Science and religion have always been at each other’s throats, right?
Most things you ‘know’ about science and religion are myths or half-truths that grew up in the last years of the nineteenth century and remain widespread today.
The true history of science and religion is a human one. It’s about the role of religion in inspiring, and strangling, science before the scientific revolution. It’s about the sincere but eccentric faith and the quiet, creeping doubts of the most brilliant scientists in history – Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Maxwell, Einstein. Above all it’s about the question of what it means to be human and who gets to say – a question that is more urgent in the twenty-first century than ever before.
From eighth-century Baghdad to the frontiers of AI today, via medieval Europe, nineteenth-century India and Soviet Russia, Magisteria sheds new light on this complex historical landscape. Rejecting the thesis that science and religion are inevitably at war, Nicholas Spencer illuminates a compelling and troubled relationship that has definitively shaped human history.
About the Author
Nicholas Spencer is Senior Fellow at Theos, a Fellow of International Society for Science and Religion and a Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of a number of books including Darwin and God, The Evolution of the West and Atheists. He has presented a BBC Radio 4 series on The Secret History of Science and Religion, and has written for the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, New Statesman, Prospect and more. He lives in London.
‘This book, though, is surely [Spencer's] magnum opus. It is astonishingly wide-ranging… and richly informed… So much complex history, theology and science could be heavy. What lightens the book is its clarity and the effervescent writing.' — Sunday Times
‘With patience, balance and deep learning, Spencer… dismantles the myths that have accumulated around Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin and other scientific figures… Filled with wit and wisdom.’ — Philip Ball, TLS
‘Fascinating… prepare to read something genuinely fresh in what can be an extremely hackneyed debate.’ — New Scientist
'Magisterial and brilliant.' — Professor John Milbank
‘Easily the best exploration of the complex relation between science and religion I have ever read. As exemplary in his even-handedness as in his patient research… I suspect it will become the classic work on its subject.’ — Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and his Emissary and The Matter with Things
‘Spencer knows his history of science. He recounts the set pieces of any such story – the trial of Galileo, Huxley vs Wilberforce, the Scopes monkey trial – with bravura.’ — Spectator
‘[Spencer] has a lot of interesting things to say about how exactly the often fraught relationship between science and faith has fared over the centuries… Mr. Spencer carefully reconstructs what actually happened. It’s interesting to read how the stories have become simplified and exaggerated over time… Mr. Spencer’s most important corrective is to show that Galileo’s theory raised scientific and theological questions that had not been answered at the time… a fascinating tour through a history of a difficult relationship, the fate of which is still unclear.’ — Wall Street Journal
'This page-turner of a book compellingly tracks the relation between science and religion, eternally bickering siblings, across two millennia. The ironies of the collaborations and oppositions between the two are brilliantly set out. You don’t have to have religious belief to recognise that science doesn’t always have the right answers. The real question: who has the authority to make statements about the natural world? Nicholas Spencer well shows that this authority – formerly in the hands of religious authorities, now usually scientific ones – has been effortfully constructed and disagreed over across time.' — Chris Wickham, author of The Inheritance of Rome
'This sweeping and comprehensive look at the "war" between religion and science lays it bare as a nineteenth-century myth. Studying God’s Works – what we call "science" – was historically as important to Christianity as studying his Word. The battles we’ve mythologised – from the ancient mathematician Hypatia’s murder by a Christian mob, to Galileo kneeling before the Inquisition, to the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial – were not about ideology, but authority. A compelling act of myth-busting.' — Nancy Marie Brown, author of The Abacus and the Cross
‘Illuminating… Even (or especially) those readers inclined to disagree with him will find his narrative refreshing… [Spencer] is one of Britain’s most astute observers of religious affairs… He offers an engaging tour of the intersection of religious and scientific history… Mr Spencer insightfully revisits the dust-ups involving Galileo, Darwin and John Scopes (prosecuted in Tennessee in 1925 for teaching evolution). He traces the interaction of the two disciplines in often fascinating detail.’ — Economist
