We’ve been looking at Ian Barbour’s 4 models for the interaction of science and religion and will finish today by exploring the 4th and final model, integration. To help put some traction behind these models, we’ve used everyone’s favorite issue at the interface of science and religion: creation and evolution (i.e. the one people know the most about). I also used these models to talk about the NCAA tournament and filling out your bracket, but that post was a bit less serious than the others. Or maybe it wasn’t. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
The inspiration for this series has been Ian Barbour’s book, When Science Meets Religion, an outstanding, yet accessible introductory volume in the field. Our previous posts:
Integration, like dialogue, respects (or in some cases, uses and abuses, as we will see) both science and religion and seeks to bring them together in a meaningful manner. However, integration takes it one step further and seeks to provide a more coherent view of reality that is based upon synthesis. As Barbour notes, this usually takes on one of 3 forms.
In the first form, science is used to provide a basis for belief in God in the form of natural theology. God’s existence can thus be inferred by nature. While natural theology is not nearly as popular as it once was (compare Paley’s watchmaker with Dawkins’ blind watchmaker), it still has its proponents, namely, the scientific creationists and intelligent design folk. For the creationists, their “science” is driven by a form of literal interpretation of the Bible that produces “facts” that they attempt to legitimize by cherry-picking and abusing random scientific snippets. This appears scientific when it is not. For the intelligent design proponents, their “science” is not drive as much by a literal interpretation of scientific facts as it is an incorporation of philosophy into scientific practice. There not only can be a supernatural cause in nature, but it can be detected through the use of mathematical interpretations of apparent complexity. They attempt to cloud their intentions by saying it’s not God they’re detecting but instead mind, but this fails because they’ve made it known where their true intentions lie.
I suppose we could also include in “natural theology” the scientific materialists that say that science is the only method of knowing and that there is no evidence of God from science. This is also an attempt at integration even if it’s an integration of science with atheology instead of science with theology. The method and purpose is still the same.
In the second form, science is used to reformulate traditional theological doctrines, but is not capable of proving the existence of God. This, now referred to as theology of a nature, takes it as a given that God exists and that God created the world. Mechanisms of how God created, insights into who God is and what God’s purpose may be in creation, etc. may all be augmented or revised by scientific exploration. Theology of nature would be said to be “weaker” than natural theology but is specifically used as its own category to differentiate it from older arguments or “proof” of God’s existence. It is also only one component of a broader theology that includes many other doctrines from multiple other sources, but its proponents usually give high credence to the methods and findings of science. As Barbour notes, Arthur Peacocke made this view popular, but others including John Polkinghorne have written on theology of nature as well.
There is a middle ground between natural theology and theology of nature folk, in my opinion. I’m referring to those who believe that science, or I should call it “metascience”, reveals a universe of rationality, unfolding potential, and becoming that may be directional. One may say this was designed from the beginning and still be within the realm of science. While Barbour would probably include this under natural theology, I don’t think it should be. It’s not a proof of God’s existence but an inference of God that fits with tradition, reason, experience, and the Bible. Whether it should be under theology of nature or not, I’m not sure either. Categories are oftentimes artificial and we do people’s ideas injustice if in refuting them, we label them incorrectly.
The third form of integration is the creation of a systematic synthesis, commonly in the form of process philosophy. Process philosophy is popular in the science and religion field and is an attempt to generate an inclusive metaphysics that brings both disciplines together holistically. If natural theology is science driving theology (the evidence for it) and theology of nature of theology driving science (the interpretation of it), than the third form, process philosophy, is more even-handed (although science is still in charge). It is not possible to sum up process philosophy in a couple of sentences here and my interaction with it has been minimal.
But I’ll try anyway.
Process philosophy is anti-reductionistic and views nature as a dynamic and interdependent reality. Its proponents highlight change and interplay as opposed to static substances (which makes for difficulty in studying it scientifically). Each event of change has two aspects, an inner or interiority, and an outer reality. Again, it is important to note that process philosophy is about metaphysics, not science or theology specifically. Many Christians are against process philosophy, because it results in a God that is greatly unlike that of traditional Christianity. Briefly, God is not omnipotent and does not coerce, but instead persuades. Additionally, God is not immutable and undergoes change with the world. God is the source of order, novelty, and complexity but not in a deterministic manner. For those that are interested in learning more about process philosophy, the work of Alfred North Whitehead and John Cobb is a good place to start. For an alternative but extreme view of integration, see the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
There you have it. The integration of science and religion comes in three primary flavors: natural theology, theology of nature, and process philosophy. As you can see from this series in its entirety, there are many views for the interaction of science and religion. While conflict and independence are the most popular, there is a lively discussion being had in the realms of dialogue and integration. Which model one chooses to support is up to him/her, but to say that conflict is the only choice and that it represents the historical relationship between science and religion is patently false. You can also see that dialogue and integration can be fairly intense and difficult intellectually, which no doubt serves to make them unattractive when conflict and independence are “easier” and already entrenched in the popular press.
You may have figured this out but I myself straddle the fence between dialogue and integration in matters of evolution and creation. I can see why others choose other models and am much less concerned with which team they are on as compared to why they have chosen to be on that particular team. Why people believe what they believe is more important than what they believe, at least to me.
Which model do you prefer? Why?