Barbour’s Dialogue Model

Is it possible to serve two masters? The usual context of that biblical question, of course, concerns the pursuit of material gain versus seeking the Kingdom of God. But a recent news story about science and religion suggests a very different context for the same question. Last week the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion--an award I myself was honored with a few years ago, and which grants a gift of more than a million dollars--was awarded to physicist and theologian Ian Barbour for his long career seeking to integrate science and theology. As Barbour explained to the Los Angeles Times after winning the Templeton Prize, "I always felt we needed to move beyond the hostility. Scientists say they believe in evolution, not God. Religious scholars say they believe in God, but not evolution. Well, I say we don't have to choose a side," Barbour declared. "We can meet somewhere in the middle." Barbour has written several books and dozens of articles promoting what he calls the "dialogue" method of the relationship of science and religion where both are seen as overlapping attempts to find truth. The alternatives, he says, are conflict and compartmentalization. In the conflict model, one must choose either strict biblical literalism or hard-core materialism: There's simply no middle ground. In the compartmentalization mode, on the other hand, science and theology go their own ways, with absolutely no contact between the two. Well, put this way, Barbour's dialogue model sounds reasonable and attractive. But here's the problem: In practice, it means science calls the tune and religion must dance to it. For example, Barbour believes religious people can accept evolution and adapt their beliefs accordingly. But is it really possible to reconcile evolution and Christianity? Well, the answer to that depends on how you define evolution. We ought to remember that establishment scientists define evolution in strictly naturalistic terms: as a purely random, blind process without direction or purpose--natural forces interacting by chance. And they emphatically reject any idea of God acting in nature to design living things. So what many scientists really want when they talk about reconciling science and religion is for believers to relegate their beliefs to the purely private realm. And a lot of Christians get intimidated by this kind of talk and fall for it. But if we were to accept this, science itself would not be allowed to give evidence of God's creative work. This puts artificial limits on science, which more and more, interestingly enough, is pointing toward intelligent design in the universe. So Barbour's attempt at a reconciliation between science and faith doesn't help in the genuine search for truth, but rather hampers it. The fact is that if God did create the universe and life in it, as Christians believe, then a science that denies that from the outset gives us a distorted view of nature. It's just plain bad science. For help in understanding these complicated issues, and explaining them to your kids, you might want to try a great new book called Mere Creation, edited by William Dembski. It contains a collection of essays by scientists working in biology, physics, and cosmology. You'll learn how topnotch scientists are uncovering exciting new evidence for design. Yes, science and religion can work together but not the way Professor Barbour would like us to believe. Science is pointing us towards the reality that all science does is investigate the nature of reality. And the evidence is mounting that the way things are, in reality, is found in the opening chapters of Genesis: "In the beginning, God…"


Chuck Colson


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