Ch. 4 Weddings and Wars: Interactions of Science and Religion (Part 2)

Today we continue Ch. 4. If you didn’t read Part 1 on Saturday here’s a link to the post.

Science and religion in CONFLICT

The first interaction described by Barbour is the one that is most commonly observed in the media: conflict. A glimpse of the New York Times bestseller list, perusal of websites and blogs such as Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True or Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, political debates, etc., provides continual (and often loud) reminders that the science and religion “dialogue” is an ideological conflict that demands a victor, no matter the collateral damage associated with it. Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist turned science popularizer is as strong a writer as he is an atheist and his poetic polemics argue that science must overcome religion. His juicy quotes about the Enlightenment, science, and reason being under attack from “organized ignorance” make for inspirational war cries,[1] which is adorable given this is coming from an Oxford professor. As in any other debate, winning occurs not just by promoting your own side, but also slamming that of your opponent while making sure that your reader is convinced of the life and death-level importance of the struggle.[2]

For “team science” (also known as the scientific materialists), the battle is won by disarming religion or claiming religion’s territories for its own. Sam Harris illuminates the inverse relationship between science and religion and ways in which science can address religious questions when he writes: “The conflict between religion and science is inherent and (very nearly) zero-sum. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.”[3] Since science works so well, religion must wither away and if you still want morals in a non-religious world, well science provides a better alternative anyway.[4]

You can’t have a war unless both armies are willing to fight. Never fear, there is a “team religion” that is happy to battle. If Richard Dawkins were the captain of “team science,” then the late Henry Morris, engineer and founding father of scientific creationism, would be captain emeritus of “team religion.” Here he is inspiring his troops with a quote that seems too delicious to be true, “The very first evolutionist was not Charles Darwin or Lucretius or Thales or Nimrod, but Satan himself. He has not only deceived the whole world with the monstrous lie of evolution but has deceived himself most of all. He still thinks he can defeat God because, like modern “scientific” evolutionists, he refuses to believe that God is really God.”[5],[6] Take up thy sword and battle, good Christian soldiers.

Ken Ham has taken over where Morris left off, fighting the good fight against evolution with dinosaurs as his Gettysburg for some reason. “Evolutionary Darwinists need to understand we are taking the dinosaurs back. This is a battle cry to recognize the science in the revealed truth of God.”[7] Similar quotes from Ham, Morris, and other young-earth creationists abound but the two presented here are sufficient to illustrate the point. It should also be noted that it’s not just young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists (rarer) and intelligent design proponents suit up for team religion as well. Philip Johnson, father of the intelligent design movement, believes vehemently that “naturalistic” science is displacing religion and is concerned of what’s left for God. “Make no mistake about it. In the Darwinist view, which is the official view of mainstream science, God had nothing to do with evolution.”[8] And later in the same chapter, “A God who can never do anything that makes a difference, and of whom we have no reliable knowledge, is of no importance to us.”[9] Science must decrease so that religion can increase.

Specifically chosen quotes aside, although the conflict can be one of science and began as such, at its core today it is driven by differences in philosophical bedrocks, most clearly seen in the clash between young-earth creationists (Biblical literalism) and scientific materialists (ontological naturalism).[10] To the scientific materialist, matter is all there is and all questions of importance can be answered by the scientific method, reducing the problem to the lowest level or smallest unit with physics serving as the ultimate layer of reality.

Does it sound like the scientific materialist is against religion? Yes, (s)he is. There’s no doubt about it. But as we will see the story is more interesting.

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 six 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, but also take a look at Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution in which he talks about some of the later writings of Henry Morris, where this Devil and evolution talk arose.)

Does it sound like the Biblical literalist is against science? Yes, (s)he is. Not so fast.[11] What the Biblical literalist is against is not science, in general, but science that doesn’t support a literal interpretation of the Bible. This distinction is important and we will revisit it again later.

