In my last post , I linked to an article by Michael Fuller in which he provided an introduction to science and theology and Ian Barbour’s 4 models for the interaction between science and religion.  In this post, I’d like to provide my own introduction to Ian Barbour and his 4 models.

Ian Barbour is professor emeritus at Carleton College where he was a longtime professor in physics and religion, and a wonderful role model for me (and others) as we delve into the field of science and religion.  He is credited with bringing a greater appreciation to science and religion and providing a framework for modeling the interaction between the two seemingly disparate fields.   While he is not the only one that paved the way, he was certainly an important and essential figure in the history of science and religion.  His first book, Issues in Science and Religion (1966) was considered to be groundbreaking and he has written several other equally outstanding books. Not surprisingly, it took all of 5 seconds for me to decide to use one of them in the upcoming spring semester for my first Science and Religion course .

In the book I’ll be using, Barbour introduces the reader to his 4 models for the interaction of science and religion.  He then applies each of the models to various fields that science and religion each claim knowledge in.  The fields of interest include: astronomy and creation; the implication of quantum physics; evolution and continuing creation; genetics, neuroscience, and human nature; God and nature.  The beauty of the book is that Barbour takes the reader through the interaction that would occur between scientists and theologians in these areas based upon each of the 4 models.

Alright, so what are his 4 models for the interaction of science and religion? The first model is the one that is most commonly observed in the media: conflict.  The conflict model posits science vs religion and claims that, a priori, either science OR religion is true and the other is necessarily false.  In the area of evolution and creation, this model is employed by both of the loudest “sides” as the Creationists say that the science must be false because it doesn’t jive with their reading of the Bible and the Evolutionists say that the Bible must be false because the science of evolution is true.  You all know how I feel about this model, but let’s just say that like most, there’s been quite a lot of collateral damage in this war.

The second model is the independence model, which states that science and religion can both be true as long as they are kept to their separate domains.  Both science and religion can be true at the same time as long as they respect their limits and stay true to their area.  Science tells us how and religion tells us why and any other use of either is inappropriate.  Again in the area of evolution and creation, this model is fairly common in the media and is a favorite of those “accommodationists” that are Christian and also accept the science behind evolution.  God is the Creator and is the ‘why’ behind nature and evolution is the ‘how’.  While this model is attractive I believe that it will unfortunately ultimately fail as science continues to cross boundaries and force its way into the ‘why’ area normally ruled by religion.  Christians can choose to resist this, but I don’t think that’s the best response, especially in light of the precedent sent by Creationists who have resisted evolution.

The third model that Barbour posits for the interaction of science and religion is the dialogue model.  In this model, science and religion are conversation partners in the areas mentioned above and to which they both claim knowledge.  This model is not as common in the media although it is the one that most academics interested in pushing forward the scholarly field of science and religion are fond of.  While this model “sounds” really great it is not an easy one to put into practice because it at minimum requires mutual respect between scientists and theologians and at maximum requires academic training for conversation participants in science and religion and there are very few that are adequately versed in both.  Nevertheless, I (and others) feel it to be better model than those of conflict and independence because it gives respect to both science and religion and sees “true” truth as holistic and encompassing both views and disciplinary styles.  Again though, easier said than done.  Conversation can be great and fruitful but it can also be difficult and a waste of time if both parties aren’t willing to actually engage each other and find a common or middle ground. In the discussion of evolution and creation, the dialogue model leads to a synthesis or theology of nature that has received a fair amount of attention by scientist-theologians.

The fourth and final model is the integration model.  This model takes dialogue and conversation much further and posits that the truth of science and religion can be integrated into a more complete or full “whole”.  We science and religion academics like this model too but it also suffers from sounding good but being immensely difficult to put into practice.  This model was exemplified in the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who sought to integrate evolution, Christianity (some parts of it, at least), redemption, and perfection, and saw all of this fulfilled in his vision of the “Omega Point”.  His level of integration was extreme and eye-opening, and as such others who profess this model are likely to limit themselves a bit more.  I like this model as well but worry about it because the truth claims of science and religion are not necessarily absolute and thus wedding them to each other may end in a bitter divorce.  Nevertheless, integration in some manner is a worthy endeavor.

So we have 4 models for the interaction of science and religion: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration.  Which model do you prefer?  Have you ever even thought about it in this way?  Do you think identifying and discussing these models is a fruitful way of pursuing issues in science and religion?

For those that are interested in more about Barbour’s 4 model typology, I have expanded on this post in a recent series by using his models to discuss evolution and creation. See here: conflict, independence, dialogue, integration.