The prevailing popular view of the relationship between science and faith (religion) is that both are either in conflict with each other (conflict view) or they are non-overlapping in their realms of fact and faith, or secular and spiritual (independence view). The other two views are the dialogue view which holds that science and religion enjoy mutual epistemic support and the integration view which holds that there is no conflict so long as religion is reinterpreted to match scientific truth. Sporadic conflicts dot the history of science with the censoring of Galileo in 1633 by the Roman Catholic Church and Darwin’s theory of evolution as notable examples. Two books published in the late 19th century by a physician and amateur historian, John William Draper,[i] and by Andrew Dickson White,[ii] the first president of Cornell University, popularized the notion of “warfare” between science and theology leading into the first half of the 20th century. Later, in 1999, Stephen Jay Gould proposed the principle of NOMA or Non-Overlapping Magisteria as a means of avoiding the conflict, contending that science and religion are equally valid but entirely different subjects operating in mutually non-interfering realms.
Historically, however, science and religion have shared mutual inspiration and seem to overlap in certain portions of reality where they are compelled to make statements about the same reality. The integration and dialogue view both acknowledge this overlap but differ in how to resolve unavoidable conflicts in certain theories or cases. In the dialogue (also called the qualified agreement) view, there is room for mutual epistemic support—dialogue—whereby the focus is to follow the evidence where it leads. Whereas in the integration view, science is treated as factual whenever there is a discrepancy between science and religion, and major reformations must be made to classical theological doctrines to match the position of scientific theories.
In this blog, I will outline and defend the dialogue view which holds that science and religion enjoy mutual epistemic support and should follow the evidence where it leads. Part 1 will focus on presenting an overview of the dialogue view.
An Overview of the Dialogue View
In recent times, some naturalistic scientists have renewed their attack on religion through their polemical writings which paint religion as the enemy of science and progress. These accusations are completely false and represent a distortion of the historical relationship between science and theology. Accurate history, however, shows that science and religion, for the most part, have been teammates in the exploration and description of reality. It is the duo of scientific reasoning and religious belief that has brought humanity to its present understanding of reality. The dialogue view seeks to further this synergistic tradition.
Those who hold the dialogue view neither focus on nor deny the conflicts, but present arguments from recent scientific discoveries to defend the continuity of the traditional relationship between science and Christianity whereby both share mutual epistemic support. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Helen, De Cruz puts it this way, “The dialogue model proposes a mutualistic relationship between religion and science. Unlike independence, dialogue assumes that there is common ground between both fields, perhaps in their presuppositions, methods, and concepts.”[iii] The dialogue view holds that Science and Religion are not in conflict but support each other’s truth claims to the extent that they overlap and are accurate interpretations of both God’s revealed Word (the Bible) and God’s world (nature). Thereby they can both overlap in certain areas while maintaining their unique realms in others.
When they overlap, scientific evidence will and does provide support (not proof) for the truth claims of biblical Christianity. Writing of the dialogue view, Richard Carlson observes, “Here contemporary scientific data from cosmology and physics (data that are used to support the idea that the universe is exquisitely “fine-tuned” for the emergence of carbon-based life here on earth) are used to build a new philosophical argument for the existence of a transcendent intelligent designer.”[iv] Proponents of the dialogue view believe that whenever evidence is followed, it will arrive at an unbiased truth about reality and insists that evidence, not presuppositions, should determine which of the two “books of God” should be reinterpreted.
Advocates of both the dialogue and integration views claim that science and theology are “God’s two books” whose interpretations are equally open to revision in the event of a conflict. However, in the integration view, theology seems to be reinterpreted, by default, to match the majority opinion of the scientific community. There seems to be an implicit assumption that science is always factual and accurate whereas theology could always be misinterpreted. The dialogue view is not averse to science but unlike the integration view, does not grant epistemic superiority to science over religion.
In the dialogue view, science is equally held accountable particularly because scientists formulate scientific theories through the grid of their worldview. Advocates of this view take science seriously but will also hold scientists accountable for accurate interpretation because, conflicts may exist between science and religion, but they are as a result of faulty interpretation, naturalistic bias or other worldview interferences. Therefore, it is important to understand the conflict between science and theology as a conflict between the worldviews of naturalism and theism which is driven by the metaphysical commitments of the disagreeing parties. Hence, when necessary, the dialogue view demands a revision of a naturalistic scientific position by presenting alternative scientific theories or employing arguments from philosophy, logic, history, and theology. A case in point is the design versus evolution debate which features plausible alternative theories and arguments against Darwinian evolutionary theory.
[i] John William Draper, History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1875).
[ii] Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1896).
[iii] Helen, De Cruz, “Religion and Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/religion-science/. Accessed August 19, 2019.
[iv] Richard F. Carlson ed., Science and Christianity: Four Views, (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 17.