The warfare model gets the most airplay 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. Furthermore, the common refrain that science and religion have always been at war is misleading and patently false.[12] 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. When you are committed to the foundationalist view of knowledge and see religion and science as cognitive-propositional, however, you will argue to your blue in the face that your foundation is the right one and the competitor’s is necessarily the wrong one.

Am I against this model? Most definitely. But it doesn’t matter how I feel since this book is an exploration of the creation-evolution conflict. Importantly, as we will see in the next two chapters, I greatly appreciate the motivations of those who apply it because I realize they believe it is the only option before them. Perhaps most importantly, I know this because I used to be a soldier.

[to be continued on Friday]

[1] For example, see the quote that opened this chapter and the following quote. There is a library of quotes like these by the way. “On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally good meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (BasicBooks, 1995), pp. 132-133.

[2] There is absolutely no parallel with the 2016 election. There is absolutely no parallel with the 2016 election. There is absolutely no parallel with the 2016 election…

[3] Sam Harris, Science Must Destroy Religion, The Huffington Post (January 2, 2006).

[4] See for example, the following quote: “Science has long been in the value business. Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, scientific validity is not the result of scientists abstaining from making value judgments; rather, scientific validity is the result of scientists making their best efforts to value principles of reasoning that link their beliefs to reality, through reliable chains of evidence and argument. This is how norms of rational thought are made effective… The answer to the question “What should I believe, and why should I believe it?” is generally a scientific one.” Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (Free Press, 2011) pp. 143–144.

[5] Henry Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Master Books, 2000), p. 260. As quoted in Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (HarperOne, 2008), p. 20.

[6] I forgive the reader for not already knowing that Satan got a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University immediately after promoting the eviction of garden tenants Adam and Eve, but just before tempting Jesus in the wilderness with beakers and test tubes.

[7] This Ken Ham quote is from the following article: Michael Powell, In Evolution Debate, Creationists Are Breaking New Ground; Museum Dedicated to Biblical Interpretation Of the World Is Being Built Near Cincinnati, The Washington Post (September 25, 2005). Italics are my emphasis.

[8] Philip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity Press, 1993), p. 116-117.

[9] Philip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Intervarsity Press, 1993), p. 117.

[10] We could add intelligent design to this clash also. They’re philosophical bedrock is their abhorrence of ontological naturalism. That they are conflating methodological naturalism (how science works) with ontological naturalism (a materialist philosophy) is unfortunate and a huge mistake but not surprising because their combatants Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris do the same.

[11] Shout out to Lee Corso.

[12] See Ronald Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Harvard University Press, 2010).

Posted in Blurred Vision, Science vs. religion | 3 Comments

Ch. 4 Weddings and Wars: Interactions of Science and Religion (Part 1)

Over the last weeks I have posted draft material of two chapters of my new book now tentatively titled, Parallel Universes: Searching for a Wormhole in the Creation-Evolution Dialogue. These chapters discussed the nature of science (Ch. 2) and religion/theology (Ch. 3).

I have just completed a draft of Ch. 4 Weddings and Wars: Interactions of Science and Religion which I will be splitting into five posts over the next 2-3 weeks. Today’s post is the longest, so brace yourself. As always, I greatly appreciate the feedback either via comments here or suggestions in person or by email. Thanks for reading!



“The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America. I am one of those scientists who feels that it is no longer enough just to get on and do science. We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organised ignorance [religion].” [1] Richard Dawkins

“The remarkable insights that science affords us into the intelligible workings of the world cry out for an explanation more profound than that which itself can provide. Religion, if it is to take seriously its claim that the world is the creation of god, must be humble enough to learn from science what that world is actually like. The dialogue between them can only be mutually enriching. The scientists will find in theology a unifying principle more fundamental than the grandest unified field theory. The theologian will encounter in science’s account of the pattern and structure of the physical world a reality which calls form admiration and wonder.”[2] John Polkinghorne

