Science and Religion: Barbour’s 4 models

In this post, I’d like to provide my own introduction to Ian Barbour and his 4 models.

Ian Barbour is professor emeritus at Carleton College where he was a longtime professor in physics and religion, and a wonderful role model for me (and others) as we delve into the field of science and religion. He is credited with bringing a greater appreciation to science and religion and providing a framework for modeling the interaction between the two seemingly disparate fields.

Alright, so what are his 4 models for the interaction of science and religion? The first model is the one that is most commonly observed in the media: conflict .

The second model is the independence model, which states that science and religion can both be true as long as they are kept to their separate domains.

The third model that Barbour posits for the interaction of science and religion is the dialogue model. In this model, science and religion are conversation partners in the areas mentioned above and to which they both claim knowledge.

The fourth and final model is the integration model. This model takes dialogue and conversation much further and posits that the truth of science and religion can be integrated into a more complete or full “whole”.

Which model do you think makes most sense for us to pursue? Or is their another approach altogetehr?



The 4th model (Integration) is certainly out of the question if you cannot find a way to satisfy the scruples of atheist scientists who are willing to endorse PeacefulScience.Org.

Ways to satisfy atheist scruples might be an entry question for participants into the INTEGRATION DISCUSSION area:

"Are you willing to discuss metaphysical or philosophical ideas from the viewpoint of a Trinitarian Christian? - - with the understanding that this should not be interpreted as a religious stance by you?"

Frankly, I think this same statement would be required just to have a fruitful discussion of the DIALOGUE model!

The GAE is integrative…

Dialogue most certainly, with some aspects of integration.

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The problem I see with this type of model-categorization is that most Christians will probably claim that their model is the only truly integrative one, which is obviously supposed to be the “best of both worlds”. Even some YECs will likely argue that their model is also integrative - it’s just that the current community of scientists aren’t realizing that their science is really bunk compared to “YEC science”. Thus, this classification is more of an ideal rather than a true classification that you can label onto different camps.


I don’t like the framework itself, which seems to presuppose that there is a “thing” called “science” and a “thing” called “religion” and that these two “things” can dialogue etc. That’s just not how I see all of this, which might just mean that I don’t have anything useful to say about the “models.”

I’d be more enthusiastic about a conversation that saw science and religion, along with art and ethics and politics and lots of other things, as human endeavors that involve values and assumptions and processes and all the messy things that make up all human endeavors. “Science” shouldn’t be in “dialogue” with anything, but that’s because “science” is a human endeavor, not an institution or a set of institutions. The dialogues and conversations should be between/among humans and based on values. When/if that happens, then people (or institutions or religions or whatever) can reveal their values while they discuss the endeavor of science or the endeavor of public health or of taxation.

I don’t think I’m being very clear here, but I will never be interested in a simplistic set of “models” for how “science” should interact with “religion.” The human context is the most important one to me. I don’t recognize the independent existence of “religion” or an institution of “science.”


I was going to select the “dialogue” model, but I like @sfmatheson answer better. Frankly I don’t think as a group you will ever reach conclusions about much of this, but the dialogue and conversation are important. Everyone can learn from each other during the dialogue, and reach there own conclusions when it comes to how to integrate science, religion or other areas.


Unsurprisingly, I pick “conflict”. The conflict is basic, and one of epistemology. One could at best nibble around the edges of NOMA.

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So where do we get to speak to its “integration” when Creationist say design can’t use evolution, and Atheists say we can’t add a religious dimension to the discussion of Evolution?

This is where the I.D. disputations hijack the higher meaning of GAE because ID people reject Evolution-with-Design …

and …

where Atheists keep trying to convince Creationists that Evolution can work without design… or even GOD !!!

I totally understand this choice, and it’s defensible insofar as it characterizes “science” and “religion” in ways I just don’t see holding together. But sure, once “science” is defined as some kind of entity or institution, and the same is done for “religion,” then we can find ourselves with unavoidable conflict, or with polite dialogue, or any number of other personified interactions.

I don’t see defining them as entities to be relevant to the conflict, or perhaps a better word would be incompatibility. It’s still a question of incompatible epistemologies.


What makes you think that evolution can’t work without God?


@John_Harshman ( @swamidass )

I don’t personally believe Evolutionary processes can only work in the absence of God.

