Myths, Models and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science and Religion

by Ian Barbour

Ian G. Barbour is Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Carleton College, Northefiled, Minnesota. He is the author of Myths, Models and Paradigms (a National Book Award), Issues in Science and Religion, and Science and Secularity, all published by HarperSanFrancisco.

Published by Harper & Row, New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London, 1976. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) The author, a noted scientist, is concerned with the basic conceptual and methodological problems of religious language, and the influence of science upon these problems. Recent work in the philosophy of science has important implications for the philosophy of religion and for theology.


  • Chapter 1: Introduction Three themes -- the diverse functions of language, the role of models and the role of paradigms -- combine to support the position of critical realism which the author defends in both science and religion.
  • Chapter 2: Symbol and Myth Religious models are in relation to other forms of religious language -- particularly symbols, images, myths, metaphors, parables and analogies.. The author discusses these religious forms, some of which have no parallel in science.
  • Chapter 3: Models in Science Models have a variety of uses in science: They serve diverse functions, some practical and some theoretical. They are taken seriously but not literally. They are not pictures of reality or useful functions. They are partial and inadequate ways of imagining what is not.
  • Chapter 4: Models in Religion The character of religious models is in several respects similar to that of scientific models. There are also differences.
  • Chapter 5: Complementary Models Possible parallels exist between the role of models in twentieth century physics and religious thought. Can one continue to employ two very different models within either science or religion? Can an electron be thought of as both a wave and a particle? Can one use both personal and impersonal models of Ultimate Reality? An extended discussion includes Paul Tillich’s use of personal and impersonal symbols.
  • Chapter 6: Paradigms in Science All data are theory-laden. Comprehensive theories are highly resistant to falsification, and there are no rules for choice between research programmes. Three assertions are essential for objectivity in science: 1. Rival theories are incommensurable; 2. Observation exerts some control over theories; 3. There are criteria of assessment independent of particular research programmes.
  • Chapter 7: Paradigms in Religion A discussion of the influence of theory on observation, the debate over the falsifiability of religious beliefs compared with falsifiability in science, the role of commitment to religious paradigms, the problem of transcendence and the status of metaphysics, and the criteria of assessment and their limitations.
  • Chapter 8: The Christian Paradigm The author discusses several models of God, particularly two which have recently been developed under the influence of philosophical thought -- the agent model and the process model.
  • Chapter 9: Conclusions The author suggests implications of critical realism for the academic study of religion and for the encounter of world religions, as well as for personal religious faith.