“So it seems reasonable to ask what cosmology, now that it is a science, can tell us about God. Sadly, but in all earnestness, I must report that the answer as I see it is: Nothing. Cosmology presents us neither the face of God nor the handwriting of God, nor such thoughts as may occupy the mind of God. This does not mean that God does not exist, or that he did not create the universe, or universes. It means that cosmology offers no resolution to such questions.”[3] Timothy Ferris

“Experience shows that traditional Christology can accept an evolutionary world-structure; but, what is even more, and what contradicts all predictions, it is within this new organic and unitary ambience, and by reason of this particular curve of linked Space-Time, that it can develop most freely and fully. It is there that Christology takes on its true form.”[4] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


Moving from science, religion to science AND religion

We’ve spent the last two chapters discussing the nature of science and religion separately. We’ve learned about all of the ‘isms that make science, “science,” and the interplay between data, hypothesis, and theory, best described by philosopher of science, Imre Lakatos. We’ve also looked at multiple models of religion, noting how differences between them affect theology, the importance of the Bible, and most relevant to this book, how one views the interaction of science and religion. Now it’s time to puree it all together and see how science and religion relate to each other in general and specifically in the evolution and creation discussion.

What is an “interaction” of science and religion? Is it simply an academic and otherwise irrelevant combination of separate disciplines to sound, to use an academic buzzword, interdisciplinary? Could we do the same and create fields like science and ceramics, religion and athletic training, theology and Spanish, or science and business?[5] Are we using the words science and religion so we can get away with talking about creation and evolution without actually using those annoyingly overused and potentially offensive words?[6]

To model the interactions of science and religion means to look at how people relate the two disciplines, be it their cognitive statements, the methods they use to generate new knowledge, or philosophical connections between them.[7] Say both science and religion speak to the same question of interest, but science says X is true while religion says Y. What do we do? Is it a Math test where only one answer is correct and we must choose between X and Y? Is it an English paper where both X and Y can be correct because there are no wrong answers?[8] Is the best answer the one that sees truth in the combination or integration of both X and Y (X + Y or X * Y)? The one that accepts both X and Y as correct because they come from separate domains with different methods that have nothing to do with each other?

There is a big asterisk to all the X and Y discussion and that is there must be some relevant context to the comparison. Something like 90-95% of what science studies is, in fact, irrelevant to religion (and ditto). That my favorite protein in the world, Alsin,[9] interacts with Rab5a to regulate movement of stuff in your cells doesn’t have anything to do with religion even to an academic like me who loves connecting ideas. However, that we can study Alsin’s homologue or “distant cousin” protein Vps9p in budding yeast because evolution has conserved similar machinery for movement of stuff in yeast cells and all kinds of other cells including neurons may have something to do with religion. Similarly, that Jesus had four brothers is not relevant to science but that Jesus is lord of all creation probably is. So when we discuss and compare science and religion we are in some sense assuming that they can speak to the same or at least similar questions. Context is king.

To highlight the importance of context and begin to see what types of interactions are possible between science and religion, let’s consider a recent article describing the work of a Chinese research team on non-viable human embryos. They used gene therapy to edit the DNA and make the human embryo resistant to HIV.[10] Does this article impact your theological beliefs? Your faith? Are you upset the work is being done? Do you think these researchers are “playing God?” Do you think the study worth merit and encourage further research on the topic?

Let’s look at a different article. In this one, a multinational collaboration identified an evolutionary molecular mechanism that enabled butterflies to expand their color vision.[11] What’s your response to this article? What if I told you the scientists used the same gene therapy technique as in the human embryo paper? Has your reaction changed? How would you respond to an article that describes a protocol for extending the lifetime of a quantum bit?[12] Surely your reaction is not the same in all cases.

