Science and Scripture

16 08 2007

In the wild fire that is the Creationism vs. Evolution debate I find that so much is assumed, and so much is missed–often at the expense of Scripture, of science, and faith.

The way the issue is polarized on both sides just seems to make everyone talk past one another, and thus anyone who doesn’t exist on the polar ends of the “debate” seem to be left out or misunderstood altogether.

I’m neither a scientist nor a biblical scholar, but I am a thinking Christian layperson with an interest in being honest and having a view of the world and of faith that neither requires me to abandon my Christianity nor my plain reason.

First of all I see those who insist either:

A) We must conform our natural science to the words of Scripture, anything observed in the natural world must be bound to what we read in the Bible. Or

B) We, having observed what we have observed scientifically, must abandon the superstitions of ancient religious writings penned by ignorant ancients.

Neither of these work for me, both make assumptions that I hardly think are justified. In the first case I see neither honesty in regards to Scripture nor honesty in regards to science, rather both are cast away entirely in favor of a preconceived idea; in the second I see a similar dishonesty in assuming that the ancient authors of Scripture were somehow more interested in being scientific according to western, post-Baconian standards than in their faith and God about whom they write about.

What I mean is that the Scriptures are not scientific, they were never intended to be scientific, and to treat them as though they were–whether positively or negatively–is an injustice to them. And science is science and there is nothing to fear about the natural mechanics of the universe–and if Scripture makes no dogmatic claims about science then allow science to be science, and Scripture to be Scripture.

To this end I also see a third, equally, dishonest route which ones seeks to take, that is to try and reconcile Scripture and science such as to make the two same the same thing–once again this does no justice to Scripture. Thus those who take what they know of science and attempt to read it back into the Creation Narrative of Genesis chapter one are doing nothing good, they are desperately trying to make Scripture credible in such a way that it must be credible in a totally modern way–an act of futile eisegesis.

Here my crypto-Lutheranism is seeping through, because the paradox of accepting what Genesis 1 says and of evolution doesn’t escape me, but neither does it bother me. I simply see no reason to choose one over the other, I see no reason to try an force Scripture to be scientific or science to be scriptural. The paradox is fine, and I can live with it, and no injury is done to my faith nor to my reason.

Luther warned against trying to rationalize Scripture, he argued that if two passages of Scripture say different things one must accept both as true, even if that leaves one believing in a paradox (indeed Lutheranism–and Christianity at large–embraces many paradoxes of faith). Luther also warned against trying to rationalize Scripture so as to force an interpretation that artificially made one passage or another trump the other or say something it wasn’t really saying.

I want to apply that same principle here. Allow Scripture to be Scripture, allow Scripture to say what it has to say, accept what it says in good faith, but not at the expense of having to reject plain reason in regard science and the natural world nor allowing ourselves to change what Scripture says in order to conform to what science informs us of the world.

Thus the Scriptures say that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and that He purposefully and organizationally fashioned all things through His Divine Command, calling into existence all things, and that He created humankind in His own image, and breathing into man’s nostrils making him a living being–and that there was a fall from paradise, a fall from grace, and so on and so forth–and this is all true; it is likewise true what science informs us about the world around us, that through time life has evolved, over the course of millions of years, and we have the fossil record to prove it.

Why I must choose one over the other makes no sense to me, why must I be dishonest to either my faith or my plain reason? And to force either into something they are not, well that would be the most dishonest of all.

I understand how absurd this position must seem to many, and I’m aware of its seeming absurdity, but I’m convinced it’s the least absurd out of all the alternatives, and it’s the most honest.

Let Scripture be Scripture.
Let science be science.

And may God be found true, and every man a liar.

-Jon

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2 responses

16 08 2007
Steve Martin

Hi Jon,
I understand your point about living with the paradoxes. And I agree 100% that the bible was never meant to be a science book. However, I’m not sure that scripture & science need to be completely divorced either. George Murphy, a Lutheran pastor, has an excellent article on “Reading God’s Two Books” at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2006/PSCF3-06Murphy.pdf. I’d be interested in your comments. (Ok, I know I shouldn’t asking a fellow blogger out of the blue to read something like this but a) you are a Lutheran and b) I think George is one of the most astute science /faith interaction writers around (He was a physicist prior to becoming a pastor).

17 08 2007
Xristocharis

My intent was more-or-less to emphasize that we do injury to Scripture by attempting to force, say, the words of Genesis 1 to conform to a particular scientific view.

Example: Reading the six days of Creation as six “epochs” throughout which the universe is described as evolving. The problem with such a view is that the authors of Genesis didn’t have in mind to teach us about the theory of evolution nor its mechanism as observed in nature, thus I feel that causes injury to what the text is telling us.

Likewise when the ardent Six-Day Creationist is so wrapped up and bound to a literal six-day creation and force this into a scientific frame and thus deny anything observed in natural creation it has no benefit for anything or anyone.

So my attempt wasn’t so much to say that the “Two Books” must be divorced from each other, so much as to say that they must be read properly–Scripture as Scripture, the written witness and record of God’s Self-Disclosure culminating in the Incarnation of the Logos, Scripture tells us about God and His ways, it bears witness to our faith in the One who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth; and science as science.

In fact I thoroughly enjoyed the article you gave me by George Murphy, and I agree with what he has to say on the subject.

For the record, I try to be careful not to call myself a Lutheran in any proper sense, since I do not, nor have I ever, belonged to a Lutheran church. Though in most respects theological I am probably as close as I can to being Lutheran without having ever signed my name on the dotted line.

Which is why I probably prefer to identify myself as Evangelical, rather than Lutheran, with the understanding that “Evangelical” refers to the Evangelical teachings of the 16th century, rather than 20th century Evangelicalism.

Anyway, I talk too much, thank you for your input 🙂

-Jon

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