But as a Christian, I do believe that the Evolutionary products that we DO find on the Earth are because God specifically arranged the forces of creation and the micro-events of natural lawful evolutionary processes - - many of which I am sure we don’t yet even know exist.

The BEST way to avoid constantly finding ourselves in this rhetorical cul de sac is simple:

Any thread dealing with questions like this: “Without God, flagella could not have evolved…” should be immediately put into the “Endless Debate” folder… or whatever name would be best to use for such a folder.

I am in full agreement that when Creationists say things like this (“Without God, flagella could not have evolved…”), they are being irresistibly PROVOCATIVE!!!

If we segregate the divisive and provocative threads, the better the work will be in the rest of PeacefulScience.Org !

Not at all what I was asking about. If you eliminate the word “only”, that’s better.

Then why are you inserting that language into this thread?

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We can start by moving these irrelevant comments out of this thread, which is about models for the interaction between science and religion.

I don’t think much can be said about which if any of these models is correct until it’s specified which religion. Some religions are probably completely compatible, some are independent, etc.

So here I will take religion to be some sort of ‘traditional’ Christianity. Christianity that takes the Bible and Church Tradition seriously.

For Christianity, if I have to choose one of the four, I would choose conflict. Science and religion don’t work together perfectly and there are some contradictions between the two.

Some other approach has to be better than Barbour’s. I don’t know what that is, but something that has paradoxes and real conflicts that won’t be able to be resolved if both science or religion stay the way they are.

I don’t buy irresolvable conflict: All truth is God’s truth,
or complete independence: The Christian faith would be a hollow shell
or dialogue: There’s one truth, not two alien truths that sit down to talk to each other
and not integration: Maybe someday, but right now, people are fooling themselves if they think we’re even close. Maybe we’ll never fully get there this side of paradise.

If we can’t find a ‘grand unified theory’ of all of nature, maybe we can’t also find a ‘grand unified theory’ of all of nature and super-nature too.

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So that is where I fall. You think I’m forced into a conflict position?

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I don’t think anyone should or could be forced to see the world the same way I do.

I think most people would agree that there are apparent contradictions between Christianity and science. Some of these seem significant to me. I think the areas of conflict are relatively small, but they are important. Most of science has nothing to do with religion, and vice versa. But there are contradictions, and they cannot be surgically removed.

The situation has something in common with quantum mechanics and general relativity. These two descriptions of reality contradict each other, so at the end of the day one or (probably) both are wrong in some way, approximations of the world valid in their own regimes, but they break down where some deeper description may be found. The purpose of my Christian religion is not to explain the world, so the analogy is not perfect. But where the analogy holds, I think, is that I’m unwilling to simply throw one out for the sake of the other. I would lose too much in doing so.

Maybe philosophers like Plantinga* are right and all the conflict is superficial. I think not. The conflict seems deep enough to inspire all this work, conversation, writing of books, exploring new and different ideas. This is a surprising amount of effort if science and Christianity are already on the same page.

Maybe someday someone clever will remove the contradictions by transforming the problem, or by showing that the science is wrong or the religion is wrong, or both. It seems that you did this with Adam and Eve. A lot of the conflict between Christianity and science can be found in Genesis 1-11. Several contradictions. Maybe you’ve removed one of those. It seems plausible that you have.

Accepting your solution will involve a change in many people’s understanding of science, by properly distinguishing genetics from genealogy, and religion, since your model requires the existence of other humans before Adam and Eve. It seems these changes have the potential to improve at least the lay scientific understanding of ancestry, and could enrich the Christian myth of human origins.

The changes allowed by science and Christianity are limited. Neither can sacrifice anything central. I wont rip a page out of the Bible that I don’t like anymore than I will ignore an experiment or observation that I don’t like. Still, there’s a huge difference between the universe and my understanding of it, and between Christ and my understanding of Him. My understanding might be very wrong, and there’s a lot of room for change there.

* Plantinga, A., 2011. Where the conflict really lies: Science, religion, and naturalism . OUP USA.

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I don’t.

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Just a question of clarification, George, not a challenge or a rebuke.

I had thought you classed yourself as a Unitarian. Now most Christians would exhibit strong resistance to counting Unitarianism as a branch of Christianity (at least, as it exists today, even if 150 years ago it had stronger Christian connections). So I’m wondering if your words indicate a recent move from Unitarianism to Christianity, or merely that you consider Unitarianism to be a branch of Christian religion.