The way we view science and religion clearly varies based upon the content and context of the discussion. Those people that say science and religion are “at war” don’t agree that this applies to all science or all religious beliefs. Some choose to say they “don’t believe in science” but they can’t actually mean this because they don’t deny the law of gravity, their disbelief enabling them to escape our atmosphere when convenient. And they don’t stop purchasing iPhones out of a newfound denial of quantum mechanics. No, they’re saying they “don’t believe in evolution.”[13] So even though I will be describing ways in which science and religion interact “broadly” we must appreciate that one may see the interaction of biology and religion in one way, the interaction of physics and religion in a different way, and the interaction of psychology and religion in yet another way.[14] Though the interaction may be different based upon the particular scientific discipline considered the interaction types described in this chapter are the options available to all science and religion discussions.

Modeling the interactions of science and religion

Several models have been proposed to account for the potential ways in which science and religion interact. These models range from fairly complicated to very much so complicated.[15] The predominant method for relating science and religion is the categorization created by the late Ian Barbour (1923-2013), former physics and religion professor at Carleton College, one of the founders of the academic field of science and religion, role model to many, and all around stud. He put forth that there are four different ways in which science and religion can interact: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration.[16] Some scholars have suggested alternative strategies though most expand upon Barbour’s work by sub-dividing his categories resulting in classifications with six, eight, and nine potential interactions (see very complicated).

The most interesting competitor model was ironically proposed by Barbour earlier in his life and appropriated Richard Niebuhr’s 5-fold description of the way Christians interact with culture (Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, Christ transforming culture) with religion = Christ and science = culture.[17] Because Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture is so well read it is tempting to apply his ideas to the science and religion discussion and indeed, nearly 25 years later after Barbour, philosopher and theologian Nancey Murphy also used Niebuhr’s framework but with some modifications.[18] However, like Murphy, I believe a 1:1 for swap of religion (or for her, “theology”) for Christ and science for culture doesn’t work and I find the adaptations required are significant enough that they outweigh the benefits of his model. Barbour must have felt the same way since he developed his own classification later and stuck with it the remainder of his life.

To keep it as simple as possible, and provide respect where it’s due, we’ll stick with Barbour’s model of conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. In what follows I will describe the interaction types and briefly note the strengths and weaknesses of each to the science and religion discussion. To see the interactions “in action,” we will directly apply them to the topic most important to this book, evolution and creation. I will also place the groups involved in the evolution-creation discussion (e.g., young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, evolutionary creationists, etc.) into the appropriate science and religion interaction model though I note the difficulties in doing so since individuals within groups can vary.

[to be continued on Monday]

[1] Richard Dawkins, Dawkins campaigns to keep God out of classroom, The Guardian (November 27, 2006).

[2] John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding (New Science Library, 1988), pp. 97-98.

[3] Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: A State of the Universe Report (Simon & Schuster, 1998), pp. 303-4. I was made aware of this quote by reading Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (Cliff Street Books, 1999).

[4] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Science and Christ (Harper & Row, 1968), p. 189.

[5] No. Yes (see yoga). No. Yes (see biotechnology).

[6] Seinfeld was pretty good at talking about things without, you know, actually mentioning them.

[7] I will continue to use the world religion, but I could just as soon replace religion with “theology.” Though there are ways in which other attributes of religion (e.g., sociocultural expectations, ethics, religious practices, etc.) interact with science they will not be addressed in this chapter.

[8] I apologize now to my wonderful faculty colleagues from the English department who do fantastic work.

[9] It should be your favorite protein too. All my students agree.

[10] Kang et al. Introducing precise genetic modifications into human 3PN embryos by CRISPR/Cas-mediated genome editing (2016). Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics 33: 581-588.

[11] Perry et al. Molecular logic behind the three-way stochastic choices that expand butterfly colour vision (2016). Nature 535: 280-284.

[12] Ofek et al. Extending the lifetime of a quantum bit with error correction in superconducting circuits (2016). Nature in press.

