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Science vs. Faith (Part Two)

In case you missed last week's blog, you can catch up here: Science vs. Faith (Part One).

If the Conflict Model of interaction between science and religion is mistaken, let's consider the next of Barbour's four models: Independence. The late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould popularized terminology "non-overlapping magisteria" to describe the interaction between science and religion. In his book Rocks of Ages, Gould says:

"If science and religion, when properly separated by the NOMA [non-overlapping magisteria] principle, stood far apart and never discussed the same subject again, then our long history of unnecessary and illogical conflict could perhaps be closed" (p. 109 - 110).

While Gould's approach sounds noble and aims to avoid unnecessary conflict, it makes one wrong-headed assumption: that science and religion will never entertain the same subject of inquiry. However, science and religion each comment on issues of the origins of the universe, life, and humanity, among other things. Gould has to make the assumption that science provides answers concerning the objective facts and religion provides subjective opinions to supplement scientific truths. This approach only serves to relegate religion to the realm of subjectivity and elevate science to the role of gatekeeper of all knowledge. This model doesn't actually solve the problem of conflict but assumes that science has already emerged victorious over religion and faith.

Religious believers, then, cannot seriously entertain the Independence Model of interaction between science and religion without giving up on the rationality of faith and subjecting their beliefs to a kind of second-order status. While the Independence Model seems to provide a path beyond conflict, it actually signals a surrender to the pressures of modern thought, exalting science and denigrating religion. In next week's concluding blog on the topic of science and faith, we will consider a better model for fruitful engagement between science and religion.


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