Is theology ALWAYS reworked to fit science?

(Jay Nelsestuen) #1

And when one contradicts the other, theology is pretty much always reworked to fit the science; it’s almost never the other way around. I defy you to present me with an example of theology taking precedence over science on the BioLogos site; there aren’t many.

This is why I can’t accept BioLogos whole-cloth. My presuppositions don’t allow for it.

Reviewing Adam and the Genome
Reviewing Adam and the Genome
Reviewing Adam and the Genome
Reviewing Adam and the Genome
Reviewing Adam and the Genome
Reviewing Adam and the Genome
(Phil) #2

You have a point, and it does make you ponder. However, something you seem to be minimizing is that theology is a human construct, just as science is, and as such is subject to error. There are plenty of examples of terrible, awful theologies, some of which survived for a long time, and some of which are still around today. Jesus often challenged the theology of his day. If we confuse our theology for holy scripture, we are is danger of making it our god.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #3

Not at all. My point was that science, insofar as it is the interpretation of the data from the natural world, is almost never questioned in light of what Scripture has already been determined to say. Rather, once the interpretation of the natural world has been firmly established (with nary a question about possible presuppositions or lack thereof), a theology is built up around it, often making mincemeat of the Bible, sometimes going so far as to say that the Bible is error-ridden.

The Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church come to mind.

Jesus never challenged the theology of his day in light of science or observations of the natural world; he always challenged it with Scripture. “Have you not read…” “It is written…” etc. If you want to challenge theology with Scripture, fine. But challenging it with science seems silly.

(Jay Johnson) #4

Primarily, this is because science is a process of discovery, and human beings are finite. Scientists routinely discover facts that reveal new things about the world, things that previous generations did not know and, thus, could not take into account in formulating their interpretations of Scripture. Past interpreters were relatively free to let their imaginations run wild in interpreting Genesis 1-11. Next to nothing was known about pre-history. The only constraint was the Scripture itself. By contrast, a present-day interpreter must work within a tighter framework of factual constraints. This is a pattern repeated throughout history, and it is also why you are discussing the issue at BioLogos rather than a YEC website.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #5

Today’s interpreters seem to take plenty of liberties as well, seeing as there’s no end of interpretations of Genesis 1-11 in our modern day. It’s practically a buffet.

(GJDS) #6

Can you point to any of the Patristic writings to support such a startling statement? My reading shows that all would review the current scientific (natural philosophy) ideas of the time to understand what they had to say. Your statement is grossly in error, as it implies past thinkers and theologians were idiots and nowadays anyone, including laymen, can show how they ‘let their imaginations run wild’ by becoming overnight experts in the sciences.

The Patristic approach is also adopted today in Orthodox circles - however when it comes to evolution, many ‘let their imagination run wild’ regarding the often changing ideas of some sciences. We need to carefully examine scripture and science before we decide one or the other is wrong.

(Jay Johnson) #7

Am I allowed to quote myself to defend myself?

I’m only making the same observation that you did. From the earliest patristic commentators until now, interpreters of Scripture have taken into account “the current scientific (natural philosophy) ideas of the time” in arriving at their understanding of early Genesis. This doesn’t mean they were idiots. Far from it. The patristic era produced spiritual giants compared to us pygmies.

Sort of. I’m not going to hunt anything down, but a helpful [review on] ( of the following book gives a short summary of what I meant by “imaginations run wild”:

“one of the most important points repeatedly made by the ‘Fathers’ and by Rose was that the pre-Fall world was categorically different from the world that we live in now. The Fall and Curse had a profound effect on the whole Creation (pp. 202, 206–207, 328, 409, 413, 445, 585, 607). Neither animals nor man were carnivores before the Fall, but probably only became so after the Flood (pp. 155, 411–412). Adam’s mind was far superior to any man’s since (pp. 177, 483). The laws of nature, even the nature of matter itself, changed drastically at the Fall (pp. 328, 415). Man’s significant physical change was seen not only in his becoming mortal, but also even in the ‘voiding of fecal matter’ which Rose claims did not happen pre-Fall (pp. 448–449). Only in the new heavens and new earth (which will be like the pre-Fall Creation), argued these ancient writers, will the curse on all of Creation be removed.”

All of these things may have seemed logical deductions from Scripture and what was known of the world at the time, but they don’t really work today. Modern interpreters are more “fenced in” by our growing knowledge of the natural world.

(Phil) #8

The problem with that, is that theology is often based on the sometime soft sciences of linguistics, archeology, and history.

