We’re looking at Ian Barbour’s 4 model typology for the interaction of science and religion and are using creation and evolution as our canvas. In our last post, we talked about the model of conflict, in which creation and evolution are in opposition and are but the current example of a larger science vs religion battle. This warfare model gets the most airplay in the media and on blogs and generates the most buzz-worthy quotes, although it’s important to remember that it’s founded on an oversimplification of science, philosophy, and religion. Proponents of this model, whether one believes it is right or wrong, would do well to at least admit the faults of their framework (in light of the strengths they see and promote loudly), but they rarely do.

It is obviously clear that I am not a fan of this model. This is because I think it’s wrong and I deplore the methods and lack of respect common among most of, if not all of, its loudest adherents. As one with a personal history as a conflict proponent, I can appreciate the intellectual “safety” of this model. To me, though, truth trumps safety, no matter how much more difficult it is to leave the black and white and live in the gray.

Today we’ll look at independence. Independence is the other popular model for the interaction of creation and evolution and is the one backed most predominantly by scientists or religious scholars that are united in their war against the warfare model of science and religion. Independence usually takes the form of saying something like, “science answers the ‘what’ questions while religion answers the ‘why’ questions.” Therefore, they cannot possibly be at war with each other because they represent “non-overlapping magisteria” that play different games and only overlap when boundaries are overstepped and scientists or theologians are “arrogantly” speaking on areas that they shouldn’t.

So, leave evolution, technology, and medicine to science.

And leave morality, purpose, values, etc. to religion.

Alternatively, and Barbour mentions this in When Science Meets Religion, independence may refer to the use of different methods or different sets of language. Either way, this model still holds fast to the results/answers of science and religion being independent from one another. Lastly, and this is debatable as to whether it belongs within the independence model or one of the other two models we have yet to discuss, Thomistic thought of primary and secondary causes is also sometimes included within the independence model. In this case, God acts as primary cause through using the secondary causes of natural laws. I’m not sure how primary and secondary causes could be considered independent in a manner that leaves any room for God’s action in nature (so it doesn’t seem like the right category to me anyway) and this line of thought easily leads to a God of deism instead of a God of theism, which is not acceptable either.

Some are shocked to find out that, for the most part, I am as adamantly against the independence model as I am the conflict model. Don’t get me wrong, independence sounds better and it is certainly more respectful. Also, there are absolutely questions within science and religion to which the other doesn’t speak. For instance, my lab uses genotyping and molecular fingerprinting methods to identify and characterize tick-borne infectious agents in the Chicago area. What, if anything, does religion have to do with that? Nothing. Now, the philosophy of science and framework for scientific study as a whole does have it’s grounding in theology and religious philosophy (although many would debate this), but the specific questions that we study in my lab don’t.

Does it work the other way? Do questions of religion have anything to do with science? Yes, and therein lies the rub. We are natural beings in a natural world and science is the best method available for studying said world. I fear that independence proponents from the religion side are conceding too much and I fear that independence proponents from the science side are promoting it while trying to conceal a sly grin. “Sure, they’re independent. What’s that? Evolution is true and it’s causing us to revisit traditional Christian beliefs? Genes play a large role in personality and behaviors generally associated with the soul and mind and brain are becoming increasing inseparable? Oh, just ignore that because science and religion are ‘independent’. Why doesn’t it work the other way and religion cause us to revisit traditional scientific beliefs? Oh, you noticed that…?”

It doesn’t matter how much we want it not to be so, science can and is addressing questions that use to be reserved to philosophy and religion. We can stomp our feet and wish it wasn’t happening, but it won’t make it any different. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a scientific materialist. I don’t think that science provides the sole answer to all of our questions or that everything is reducible. However, and this is where I differ from many of my Christian brethren, I don’t think there are questions that are off-limits to science. Some to many may fault me for this, but as a scientist and Christian I don’t believe that I have any other choice.

Both science and religion speak to truth and as a critical realist I acknowledge this and struggle with it… no matter how much easier it would be to say they’re independent and simply “move on” in my intellectual journey.