[13] Obviously this doesn’t make sense either because how does one choose not to “believe” something scientists have demonstrated by evidence when they “believe” all of the other things scientists have told them? I can choose to not believe in the philosophical message of Sharknado 4 (that being a Shepard means you can’t die from being eaten by a shark 72 times) but I can’t deny that the horrible movie does, in fact, exist.

[14] And in reality it’s probably much worse than that.

[15] For an accessible and short summary of notable models, see:

[16] All of Barbour’s books are worth reading but the two most relevant to this particular discussion are Religion and Science (Gifford Lectures Series) (HarperOne, 1997) and When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners? (HarperOne, 2000).

[17] Tenneson et al. A New Survey Instrument and Its Findings for Relating Science and Theology (2015). Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 67: 200-222.

[18] Ibid.

Posted in Blurred Vision, Science vs. religion | 5 Comments

The trouble with college websites

An oldie but a goodie from xkcd.  Make sure to do the hover over thing.


Here’s an extra bonus. Might be easier to see here though. Beautiful and brilliant – even if it is 4 years old…😉

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Jim Al-Khalili: How quantum biology might explain life’s biggest questions

This week’s TED talk by nuclear physicist Jim Al-Khalili introduces the field of quantum biologyWhile it is not surprising that biology, which depends upon chemistry, which depends upon physics relies on quantum physics, Jim calls this “trivial.” Instead… “Quantum biology is about looking for the non-trivial — the counterintuitive ideas in quantum mechanics — and to see if they do, indeed, play an important role in describing the processes of life.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 9.09.33 PM.png

During his talk Jim provides several examples of biological phenomena that can only be explained or best explained using quantum mechanics. His examples include enzymes using quantum tunneling to transfer protons and electrons within substrates, the potential for DNA mutation due to protons involved in hydrogen bonds moving between opposing DNA strands via quantum tunneling, quantum coherence in bacterial photosynthetic enzymes, and quantum entanglement between electrons in the crytochrome protein inside the robin’s retina enabling it to sense the earth’s magnetic field (this one is speculative). 

While the title is a bit grandiose, the talk is still awe-inspiring. It might be time for biologists to actually consider quantum physics instead of assuming it’s effects are “washed out” due to the immense numbers of molecules and vast complexity of them in cells. His book looks like it has additional examples too and should be well worth the read.

What do you think about his talk? Convinced? Need more data? Too early in the game?

As the instances of quantum biology accumulate it may make for a highly fruitful dialogue partner with theology, especially in the area of divine action. From  John Polkinghorne’s suggestion that perhaps mutations are not completely random (this can actually be tested now due to NGS) to Robert Russell’s argument that God acts in nature without intervention via quantum mechanics, the possibilities for discussion are numerous.


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Cadbury eggs…

… are delicious. And xkcd offers you the logical proof that will allow you to eat them year-round.



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Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0

Since the blog seems to be back and running again, I’d like to resurrect an old favorite of mind, The TED talk of the week. Past favorites include:

Today’s TED talk comes from philosopher Alain de Botton. In his talk, Alain argues that there is need for a “new” atheism that appropriates what he feels are the attractive aspects of religion, be it religion’s focus on moral education, repetition of teaching, seasonal synchronization of group members, appreciation of the mind AND body, or the many values of art.

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One of my favorite parts of the talk is at the 5:30 mark.

“Now we’ve given up with the idea of sermons. If you said to a modern liberal individualist, “Hey, how about a sermon?” they’d go, “No, no. I don’t need one of those. I’m an independent, individual person.”What’s the difference between a sermon and our modern, secular mode of delivery, the lecture? Well a sermon wants to change your life and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information. And I think we need to get back to that sermon tradition. The tradition of sermonizing is hugely valuable, because we are in need of guidance, morality and consolation — and religions know that.”

Stay until the end. The first question is key. It made me think of this song and the words of Augustine. We all long for a connection to something greater. Alain is saying that clearly the doctrine associated with religions is false, but the many other things that religions provide are good. Very good.

