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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)

Outlines of the Debate

Index - God, Humanity and the Cosmos, 1999 T&T Clark

The Metaphor of the Maps

Related Book Topics:

Science and Religion - Conflict or Dialogue?
The ‘Conflict’ or ‘Warfare’ Hypothesis
The Words ‘Science’ and ‘Theology’ in Popular Usage
Possibilities for Dialogue
Different Sciences - Different Relationships
A ‘Special Relationship’?
The Metaphor of the Maps and Understanding the Mind
Key Figures and Developments in the Science-Religion Debate
Typologies Relating Science and Religion
Barbour’s Typology
Natural Theology vs Theology of Nature
Peters’ Typology
Drees’ Typology
Religion as Evolutionary Phenomenon
A Critique of Willem B Drees’ Typology
Critical Realism in Science and Religion
Judging the Fit Between Data and Reality
Alternatives to a Realist Position
Applying Critical Realism to Theology
The Ongoing Debate on Critical Realism and Theology
The Role of Model and Metaphor
Model and Metaphor Compared
Consonances Between Science and Religion
Greek Philosophy and the Rise of Western Science
Religion and the Rise of Science


Dr. Christopher Southgate, Mr Michael Poole, and Mr Paul D. Murray in God, Humanity and the Cosmos.Published by T&T Clark.

See also:

Saint Augustine
Sir Isaac Newton
Charles Darwin
The Relation of Science & Religion
Books on Science and Religion - General