Science in Christian Perspective



Integrative Strategies in a Secular Age
  The King's College
Briarcliff Manor
  New York 10510

From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 198-201.

The theory of secularization offered by Peter Berger suggests that the modern world is characterized by a competition among diverse ideologies each seeking to become the definer of social reality. Included in this theory is the notion that the relationships among competing ideologies operate much like economic competitors in a marketplace. Building upon the metaphor of an ideological marketplace it is possible to explain the form of the diverse proposals concerning the relationship between religion and science as arising out of competition. A typology of seven strategies is outlined which are a logical response to ideological competition. Each of the strategies is described and representative examples from the religion and science literature are cited for each strategy. Some concluding observations concerning the relationship between religion and science are offered.1

The concept of secularization may be understood as a process whereby various aspects of society are removed from the domination of religious symbols.2 This process is one of the fundamental characteristics of modern society. By understanding this process it is possible to clarify the relationship between religion and science. The last three or four hundred years of western civilization manifest a shift from a unified world view to a situation marked by a multiplicity of world views. Although this is no doubt overly simplistic, the fact remains that modern society reflects a
pluralistic context with a number of competing world views-none of which seems to be able to gain hegemony. The idea that there can be competition at the level of thought or world view was eloquently argued by the sociologist of knowledge, Karl Mannheim.3 The notion of competition among world views has been incorporated into Peter Berger's statements regarding secularization in his book The Sacred Canopy. Developing a" cognitive minority" model of secularization, Berger helps delineate certain trends in religion. It is my contention that Berger's model can help explain some of the aspects of the relationship between religion and science.

There are at least three evident values in relating the cognitive minority theory of secularization to the religion-science relationship. First, Berger's theory aids in explaining why a conflict arose in the first place. A conflict can come about only if alternative views are put forward. Having examined the course of thought in the Western world, Berger argues that a unified world view which was essentially religious was reduced from a position of centrality. When alternative views were subsequently articulated a crisis of legitimacy was created that did not exist before. The various competing viewpoints became locked in combat, each seeking to establish its right to be the sole definer of reality. Second, by building upon the foundation of a sociology of knowledge, Berger's theory requires that all knowledge, including science, must be conceived of as ideological. This makes it easier to understand why it should be presented as a competing alternative for a religious world view. Third, having set forth a model of competing world views, Berger argues that an ideological marketplace exists in the modern world.4 Drawing upon economic analogies he proceeds to show how competing world views might logically develop certain strategies in order to win converts to a world view or to avoid the negative consequences of competition. For example, competition may provoke the competitors to call a truce and agree to stay out of each other's territory [e.g., complementary spheres of activity]. Again, competition may encourage the competitors to show that they have everything the competition has to offer and thus can be selected with confidence [e.g., homogeneity of product]. Another response to competition is to form alliances with one's competitors in order to secure an edge in the marketplace [e.g., çartelization or hybridization]. Finally, competition may cause one to change a name but retain essentially the same product [e.g., co-optation].5

Taking this understanding gained from Berger as a starting place, it is possible to construct a typology of the various strategies that have been used to relate religion and science. While some strategies have been used more extensively than others, it is possible to sort much of the voluminous "religion and science" literature into seven proposed categories. A brief summary of each of the strategies and some problems associated with each are as follows:

Problem Solving

This approach assumes that if one or more problems currently preventing harmony between religion and science can be solved, then the two areas could exist at peace with one another. It seems that many of the earlier attempts at

It is possible to construct a typology of the various strategies that have been used to relate religion and science.

resolving the conflict were aimed at solving specific problems. For example, some felt that if only the issue of creation versus evolution could be resolved then the conflict would disappear. Others cited problems such as freedom and determinism.6 The difficulty with this position is that the list of problems is seemingly inexhaustible. Furthermore, there is a gross failure to understand that the conflict is not merely at the empirical level but rather at the philosophical level.

Attitude Change

Fundamental to this strategy is the belief that the conflict between religion and science is largely the result of exaggerated claims on the part of scientists and proponents of religion. The stress is upon a shift in attitudes towards greater humility and less doctrinaire rejection of other realms of knowledge. Furthermore, by realizing the limits of scientific and religious knowledge, the respective parties might reduce the knowledge claims that are put forward.
In some ways there is an affinity between this viewpoint and another strategy-namely, that of complementarity. However, if the issue of attitude change is stressed it is possible to see those arguing in this manner as constituting a distinct position. Robert Millikan typified this approach when he argued for an attitude of humility, which, if adhered to, would solve much of the conflict between religion and science:

Physics, however, has recently learned its lesson, and it has at the present moment something to teach to both philosophy and religion, namely, the lesson of not taking itself too seriously, not imagining that the human mind yet understands, or has made more than the barest beginning toward understanding the universe.7


