How Science and Religion Converge Rather Than Conflict – Part 4 of 5

In these last two posts, we will move toward the convergence of science and theology in providing knowledge of reality. However, before we discuss the proper relationship between science and theology, we must recognize an obstacle: definitions. When we talk about science and theology, we must know what we mean by each. This is no easy task. 

As I mentioned in PART 3, there are no necessary or sufficient set of conditions for something to count as science. Theology suffers the same definitional difficulty. Just as we cannot draw a clear line of demarcation between science and non-science, we cannot do so between theology and non-theology. Certainly, clear cases or non-cases of both science and theology can be identified, but this can be done without a clear definition of either. 

Instead, it may be best to think of both as “cluster” concepts. That is, science and theology consist of a collection of disciplines, activities, and practices. Within science there are various sub-disciplines (like biology or physics), there are various methods employed, and there is overlap amongst scientific sub-disciplines as well as with non-scientific disciplines. Likewise, within theology there are various sub-disciplines (like eschatology or philosophical theology), there are various approaches to theological inquiry, and there is overlap. Again, the collection of common features in either science or theology does not constitute a set of necessary or sufficient conditions. Nonetheless, we must move the discussion forward in order to propose a model of interaction. 

With the definitional difficulty in mind, I offer broad but working definitions for science and for theology. First, science may be thought of as “a particular way of knowing based on human interpretation in natural categories of publicly observable…data obtained by sense interaction with the [natural] world” (Richard H. Bube, “Seven Patterns for Relating Science and Theology,” Michael Bauman, ed., Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology, p. 76).

Theology may be thought of as “a way of knowing [about the natural and supernatural realms] based on the human interpretation of the Bible and human experience in relationship with God” (J.J. Smart, “Religion and Science,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 14). Notice the important commonality in both definitions: science and theology are sources of knowledge about the natural world.

Tomorrow, we'll bring this discussion to a close by proposing a model of interaction for science and theology.

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Brett Kunkle (@brettkunkle) is the founder and president of MAVEN, a movement to equip the next generation to know truth, pursue goodness, and create beauty. He has more than 25 years of experience working with youth and parents. Brett has a master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology and co-authored the book A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World.

Brett Kunkle

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