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The Metaphor of the Maps

Much interesting work has been done on typologies relating science and religion. But as will be gathered from different sciences - different relationships we recommend the abandoning of the search for any sort of ‘philosopher’s stone’ of a definition of a perfectly appropriate relation between science and religion.

A more helpful way to think of the relationship is in terms of the metaphor of different ‘maps’ of the one world. An atlas contains many different maps - political, demographic, climatic, etc - of the (one) world. These different maps are no less accurate or genuine than the ‘physical’ maps of that world in terms of atoms and forces. As Mary Midgley has recently emphasised,Midgley, Mary, ‘One World, but a big one’, J. Consciousness Studies 3, 5-6, 500-14 (1996) - also ‘Science in the world’, Science Studies, 9 (2), 49-58 (1996)consciousness, and indeed society and politics and the like, are not any less real than the atoms of which they are made, and the maps drawn of them should not be regarded as inferior.

The image of different maps of reality seems to us a most appropriate metaphor for the way scientific and theological descriptions of the (one) world operate. It connotes a degree of independence, and yet a degree of relationship. It allows for the possibility of dialogue, and the likelihood of ‘border disputes’. And as we have noted above, each science will have its own map, and its own relation to the maps theologians draw (of which there will be a diversity even within one religious tradition).

(For an example of slightly different maps drawn by theologians from within a single tradition see Peacocke and Polkinghorne compared.)

See also the metaphor of the maps and understanding the mind.

Or click on consonances between science and religion.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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