Indeed. And who does the determining. I suspect I agree with a lot of what you are saying, but think there are a lot of shades of grey from our position before the veil.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #9

I would probably turn around and challenge you to provide some good examples of theologians dictating science correctly. Sure, the early natural philosophers were motivated by their desire to explore God’s creation and Faraday was motivated by his particular belief about God that led him to experiment tirelessly to unite Electricity and Magnetism. However, theology certainly has not produced any impressive adjustments to science to my knowledge in the past 150 years or so. The only things I could partially think of was…

  • The universe had a beginning and wasn’t infinite (but that revolution began by Einstein rethinking gravity and not anybody reading the Scriptures)
  • Blunders like the Piltdown Man that are still used by Creationists today (however as Dr. Venema notes in Adam and the Genome- it was skeptical scientists who uncovered the fraud, as this fakery didn’t match the expected order of evolution- not anyone who was reading the Bible who supernaturally understood it was a fake)
  • Reasons to Believe has two testable creation models. One is essentially the Big Bang Model which is claimed to be first predicted in the Scriptures. However, as you would also agree there is no amazing Scientific gems hidden inside and the theory, despite being first proposed by a Jesuit Priest stemmed from his solving of Einstein’s GR Equations, not his reading of Genesis. Their other model is related to the origins of life which stems from aligning current observations + a little Hebrew magic to put the Spirit making single celled life as He hovered over the waters.

I also assume that this is your blog ( in which you outline reasons you eventually came to reject the YEC position-starting with freeing up the Genesis text and coming to terms with God accommodating their science of the day. And in light of the Calvin quote, ‘he who would learn astronomy… let him go elsewhere.’ What can we say then for modern genetics and the eloquent case Dr. Venema laid out? Why can we not say to him who wants to learn Biology and its unifying principle of common descent/Evolution ‘let him go elsewhere’ (besides the Scriptures) and that God was merely speaking to the ancient Israelites in the ‘Biology of their day.’ And Paul also was writing ‘according to the Biology of his day’ to make a point about Christ which was effective to his hearers in Rome who understood the ancient story of Adam and Eve in a certain light.

(Jay Nelsestuen) #10

Simply because, much of the time, this has nothing to do with science. We’re talking about history here. If the history outlined in the Bible directly contradicts the reconstructed history ascertained from the geologic column or genetics, then there’s obviously an issue. It’s true, I don’t think the Bible is where we ought to go to find information about scientific issues. But to call it unreliable when it comes to historical events? That seems a bit out of line.

In fact, this has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine: equating science with history. Certainly, there’s the branch of science called “historical science,” but let’s not confuse that with observational science.

An example: we can reliably predict weather without wondering about storehouses for wind and rain. Ergo, the Bible was speaking figuratively or was not intending to speak about the inner workings of the weather at all (so too with the shape of the cosmos). That’s direct, observational science. On the other hand, when it comes to evolution and the age of the earth and universe and so forth, those are less observationally-driven scientific conclusions, and more necessary frameworks to explain data from the past and present cohesively. There is a difference. Hence, natural history.

So there is a real dilemma here. If it can be concluded that the history and timeline presented in the Scriptures contradict the reconstructed history and timeline of science, then there are reasons to revisit the science and see if we can’t come up with a better model. On the other hand, there’s also good reason to reevaluate our interpretation. So far, from what I’ve seen, the latter is what usually happens. The science is accepted as golden and the Scriptures are reevaluated thereafter. The Scriptures are rarely used as a guide for piecing together natural history (though the Bible is, after all, largely made up of books of history). So too, presuppositions are rarely evaluated.

Point being, it’s more complicated than “Science says this, so the Bible can’t say that,” or even worse, “Science says this, so the Bible is wrong about that.”


Sorry but you are starting to channel Ken Ham here.

All science is observational. Can you give me an example in science that doesn’t depend on observations at some point? Every experiment has to be observed to determine it’s outcome.

(George Brooks) #12


This quote comes from the book you include in your post, right?: "Genesis, Creation and Early Man: “The Orthodox Christian Vision”.

Does the writer actually demonstrate the above described affects of The Fall in Orthodox tradition? The tone and details of the lengthy quote strike me as rather Roman Catholic, rather than Orthodox.

Please advise. Thanks!

(Jay Johnson) #13

No, it’s the review that I linked. That’s why he listed page numbers to references. The book’s author is an Orthodox priest. The Patristic period (100-450) belongs to all of Christendom, not just the Catholic or Orthodox branches.

(George Brooks) #14


Absolutely agreed.

But this raises an interesting question. The Orthodox tradition frequently (but depending on the national body involved, not always) varies from the Roman Catholic tradition regarding Original Sin and what it was supposed to mean.

For example, other than material produced by the Russian Orthodox community, most of the Orthodox material I read on the need to baptize infants avoided the usual (Roman Catholic) position that an infant was already tainted by sin.

Most of the Orthodox writings said the point of infant baptism is for other, “traditional”, reasons. The usual Orthodox narrative on Adam’s sin was not that his sin was transmitted to future generations, but that Adam was the First to Sin, as a vivid demonstration of the inevitability that all of Adam’s descendants would be unable to avoid sin as well.

So: Assuming this distinction amongst the Orthodox is, in general, an actual distinction, it means that the paragraph that I quoted from your post above either inaccurately reflects the Orthodox position in the patristic period, or that the Orthodox tradition moved away from that description after the Patristic period closed.

Follow me?

(Jay Johnson) #15

@gbrooks9 Yes, but those things in the paragraph have to do with natural conditions before and after the Fall, not with original sin or its transmission.

Edit: You should ask @GJDS these questions. He understands his own tradition far better than I do.

