What Roles do Worldviews play in Science? (pt 4)

Ian Barbour in two of his works, When Science meets Religion, and Religion and Science, has outlined four models of interaction between science and religion. I bring up Barbour’s contribution to the discussion between worldview and science (and Christianity and science in specific) between today we have proponents of atheism such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins that loudly protest that religion and science are utterly irreconcilable. Barbour, by no means an evangelical Christian (or even a Christian at all, he seems to have more affinities to process philosophy), has practically exploded this notion of being that only position a “serious” scientist can hold. In fact, it’s not even the view of the majority of scientists since the rise of modern science.

In a manner that closely parallels Richard Niebuhr’s work, Christ and Culture, Barbour speak of fours models of interaction between science and religion, 1) the Conflict model, 2) the Independence model, 3) the Dialogue model, and 4) the Integration model.

In a nutshell, the first view (Conflict) seeing the relationship between religion and science as an antagonistic one. This would be the view taken by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (on the ‘Science’ side…if we can call it that), and religious fundamentalists who view science as “out to get” them on the other.

The Independence model holds to a fundamental “separation of powers” between science and religion. Science has it’s domain, and religion it’s own (and separate) domain. There need never be a contradiction between the 2 fields because they cover different subject matter. This is the view that has established what has become known as the fact/value split (science is “hard” and speak s of facts, while religion is “soft” can imbues and imputes value). From a Christian perspective, these perspective, though popular, isn’t really an option.  Why is that? Because a Christian commitment to the holistic Lordship of Christ demands that we recognize that He is Lord of both the spiritual reality, as well as the material world (the realm that is handled by the natural sciences). Whatever the Bible speaks regarding the physical world, it speaks with the same level of authority.

The Dialogue model recognizes that both religion (and in this case, specifically Christianity) and science speak about the same world, and may disagree with their respective assessments of the landscape. The dialogue model encourages believers and scientists to open up the lines of communication between the two.

Lastly, the Integration model proposes that both Christianity and trends in modern science need to be, for lack of a better term, blended. That is to say the goal should be, so it is said, to aim for a scientific theology, or a theological science. Unfortunately, nearly all projects that I’m familiar with that strive toward the goal of integration usually place modern scientific consensus in a privileged position. Process theology is a good example of this.

In conclusion, what this summary is presented here to say is this: Many contemporary science popularizers (such as Richard Dawkins) present the conflict model as the only model of interaction between science and theology. But, this isn’t good history. In fact, the majority of scientists have held either the independence, dialogue, or integration model. Though the integration model is the least common. To privilege the conflict model and use that to throw out any discussion of science and faith is to bias the discussion in advance towards your own side. It’s what we call “stacking the deck.”


Posted on October 28, 2008, in Science. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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