'Highly readable... Spencer convincingly shows how, until the modern period, religion largely supported the sciences of the day.' — Financial Times
'Tremendous… [Spencer's] survey of more than two millennia to the present day is consistently well-informed, witty and merciless to those wanting easy headlines. Every journalist would benefit from reading this substantial but very useful text, but all its readers will emerge better informed—and perhaps even saner.’ — Diarmaid Macculloch, Prospect
‘Books that attempt to encompass the whole history of science and religion within a single volume are rare. This is one of them, and it is a good one… clearly written, with plenty of humour... this superb volume... is likely to become the standard work on the subject for the general reader for many years to come, and deservedly so.’ — The Tablet
'Nicholas Spencer is always worth reading. In this new book he brilliantly synthesises a mass of scholarly research to provide an authoritative, lucid and, at times, surprising account of the historical relations between Western science and religion. This is easily the most comprehensive and accessible history of these two "magisteria" presently available.' — Peter Harrison, author of The Territories of Science and Religion
'A really nicely balanced mix of scholarship and readability, full of quirky facts to make you think. The case that these arguments are not about facts, but about power and philosophy, has never been put more clearly and convincingly.' — Andrew Brown, author of The Darwin Wars
'Spencer’s historical portrait is erudite and wide-ranging…[a] necessary [book].’ — Literary Review
‘Magisteria is neither a heavily footnoted scholarly book written primarily for other scholars nor a pop treatment that avoids the tangled complexities of the subject. Rather, Spencer writes for the dedicated General Reader, and he succeeds magnificently… I hope it will prompt some of you to seek out and read Spencer’s book at the first opportunity… Magisteria is valuable precisely because it rejects widely circulated but misleading generalizations and positively wallows in the messy particulars of history.’ — National Review
'Ambitious... Provocative... Spencer presents a nuanced account.' — Publishers Weekly
‘With Magisteria, [Spencer] has now produced one of the most comprehensive and compelling popular accounts of the entanglements between these contested human activities… Spencer’s book is based on deep historical insight and research, it is written with elegance and energy, and it achieves the rare feat of being scholarly and serious as well as accessible and engaging. It will be an important resource for anyone who wishes to understand the scientific and religious entanglements that have shaped, and continue to frame, our views of God, humanity, and the cosmos.’ — Public Discourse
‘Spencer takes his reader on a breathtakingly inclusive intercontinental journey, from the dawn of time in Mediterranean antiquity, to present-day Silicon Valley… [with] wit, scholarship and attitude… an impressive and deeply humane text that is more than worthy of all due care and attention.’ ***** — Premier Christianity
'A comprehensive account… The scholarship is impeccable, and the style always readable and informative. Anyone who wishes to read an unbiased treatment will be able to dip into this book and will almost certainly see what happened in a new light. Many good books about the varied relationships between science and religion have appeared recently, and this must be accounted as among the best… his history is illuminating, judicious, scholarly, and reliable. It deserves to be a canonical text for all who take an interest in this vitally important topic, and who wish to avoid prejudiced or ill-informed opinions about it.’ — Church Times
‘The book offers a compelling exploration of this often troubled relationship, presenting new insights into its complexities and how it has impacted human society over time.' — Indulge Magazine
‘An impressively erudite and admirably even-handed account, featuring lucid thumbnail sketches of important religious and scientific ideas alongside lengthier treatments of key historical flashpoints… Spencer’s gift is to tread sufficiently lightly through all of this that readers are equipped and encouraged to consider implications and balance probabilities for themselves.' — Engelsberg Ideas
'Magisteria shows not only that science and religion have not always been in conflict, but that religion was often the midwife of scientific discoveries… Without idealising European history, Spencer’s refreshingly charitable approach means we encounter intellectual and religious diversity, rather than undifferentiated misery, bigotry, and superstition… Spencer also writes engagingly about lesser lights of cultural history… While Magisteria is a work of secular history, its author harnesses the tools of modern scholarship while maintaining a more than scholarly interest in religion. This helps him write insightfully about diverse historical figures, united by their Christian faith and their passion for science.’ — Law and Liberty