His talk highlights the problem of starting with theology when speaking as a religious believer. No doubt there are some who come to faith through the intellectualization of a religion’s beliefs. But I think the vast majority enter the door via the other aspects of religion that Alain desires to appropriate in his Atheism 2.0.

The science and religion dialogue will highly benefit from the “new” atheism Alain is promoting. Here’s hoping religious believers return the favor.

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Chapter 3 The hallmarks of religion and theology (part 3)

In today’s third and final post for Ch. 3 (the hallmarks of religion and theology), we will identify parallels in science and religion. Parts 1 and 2 are linked if you haven’t read them or need a refresher. As always, feel free to leave a comment or suggestion!

Parallels in science and religion

One does not write a book such as this without believing that it is at least possible for science and religion to be on some sort of common ground. The five potential interactions of science and religion we will discuss in the next chapter range from sacred struggle to spirited synthesis, with many options in-between. That there is even the potential for positive interaction requires commonalities, a few of which will be presented here.

Both science and religion believe the claims that they make about the world and our interactions with it correspond to reality. However, neither scientist nor theologian is so confident to believe their words provide an exact replica of the natural world or God. Whether it be limits in human intellect, difficulty in subject matter (best illustrated in attempts to describe an infinite God with human language, especially one as ridiculous as English), instrument liabilities, problems or questions that are not amenable to empirical investigation, etc., all collectively enable at best an approximation of reality.

Limitations in language alone necessitate the need to construct models to convey the reality we investigate. Similarly, metaphors, analogies, and symbols are useful to both scientist and theologian, and not just those who want to sell more than 15 copies of their books. It is impossible to create an exact picture of what atomic particles look like since we cannot visualize them so models are constructed that take account of available data to infer atomic structure. It is perhaps not surprising then that models improve over time as more and more data is collected. Analogies and metaphors are also used in science, especially in the classroom as they enable students to connect the often-confusing and detailed findings of science with prior or commonsense knowledge. Personally, I use analogies frequently in my teaching, and because I don’t eat breakfast and am hungry during my lectures they often involve food.[1]

Analogies and metaphors are quite useful in theological discourse too. To refer to God the Father does not actually mean that God is our father, but to say that God possesses qualities like a father and to acknowledge Jesus’s referral to God as father. Similarly, to say God is love does not mean the God = love[2], but instead that love is one of God’s attributes. Symbols are important to science but even more so to theology. In his remarkable systematic theology, God: The World’s Future, Ted Peters says, ”Christian theology is the explication of the basic symbols found in scripture…”[3] Later in the same book, Peters writes, “To have faith in the God of the future is to reorient one’s life around the symbols associated with Jesus Christ.”[4] Amen, dude, amen.

Another foundational similarity (pun also intended) between science and religion is that both can’t help but be affected by the current philosophical context of postmodernism and its replacement of foundationalism with post- or non-foundationalism.[5] Foundationalism, intimately associated with modernism, models knowledge as a building where beliefs are constructed over an underlying foundation one idea or pillar at a time. The foundational principles can not themselves be proven but are required as a starting point, with all other ideas accepted due to their logical connection to these principles. Growth in knowledge occurs in one-direction, up from the foundations, the prototypical example of which is Descartes’ “I think, therefore, I am.” So, cracks in the foundation are irreparable and the legitimacy of the foundations demands expert defense. We already looked at two options available to Christians (well, Protestants, at least) as foundations (the Bible, experience) and noted the gulf created by having these as the only options.

