Critical Reflection on ‘When Science Meets Religion’ by Ian G. Barbour
[Part 1 of 5]
Critical Reflection on ‘When Science Meets Religion’ by Ian G. Barbour
To provide some bases for understanding, each chapter of ‘When Science Meets Religion’ by Ian G. Barbour is set out with the idea that there are four ways in which science and religion can get along - Conflict, Independence, Dialogue and Integration. Each of these has implications and levels of potential cohesiveness (or, non cohesiveness, in the case of 'Conflict', which is most of ours' pet views...so far...).
Within each of those views is a type of scientific study. For instance, chapter two is about astrology, Barbour sets astrology in each box [Conflict, Independence, Dialogue and Integration] and discusses how they can or can't work, using different examples from scientists in various fields.
The goal of the readings, the reflection papers, and the two hour class discussion each week, is to bounce ideas and theories off of each other, to broaden the approach and ways of thinking, to debate and philosophize new ideas and new thoughts. The class is based on Truth, Knowledge and Reality, after all. And how can one understand those without thinking about them on a basic (yet not so basic) level.
Chapters 1 - Four Views of Science and Religion
According to Barbour, scientific materialism and biblical literalism “rival literal statements about the same domain” (11). Straight to the conflicts. There are so many, when there should not be any, and that is because people try to put science and religion in too much of the same domain. This will appear to be a hodge-podge of statements on various parts of chapter one, which will hopefully end in a cohesive analysis of my general opinion of what Barbour has set forth in chapter one.
Science and the Bible/Religion, in modern terms, are of different domains. It is true that at one time religion and the Bible were “the science of the age” used to explain the mysteries of the natural world, as well as serving as an alleged handbook to good behavior (more to come on that), but now we have…actual science…to explain the things of the world, and the Bible, as a historical literary work (some might say moral guidebook).
In the integration of religion and science, Barbour says the Theology of Nature states “God creates through the whole process of law and chance, not by intervening in the gaps of the process” (32). This sounds like…science. For what purpose would mankind need a creator with divine non-involvement. What then becomes the purpose of prayer in creation and maintenance by chance; and isn't “law and chance” the basic premise of scientific theory and The Big Bang, which was a chance happening involving scientific laws? The theology of nature sounds like science free of an active creator, which is to say, free of theology.
Don’t be mistaken, the Bible is a wonderful book of religion, a mesmerizing historical text and an often beautiful literary work, that is to say it is not a book of facts, or a book of scientific nature. The Bible can be studied for historical information, though given the nature of how often even historical “facts” of modern days often do not hold up against scrutiny and realism, one can be sure that the historical information within the pages of the Bible are prone to containing a clear bias and half-truths at best. The Bible provides a general snap-shot of a way of thinking among people of a particular a period of time. Books of the Bible serve as basic genealogy. Even further, books of the Bible offered a confused people explanations of weather (The Book of Job, Chapter 37), explanation of childbirth…
“As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 KJV
or maybe not…and even gave reason to why people from different geographical areas spoke different languages (The Tower of Bable).
The Bible, and therefore religion, also provided guides to being a good person, such as the parable of The Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 KJV. What the Bible is not, is a book about tried and tested scientific hypothesis with measurable results. What instrumentalists say of science, I say of religion, that religion is a “convenient human construct” (21). People of biblical times used it as a way of understanding the world around them, but since then more sophisticated ways have been created to understand the stars, weather, reproduction and language. Therefore, as a “textbook” of actual scientific discovery, it has no grounds. As Barbour says, in the section on Conflict, preventing conflict is done by “separating science and religion to interpret then as languages that are unrelated because their functions are totally different” (19).
However, to some it is still essential as a way of getting meaning out of life, with constructed parables to illustrate and understand “good” human behavior. The bible provides a concept of evil to assist in the understanding of bad things that happen. For instance, if you are to believe that humans are just higher-developed animals, there is no “evil”, there are only people who act on their baser instincts with no remorse for their fellow beings; but if you are to believe humans are not animals, and even separate from them, then an explanation for the bad things they do must have a “villain” and “evil”…a Satan or Devil.
Strong arguments can be made over broad-stroke statements indicating the Bible is an illustration of human dignity, or that religion is good, given the atrocities carried out in history beneath the banner of ‘Religion’. In fact, at times, the Bible is full of pure contradiction, not to mention a handbook on who and how to hate. It is a book about starting wars, oppressing and mistreatment of ethnic groups (a.k.a. strangers to the land), and degrading women (as property and whores) while illustrating their untrustworthiness and “evil nature” (see: Adam and Eve, Samsun and Delilah), offering little demonstration in favor. It swings from interpretations of wealth and poverty, of war and peace. Anybody who has read the Bible knows there can be no literal interpretation not only for Science, but even as a guide on how to live, is a touch unsalable – the Bible is full of contradictions, false “science” and false “humanity” and is prone to cherry-picking to justify some of the most heinous of human indignities.
