cloning-Goldberg raises the timely question of what the appropriate role of religion might be in public life today. Tackling the legal aspects of religious debate, Goldberg suggests ways that religious leaders might confront new scientific developments in a more meaningful fashion.
Despite its title, the bulk of Goldberg's book is a careful review of judicial decisions bearing on the establishment and free exercise of religion in the U.S. Readers struggling to navigate the often turbulent waters of First Amendment discussion will find the review lucid and accessible. It was motivated by Goldberg's fear that the seductive language of science has "swallowed" religious discourse. Armed with evidence that the public square in the U.S. is hospitable to both scientific and religious languages, he argues for a separation of the two that recognizes the distinctive contributions of each. In the end, he sees religion as a brake on unbridled materialism. We are free, he says, "to make spiritual values temper material progress. The question is whether we will choose to do so." By itself, that judgment would be disappointingly reactive. It is, however, accompanied by appreciations of science, spirituality, and constitutional law that commend it to a fairly large audience. Steven Schroeder An original, forthright argument that American religion has sold its soul to science. A spate of recent books have complained that religion has not paid enough attention to science and should adapt itself to ``dialogue'' with scientists. Legal guru Goldberg (Law/Georgetown Univ.; Culture Clash: Law and Science in America, not reviewed) offers precisely the opposite, argument, that religion should maintain its ``distinctive voice'' and stop trying to prove itself using science's methodologies and truth claims. Goldberg notes the irony that just when American religion has established itself as a powerful political force, its leaders seem to have nothing valuable or unique to contribute to national debates. He examines three key issuescloning, ``creation science,'' and the healing power of prayerwhich religious leaders have failed to address in a religious manner. Concerning prayer, for example, ministers have seized upon medical studies demonstrating that prayer does help in healing chronically or terminally ill patients. By their insistence that these studies prove the power of prayer, Goldberg says, ministers and other leaders trivialize prayer as ``just another therapy.'' The book's second half explores religion's role in public and political life, maintaining that religion has embraced science so thoroughly in order to gain a long-sought legitimacy in the public eye. Goldberg notes that the Constitution is designed to protect religion from being trivialized, even (especially?) by its most ardent and vocal advocates. (Prayer in school, for instance, would make religion a rote matter, like the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance, and government-sanctioned holidays like Christmas are almost wholly secularized) These sections lose the book's ostensible focus on religion and science, though they are valuable in themselves. One problem throughout is Goldberg's heavy bias toward Christian examples; the book is less about American religion in general than one religion in particular. Overall, a well-reasoned counterweight to recent science-worshipping titles. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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