Fr. Paul Robinson has devoted much time and energy to the study and explanation of the relationship between science and religion.

It’s a relationship that can use explanation! Often we see or hear that religion and science are in conflict, yet just as often we find scientists and religious leaders arguing that their science and religion are compatible.

As a teacher, Fr. Robinson was troubled by the confusion, and set out to combat it:

“I try to create a framework for understanding major questions about reality, about human knowledge, about the respective positions of religion and science. Then, I use that framework to clarify for the reader, in general and particular, what makes for trustworthy religion and trustworthy science.” – Fr. Robinson

The Relationship Between Science and Religion: A Framework

You can read more about that framework on Fr. Robinson’s blog, but here’s a summary of the fundamental argument:

  • By definition, our worldview determines our view of reality.
  • This means, among other things, that our preconceived notions about reality determine whether we think reality is knowable AND how we think it is knowable.
  • In other words, our worldview determines how we do, or don’t do, philosophy and science.
  • Religious people’s worldview comes from their religion…
  • … but there are different kinds of religions…
  • … And so there is not one relationship between science and religion, but several:
  • One for each of the four basic types of religion.

Fr. Robinson supplies a table to help keep these relationships straight:

the relationship between religion and science chart

So how exactly does each type of religion affect science and philosophy?

  • In a “crass pantheism,” there’s just the universe, and it is what it is. It’s not designed by a rational being, it’s not going anywhere particular. In fact, many pantheists view the universe as cyclical, always repeating itself. If this is your worldview, then there is no special incentive toward science or philosophy: the universe doesn’t make sense, so there’s no point in trying to make sense of it.
  • In an “elaborate pantheism,” such as Aristotle’s, the universe is considered to be set in rational order by a supreme being within the universe. Since it’s believed that the universe is rational ordered, we’re incentivized to study its rational order, particularly through philosophy – but our science is thrown off by our expectation of a supreme being within the universe.
  • If we believe in a rational creator, a God who is ultimate reason and, from outside the universe, orders it rationally, then we have great incentive to do both science and philosophy. The world is rationally understandable, but we don’t try to make God a scientific explanation.
  • If we believe in a voluntarist creator, a God who creates according to arbitrary will, then we have little to no reason to do science or philosophy. The order of the universe is arbitrary, and therefore meaningless.

From these considerations, it’s clear that we can’t properly talk about the relationship between religion and science.

Rather, we should talk about the relationships between religions and science!

If you are interested in learning more, please check out a longer article from Fr. Robinson on this topic, or if you’d prefer something you can listen to rather than read, take a look at Is Your Religion Reasonable? by Andrew Wood.



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