On the Models between Science and Theology

Last week’s post was about a conversation I had several years ago with my pastor. Various comments served as a clue to me that I should post about the other models; so here is a short summary of four models illustrating the interchange between science and theology.

#1: Conflict
Science and theology are in opposition in the Conflict Model as one field sees the other as an invader of their knowledge domain. This model of hostility and conflict signifies the science-or-God decision, although the two are not comparable terms.

This model not also describes creationism, but also the scientists who proclaim that science so accurately describes the natural world, science explains everything – thus there is no need for religion – although science cannot confirm or deny God’s existence.  As each side within this model tosses bombs at one another, this model drives public perception about the interaction between science and theology – probably because of media coverage of this fight.

#2:  Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA)
NOMA has science and theology respectfully operating as watertight-independent disciplines without overlap and without conflict. Although each has its own expertise, the interaction between them occurs within an individual as they process science and theology. Interestingly, evolutionary writer Dr. Stephen J. Gould came up with the name – and he was either an atheist or agnostic. In last week’s post, this was my point in the conversation with my pastor.

#3: Complementary
The Complementary Model has science and theology working together from different perspectives, which was my pastor’s position. Although each works within their own processes, the overlap represents one field using information for the other.

Whereas Galileo explained that theology is about how to go to heaven, but not how the heavens go (thus the NOMA model), the Complementary Model can produce greater insight toward our quest for understanding of our world and life. Viewing these content rings from the side shows a space between science and theology – the creative tension of respecting their own space. Let us not forget that the degree of overlap is another question.

#4: Fusion
The Fusion Model has science and theology working together and influencing each other. There is no question in my mind that this is the most complex model because it requires a deeper level of understanding about the science-theology interchange than most people possess.

Interestingly, many people (and probably, in my opinion, most) are only aware of the Conflict Model. However, several comments last week unknowingly indicated the NOMA model.

What do you think?

25 thoughts on “On the Models between Science and Theology

  1. I have to swing behind the third model – complementary. In my humble view, there are instances where you have to work outside the realm of “leaps of faith” to prove (very) scientific items. There are also instances where you have to work ONLY on faith (does God exist?), as trying any form of scientific process can run into trouble. I feel you should be able to make certain leaps even within a purely scientific context – call it inspiration, if you need a title. You don’t know where the idea comes from, but it works well when tested via methodical procedure. And a little science, working out the numbers of galaxies, stars and planets (or the complexity of the sub-atomic world) can provide some “proofs” to help support whatever view of theology you take.
    I refute the “conflict” model because it forces scientists to deny theology, whereas I’ve known several who are very devout.
    I refute the “non-overlap” for the reasons of using a bit of God to prove science and a bit of science to prove God (that is VERY short-hand).
    And I refute the total overlap, otherwise someone would have proved God’s existence by now. 😀 (Yes, I know that’s not the REAL point.) Seriously, I think this model forces an assumption that only highly intelligent people can “find God”, and I’ve never encountered ANYTHING in life that dictates only geniuses can be religious.
    But this is all my opinion, for what that’s worth. (Quiet, Frank! 😉 )


    • John,
      Now with these 4 models in mind, it would be interesting to revisit last week’s dialogue.

      The Fusion Model is very deep … but scientific findings are in light of theology. No conflicts here. On the other hand, this model would NOT have science prove or disprove God. Thanks for commenting!


    • My biggest problem with the total fusion concept is this line:
      “it requires a deeper level of understanding about the science-theology interchange than most people possess”
      Now I recognise that not every one of us is as intelligent as the next, but the wording says to me that only very educated people could understand both theology and science. (I’m not criticising your phrasing, Frank.) Perhaps arguing that some of the most devout people are less educated isn’t the strongest debate point, but I’d like to think you can have a strong foundation for your faith without having a Masters Degree, and be able to hold a fistful of science degrees without also having to be an ordained bishop.
      Or maybe I’m just not getting the concept of your 4 “set theories”? 😀 (I would seriously labour for a larger overlap in example 3, though.)


