Sciences and Religions and Politics – A methodology?


The methodology of the science-religion dialogue as an academic subject is endlessly debated and disagreed over. It came up in a very enjoyable lunch yesterday with John Henry and John Evans, the sociologist from the University of California San Diego, who has interests in the science-religion discourse (among others). We had an extensive discussion on creationism and all kinds of Christian fundamentalism, features of Christianity which are very live on the public scene in California, but practically “underground” or invisible in the UK in comparison to the US. We noted that, while science and religion as an academic subject in the UK has tended to focus on theological and philosophical debates – and has been dominated by Richard Dawkins and New Atheism over the last decade – in the US science and religion often turns out to be a more practical subject, dominated by political issues such as education and bioethics (the US anti-abortion lobby being an excellent case in point).

When we get to methodology in our Edinburgh classes in science-religion, I try to emphasise that there is really no such thing as “science and religion”, but rather “sciences and religions”. Thanks to our lunchtime discussion yesterday, I realised that I really shouldn’t ignore the fact that the science-religion discourse is also driven by public and social agendas that the usual theological/philosophical angles don’t sufficiently take into account. “Science and Religion” might be more appropriately named (this is getting very cumbersome now) “Sciences and Religions and Politics”.

Of course, you could continue expanding “Sciences and Religions and Politics” indefinitely, to include every human aspiration and source of potential friction under the sun, not just science, religion and politics. And this is partly my point, about the naturally expansive nature of the science-religion discourse. If science-religion is truly about human views of reality and ultimate reality, it will inevitably take all things into its embrace. And it also means that the much-discussed methodology of “Science and Religion” as an academic field – of which Ian Barbour’s fourfold typology (conflict, independence, dialogue, integration) is the usual starting point – is so difficult to pin down because there are so many contrasting factors at play. These factors always work to expand our vision. A methodology usually narrows down a field into a set of manageable principles. But in the case of the science-religion discourse at least, this is going in exactly the opposite direction to the natural flow, which is always to expand. I wonder whether there’s a methodology that can do this. It’s surely worth a try.

3 thoughts on “Sciences and Religions and Politics – A methodology?

  1. I agree with Mark that; ‘the science-religion discourse at least, this is going in exactly the opposite direction to the natural flow, which is always to expand.’

    The accepted purpose of research discourse is to try and unify more and more data under a single concept. (eg. Heliocentrism, Gravity, Relativity.) So far science & religion still haven’t agreed on an agreed methodology so they can start. I’d like to try and offer a start point, a very modest one, (a tiny clue actually) but a start.

    The facts of science lie in nature. The facts of religion (Christianity anyway) is scripture. Most Philosophers of Science agree that scientific method stands upon two simple notions; 1) Nature is unified. And 2) Nature is understandable. Here, (it is suggested) is a clue toward a common approach.

    Religion also accepts these two notions. Religion says that the canon of scripture (the 66 books) is; 1) unified. (ie. the canonical biblical books are -most generally- interconnected or unified [‘somehow’ let’s say for now] and 2) understandable. Most Christian groups would share this premise. Now, the logical reasoning for a common rational approach is this:

    MP. IF rational investigation (of nature) begins from these two notions -nature is unified and understandable-
    MP. AND scripture shares these same two notions,
    CONCL. THEN the same methods of rational inquiry may be used to investigate scripture.

    More simply the hypothetical syllogism says that if the foundation of scientific inquiry -the two notions- is also found in scripture, then we may use principles of rational investigation on scripture also . Or simpler yet: if A is founded on B&C, and D [scripture] is founded on B&C, then the methods of A may be used in the study of D. (This is also true of the disciplines whether; geology, astronomy, medicine or physics.)

    The option to rational inquiry is we treat scripture as: a nonsensical inquiry, a mystical inquiry, an arbitrary inquiry, an ancient inquiry. Rational inquiry would rule out; skepticism, superstition, subjectivism and ancient dogma as criteria for forming a rational basis of belief. (The rather thorny theological issues of inspiration /revelation must be placed on the back-burner for the moment in order to begin an earnest inquiry of scripture along reasonable lines and on its own biblical terms.

    Science and religion may sound like strange bedfellows, but Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Pascal were all devout Christians. (Jumping out windows because scientists walk through doors is rather too dramatic and undignified an exit from the stage of rational thought. )

    If scripture is unified, then it must be a logical unity able to be understood by logical principles. These conclusions would arise from biblical data without changing them. The conclusion would simply explain the logical relations between biblical facts. Reason merely operates between biblical facts, as it does on any evidence.

    Our common rational methodology yields reliable history and lexicography … given reliable observable evidence. If religion accepts scripture as reliable evidence – ‘the cognitive basis of Christianity’ according to Carl Jung) then perhaps the common rational methodology may also help to yield reliable conclusions in religion. (We can’t speak for politics here at present – religion and science is tough enough!)

    But Mark asked a good question; “I wonder whether there’s a methodology that can do this?” I’d like to reply that rationality has been very successful in the physical realm, “…surely [its] worth a try” …in the spiritual realm of biblical evidence also.


  2. I was perusing the blog (since I will be in wait another year to begin my studies there) and was quite taken with this particular discourse and the issues at hand.

    Yes, we “Californians” or “USAn’s” tend to have a broad sense of ideologies (too many at times), especially in regards to the schism involving science and religion. Though personally, I feel drawn to the deeper philosophical elements surrounding this vast subject (or subjects). In reading your discourse, I was reminded of the “table talks” at Luther’s Black Cloister. Diverse people from every walk of life entered the fray at his table. Interestingly, all subjects were open, so instead of compartmentalizing these “ologies,” they were all thrown together, as a type of primordial ooze (if you get my drift), in a theological think tank with uniformed delicacy and tact.

    Modern humanity tends to separates and creates genres to an astounding degree, which I believe, whittles them down and may prove a disservice in the long run. You do make a point, that expanding the aspects of science and religion (i.e., politics, socio/cultural factors) creates a greater tapestry in advancing critical thought. A broader vantage could lend a stronger divine spark to the understanding of God’s immanent workings in and through mankind. This would assist a person (or persons) to arrive at a solid conclusion in their understanding of the science and religion debate and be able expound that understanding on several levels. Wonderful fodder to muse on and work towards.

  3. Apologize for the type error. I meant to say “tends to separate and create specific genres…

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