While science became SCIENCE[6] during the modern period, it is not clear to me how a practicing scientist today could be a foundationalist. Post-foundationalism, alternatively called holism, replaces the model of knowledge as a building with that of a network or web. Growth in knowledge occurs due to traffic in two directions, between the most supported beliefs, which lie in the center, and the less supported beliefs, which lie at the exterior. Unlike in foundationalism, it is not enough to debate foundations, but instead competition occurs between networks of ideas. We’ve already seen examples of post-foundationalism in religion (e.g., Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic model, narrative theology) and certainly Lakatos’s research programs from chapter 1 are holistic as well. Furthermore, the other philosophers of science discussed in chapter 1 all promoted post-foundational principles too.[7]

Interpreting science and religion through the lens of post-foundationalism is not giving up the farm at this point and will not preclude me from accurately describing the variety of ways in which science and religion interact. It is a simple fact that we live in a postmodern world and all intellectual endeavors are affected by it. So setting the stage in this way is required for this book to be relevant to readers in 2015 instead of 1915. Acknowledging that postmodern threads run throughout both science and religion does not mean that science and religion a priori cannot be at war. That said a commitment to modernism is more likely to cause people to see science and religion as necessarily in conflict. Conversely, the framework for knowledge that postmodernism (and thus post-foundationalism) provides is an ally for those who desire a positive interaction between science and religion.

Looking ahead

“…preoccupation with method is like clearing your throat: it can go on for only so long before you lose your audience.”[8]

Throat cleared, hopefully audience not lost.

What does this rabbit trail on theological method and the philosophy of science have to do with a book on the creation and evolution debate? Nothing and everything. Nothing in that the discussion is not about the method behind theology and science, but instead their respective findings in relation to the particular of origins. Everything in that method, while under the surface, drives the conversation. If you view religious belief in Lindbeck’s experiential-expressive realm, than you are likely to say that science and religion a priori cannot be in conflict because they offer distinct vocabularies about different areas, make that, different levels of human experience. Religious belief and dialogue is about personal experiences of God while scientific knowledge describes the natural world. Different realms of languages = no possible overlapping surface for conflict unless you don’t really understand the importance of religion or are anti-science. Thus those who see creation and evolution at odds clearly don’t understand how science and religion work!

However, if you see religious belief in Lindbeck’s propositional-cognitive realm, then science and religion both occupy the same level and complete each other.[9] Or they do the exact opposite and directly compete with each other for authority and explanatory power. If science and religion are at war then creation or evolution can be true but not both. Mutual exclusion means if one is right the other is wrong so winning the “discussion” means you don’t have to deepen your ideas if you can just find the weak points to attack in your competitor’s ideas.

In just these two models of religious belief alone, we see the dawning of several different ways to relate science and religion, a few of which are mutually exclusive. And we haven’t even considered the potential interaction with science that the cultural-linguistic view of religious discourse brings forth.

It is not a stretch to say our beliefs that science and religion are competitors in the intellectual marketplace, must be kept separate to keep the peace, or can be harmonized arise primarily out of the way we view religion and theology and much less so our views of science.

Prolegomenon over.


[1] I am quite proud of my use of McDonald’s and Burger King as correlates for repressible and inducible operons, respectively. The Big Mac also makes a great model for a bacterial cell wall. Ask your local scientist to explain these quite amazing models.

[2] Or God ≡ love for the Math major.

[3] Ted Peters, God: The World’s Future, 2nd, ed. (Augsburg Fortress, 2000), p. 34. Italics are my emphasis.

[4] Ted Peters, God: The World’s Future, 2nd, ed. (Augsburg Fortress, 2000), p. 81.

[5] Yes we have to go there. Trust me, it’s worth it.

[6] Said in a loud, triumphant voice.

[7] The following quote from Karl Popper best highlights post-foundationalism in science: “The empirical basis of objective science has thus nothing ‘absolute’ about it. Science does not rest upon solid bedrock. The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were, above a swamp. It is like a building erected on piles. The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down to any natural or ‘given’ base; and if we stop driving the piles deeper, it is not because we have reached firm ground. We simply stop when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being.” Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Harper, 1965). As quoted in Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 1996), p.50.

[8] Jeffrey Stout, Ethics after Babel: The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents (Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 163.

[9] Obligate Jerry Maguire reference.

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