In Science and Scriptural Interpretation, Communities Matter

Nobody looks at the world without a lens. This insight disarms both sides of faith/science conflicts.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The post references Lesslie Newbigin and his book Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. I’d just like to second that recommendation. I read Proper Confidence (a sort of “Polanyi Lite,” a popular-level presentation of Polanyi’s philosophy) toward the end of a years-long period of scientism-laced doubt and wandering. I really wish I’d read it at the outset instead! YMMV, of course, but fwiw I heartily recommend the book — one of those books I keep on hand to lend out.

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I’ve used that Newbigin book with students, and have also found it helpful. Glad to hear that Newbigin still has an audience.

I totally agree about Newbigin’s book Proper Confidence. His other book that I mention, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, is a little harder read, but worth it! It brings all his thinking on missiology together in a mature and rigorous way.


In reading Tim Reddish article “In Science and Scriptural Interpretation, Communities Matter” I was challenged to consider things like my presuppositions and biases as well as my place in history, culture and socio-economic standing. All these elements absolutely play a part in how I come to interpret the Bible or a Scientific paper. I get that, no argument there.
What I find fascinating is how one’s presuppositional paradigm can be fundamentally challenged when one is confronted with the mysteries of either science or the bible.
An example of just such a mystery that stands out to me is an encounter that is recorded in the Gospel of Mark Chapter 9:14-29. In this incident a father approaches Jesus to solve a problem that Jesus Disciples could not solve namely healing his son who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech and that torments him with other physical symptoms. What I find fascinating is that this father is a person with presuppositions of his own who is willing to subject his son to the treatment of this itinerant healer.
What prompted this father to take such a seemingly desperate or irrational action and abandon his presuppositions? Has he heard of others who had been healed by Jesus? Had he seen or examined anyone who had been so healed? We do not know the backstory. What we do know is that this is a man of faith as he describes his own unbelief to Jesus. The man had first approached Jesus disciples but they failed to bring about a change in the condition of the boy to which Jesus exclaims " in Mark 9:19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
Here we discover that a lack of belief by the father and by Jesus own disciples was a barrier to healing. Here is where we get at the mystery that in this case is “faith”. As Tim Reddish correctly asserts in paragraph six of his article “If we step back for a moment and reflect on our experience of knowing, we can recognize this important—and often overlooked—principle: faith precedes knowledge. We need faith in our presuppositions, or our knowledge foundations, before (and after) we build upon them—whether this is in the context of biblical interpretation or, indeed, of science.” Tim Reddish.
The father of this ill boy as far as we can tell had no personal knowledge that Jesus had ever healed anyone. Yet he was willing to believe but had a measure of doubt which was substantiated by the failure of Jesus disciples to bring about a healing for his son. Despite his presuppositions the father continues to press Jesus for a solution. This unnamed father acknowledges his personal lack of faith but requests that Jesus increase his belief in Mark 9:24 "Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus heals the boy and returns him to the father then the disciples inquire as to why they were unable to accomplish the healing. Jesus reply is telling in Mark 9:29 "He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Tim Reddish helped me to realize that just like a scientist the Christian is equipped with “tools” that enable one to know by faith that mysteries and miracles can occur. “Scientists not only use their senses and judgement but also use tools that are purpose-built for the study at hand.” In this case Jesus identifies the tool as “prayer”. It may be that scientists and Christians need to use the right tool to come to a fuller understanding of one another as we dismiss our presuppositions for knowing.

Well, I can’t vouch for “still”! But he certainly had an audience 8-9 years ago or so when I read him. :slight_smile:

I certainly hope he still has an audience in coming generations. As modernism continues to lose traction and “postmodernism” becomes dominant, I think voices like his will grow increasingly relevant – and voices like CS Lewis, who did not really anticipate that development, will become less so.

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Hi Mark

An interesting and thoughtful response! The gospel writer’s honesty in speaking of the father’s “unbelief” or doubt helps me (us) identify with the father and his situation, and Mark’s blunt put-down of the disciples is telling (and repeated elsewhere his gospel, e.g., Peter’s denials). One’s presuppositions concerning miracles, prayer, and faith certainly shape the way we read Mark 9:14-29. I would suggest that Mark’s account of Jesus’ reply (“This kind can come out only by prayer”) is not a clear-cut “answer,” as it raises many related experiential questions concerning God’s providence for us today.

Jim and Tim,


This is a good, but it does not go far enough.

Polanyi’s fundamental assertion is that all knowledge—whether it relates to the natural sciences, religion or philosophy—is personal in nature. Polanyi’s post-critical approach to the nature of knowledge argues that knowledge must involve personal commitment. Although knowledge involves concepts or ideas, it also involves something more profound—a personal involvement with that which is known. . . . [7]

If it is true that all knowledge is personal, that means that all knowledge is relational. This is proven by Einstein’s theory E = mc squared. The best summary of that concept is "Facts are relative [relational,] but laws are absolute [objective.] back cover sleeve, (Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe, by Nathan Spielberg and Bryon Anderson, 1987).

This goes against Western dualism which is the basis of western theology and monistic materialism which is the basis materialistic philosophy. Again if personalist philosophy is true, reality must be relational and since this agrees with Einsteinian science this is confirmed. Facts are relational, but laws are objective, because they are relational.

I am not quite sure what you are saying. . . and I am confused as to where E=mc^2 comes in. Moreover, does not the discovery of superconductivity deny the “absoluteness” of Ohm’s Law? I think I am missing your point . . .


Under the Newtonian cosmology time and space are absolute, which means that facts are absolute or not relational.

Einstein demonstrated the time and space are relational or relative. That is why we have curved space. It also demonstrates that mass and energy are related. Energy equals mass times the speed of light(time times space) squared. Thus his equation which has been scientifically verified relates mass, energy, time, and space. All are relational and none is absolute or unchanging except the speed of light in space and the equation itself.

In terms of superconductivity we are talking about temperatures near Absolute Zero degrees or when matter almost still without any energy, which is the basis for electrical resistance. Thus super conductivity demonstrates the relationship between temperature and conductivity and how electricity behave in extreme conditions does not deny the basic truth of Ohm’s Law, while showing how all things are relational.

Because matter and energy, time and space are relational as per Einstein, we can know them through science as persons per Polanyi, The universe is relational because it is created by a relational God, YHWH. We can know God and God because God is relational, the Trinity.

OK, thanks for that clarification. Clearly you like to emphasize “relationality”! I get your point now.


If we take Polanyi seriously, we need to emphasize relationality.

In terms of Evolution Dawkins came up with understanding of Natural Selection which he calls the Selfish Gene, which emphasizes the negative aspect of relationality. The only way he and Darwin can explain the absence of God is to say that life develops based on the survival of the fittest, the constant struggle for survival, which has not been scientifically verified. On the other hand symbiosis or mutuality has been clearly and widely verified in nature despite resistance by neoDarwinian science.,

Ecological natural selection demonstrates that Polanyi was clearly right. All knowledge is personal, because nature is relational.

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