The argument continues: Jan 22

Notes from our discussion

In yesterday’s discussion Barry Turner led us through three types of science-religion interaction, based on the work of Ian Barbour.   Here are some practical examples to illustrate each type:

bull sessionJack and John and their college buddies

(1) Conflict

One or both parties make claims that overlap assertions made by the other side, each contending that only their position is legitimate…

Two college roommates are talking about science and religion.

Jack is a science major, and does not believe in God.

John is a fundamentalist Christian, and believes that the world was created in 7 24-hour days.

Jack and John sit up all night, each trying to convince the other that his position is true, and the other’s position is false.

(2) Independence

Science and religion may simply ignore each other and go about their own business; there is no overlap because each serves a different function in human life…

Jack and John are now out in the world, pursuing their separate vocations.

Jack has become a research scientist, and studies pond scum in his laboratory. He remembers John fondly, and their college bull-sessions with amusement, but never thinks about God or religion. When his freshman students raise religious questions, he tells them that science doesn’t address those issues.

John has become a pastor, visiting the sick and preaching sermons. He knows that scientists are now saying the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and he hears them talking about global warming, but he doesn’t believe they have proved this. He puts his trust in the Bible, and he reads the Bible literally.


Jack is a research scientist who has become a religious believer. On Sundays he joins his religious community for worship; Mondays through Saturdays, he works in his research laboratory without ever looking for connections between Sunday and the rest of his week.

John is a pastor who has come to accept the findings of scientists, but never addresses the theological issues in his sermons because he hasn’t been able to reconcile the two traditions in his own mind.

(3) Dialogue

Since both science and religion deal with the same world, sharing insights from each field may enrich or correct the other. The conversation is based on the conviction that reason is not the enemy of faith, that ‘the book of nature and the book of scripture have the same author’…

Jack and John have retired, and have come back in contact for the first time in many years.

Jack, while still committed to the scientific method, has learned over the years that “there are more things in heaven and earth…” than can be seen or proved in a laboratory. Jack has felt deep awe at the birth of his daughter, and felt deep grief in the death of his wife. He has no context to help him find meaning in these experiences, so he welcomes the opportunity to talk to John after all these years.

John, while still a committed Christian, has learned over the years that he must accept the truth of at least some scientific discoveries. Along the way, he realized that reading the Bible for facts about the material world kept him from even trying to understand the science. He has also learned that he can’t use God to explain the ‘gaps’ in scientific knowledge. He now tries to understand the significance of scientific discoveries, and he tries to read the Bible for its deeper meaning, not its surface details.

In next week’s discussion we’ll look at another type of science-religion dialogue, INTEGRATION.


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3 thoughts on “The argument continues: Jan 22

  1. I had to miss the discussion yesterday. I had done the reading, though, and I really enjoyed the accessibility and clarity and of these examples. Thank you.

  2. Cudos to Barry and Donna, no simple task to offer understanding of Barbour’s points with simplicity and clarity. Thank you to you both!

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