Ian Barbour and my sci-fi students

I’m in the middle of grading midterm exams for my 100-level “Religion and Science Fiction” course. The course uses science fiction as a lens onto different ways that people in modern societies understand the relationship between religion and science. Before we actually start looking at works of science fiction, I work students through a unit intended to give them a theoretical vocabulary for talking about science and religion. As part of that unit, we discuss philosopher of religion Ian Barbour’s classic fourfold typology for religion-science relations: conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. I have students write short reflections articulating their own understanding of the relationship; then they have to classify their reflections using Barbour’s typology.

For one segment of the midterm exam, I presented students with (anonymous) quotations I had collected from a few of their reflections and asked them to tell me which of Barbour’s four models each quotation represented. The students whose exams I’ve graded so far have done well on this activity. I was pleased that all four of Barbour’s categories were represented among my students’ reflections: that fact helped drive home to the students how diverse people’s thinking about this question is–although if I’m recalling correctly, conflict and independence were the two most represented categories in this class by far.

If you’re familiar with the Barbour typology, can you match the students’ quotations to the correct category? Here are the quotations and instructions as they appeared on the exam. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for the answers.

On the next page you will find five quotations. Each comes from an Engagement reflection written by a student in this class. In the blank provided, write down which of the four models from Barbour’s typology the quotation exemplifies: conflict, independence, dialogue, or integration.

Note: There is at least one quotation to represent each of the four models. You will need to use one of the models more than once. If you would like to jot down a brief note to justify your answer, you may do so; but that is not required.  

I believe that religion and the scriptures from most religions are used for teaching moral lessons. While on the other hand, science is used to explain the physical world around us, and how and why it works in the ways that it does. . . . I do not see why these two very different entities need to have some type of connection or relationship.

5. ______________________________

As a science major I am always surrounded by and studying everything that my religion contradicts. . . . I am a strong believer that you either believe in creationism or evolution. I don’t believe you can have full commitment to both.

6. ______________________________

I myself am a very religious person and I still believe that God did create everything. I think that God created evolution. There is a way that evolution could be real and there is a reason for how everything turned out to be. God made everything in a certain way, from him creating the big bang to him creating evolution.

7. ______________________________

Many scientists believe that what occurs in our world can only come from science and that religion is somewhat of a superstition. Vice versa, religious people believe that science is very materialistic and that it refutes reality outside of the physical world. . . . [But] I do not think that heaven and hell and angels are superstitious [nor do I] think that every scientific teaching is correct, such as Darwinism. . . . This is where certain aspects of each must be carefully considered, and both sides must realize that not everything both believe can be correct.

8. ______________________________

I believe strictly in the Bible, and do not theorize or interpret anything that conflicts with what is explicitly stated in the Bible. For example, I disagree with theories involving a big bang or a god that uses a big bang to create a universe. I also disagree with the idea of evolution or a god that uses evolution to create humans.

9. ______________________________

5. independence   6. conflict   7. integration   8. dialogue   9. conflict

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