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Science and Religion - Conflict or Dialogue?


In John Updike’s novel Roger’s Version a character says:

“Whenever theology touches science, it gets burned. In the sixteenth century astronomy, in the seventeenth microbiology, in the eighteenth geology and paleontology, in the nineteenth Darwin’s biology all grotesquely extended the world-frame and sent churchmen scurrying for cover in ever smaller, more shadowy nooks, little gloomy ambiguous caves in the psyche where even now neurology is cruelly harrying them, gouging them out from the multifolded brain like wood lice from under the lumber pile.”Updike, J, Roger’s Version (New York: Ballantine, 1986) p32


Pope John Paul II wrote in 1988 that:

“By encouraging openness between the Church and the scientific communities, we are not envisioning a disciplinary unity between theology and science like that which exists within a given scientific field or within theology proper. As dialogue and common searching continue, there will be growth towards mutual understanding and a gradual uncovering of common concerns which will provide the basis for future research and discussion. Exactly what form that will take must be left to the future. What is important, as we have already stressed, is that the dialogue should continue and grow in depth and scope. In the process we must overcome every regressive tendency to a unilateral reductionism, to fear, and to self-imposed isolation.”John Paul II, ‘A Message to the Revd George V. Coyne SJ, Director of the Vatican Observatory’Printed in Physics, Philosophy and Theology ed. R.J.Russell, W.R.Stoeger and G.V.Coyne (Vatican City:...

The character in Updike’s novel talks of theology in progressive and inevitable retreat before the dominance of science. There is a conflict in which one subject is overwhelming the other, forcing it off its territory. See the ‘conflict’ or ‘warfare’ hypothesis. The tone of the Pope’s letter is very different, implying a common territory on which may take place exploration and dialogue. See possibilities for dialogue. The Pope renounces the idea that theology might seek to preserve itself from the ‘harryings’ of science by seeking isolation.

These two extreme viewpoints will be with us throughout this look at the interactions between the sciences and religion.

To explore the range of possible interactions further see typologies relating science and religion.

To understand more about how science and theology function in the popular imagination see ‘the words ‘science’ and ‘theology’ in popular usage.

To clarify how the science-religion relationship can be understood see:

Different sciences - different relationships, A ‘special relationship’? and The metaphor of the maps.

To explore how the debate has developed in recent years go to key figures and developments in the science-religion debate.

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

Science and Religion - Conflict or Dialogue?

Related Book Topics:

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
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