Typologies, categories, and the myth of science and religion at war

The predominant method for relating science and religion is the 4-fold typology created by Ian Barbour. In a series of posts last year, I wrote about each of the models (ConflictIndependenceDialogueIntegration) and how they relate to popular and academic views of evolution and creation.

Viewing science and religion not only as a discipline but also in the popular media and on blogs can be greatly aided by the use of these models. It is personally helpful to be reminded that the shouting at each other warfare model that is made popular by “New Atheist” blogs like Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True or PZ Myers’ Pharyngula and Creationists websites like AIG is but one view of science and religion. And an impoverished, no let’s say, wrong, view at that. Typologies for relating science and religion are useful for thinking of ways in which a more fruitful dialogue can be encouraged, even by parties that disagree on key points.

In addition to these models, there are others that have been proposed by scientist-theologians or philosophers interested in science and religion.  None has gained as much traction as the Barbour 4-fold typology, but a few of them have piqued my interest. The beauty of Barbour’s 4 models is their simplicity. Even with this, there can be views that are difficult to characterize within a particular model. Also, there are a number of views that are quite different from each other but are found within the same model (conflict and dialogue, especially).

In looking for other methods for relating science and religion, I came across a website with a wealth of resources, Counterbalance. It contains articles and essays on a number of topics within science and religion. One short essay, written by Dr. Robert John Russell, the founder and director of the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences (another website with great resources), provides a summary of the typologies that have been proposed for relating science and religion.

Because it is so short and contains many useful links itself, I have included it in its entirety below. The original link can be found here, and I greatly encourage you to visit the website for other great materials as well (home page screen shot below).

A number of typologies have been suggested to classify various ways of relating science and religion. We will start with a brief review of them, since they illuminate the underlying assumptions often taken for granted which strongly shape the public as well as scholarly conversations. They can be quite useful both to specialists wishing to clarify subtle distinctions between positions and to non-specialists, including the media, educators, and clergy, by providing a basic orientation to the field. In some cases these ways are meant as mutually exclusive, such as “conflict” versus “two worlds”; in other cases, one way might lead to and become incorporated within another, such as “dialogue” and “integration.” In some cases, each way is meant as a characterization of the relation between science per se and religion per se; in other cases, they only apply to specific topics in science and in religion.

Ian Barbour’s typology, called “ways of relating science and religion”, was first published in 1988, expanded slightly in 1990 and in 1997, and used to restructure the material from his 1990 Gifford lectures for a wider audience in 2000. It remains the most widely used typology in the field. Barbour lists four types of relations, each with subtypes: conflict (scientific materialism, biblical literalism); independence (contrasting methods, differing languages); dialogue (boundary questions, methodological parallels); and integration (natural theology, theology of nature, systematic synthesis). His rich discussion is essential reading.

The 1980s saw other typologies, though they were less widely effective. In 1981 Arthur Peacocke published an eightfold typology. It listed both differences and similarities in realms, approaches, languages, attitudes, and objects; it also allowed for the integration of science and religion and for science to generate a metaphysics in which theology can be formulated. I later reformulated his typology as a four-dimensional model which allows for a continuum between opposite positions. In 1985, Nancey Murphy appropriated H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic five-fold typology of relations between Christianity and culture and applied it to science and religion. Her distinctive claim was that theology could be a transformer not only of culture in general but even of science in particular.

In the 1990’s, a variety of new topologies appeared, many responding directly to Barbour’s work. John Haught‘s 1995 typology includes conflict, contrast, contact, and confirmation. The first three parallel those of Barbour; the fourth describes theology as providing some key philosophical assumptions underlying science. Haught then addresses nine key issues in science and religion and illustrates how each of his four approaches respond to them. In 1996, Willem B. Drees offered a nine-fold typology generated as three new realities (new scientific knowledge, new ideas in philosophy of science, and new attitudes towards nature) influence three distinct areas (religious cognitive claims, experiences, and traditions). According to Drees, Barbour’s typology deals with the interaction between religious cognitive claims and new scientific knowledge. In his six-fold typology, Philip Hefner includes the infusion of religious wisdom into scientific concepts, the construction of new metaphysical systems for science and the evangelical reaffirmation of traditional religious rationality. While writing on the doctrine of creation in 1991, Anne Clifford developed a detailed typology for the relations principally between Roman Catholic theology and the natural sciences, including continuity, separation, and interaction.

Ted Peters’ 1998 eight-fold typology includes several refinements to Barbour’s scheme. He first distinguishes between ‘scientific materialists’, who claim that science supports atheism, and ‘scientific imperialists’, who claim that science offers a path to God but, like scientific materialists, argue that science alone produces genuine knowledge. He also distinguishes between Roman Catholic ‘ecclesiastical authoritarianism’, which stretched from the nineteenth century until Vatican II and sought clerical control over secular knowledge, and twentieth century ‘scientific creationism’, a form of Protestant fundamentalism which sees itself as genuine science though it is based on a literal reading of Genesis. Peters’ typology also includes ethical overlap, New Age spirituality and what Peters advocates, ‘hypothetical consonance.’ Mark Richardson’s recent three-fold typology illuminates the striking difference in literary genre between: intellectual/rational texts (in which the laws of science reveal the mind of God); romantic/affective & aesthetic/mystical texts (here science reunites us with nature as sacred); and tradition-centered texts (where scientific theories are integrated into the systematic theologies of world religions). Many other books and articles suggest relevant typologies of approaches to, relations between, and goals and aims for the interaction; a particularly helpful resource is the very recent textbook edited by Christopher Southgate and colleagues.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be reviewing a few of these methods for relating science and religion. I am particularly interested in Ted Peters’ and Nancey Murphy’s typologies and will start there.

Until then, what do you think about the ways of relating science and religion? Are they solely useful for academic discussions or can they be appropriated for popular or pragmatic purposes? Which view do you prefer? Is categorization too artificial in what can be a highly nuanced area of discussion?

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About justintopp

Biology professor/mentor who loves sports, laughter, science & religion/theology (especially mind, evolution, soul, and what it means to be human), and most of all, his bride and baby girl.
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5 Responses to Typologies, categories, and the myth of science and religion at war

  1. Pingback: A few good links | eChurch Blog

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  3. Steve Bishop says:

    You might be interested in the typology I developed see here:

    http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/typology_bishop.pdf

    complete with diagrams!

    Briefly the categories are:
    A: ‘science replaces religion’. B: ‘religion replaces science’. C: ‘science shapes religion’. D: ‘religion shapes science’. E: ‘science and religion are independent’. F: ‘science and religion in dialogue’.

    Cheers,
    Steve

  4. Pingback: WELD College+Career + Reasons We’re Leaving: Science

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