There have been many discussions of the relationship between religion and science that have made use of a complementarity motif. The approach basically argues for a separation of science and religion into two realms. Some conceive of this as a separation into equal but wholly different spheres that can have no relationship.8 Other complementarity schemes argue for a hierarchical arrangement with certain areas of thought nesting within other areas of thought.9 While there is a certain validity to the view that religion and science are different entities with different languages, concerns, methods and so on, a number of writers have raised questions concerning the validity and usefulness of such an approach.10 Implicit in the complementarian view is a model that sees science as existing apart from an integrated world view. In fact, if recent philosophy of science has taught us anything it has shown us that science does not exist in a vacuum. It is culture bound, it is theory bound, it is paradigm bound, and it is intrinsically united to a world view. I would argue that science is as much ideological as is religion in the sense of ideology as understood by the sociologist of knowledge.11 Hence, to the extent to which religion permeates a world view, it must also permeate science.

Furthermore, complementarian strategies face the same problem as that of attitude change strategies. What happens when science and religion offer contradictory propositions concerning truth? What criteria will be used to select between the two? Does one look within one or the other domain for such criteria or must a meta-level be constructed that will aid in selecting what propositions will be accepted? The tendency arising out of this approach is to develop a religious schizophrenia. Religion is placed in a separate compartment isolated from the rest of life. An impenetrable concrete-like barrier is interposed between religion and other fields.

Finally, the existence of parallel explanatory systems raises the issue of parsimony. 12 If both systems refer to the same phenomena might not one of the explanations be rejected as superfluous? Again, criteria must be adduced to validate the need for parallel explanations.


A variant of the complementarian strategy that merits separate attention is the privatization approach. This deals with the conflict between religion and science by withdrawing religion into the inner world of the self. As long as religion offers propositions extending beyond the personal to the objective world conflict can occur. However, if religion becomes my personal, noncognitive, emotional experiences there is no need for science to conflict with that realm.13 The difficulty with this increasingly attractive option is that the possibility for institutional religion and a religious community is undermined. Furthermore, truth testing becomes an extremely difficult operation under this strategy. What data can be brought to bear upon the truthfulness of religious conceptions? It is difficult to offer such tests if religion is sealed off.


As in the economic realm, competition among ideologies may result in the union of the competing elements. Hence, it is not surprising that one ploy in the religion and science debate has been an attempt to unite religion and science. Usually, this has been carried out by some kind of accommodation or redefinition of either religion or science. John Dewey attempted to bring about a rapproachement between religion and science by creating a hybrid-a new kind of religion. In part he argued that:

... were we to admit that there is but one method for ascertaining fact and truth-that conveyed by the word 'scientific" in its most general and generous sense-no discovery in any branch of knowledge and inquiry could then disturb the faith that is religious. t should describe this faith as the unification of the self through allegiance to inclusive ideal ends, which imagination presents to us and to which the human will responds at worthy of controlling our desires and choices.14

A major difficulty with this approach is that a true hybrid is rarely formed. Usually religion is drastically modified so that it can be fitted together with science. When this occurs the strategy becomes one approximating co-optation with science absorbing religion within itself.


Related to the strategy of hybridization is the approach that identifies religion and science as basically the same phenomenon. This has taken several forms. In some cases both religion and science are depicted as pursuing a common goal (e.g., truth seeking). In other cases attempts are made to show that science is basically like a religion or that religion is science-like.15

Some of these discussions have been helpful in regaining a sense of how both religion and science are human enterprises and share many similarities. This has aided in correcting the specious image of a homo scien tificus who operates apart from the normal human socio-cultural processes. Yet, by showing similarity the conflict may still not be, resolved. The most that may be concluded is that science and religion are integral human activities-neither of which can be eliminated.

It is not enough to say that the Christian viewpoint is one among several equally appealing alternatives. To do so reduces the matter to an arbitrary selection resembling a game of chance.


A more sinister alternative to hybridization or equation has been the co-optation of religion by science or vice-versa. In other words, the conflict is resolved by translating religion into scientific symbols. '6 One of the two realms is extinguished under the guise of a shift in symbols.16 This, no doubt, solves the conflict but it does so without retaining the integrity of either science or religion.

Some Future Possibilities

These various strategies are understandable in light of Berger's model of a competitive ideological marketplace. The respective viewpoints of religion and science vie for public acceptance as the interpreter of reality. Competition may result in one view gaining ascendency (co-optation); a division of territory (complementarity, privatization); move ment towards similarity or unity (homogeneity, hybridization, equation) or an attempt at an uneasy truce (problem solving, attitude change). None of these strategies seems to be without problems. The question arises as to whether yet another strategy can be constructed. While I am not inclined to put forward a new proposal, several observations seem appropriate to the solution of the conflict between religion and science.

