cover image Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief

Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief

Huston Smith. HarperOne, $25 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-06-067099-3

In this challenging but accessible book, Smith ardently declaims religion's relevance, taking on luminaries, such as Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, who hold that ""only matter exists"" and suggest that religion relates only to ""subjective experiences."" Smith defines such thinking as scientism, an unfortunate worldview distinct from science, which, in and of itself, he celebrates. But scientism, Smith says, contributes to ""modernity's tunnel,"" a metaphorical structure that hides the metaphysical from view. He argues that ""scientists who are convinced materialists deny the existence of things other than those they can train their instruments on,"" but in reality have ""discovered nothing in the way of objective facts that counts against traditional metaphysics."" Smith's arguments are reminiscent of Philip Johnson's Darwin on Trial; in fact, he nods appreciatively to Johnson's work. However, Smith's stature as a scholar probably affords him more credibility among scientists than evangelicals such as Johnson enjoy. Moreover, Smith's disarming toneDreplete with perfectly placed anecdotes and quipsDtempers the audacity of his theses and the difficulty of his subject matter. While he may be vulnerable to critiques that inevitably arise when non-scientists engage and challenge scientific claims, Smith demonstrates an impressive grasp of physics and biology, and defers to scientists who share his concerns. Most gratifyingly, after spending the book's first half implicating science, philosophy and the media in the marginalization of religion, Smith spends the second half elucidating and affirming metaphysical worldviews and imagining ways for science and religion to partner more equitably in the future. (Jan.) Forecast: Science and religion books are certainly hot right now (see PW's Religion Update, Nov. 20). That popularity, coupled with Smith's sterling reputation (buoyed by his recent five-part PBS series on religion with Bill Moyers) will propel sales. Harper San Francisco plans a 50,000-copy first print run and a $35,000 promotional budget.