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Science and Religion

Science and Religion

The immediate historical roots of the academic field of "science and religion" lie in the 1960s when major developments in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of religion, new theories and discoveries in the natural sciences, as well as complex shifts in the theological landscape, made possible constructive interaction between often separate or even hostile intellectual communities. Most of the discussion has focused on interaction among the sciences and the diversity of Christian theologies, but this is changing as more and more voices from other religions enter the conversation.

Methods for relating science and religion

Scholars first set out in the 1960s to develop more constructive ways of relating the two areas. Scientist-turned-theologian Ian Barbour provided the initial "bridge" between science and religion in his Issues in Science and Religion (1971), drawing on the work of Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, Stephen Toulmin, Mary Hesse, Frederick Ferré, Norwood Hanson, and others in both the philosophy of science and the philosophy of religion. Barbour's crucial insight was to recognize the similarity between the methodological, linguistic, and epistemological structures of science and theology: Both make cognitive claims about the world expressed through metaphors and models, and both employ a hypothetico-deductive method within a revisionist, contextualist, and historicist framework. This approach, which Barbour called "critical realism," was later pursued in Europe by such scholars as Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne. Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg introduced to the discussion Karl Popper's understanding of theories as revisable hypotheses in his Theology and the Philosophy of Science (1976). Philosopher of religion Nancey Murphy developed a related approach in her Theology in an Age of Scientific Reasoning (1990), deploying Imre Lakatos's notion of a "scientific research program," which includes a central commitment or "hard core," a surrounding protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses, and criteria for choosing between competing programs. Additional important contributions came from scholars such as Philip Clayton, Niels Gregersen, Thomas Torrance, and Wentzel van Huyssteen.

The chief concern of these scholars was to create a framework for dialogue that allows for methodological reductionism (studying wholes in terms of their parts and applying successful strategies in one area to others) as a legitimate scheme for scientific research but respects the irreducibility of processes and properties referred to by theology and other higher-level disciplines to those of lower levels (epistemic antireductionism or holism). Some antirealists and postmodernists criticize this broad approach by pointing to difficulties that confront realist interpretations of scientific theories and theological concepts (e.g., quantum mechanics and the idea of "God") and by questioning the "metanarrative" role of science. On balance, though, this methodological bridge remains an enduringly important contribution to the field, both for its crucial historical role and as a point of departure for current research.

Key areas of engagement

In numerous and subtle ways, the contemporary sciences challenge and reshape the God-nature problematic for theological perspectives as diverse as panentheism, process theology, feminist theology, trinitarian theology, neo-Thomism, and evangelical theology. This section briefly reviews several key topics of discussion.

In physics, Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity challenges our ordinary sense of time's flow and the assumption of a universal present moment, problematizing the idea that God experiences and acts in the world in the flowing "now." Equally challenging is the relation between divine action and natural causality. Because Newtonian mechanism depicted nature as a closed causal system, special divine action was subsequently either understood in terms of interventionism or reduced to human subjectivity. Developments in the philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and cosmology (and the neurosciences as well) may provide the basis for a new theory of noninterventionist, objective, special providence. With regard to cosmology, scholars such as Willem B. Drees, George Ellis, Ted Peters, Robert John Russell, William Stoeger, Mark Worthing, and Joseph Zycinski discuss the consonance and dissonance between the theological notion of the universe as "creation" and features of the standard Big Bang scenario including the apparent beginning of the universe (t = 0) and the curious fact that physical constants have precisely the values needed for life's emergence (the Anthropic Principle).

In response to biological evolution, theologians such as Barbour and Peacocke champion "theistic evolution," the view that what science describes in terms of evolutionary biology can be seen, from a religious perspective, as God's action in the world. However, billions of years of natural disaster, suffering, death, and extinction of species, not to mention the lack of overall directedness to evolutionary change, present this view with serious challenges. Barbour and Peacocke, along with Holmes Rolston and Thomas Tracy, provide careful assessments of suffering and evil in light of evolutionary theory, and Rolston offers a helpful analysis of the complex role of "values" in nature. Evolutionary and ecological thought also play an important role in Sallie McFague's model of the world as God's body and Rosemary Radford Ruether's discussion of Gaia and God.

How will genetics, sociobiology, the neurosciences, and the computer sciences affect the way we understand the human person? Can we relate knowledge gained from these disciplines to the biblical view of the person as a "psychosomatic unity"? Fruitful insights into these issues come from such scholars as Francisco Ayala, Lindon Eaves, Denis Edwards, Anne Foerst, Philip Hefner, Noreen Herzfeld, and Murphy. Ted Peters and Ronald Cole-Turner also draw together scientific and religious perspectives on important social issues such as genetic discrimination, gene patenting and cloning, stem cell research, genetic determinism and human freedom, and somatic versus germline intervention.

Several of the sciences challenge the theological notion of redemption, which in Christianity draws together the doctrines of incarnation, christology, resurrection, and eschatology. The vast size and complexity of the cosmos force us, whether scientists, persons of faith, or both at once, to look beyond our concern for humanity, or even the Earth, to the destiny of the universe as a whole. Can religious belief countenance the prediction that the universe's far future will be "freeze or fry," either endless universal expansion or violent recollapse? This scientific forecast presents one of the most serious challenges to any belief in human salvation, the meaning and future of life in the universe, or the eschatological consummation of the cosmos as new creation.