First, if science is understood as being intimately tied to a world view then it is evident that the issues cannot be resolved on the level of empirical data alone. It will be necessary to deal philosophically with the relationship between religion and science. In a Christian world view this may involve an elaboration of the data of science and Scripture within the framework of that world view. What is the nature of reality? How does one know? What is the nature of man? Using this world view as a selector it may be possible to decide between scientific explanations that are congruent with Christian revelation and those that are not, between explanations that may be useful but not comprehensive, and between explanations that are logically sound and those which are not.17 The approach to religion and science that simply pleads for tolerance or that scurries about on an ad hoc basis from one specific problem to another is doomed to failure because it does not reach down to the foundational level.

Second, attempts at solving the conflict between religion and science that accommodate religion to science without a sense of the validity and integrity of religion are ultimately self defeating. If carried to its extreme this approach reduces religion to something indistinguishable from ethics or morality. From a Christian perspective any attempt to relate science to Christianity must respect the truth statements proposed in Christian revelation. For example, Christianity does imply certain positions regarding the nature of man. Integration can occur only if this perspective is retained. Hence, any attempt to reduce Christianity to a non-cognitive, emotive level may solve the conflict but only at too high a cost.

Third, if the modern situation is accurately depicted as a competitive ideological marketplace, then the selection of one world view must be accomplished on a rational basis rather than a traditional basis. If Christianity is to offer a viable world view to the modern milieu it is imperative that attempts be made to show that the Christian view is superior to alternative viewpoints. Reasons need to be ad duced to show why a Christian world view is necessary for a true understanding of human behavior (to cite only one example), while also showing that alternative views without the Christian perspective fail or are less than adequate. It is not enough to say that the Christian viewpoint is one among several appealing alternatives. To do so reduces the matter to an arbitrary selection resembling a game of chance.


1This paper it a revised version of a paper read at the 1976 Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation held at Wheaton College in August. 1976.
2This definition of secularization is borrowed from Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 107. This paper is heavily dependent upon the ideas developed by Peter Berger. For a more detailed discussion of some of these ideas see: Ronald J. Burwell, "Religion and the Social Sciences: A Study of Their Relationships as Set Forth in the Terry Lectures: 19241971,'' unpublished dissertation for the Ph.D., New York University, 1976.
3Karl Mannheim, "Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon," in Kurt Wolff (ed.), From Karl Mannheim (New York: Oxford, 1971), pp. 223-261.
4Peter Berger, ''A Market Model for the Analysis of Eeumenicity," Social Research, XXX, 1, (Spring 1963), pp. 77-93.
6Certainly many of the articles that have appeared in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation might fit this category. Further examples might be Arthur H. Compton, The Freedom of Man (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935); and Henry M. Russell, Fate and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1927).
7Robert A. Millikan, Evolution in Science and Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935), p. 93.
8Karl Helm, Christian Faith and Natural Science (New York: Hasper and Row, 1953).
9Donald MacKay, The Clockwork Image (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1974).
10The dialogue represented in the exchange of letters and articles by John Cramer and Donald MacKay in the pages of the Journal ASA is one indication of the problems that exist: John A. Cramer and Donald MacKay, "The Clockwork Image Controversy," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 28,3, (September 1976), pp. 123-127. Several papers given at the 1976 Annual ASA meeting at Wheaton College also raised some problems: Jack Haas, "Complementarity and Christian Thought-An Assessment"; and James E. Martin, "Interpretive vs. Generative Science." A recent discussion of the ideas of Donald MacKay also reflects some of the uneasiness many have with the complementarian approach: Clifton J. Orlebeke, "Donald MacKay's Philosophy of Science," Christian Scholar's Review (Summer 1977), pp. 51-63.
11Karl Mannheim describes ideology as the notion that: ". . . opinions, statements, propositions, and systems of ideas are not taken at their face value but are interpreted in the light of the life situation of the one who expresses them. It signifies further that the specific character and life-situation of the subject influence his opinions, perceptions and interpretations." Karl Mennheim, Ideology and Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1936), p. 56.
12The issue of parsimony was raised in the dialogue between John Cramer and Donald MacKay cited above.
13Robert N. Bellah, "Christianity and Symbolic Realism." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 9 (Summer 1970), pp. 89-96.
14John Dewey, A Common Faith (New Haven: Yale University Frets, 1960), p. 32.
15A significant example of this type of argument is Langdon Gilkey, Religion and the Scientific Future (New York: Harper and Row, 1970).
16This may take the form of a "sociologizasion of religion" or a "psychologization of religion." See: Berger, The Sacred Canopy, pp. 166-169.
17Recently Nicholas Wolterstorff has argued that a person's Christian world view should operate as a selector when confronting diverse theoretical options: Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1976).