When Science Meets Religion

When Science Meets Religion

by Ian G. Barbour

The Definitive Introduction To The Relationship Between Religion And Science

  • In The Beginning: Why Did the Big Bang Occur?
  • Quantum Physics: A Challenge to Our Assumptions About Reality?
  • Darwin And Genesis: Is Evolution God's Way of Creating?
  • Human Nature: Are We Determined by Our Genes?
  • God And Nature: Can God Act in a Law-Bound


The Definitive Introduction To The Relationship Between Religion And Science

  • In The Beginning: Why Did the Big Bang Occur?
  • Quantum Physics: A Challenge to Our Assumptions About Reality?
  • Darwin And Genesis: Is Evolution God's Way of Creating?
  • Human Nature: Are We Determined by Our Genes?
  • God And Nature: Can God Act in a Law-Bound World?

Over the centuries and into the new millennium, scientists, theologians, and the general public have shared many questions about the implications of scientific discoveries for religious faith. Nuclear physicist and theologian Ian Barbour, winner of the 1999 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion for his pioneering role in advancing the study of religion and science, presents a clear, contemporary introduction to the essential issues, ideas, and solutions in the relationship between religion and science. In simple, straightforward language, Barbour explores the fascinating topics that illuminate the critical encounter of the spiritual and quantitative dimensions of life.

Editorial Reviews

Arthur Peacocke
No surer and fairer guide to the proliferating literature on the relation of science and religion can be found than Ian Barbour. In this volume he has made accessible the fruits of his extensive and scholarly studies to those coming new to the field. They, and also those alreadyinvolved in it, will welcome this elegantly organised and presented work.
Holmes Rolston
Ian Barbour here distills a lifetime of thinking about how science and religion relate. In spanning the spectrum of the natural and the human sciences, he knows more about this than any other person on Earth, more, I suppose than any other in history. Couple this with his sure-footed capacity for balanced evaluation—a particular focus distinguishing this from his earlier books—and the result is outstanding.
John Polkinghorne
Ian Barbour is the doyen of contemporary writers on science and theology. In this survey of his thinking he writes with his customary well-organized clarity.
Robert John Russell
At last we have a volume in religion and science by the pioneer of the field, Ian G. Barbour, which uses Barbour's now classic four-fold typology to address fundamental issues of importance to us all. This book will be an invaluable resource to teachers, scholars, ministers, scientists and everyday inquirers who want to become part of the positive and creative interaction now growing rapidly and internationally between religion and science. Read this book and prepare for a wondrous experience!

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Four Views ofScience and Religion

This chapter describes four types of relationship between science and religion: Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration. Each type has several variants that differ significantly, but the variants have features in common that allow them to be grouped together. The applicability of this fourfold typology to particular scientific disciplines is explored in subsequent chapters.

Let me first describe two historical cases often cited as examples of Conflict. In both cases the historical record reveals a more complex relationship. The first is the trial of Galileo in 1633. Galileo advocated the new Copernican theory in which the earth and the planets revolve in orbits around the sun, rather than the accepted Ptolemaic theory in which the sun and planets revolve in orbits around the earth. One factor that contributed to the condemnation of Galileo was the authority of Aristotle, whose scientific writings, including those supporting Ptolemaic astronomy, had been greatly admired in Europe since the twelfth century. Another issue was the authority of scripture, especially the passages that implied that the earth is the center of the cosmos. But in the end the crucial factor was his challenge to the authority of the church.

In the centuries before Galileo a variety of views of scripture had been advanced. In the fourth century, Augustine (whom Galileo quoted) had said that when there appears to be a conflict between demonstrated knowledge and a literal reading of the Bible, scripture should be interpreted metaphorically. In commenting on the first chapter of Genesis, Augustinehad said that the Holy Spirit was not concerned about "the form and shape of the heavens" and "did not wish to teach men things not relevant to their salvation." Medieval writers acknowledged diverse literary forms and levels of truth in scripture, and they offered symbolic or allegorical interpretations of many problematic passages. Galileo himself quoted a cardinal of his own day: "The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes." This aspect of Galileo's thought could be taken as an example of the Independence thesis, which distinguishes scientific from theological assertions. On astronomical questions, he said, the writers of the Bible had to "accommodate themselves to the capacity of the common people" by using "the common mode of speech" of their times. He held that we can learn from two sources, the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture-both of which come from God and therefore cannot conflict with each other.

But Galileo introduced a qualification that opened the door to Conflict. He said that we should accept a literal interpretation of scripture unless a scientific theory that conflicts with it can be irrefutably demonstrated. He overstated the scientific certainty he could provide at a time when there was still considerable disagreement among astronomers. Moreover, the Catholic hierarchy felt under threat from the Protestant Reformation and was eager to reassert its authority. Some of the cardinals were sympathetic to Galileo's views, but the pope and several politically powerful cardinals were not. So he was finally condemned as much for disobeying the church as for questioning biblical literalism.

The second case often cited as an example of Conflict is the debate over Darwin's theory of evolution in the nineteenth century. Some scientists and some religious leaders did indeed hold that evolution and religious beliefs are incompatible, but many in both groups did not. Three issues were at stake.

  1. A Challenge to Biblical Literalism. A long period of evolutionary change conflicts with the seven days of creation in Genesis. Some theologians of Darwin's day defended biblical inerrancy and rejected all forms of evolution, but they were in the minority. Most theological conservatives accepted symbolic rather than literal interpretations of these biblical passages and reluctantly accepted evolution, though they often insisted on the special creation of the human soul. The liberals, on the other hand, welcomed the advance of science and said that evolution was consistent with their optimistic view of historical progress. They were soon speaking of evolution as God's way of creating, which could be considered a version of what I have called Integration. They were also sympathetic to the work of biblical scholars who were studying evidence of the influence of the cultural and cosmological assumptions of the ancient Near East in the writings of biblical authors.
  2. A Challenge to Human Dignity. In classical Christian thought, human beings were set apart from all other creatures, their unique status guaranteed by the immortality of the soul and the distinctiveness of human rationality and moral capacity. But in evolutionary theory humanity was treated as part of nature. No sharp line separated human and animal life, either in historical development or in present characteristics. Darwin and many of his successors stressed the similarities of human and animal behavior, though other biologists insisted on the distinctiveness of human language and culture. Copernican astronomy had demoted humanity from the center of the universe, and now Darwinian biology threatened human uniqueness in the order of nature. In Victorian England, many people saw the claim that we are "descended from apes" as a denial of the value of persons. "The survival of the fittest" seemed to undercut morality, especially when it was extrapolated into the social order to justify ruthless economic competition and colonialism.
  3. A Challenge to Design. Within a static universe, the complex functioning of organisms and their harmonious adaptation to their surroundings offered a persuasive argument for an intelligent Designer. But Darwin showed that adaptation could be accounted for by an impersonal process of variation and natural selection. Darwin himself believed that God had designed the whole evolutionary process but not the detailed structures of particular organisms...

Meet the Author

Ian G. Barbour has retired from Carleton College where he was professor of physics, professor of religion, and Bean Professor of Science, Technology, and Society. The "preeminent synthetic in the field" (Cross Currents,) he is the author of several influential books, including Ethics in an Age of Technology and Myths Models, and Paradigms, which was nominated for the National Book Award. He gave the world-renowned Gifford Lectures, 1989-1991.

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