Lost in a World of Maps: Relations between Science and Theology

(system) #1
How are science and religion related? Think of some maps.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/lost-in-a-world-of-maps-relations-between-science-and-theology

(Bethany Sollereder) #2

Hello folks! I’m happy to respond to comments and/or questions and will be checking the blog over the next little while. Do let me know what you think! (As we explore together…) - Bethany

(Phil) #3

Good thoughts. Reminds me of how C.S. Lewis noted that the study of theology was like looking at a map of the ocean, whereas experiential religion was like wading into the surf. Both are valid expressions, but the map has more value in getting you to your destination without crashing on the rocks.
At least that is how I remember it, before my first cup of coffee.

(Larry Bunce) #4

The map analogy is the clearest way I have ever heard of explaining the conflict between science and religion. Spokespeople on each side can be seen as map sellers trying to convince everyone else that their map is the only one they need to buy. Confusion on the part of ordinary people as to which map is ‘best’ or ‘right’ or which to ‘believe’ stems from lack of knowledge of the intent of each map.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #5


Good to hear from you. I am not sure what is expected here, but I really do not think that one can map or diagram the relationship between science and theology.

That is because Reality is not duality, even though our culture is shaped by Western dualism. Reality is a trinity, shaped by the physical, the rational, and the spiritual.

The dialogue between Christianity and Science is usually a debate between the deaf because it fails to include the crucial third participant, Philosophy.

Therefore a map of Reality would be a triangle with its points labeled, Christianity, Science, and Philosophy.

(Jane Ellingwood) #6

Hello, Bethany, This is Jane, one of your former PhD student colleagues from Exeter. Very pleased to see that you are now Dr. Sollereder! Congratulations! Your analogy of trying to interpret reality through various maps is very interesting, and I find it helpful. I am wondering how you suggest using such maps or this model for answering questions about how the reality that we seek to understand got to where it is today (whether through its origination or through evolution or in other ways). Similarly, can we use this model to reflect on where the reality might be headed? Thanks for the insightful and thought-provoking blog entry. Jane Ellingwood

(Bethany Sollereder) #7

Thank you for this reply! I certainly would not want to leave philosophy out of the picture. It has all its own sets of maps, some of which are subsets of Christian theological maps (philosophical theology) and other maps that have little to do with Christianity but which are mutually exclusive (Heraclitus’s “All is change” vs. Plato’s unchanging forms, for example).

(Daniel Mantai) #8

Hi Bethany. I like the metaphor and I wanted try it out by superimposing it upon my atheistic perspective.

I imagine that in my childhood I was given two maps.

The first map showed the city around me, both my neighbourhood and places I had never been, with rough sketches fading out into regions not yet explored by my fellow citizens.

The second map showed an ancient underground city deep below my feet, with golden roads stretching out from a magnificent palace at its core. Not only was this underground city said to exist, but I was taught that the city above ground must be rebuilt to model the one below.

I studied the underground city intently and tried to walk along its winding roadways, even when buildings and rivers above ground blocked my path. I tried to share my map of the underground city, pleading that my fellow citizens may understand the truth.

Many years went by, and many varied versions of the map of the underground city passed through my hands. There were some improvements in the revisions, with the streets of the underground city laying straighter and clearer upon the parchment. But in the editing, a strange idea grew in my mind, until one day I acted upon it and laid aside my second map.

For how could such a city exist? What evidence did I have? Why the secrecy from its ruler? No new map would answer these questions, no matter how carefully crafted or free of conflict.

Now I study the first map I was given. I seek to navigate its city and know its citizens. Yet occasionally I still hold my ear to the ground, just in case.

(Bethany Sollereder) #9

Good to hear from you! I want to hear about how your research has continued! And thank you for these thought provoking questions! For your first question, I think the idea of various sorts of maps helps understand how reality got to where it is by allowing us to think of two different explanations of the same reality as both true, and as deeply enmeshed while still accounting for their differences. I can say of this world that “God created it” and “life evolved through a natural process” and both are true. More than that, both these statements are reductive explanations of realities that no human fully comprehends. We use short hand and make symbols of mysteries and partially understood truths because we cannot recreate the whole of the real reality which is as wide as the universe and progresses through time second by second.
Can we use this “maps model” to reflect on where reality is going? Of course… we can say that different maps draw different pictures of what comes beyond the edge of exploration! (“Here there be dragons!” or “Here there is nothing”) How you decide to put those together, or which might be true, I leave to the reader to comment on!

(Bethany Sollereder) #10

Your last line made me laugh aloud. That is precisely what every good explorer ought to do!
I think what you have done is all you can do: seek with integrity, listen hard, look hard, and go forward with all your heart.
I would challenge that there were always just two maps though: there are many scientific maps that conflict and have jagged edges with ill-defined boundaries and many different atheist maps as well (Dawkins and Nietzsche can hardly be compared!). Although, if you meant by your map of the city around you, the one you drew out of all the various maps, I can understand the unity of that.