      • John,
        Your point is well taken. Ian Barbour uses these terms to describe the 4 models: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. I believe that you would agree that in order to have dialogue with another about any topic, a certain level of knowledge is required. (For instance, I wouldn’t be good at regarding WW II military history). I may have a baseline of knowledge to ask some questions, and to understand certain points, but certainly not the depth that a meaningful dialogue requires. With that in mind, think of integration as a step up from dialogue – thus the intent of my statement. Make sense?


        • That actually does help. I’m still not fully sold on the total fusion concept, but I would certainly accept a near-total overlap.
          Man, this makes my head hurt! You sure you don’t know a gent named Andreas? German guy, living in Britain, working on a Masters in philosophy? Gives me migraines to light up Toledo? 😀


        • John,
          First of all, I don’t know your German philosopher. Good luck. Meanwhile, glad the explanation helped. I will speak for myself on this one. If I am at the fusion/integration level, I don’t know it because I don’t know enough yet. Again, I’m speaking for myself.


  2. I would like to see the fusion model be more accepted. For our Heavenly Father wants us to keep seeking His face, and that could certainly include scientific research of what He has done, is doing and will continue to do.

    I don’t know if this is the right time to bring it up, but I have had several rather interesting thoughts about everything actually being a part of our Heavenly Father. In that, He has the ability to change parts of Himself into water, air, energy and even flesh and blood, which would certainly explain what is meant by Him making everything that can be seen out of what cannot be seen (Hebrews 11:3).

    Now, I have not been given a clear understanding of this at all. So, it may very well be just from my own head rattling or Satan trying to distract me from what is really important, but it does have the ring of truth to a certain extent to me.


    • FishHawk,
      The fusion model is powerful as it integrates the truth of both disciplines. The difficult part (for some) is accepting both as nonconflicting truths. By the way, Nancy’s comment about truth is good. Thanks for commenting.


  3. A note to all,

    I forgot to note that others have similar versions of these models. Ian Barbour, very distinguished in the field, uses the following terms to describe his 4 models: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration.


  4. OK, so I doubt I will ever grasp the Fusion model. Over my head. I think I can grasp NOMA. Galileo put it really simply (and brilliantly): Theology – how to go to heaven Science – how the heavens go.

    In the complementary and fusion models, what information do you see each side using.

    I have John’s headache. 🙂


    • Spinny,
      Good to see you, and thanks for giving this another shot. Galileo provides great insight. I plan to use a quote of his on a future post that (at least to me) makes me think we’ve advanced ever so little since his days. (But I do realize we have come a long way.)

      I don’t know if you saw Nancy’s comments, but they are very good. (She’s like me – that is a layperson who gets into this stuff).

      In terms of the latter two models, think of a cake … flour, milk, eggs, sugar, etc … all individual ingredients melding together to produce a yummy for the tummy. 🙂 … integrated together as one. Theologian John Walton furthers the idea with a layered cake (one science, one theology) … but which are bound together by iicing as served to us as one. Walton would also add that the layers are misleading because of the integration.

      Oh well … if nothing else, I hope you can at least see the different models as models … or as some would suggest, different levels of understanding. Thanks for commenting.


      • Hmm. The individual ingredients come from both sides to make the cake. I take it the icing is God?

        I can see that there are different models. How you arrive at the models is where I get lost.


        • Spinny, I think we’re both having troubles with what exactly the models contain. At least that’s where I think I’m falling short. I think we need a post “prequel” explaining the whole set theory contents, so we can then debate if the sets overlap or not.
          Did that make sense, Spinny?
          Or am I just perennially confused? 😉


        • John,
          Ah ha …. method to my madness. Believe or not, I have been setting readers up for this since January. That’s why I was setting up with topics about defining science and theology. Of course, as the poster/author, it is much easier for me to keep track of the mental journey I’m trying to created than it is for my readers. So, when you get bored or in preparation for a conversation with Blackjack, see the Religion and Science links. 😉 Thanks for the good dialogue!


        • Spinny,
          Good question about the icing. Wonder if Prof Walton had an intent or did I throw it in to satisfy my stomach. Although some of the terms/titles may be mine (but I’m not sure), models on this topic existed – the aforementioned Ian Barbour (conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration) – and something similar in this book I reviewed.

