Peter Byrne

The relations between theology and the natural sciences are relevant to a range of problems in the philosophical underpinnings of Christian thought. The importance of theology's relation to science arises out of the fundamental ways in which Christianity and natural science are linked with the character and evolution of Western culture. For many centuries Christianity, in the characteristic fashion of religious systems, provided Western culture with its understanding of human nature and of the reality in which this was set. The realms of personal and cosmological meaning were integrated in a Christian-inspired vision of the destiny of humankind in the world. With the growth of natural science since the seventeenth century, Christian theology has faced the challenge of integrating its understanding of human nature and reality with accounts originating in sources in scientific theorizing which are at once autonomous and questioning of many traditional Christian perceptions.

The ways in which theology and natural science may be mutually relevant include the following: through their agreement/disagreement on the facts of the world and its history as they state them; through the explanations they separately offer of such facts; through the metaphysics of reality they affirm or suggest; through the ideals of method and reason in human enquiry they are committed to (see Austin 1976:6-8). Science discovers and records facts about the world, explains them with hypotheses and theories, and such theories suggest general conclusions about the ultimate character of the cosmos. This entire process of discovery, theorizing and metaphysical inference is underpinned by procedures of justification and proof. Different views may be adopted towards the relations with theology established by the elements and implications of scientific thought (see Barbour 1990:3ff. for the classification used below). Some thinkers perceive conflict between science and theology. They then assume a choice must be made between scientific and theological understanding. Others contend that the perception of significant inter-relations between science and theology is misguided. In reality the modes of understanding of theological and scientific enquiry are quite independent of one another. This is a decisive way of rejecting the notion of conflict between science and religion. Others contend that science and theology can be integrated into a combined vision of the world. More modest is the claim that there can be fruitful dialogue and consonance between science and theology.

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