What I find most interesting in the science and religion debate is when the two overlap in theory, only then do the religious fundamentalists deny Bible “truth”. This is particularly seen in the area of climate change. If one was to analyze Revelations, and the stories in books and chapters related to it, in the Bible, it directly speaks about climate change, yet more often than not it’s the Christian (Republicans) that believe the concept of climate change to be a hoax, simply because scientific evidence supports it, despite their own guiding text hailing famine as part of the fourth seal. How do they imagine famine will fore come without the drought and floods produced by climate change? This is not to say I buy into the idea that “the end of the times” was foretold by men who lived in the desert thousands of years ago, or that climate change is even part of it. It is an interesting phenomenon that when parts of the Bible can “actually be backed up with scientific explanation” Biblical literalists/fundamentalists tend to deny the “truth” in it. Scientific Materialism, which states “scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge” (11), is reminiscent of the knowledge of foretold by biblical apocalypse, according to some interpretations of Daniel 12:4. So, at the end of the day, it makes sense that religion fears or moves to distrust science on some level, because science is knowledge, the apple from the tree, an echo from the horn of the apocalypse.
Finally, I do not agree with the support for Independence from instrumentalism that states “scientific theories are not representative of reality by useful intellectual and practical tools” (21), as if Biblical fairytales are at all representative of reality themselves. I find the fact that anybody would consider religion and science happy bedfellows astounding. They have two different purposes: one is far more useful in gaining knowledge and an understanding of the world and people, and the other makes a mighty terrifying and seat-gripping bedtime story.
Chapter 2 - Astronomy and Creation
Three minutes before The Big Bang. Billions of years and it often comes down to arguments about those three minutes as proof of a creator by theologians, though, according to UW Astronomy professor Bruce Margon, "Only the first 10-43 seconds [now] remain obscure," 1. An inability to determine what happened in the exact moment persistently punches holes in both the theory of the Big Bang, and the theory of God. However, some may conclude that to the educated person the existence of God is less certain, because the idea of “a god” creates the desire for explaining first where God even came from, and second where s/he exited prior to creation. So much has there been a need to explain creation outside of The Big Bang that people like Christian and astronomer Hugh Ross found a need for the manifestation of an extra dimension to explain even the workings of the physical form of God as Jesus on earth. An eleventh dimension whereby the holy and divine existed, in biblical times; one more than purported by highly abstract and untestable string theory (47); which explains his ability to pass through closed doors and walking on water. Guess it beats high magic or sleight of hand trickery.
While I still, as of this chapter reflection, hold strongly that Science and Religion are destined to remain in the “conflict box” for the foreseeable future, I am not without understanding that at some point reconciliation is possible, if only they (and by they, I mean religious literalists) can embrace the two as separate functions. It is through adherence to biblical literalism in relation to Science, that conflict arises. As stated by David Kelsey, “science and religion […] address different questions, and those questions should not be confused” (50). Some might even say that the Bible does a poor job at addressing any questions. As for the “why” of things that the Bible is alleged to answer, the response usually ends at “because God”, and the “how” questions end much the same way in what is essentially a non-answer. What follows then, by me, is a full admission that Science also cannot answer the “whys”. Science can only help you understand only the how. For example, there is no “why” when someone gets cancer, there is only the how – the environmental and biological causes of it. There is no “why” to answer why a baby is born with defects, or someone dies at a young age. There is no real way to answer “why them and not someone else” on a spiritual or Scientific level. Therefore, Science can answer your questions more fully than can religion, which inevitably ends with the God answer. Independent they must stay, but on a level playing field they are not.
In terms of dialogue, more often than not, as stated before, Science and Religion get thrown back into the “conflict box”. There is hardly logical ground made between the two in conversation where there is an attempt to overlap them. For instance, Thomas Torrance’s claim for the potential of differently ordered world (through God’s creativity) contingent on God (53), and the claim that the world did not have to have the order that it did/does, either opens up possibility for more worlds - because if there is potential for different orders of things, then what holds true on earth to create and maintain life, does not have to remain true elsewhere. Essentially this does nothing but work towards disproving religious basis for “one world”, and/or at the same time disproves scientific laws which states very specific things had to happen in order for the world to come into being, because in scientific laws of nature there is only one “order of things”. If the creation of world was/is ultimately dependent on God, then could God, in his infinite creativity, not tamper with the scientific laws and re-order things whenever s/he wants? More pressing, if there was a divine creator of these laws and things, as supposed, why did he not impart the knowledge with the first theoretical bite of the sinful apple – it seems all the knowledge that the apple was supposed to impart, was very basic and for naught in the grand schemes of available infinite knowledge held by an all-knowing creator.
In the integration of Science and Religion, I become more insolent. God as a creator of all things, including science, still leaves the question of purpose hanging in the air. In the significance of humanity, Teilhard de Chardin says, “we should not measure significance by size and duration” (62). (It’s just like a man to make that claim). But is there a reason to measure significance at all? Does existence have to mean anything? And if it does, it seems more realistic that the earth was created spontaneously ex nihilo, without divine creator or purpose, than to think some mysterious being in a (potential) eleventh dimension, or “heavenly location”, created an entire world for the sole purpose of requesting that the more “intellectual” of creations worship her/him/it for the very act. That the belief of the creation of the world via God is the expression of the theories of “dependence” and “gratitude” (59) to God, as set forth by biblical text, is nothing more than a master-slave relationship. If that were true, that the whole purpose for existence was for the praise and worship of the being that created it, then that being pretty much takes narcissism to a new…dimension.
Ian, Barbour G. When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners. N.p.: HarperCollins, 2000. N. pag. Print.
1. Alles, David L. "Alles Introductory Biology Lectures: An Introduction to Science and Biology for Non-Majors." Lecture. Western Washington University, Bellingham. 4 Mar. 2014. Western Washington University. Web. 4 Mar. 2014. <http://fire.biol.wwu.edu/trent/alles/Cosmological_Evolution.pdf>.