Saturday, June 6, 2009

Believe the Bible or Science?

One of the more frustrating conversations to have is when you try and suggest that the scientific theory of evolution does not really contradict the creation accounts of Genesis. It doesn't matter if you are talking to a young earth creationist fundy or a frothing at the mouth anti-theist, they both think that you are trying to wriggle out of the 'plain meaning' of scripture. The argument really runs either:
  1. people have always read creation accounts as literal scientific historical accounts and you are just trying to change that because of the proof for evolution
  2. if you are not going to take the creation accounts literally then you cannot take the gospels literally either

Both are simply based on false assumptions about the nature of the texts concerned and the history of their interpretation.

The most obvious reason for thinking that even the original prescientific authors and readers of the creation accounts did not take them in the same way that we do a scientific historical account (apart from the fact that science and history as we understand them were not relevant concepts to these people) is that they provide two totally different accounts right next to each other. In Genesis 1, the world is made in seven days in a particular order, in Gen 2 it is made in one day (or age) in a totally different order. There are many more interesting differences between each account, but I think the point is made.

Then there is the history of interpretation. In fact the literal scientific (read literalistic) reading of Genesis is a relatively modern idea. Christianity Today recently ran a very useful article describing Augustine's interpretation of the creation accounts. Augustine's issue was not evolution, but the doctrine of creation from nothing (which was in those days considered scientifically absurd, but these days sounds remarkably similar to some understandings of the big bang). But he shows that even long before Darwin the creation accounts in scripture were not being understood in a literal scientific historical manner. It is actually young earth creationism which is the novelty.

The creation accounts are sources of theological truth, and careful reading of them shows what their theological concerns are. While they express theology, they make no attempt to answer the questions of science. The complaint that this then disallows a historical reading of the gospels stems in turn from a misunderstanding of the literary nature of the Bible. That is, the Bible, although usually packaged as such, is not one book. It is a collection of ancient books each of which need to be approached slightly differently depending on the type of book it is. If you try and interpret a letter to a dysfunctional church (e.g. 1 Corinthians) in the same way you do an erotic poem (e.g. Song of Solomon) you will become unstuck pretty fast, for reasons which i hope are obvious. The gospels, while not historical accounts as we would understand a modern historical account to be, are intended to be eyewitness accounts of actual historical events. While this by no means proves their accuracy or reliability (that is for another day), it does demand that they be interpreted differently to the stories of creation, and means that someone (like me) committed to the truth of the Bible, is not being inconsistent when they accept evolution (as science not as worldview) but also believe in the literal historical resurrection.

Science, properly understood is not in opposition to faith. Science is merely the observation of the world around us. Science can prove things, in the sense that it on the basis of all the observations we can make (taxonomy, DNA, etc) evolution appears to be the process by which the world has arrived at this wonderful array of diverse forms of life. But Science cannot disprove or prove the resurrection which is by its very nature outside the realm of the observable and repeatable. Neither can science answer the questions of purpose and ethics, although it can inform them. So I don't believe science, but I do accept the observations of scientists. The problems arise when some scientists try and argue the implications of their observations in regard to things outside of their domain of expertise. Science is neither an argument for or against God. Rather it is an exploration of the world that God has given us. The fact that it only gets more interesting and complicated with each new discovery should not surprise or dismay us, it is just further evidence of the greatness of the Creator.

2 comments:

  1. It always amuses me when YECs get offended that an atheist will not accept their testimony, and yet they will not believe the evolutionary observations of biologists who daily submit papers to reputable peer-reviewed journals.

    Once I accepted that God was the God of evolution, my understanding of Him became so much wider and so much more mysterious. He no longer fitted into my nice, dogmatic, WASP box.

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  2. Please find a completely different Understanding of God, religion and science via these references.

    http://www.adidam.org/teaching/aletheon/truth-religion.aspx

    http://www.adidam.org/teaching/aletheon/truth-science.aspx

    http://www.dabase.org/noface.htm

    http://www.dabase.org/christmc2.htm

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