Methodological frontiers

Several important concerns are emerging at the frontier of the science and religion discussion. Science itself is increasingly recognized as a thoroughly human endeavor open to the critical insights of, for example, gender analysis. The work of Evelyn Fox Keller and Helen Longino on this topic provides a helpful starting point for gender analysis of the science and religion field itself. Additional voices from the world's religious and indigenous cultures need to be brought into the science and religion discussion to shed new light on the complex relations among science, religion, and culture in an interreligious context. Other important areas include the history of science and religion, the theological critique of scientism, the relation of science to nature and spirituality, the creative roles of philosophy and theology in scientific research, and the possibility of these diverse fields entering into a mutually constructive dialogue where each partner receives something of intellectual value from the other.

See also Science and Religion, History of Field; Science and Religion in Public Communication; Science and Religion, Methodologies; Science and Religion, Models and Relations; Science and Religion, Periodical Literature; Science and Religion, Research in


Ayala, Francisco, ed. Studies in the Philosophy of Biology: Reduction and Related Problems. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Barbour, Ian G. Issues in Science and Religion (1966). New York: Harper, 1971.

Barbour, Ian G. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. San Francisco: Harper, 1997.

Cajete, Gregory. Native Science: Natural Laws of Independence. Santa Fe, N.M.: Clear Light, 2000.

Clayton, Philip. Explanation from Physics to Theology: An Essay in Rationality and Religion. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989.

Cole-Turner, Ronald. The New Genesis: Theology and the Genetic Revolution. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.

Drees, Willem B. Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1990.

Eaves, Lindon J. Genes, Culture, and Personality: An Empirical Approach. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 1989.

Edwards, Denis. The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.

Ellis, George F. R. Before the Beginning: Cosmology Explained. New York: Boyars and Bowerdean, 1993.

Foerst, Anne. "Cog, a Humanoid Robot, and the Question of the Image of God." Zygon 33 (1998): 91111.

Gregersen, Niels H. "A Contextual Coherence Theory for the Science-Theology Dialogue." In Rethinking Theology and Science: Six Models for the Current Dialogue, ed. Niels H. Gregersen and J. Wentzel Van Huyssteen. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998.

Hefner, Philip J. The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, and Religion. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1993.

Herzfeld, Noreen. In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2002.

Keller, Evelyn Fox, and Longino, Helen E., eds. Feminism and Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

McFague, Sallie. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1993.

Murphy, Nancey C. Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Murphy, Nancey C., and Ellis, George F. R. On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1996.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Theology and the Philosophy of Science, trans. Francis McDonagh. Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press, 1976.

Peacocke, Arthur. Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and BecomingNatural, Divine and Human, enlarged edition. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1993.

Peters, Ted, ed. Cosmos as Creation: Theology and Science in Consonance. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1989.

Peters, Ted. Playing God?: Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Polkinghorne, John C. Faith, Science, and Understanding. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000.

Rolston, Holmes, III. Genes, Genesis and God: Values and Their Origins in Natural and Human History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. San Francisco: Harper, 1992.

Stoeger, William. "Contemporary Physics and the Ontological Status of the Laws of Nature." In Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert J. Russell, Nancey C. Murphy, and Chris J. Isham, 2nd edition. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory; Berkeley, Calif.: Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, 1996.

Torrance, Thomas. Theological Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Tracy, Thomas F., ed. The God Who Acts: Philosophical and Theological Explorations. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

van Huyssteen, J. Wentzel. Theology and the Justification of Faith: Constructing Theories in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989.

Worthing, Mark W. God, Creation, and Contemporary Physics. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1996.

Zycinski, Joseph M. "Metaphysics and Epistemology in Stephen Hawking's Theory of the Creation of the Universe." Zygon 31, no. 2 (1996): 269284.

robert john russell
kirk wegter-mcnelly

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Science and Religion in Public Communication

Science and Religion in Public Communication

After World War II, the United States faced a considerable challenge: How would communications continue in the aftermath of a nuclear war? The solution proposed was a network of computers that had no central authority and were capable of almost infinite message rerouting. This system, known as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), debuted in 1969. Telenet, the first commercial version of the ARPANET, appeared in 1974. In 1979 the first network-wide discussions groups were up and running as USENET. But before cyberspace could become readily navigable, hypertext, the World Wide Web, and search engines had to be developed. The first point-and-click way of navigating Internet files, known as gopher, was released in 1991, and the same year the first computer code of the World Wide Web debuted in the relatively innocuous newsgroup alt.hypertext. Thus, the rich global communications medium called the Internet was born.

By the mid-1990s several science and religion organizations had a basic presence on the World Wide Web. Typically this consisted of information about the organization and its upcoming events and programs. One of the first sites of this kind was a web site for the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science ( Online discussion on science and religion topics was initially confined to private email distribution lists and various USENET newsgroups such as The Talk.Origins Archive (, which covers the creation/evolution controversy.

