Scripture and Science: An Accord (part 1)

Surveying the Options

Science has completely changed the world. As modern people it is hard to imagine things without the influence of science. Ever since I was a child I have loved science and as an adult I have been professionally trained in it. Even though I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember my passion for scripture came relatively late while I was I an adolescent. Being both things I enjoy and have profoundly shaped my world, I find very interesting the conversation that occurs when they cross paths.

There are different approaches to the relationship between science and scripture or Christian theology in general but they fall into three broad categories. There is the conflict thesis, which is simply so wrong I won’t bother discussing. There is also the non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) model developed by the late famous paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. He argues that while they are not antithetical, science and religion talk about such radically different things they have nothing to do with each other and should be treated as such. Science and religion in that view are non-overlapping domains of authority. There is some truth to that and there are a very small minority of Christians who are sympathetic to that view. The other major view of the relationship which is popular among Christians is scientific concordism. As the name suggests, it tries to harmonize science and scripture by finding concord, that is agreement between them.

My personal view is more complicated than the popular options I just mentioned. I think they are all inadequate or simply miss the point. I do not subscribe to NOMA because science is a human cultural enterprise and the interpretation of scripture is always influenced by culture. Science has emerged as a dominant force in modern cultures so it definitely influences how we read scripture. Moreover, to this very day, science and scripture have always mutually influenced one another in diverse ways. Nevertheless I am not a concordist or at least I try hard not to be. Scripture is a product of pre-scientific cultures and therefore is not a reliable source of scientific knowledge. (When I say “pre-scientific” I am not suggesting that what I’m describing is simplistic, unsophisticated on unintelligent. I mean just that: anything before the advent of the modern scientific revolution.) Some would want to argue that because scripture is divinely inspired, it contains gems of scientific knowledge simply waiting for us enlightened moderns to unearth or possibly to make the ancient audience of scripture more scientifically advanced than surrounding cultures. I can confidently say the so-called examples of prescient science in scripture have been thoroughly refuted so I won’t bother to engage them.

The purpose of holy scripture is certainly not to teach science and as an ancient pre-scientific text it is unsurprising that it shows no interest in doing so. However, the stunning success and power of science as well as people who attempt to use it as a tool to destroy the Faith, makes it attractive for believers to see science in scripture for apologetic purposes. So the temptation to scientific concordism is very strong, even among sincere believers who in principle reject it. For example, when it comes to human evolution some people in trying to reconcile the genetic evidence and Genesis posit that perhaps that the text is referring to hominid species of which anatomically modern humans are a member. An example of this subtle concordism is from N.T. Wright who suggests maybe God created a group of hominids and called two Homo sapiens, the biblical Adam and Eve, to represent all humanity. Even though it is a just a guess and I’m a huge fan boy of Wright, he is importing a foreign category in to the text and it is not an exegetically sound interpretation.

What then are we to do if we cannot take a concordist approach and yet science raises important questions about how we read scripture and our place in the world? There has been a lot of good stuff written on this providing a way forward. The BioLogos Foundation I have found immensely helpful in providing resources because it has its finger on the pulse of the conversation. Also the blog Musings on Science and Theology I have also found very informative. While the resources above share a number of positions, some of which have shaped me, I wish to present my own views as someone very interested in how science and scripture relate to one another.

Part II⇒

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