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

Given what I’ve written in the previous posts (PART 1, PART 2, PART 3 and PART 4), I think the best model of interaction between science and theology is convergence. What is convergence? Philosopher Garry DeWeese defines it this way: “Science and theology sometimes tell us different kinds of things, and sometimes the same kind of things, about the same thing (the real world). When done ideally, they will not conflict but will converge on a unified description of reality” (in his handout entitled, “The Relation Between Science and Theology”). Let us examine several important features of convergence. 

First, central to the convergence model is metaphysical realism. According to this model of interaction, science and theology are concerned with metaphysical exploration, an exploration of the same theory-independent external world. As such, their claims are realist in nature with the ultimate goal of these two disciplines converging “on a unified description of reality.”

Second, a convergence model acknowledges that human knowing is not exhausted by one discipline. Science and theology tell us different kinds of things. Despite what some scientists think, science cannot account for all of reality. What of moral claims? Does science have a plausible account of immaterial moral laws that seem to press in on us with an almost irresistible incumbency? Or what of its own presuppositions? Science cannot account for them because they are philosophical in nature. Indeed, science comes to the table with a priori metaphysical commitments firmly in place. For example:

(1) the existence of a theory-independent, external world

(2) the orderly nature of the external world

(3) the existence of truth

(4) the existence of the laws of logic

(5) the existence of ethical values used in science

(6) the uniformity of nature and induction

(7) the existence of numbers

These second-order philosophical claims undergird the entire scientific enterprise. To be sure, scientific inquiry cannot get off the ground without these presuppositions in place. 

Third, both science and theology attempt to provide explanations of both the meta- and minor- kind (see my discussion HERE). At times, the explanations offered in one discipline will overlap with explanations in the other. For instance, scientific investigation of the Big Bang may provide a plausible explanation of the beginning of the universe. Theology may provide a plausible explanation of the nature and character of the intelligent agent causally responsible for the Big Bang itself. And thus, they overlap. (If you recall, my prior account of explanation was broad enough to include more than just physical objects and events. Additionally, my prior account of explanation left the door open to agent causation. Thus, God as the primary causal explanation of the origin of the universe is a legitimate contender as a theological meta-explanation supported by science.) Convergence is not uneasy with such bold integration but invites more of it, knowing science and theology are attempting to get at the same reality.

This possibility of overlap between science and theology points to one of its strengths. On this view, theology is not limited to the Bible as its only text of study. Christian theology has available a second text, the “book of nature” or the natural world. Indeed, the whole of human experience, the seemingly limitless data of the physical universe ought to be included in the data of theology. At the same time, special revelation ought to be included in the data of science. This view allows for epistemic interaction and ultimately, mutual epistemic support.

Lastly, a convergence model of interaction can account for conflict between science and theology. As DeWeese states, “At any point in history, conflict is possible due to the incomplete or inaccurate theories/doctrines and descriptions in one or the other (or both) disciplines” (emphasis mine). This is not an intractable problem. As DeWeese’s claim implies, the conflict is epistemic, not metaphysical. Why think this? Affirming mutually exclusive truth claims is incompatible with a correspondence theory of truth. Logically inconsistent claims cannot be describing the same reality, and thus, conflict resolution must be epistemic. We may need to re-examine current explanations or seek new interpretations of existing data. Whatever conflict arises, we have room for hope. DeWeese again: “When conflict occurs, theology may correct science, or science may correct theology, or judgment may be withheld, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis.” A convergence approach to conflict prohibits theology’s treatment as a second-class citizen to science in its knowledge claims. 

In conclusion, although science and theology resist clear lines of demarcation, we can certainly pick out clear cases of each and offer broad conceptual schemes for each that allow room for the work of integration. And the best model of integration between science and theology is convergence, where science and theology converge on a truthful description of the world.

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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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