This is fun! Thanks for taking the idea and running with it!

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #11


People generally want to make things better. Science seeks to our lives more comfortable and safer, but many people are not satisfied with just that. They look around and see that people are not acting right. There is crime, conflict, poverty, illness, hatred, war, ignorance, etc. that need to be changed. We need to live together in harmony as much as possible and enjoy the love of others near and far. This is what Christianity is all about.

Yes there is a city, but it is not hidden underground. The King is not secretive, but is also very well known, indeed the best know person in the world, Jesus Christ. The map Jesus has given us is very clear and simple, Love others as He has loved you. If you have not tried it, I recommend it.

(Marvin Adams) #12

theology does not equal Christianity.
To map out the interdependencies between science and theology I find that you can justify doing science based on theology but not the other way round as in theology I postulate my faith into the acceptance of an ultimate causality based on my own authority, thus to trust in God and the concept that this ultimate causality put the resulting universe under the constraints of laws. This assumption underlying the scientific method can only be justified in the faith in the truth of theology. If I were to believe the universe to be a process based on random events in a reality void I could not justify my expectation of all observed events to follow any laws unless I postulate something creating those.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #13

Thank you for your response. You make a good point.

Many non-believing scientists take the view that the universe is based on natural laws, but do not give a rational explanation for this understanding.

In my view this is a philosophical question. The problem is not, Does God exist?, but, Can we have a universe governed by rational natural laws without a rational Creator of the universe? I would say No, but that needs to be discussed. To answer this question with a No does not definitely “prove” the existence of God, only that a rational universe requires a rational God.

I think the New Atheists understand this, which is the reason that they say that the universe is not rational, thus God as rational Being does not exist.

Is the universe rational because God is rational, or can we say God is rational because the universe is rational? Is Christianity rational because God is rational or because the universe is rational? What does it mean to be rational?

(Daniel Mantai) #14

And thanks for your original writing! Exploring the possibilities within a good metaphor is like play, and it brings the possibility to think outside our normal frameworks. Hope to read more from you in the future.

(Robert J. Kurland, Ph.D.) #15

Mapping in mathematics means taking a point described by a certain relation into another point described by a different relation. For example, taking a point described by the linear relation y = 2x into the parabola described by y = 4x^2. The point x=1, y=2 would go to the point x=1, y=4. If we make an analog of this to describe a mapping relation between science and religion, it would mean a set of facts described one way in science would lead to another set of beliefs in religion. For example, the excited level of Carbon-12 that is situated at just a value that enables further nucleosynthesis in red giants is a fact in science; it would go to the notion that the Creator has marvelously fine-tuned our universe to enable carbon-based life.

(Jane Ellingwood) #16

Thank you, Bethany, for these responses and perspectives. Again I find your approach very helpful. As for my research, I am happy to say that I submitted my dissertation last month and am now getting ready for the viva, although I don’t yet know when it will be held. Good to be in contact with you again and I will look forward to reading more of your publications. Jane

(Marvin Adams) #17

The map analogy is an interresting one. The Bible as well as a scientific text is a description of reality, a hitch hikers guide to the galaxy. Scientific as well as theological texts try to describe reality,to convey a truth in a way comprehensible to the human mind. Whilst the use of the scientific / mathematical language is adequate to describe the material elements of reality the narrative of the bible uses poetic language as it conveys emotional information, something science cannot do. In that context you might consider the maps of science to be flat as they lack the dimension of selfless love. Watch Carl Sagan explaining the 4th dimension https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnURElCzGc0

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #18


Excellent point.

Once we have established the connection between God and the universe that they are both rational, we can ask if there are other connections.

We see that the universe has been rationally structured to provide a home or ecological niche for humanity. As the beneficiary of this event we can see the universe as Good and thus God its Creator as Good.

God reveals Godself as Rational (Logos) through the Creation. God reveals Godself as Good or Loving through the Creation of Humanity and caring for us through our world. Sadly many humans fail to appreciate this as we continue to pollute the environment God painstakingly created for us.

In this sense God reveals Godself through Science. Some people might say that this revelation of the goodness of God through Science is enough, but the Creator sent the Logos (Son) to complete the revelation in order to save and liberate our minds and spirits as well as our bodies from the power of ignorance, selfishness, and fear.

(Bethany Sollereder) #19

Hmm… I can’t say I’ve ever found the fine-tuning arguments particularly convincing. They seem either circular, or based on having the end in mind prior to asking the question. I know some people really like them, but they have never answered my questions about reality.

(Patrick ) #20

Many believing scientists as well as many believing and non-believing people take this view also.