At the end of this month I will be starting my first introductory course on science and religion. In addition to various essays, the primary text that we will be reading and discussing is Ian Barbour’s When Science Meets Religion, a classic introductory volume in the field. Barbour is well known for his 4 view model of science and religion (conflict, independence, dialogue, integration), which I wrote about previously and is one of my most read posts.

Over the next two weeks or so, I’m going to write a series of posts that will explicate the 4 view model by applying it to the most widely discussed area in science and religion, creation and evolution. This model for discussion is useful in all areas of science and religion. In When Science Meets Religion, Barbour applies it to the areas of 1) astronomy-cosmology, 2) quantum physics, 3) genetics, neuroscience, and human nature, 4) God and nature, and 5) evolution and creation. This list is not exhaustive, but is a good, broad introduction to the areas at the interface of science and religion. I should point out that a person’s choice of view in one of these areas doesn’t necessarily imply that the person will hold the same view in another area. For instance, one could favor independence in quantum physics and evolution/creation, but integration in genetics and human nature.

Today we’ll look at the conflict view of creation and evolution, which along with independence is the view that gets the most attention by the media and popular-level writers of science and religion. We’ll spend three future posts on the views of independence, dialogue, and integration.

In the conflict view, it’s creationism VERSUS evolution.  Interestingly, although the conflict can be one of science and began as such, at its core today it is driven mightily by a clash of two worldviews: Biblical literalism and philosophical naturalism. To the philosophical naturalist, all questions can be answered using the scientific method. Usually (at least in today’s world), these answers are found by reducing the problem to the lowest level or smallest unit. This is referred to as (scientific) materialism or reductionism and has as its core doctrine, evolution. To the Biblical literalist, the Bible is to be read in a straightforward and literal manner which promotes a worldview of creation, sin, fall, and redemption, a worldview that is clearly irreconcilable with that of the philosophical naturalist and one that many believe requires modification or even dismissal in light of evolution. Creation occurred over 6 days, humans and other animals were designed and spoken into existence by the word of God, and all science that does not support this is false and the work of fallen men and women, some of whom may be doing the work of the Devil. (If you think I’m constructing a straw man, I am, in a sense (see below), but also take a look at Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin in which he talks about some of the later writings of Henry Morris, where this Devil and evolution talk arose.)

Now, the conflict view of creation and evolution does not have to be supported by the extreme views that I mentioned above. The arena can remain one of science but the culture war that has resulted due to the conflict view of evolution and creation is now deeply rooted in philosophy. Furthermore, that the conflict has become a war has caused the focus to become on winning the war, which similar to what we often see in political contests often relies heavily on attacking your combatant to show that he/she is wrong and therefore I am right. Continuing with the analogy from politics, if you are not on one side then you must be on the other. This results in both sides lumping everyone who doesn’t agree with them to into the opposing group and, as such, caricaturing them inappropriately because in reality there is a lot of gray space in-between the black and white extremes.

And you thought this was all about science.

It can be, but it’s not usually the norm. Shoot, the intelligent design folk started their cause to specifically fight against philosophical naturalism! The concern was that by definition science had removed from the discussion even a chance for action by God. As we will see in a later post in this series, what started as conflict for the IDers has now become one of integration… but it’s done so with poor science and I would also argue, poor theology. However, conflict was the driving force.

Coming up next we’ll look at the other views for the interaction of science and religion in the area of creation and evolution: independence, dialogue, and integration. As will be seen and is likely evident already, I am against, er in conflict, with the conflict model in this area. Are you? If not, why not? If so, why?