          Although I enjoy making one think, I don’t like causing headaches. 😦 Thanks for commenting.


        • @John – That’s it. I don’t know who is the flour in the cake and who’s the sugar, etc. 🙂 I’m perpetually confused with you. Haha

          @Frank – It’s definitely good to think about it. I just try not to let it confuse my already confused head. Hahaha.


        • Spinny- I finally cracked the code! See, sugar is sweets, sweets are heavenly, therefore sugar is theology. Flour comes form wheat, wheat is a grain, grain covers the prairies, Fermi National Accelerator Lab is in the middle of a prairie, so flour is science! The milk, well, that’s the milk of human kindness, so that’s humans, and the eggs, eggs come from birds, birds represent all the animals.
          Now, you mix flour, eggs, milk, and sugar together, and you get the interaction of people with animals debating science and theology….
          Which give you ….
          Rats! It sounded so good when I started… 😉


        • John & Spinny,
          John are right — YES —– it sounded good when you started. ;). So now I have to go to Prof Walton’s book and re-read his layered cake analogy. Fortunately, I have the book. Hmmmm … a future post? …. On the Layered Cake?


  5. Very quickly when we start talking about science and religion, most of us are in over our heads. And not everyone thinks these are interesting and compelling issues ( so I’ve been told, tho I have trouble imagining that such people exist ;] )

    I think it is possible to embrace any of these models as concepts, a way of understanding the relationship between science and religion without advanced study in either field.

    To my way of thinking, Truth exists and both science and religion are ways to greater understanding of Truth. ( Truth should not be confused with small “t” truth, things we think we know) But ultimately there is only one Truth which both science and religion see only in part.

    I have been known to tell people not to worry about what “science” will discover because science won’t discover anything God didn’t already know about. This doesn’t mean that we won’t be confused, but God’ s o k with what science finds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nancy,
      I knew I could count on you to make a profound comment. Many thanks. Excellent points about truth.

      The public repeatedly sees the conflict model in action. Meanwhile, as many (if not the most) churches shy away from the topic, ignorance runs rampant. Maybe this – having a foundational understanding of science and theology not only helps one have dialogue about the two, but to also begin integrating the them.

      Many thanks for your input.


  6. I love that you are willing to tackle the hard things. We can’t be like the Church of the past who denied to see how Scripture actually agrees with most scientific discoveries. Notice I said scientific. Science demands experiment. Last time I checked, there aren’t many ways to experiment with “creating” something from nothing. So at this point, it’s all theory. There’s no use house arresting people with views different than ours. My mother said something to me the other day I think is appropriate. She said, “There’s no way to know how history is going to look at the present.” I’m sure the Church of the past had no idea that not only science, but scripture supports a sun centered galaxy.

    On another note, my pastor brought out an interesting point the other day. The idea behind an earth centered universe was really very humanistic because it declared that everything in the universe, not just the earth, was made for man. I choose to look at it thusly, there may be life somewhere else, but God loves us enough to have hung the stars just for our enjoyment. Even if there is another purpose, He would have done it for us, because He loves us that much, and because He’s a Master artist.


    • Journey,
      What a thoughtful comment. The term for human-centered/earth-centered is anthropocentric – and it is amazing how many people are still in that mindset. Then again, (in my opinion), too many individual congregations have NOT taught their flock – thus leading to countless misconceptions. The messages from both your mother and pastor are powerful.

      2 FYIs: For the past 2 months or so I have been posting about theology & science on Wednesdays. Thus, see Religion and Science in the Categories for past posts. Thanks for commenting and sharing.


  7. Pingback: Flashbacks: On the Science-Religion Interchange | A Frank Angle

  8. In my humble thoughts the complementary model seems to me should be but in near future maybe we would be talking about the 4th model too… Science explains (or tries to explain) the things in this universe, and of course in earth… but we know there are million questions that still we search, and we leave them in unquestionable area… On the other hand theology says that there are answers of them. But it is a deep voyage of mind… So it seems to me (too) should be working together and to reach these answers in the language of humanity. I know not easy and maybe would be never reached too… But this is the way of human walk…. Thank you dear Frank, love, nia


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