The need to handle an ever increasing number of discussion participants led to the employment of listservs (managed email discussion lists), such as the Meta-lists, now Metanexus, which began operating in 1997. An "edited, moderated, and public listserv dedicated to promoting the constructive engagement of science and religion and to sharing information and perspectives among the diverse organizations and individuals involved in this interdisciplinary field," by 2002, Metanexus had over six thousand subscribers in approximately sixty countries.

By their second generation, many web sites had incorporated some basic science and religion content in addition to the organizational information. Initially the content was preexisting text made available in plain electronic form, but there has been a constant evolution in the sophistication with which the web has been used to present science and religion content.

In 1998, the Counterbalance Foundation based in Seattle, Washington, in conjunction with the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) in Berkeley, California, developed a suite of interactive topics specifically for the web. Initially available at the web site for the PBS/New River Media documentary television program Faith and Reason, ( the content was also accessible from and This suite was tailored to the web in three ways: It included extensive use of hypertext linking, a writing style that allowed the reader to visit topics in any particular order, and use of streaming audio. These features allowed readers from diverse backgrounds to approach the same content and follow different paths through it. The availability of streaming audio opened up the appeal of science and religion topics to a still broader audience.

In 2000, Counterbalance combined the CTNS content with new material, including the textbook God, Humanity, and the Cosmos (1999) edited by Christopher Southgate, to create the Meta-Library. The Meta-Library is a single shared location that provides content to several science and religion sites, most notably As of 2002, the Meta-Library had over one hundred hours of interactive video material and thirty thousand links in the text material.

By mid-2002, the web was home to a variety of sites on science and religion that were diverse both in terms of approach and services offered; the Yahoo! directory contained links to dozens of web sites on evolution and creation alone. Some science and religion sites were still primarily informational, such as those of the American Scientific Affiliation (, the American Association for the Advancement of Science site for DoSER (Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion;, and the National Academy of Science's site on science and creationism ( Others web sites offered both information and discussion. Exemplars are the Access Research Network (, which discusses Intelligent Design theory, and Metanexus. Furthermore, such undertakings as Project Gutenberg ( and the Internet Public Library ( guaranteed that the classic texts of luminaries such as Charles Darwin, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Alfred Russel Wallace were available to the global public. In summary, persons all over the planet had access a vast repertoire of information on science and religion.

The future holds several possibilities. The web will continue to be an effective medium through which science and religion organizations can reach out to both the academic and broader community. Increase in fast "broadband" access to the web will allow sites to become progressively richer and more interactive, and will provide more video, including interviews and conference presentations (available both live and archived for later access), real-time chat rooms, tutorials, and so on. The content will no doubt broaden in scope, reaching beyond the core sciences and core religions, and become available in languages other than English. The conversation will also become more "world-wide" as the cost of computer equipment and web access allows smaller institutions and local societies to make use of the medium. In addition, an increasing number of distance education courses in science and religion will likely become available. However, the socalled digital divide must also be considered. While the dialogue between science and religion is certain to have a bright future on the Internet, participation in this part of the conversation will remain restricted to that small fraction of the global community with access to the necessary technology. This is likely to remain a real issue into the far future.

See also Information Technology; Science and Religion, Periodical Literature


l-soft (listserv software). available from

pbs. "life on the internet: net timeline." available from

sterling, bruce. "short history of the internet." available from

vrx. "some history [of usenet]." available from

stacey ake
adrian m. wyard

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Science and religion

Science and religion. The relationship between science and religion has been described in various ways, falling between two extremes. At one extreme, the relationship is seen as one of warfare. At the other extreme, the relationship is seen as one of convergence and confirmation, in which the insights of religion (albeit expressed in pre-scientific languages) are seen to point to the same truths as those claimed in contemporary sciences. Between the extremes are many different ways of evaluating the possible relationship between science and religion. Ian Barbour (Religion in an Age of Science, 1990) classified them in four groups: conflict, independence (as enterprises they are so different that there is no connection between them), dialogue, and integration. All these can be exemplified in any religion.

In the field of science and religion, a weakness of much work is its assumption that there is some ‘thing’ called science and some ‘thing’ called religion whose relationship can be discussed. Science changes, both in content and in methodologies, and religions have changed greatly through the course of time (for the consequent problem of defining religion, see Introduction). Religions are systems for the protection and transmission of human achievements and discoveries. For the most part, they arise from goals, methods, and objectives which are very different from those of the sciences, hence the impossibility of reducing the one to the other. But this means that religions can hardly be in competition with the sciences as comparable systems, even though the sciences will frequently challenge the content and methodologies of religious exploration, and religions will challenge the dehumanizing applications of science where they occur. For that reason particular issues will constantly arise, as notoriously in the case of Galileo and Darwin. But there neither was, nor is, only one way in which religions respond to such challenges. There are, and have been in the past, many different ways in which achievements in the sciences have been evaluated, ranging from denial to appropriation. Different (and strictly speaking incompatible) strategies have been adopted in order to maintain authority and control. Thus while there will always be propositional and conceptual issues between science and religion, and while they are often both interesting and important, they are second-order issues. Of primary concern are the issues of power, authority and control.

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