(George Brooks) #16


I think you missed the fireworks between me and @GJDS regarding his interpretation of Orthodox Traditions, and virtually every piece of writing I could find on the internet which disagreed with him.

The Russian Orthodox publications tended to side on the Roman Catholic side.

As for your comments about “natural conditions” . . . I haven’t examined that specifically. But it does come to mind that if many sections of the Orthodox tradition reject the Roman view of “Original Sin” - - it is quite possible that they don’t think there was a Cosmic-wide shift in metaphysical reality the moment that Adam sinned.

Like I said, I haven’t yet looked into that specific facet of the various Orthodox traditions.

(Albert Leo) #17

Jay, either you have not read many of my posts, or else your have not understood them. In stating the position of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II stated that, although scientific evidence supported the (Darwinian) theory of evolution for the development of all biological life on earth–including the biological nature of humankind–what is distinct about humankind is our Spirit, our Souls, and these are created separately and individually by God. Atheistic science cannot allow for any human exceptionalism of this kind, especially since it concludes that this exceptionalism was NOT the result of evolution as directed by chance; i.e. by natural selection. As you know, Alfred Wallace, evolution’s co-discoverer with Charles Darwin, thought humans were an exception, and strongly disapproved of the latter’s book “The Descent of Man”. Lacking today’s evidence that supports exceptionalism, Wallace turned to Spiritualism, and lost credibility with the scientific community.

Early in the 20th century a Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, saw the clear evidence for evolution before his superiors (or the Vatican) did. He saw that humankind, with its ability for abstract thought and the ability to communicate it through language, actually ushered a new Sphere into the universe–a Nous-(Mind)-Sphere which followed upon the Cosmosphere and the Biosphere. The increase in primate brain size was very rapid on an evolutionary time scale–over 3-fold in 3 million years–but still could be explained by sexually transmitted favorable mutations, selected by survival rates. The key point in the argument I am making is that about 50K yrs. ago the behavior of Homo sapiens took a Great Leap Forward. They buried their dead with valuable tools and gifts for an afterlife (dawn of religion; the Covenant of Scripture), artistic talent (sculpture, painting) worthy of the best of today, and communication skills that fostered larger cooperative societies. All this in direct contradiction to “small chance mutations causing very small changes in no particular direction”. Theologians predicted that humans arrived suddenly on the earthly scene. The GLF was no surprise to them. Science is as yet unable to suggest a mechanism. Sure, it is as if the primate Brain circuits already present were ‘programmed’ to become Mind. That’s just a hunch that may tell scientists the best places to look. I’ll wager that eventually science is going to discover the mechanism God chose to use. But until then, Theology leads the way to the Truth.
Al Leo

(Albert Leo) #18

So Rose has dated the origin of the common epithet: "No s—t!"
Al Leo

(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

Jay, have you been hanging out at sites that spew triumphalisms or creationist reactions to them? I’m starting to worry about you. Those that revel in (or recoil from) some scoreboard in these alleged competitions have already missed the boat --demonstrating that they probably have an inflated view of science and some serious issues of their own when it comes to understanding religion. Sure, there are those who want to press their religion into service (to do science’s job) explaining the mechanics of the world. And they are the ones who are sensitive then about this stuff. Imagine it this way – and we’ll move this to less polemically volatile comparisons: What if your brain (religion) got suckered into feeling inferior to your senses (science)? The brain says to itself – I know what my surrounding ought to look like and yet my eyes and ears, keep over-riding what I think I ought to see, but my eyes keep telling me otherwise! I thought the door was closed,but now my eyes tell me it’s been open. I hate that almost every time my brain and my senses have a disagreement, it’s my brain that does the adjusting and never my senses. […and meanwhile the rebellious senses have started their own web site and are even now jeering at how useless the brain is because the sensory inputs keep being right and it is always the brain having to do the adjusting.] This is silly of course – almost as silly as the actual situation being parodied.

Religion (when it’s doing its job) is providing context, direction, motivation, meaning. Science (when it’s doing its job) is helping us understand the mechanics of the physical world. We see in Scriptures that people of those times were expected to be able to directly observe/know/assume things about creation so that such knowledge could be used as a vehicle for this or that parable or spiritual lesson. Real scientists (a great many of them Christian) are quietly and earnestly practicing their scientific professions happily within the context of their faith with nary a thought that there would be competition between the two because they aren’t trying to turn faith into a science or vice versa. That gig is left to those who have already fallen into category error and have been unable as yet to get out. They are consigned to the sports stands somewhere shouting for their favorite team – Go brain! Go eyes! These people are in need of education, not more shouting company. Leave that relic sport behind and join the joyful masses who through history have always delighted in having all the members of the body working together.

Clarified edit: I should have said above: Religion (As it’s doing its job) is providing context …

because there is no escaping it --not by the atheist, nor anyone else. We all have a religion (broadly construed here as worldview) that transcends science and everything else. It is never a question of “Is somebody religious” but always: “what is their religion” (and it will always include multiple foundational elements that completely precede any scientific evidence whatsoever.)

…and other clarifying edits have been made as well.

(GJDS) #20

I see what you mean and I agree there was a great deal of speculation on all sorts of things. My comment was meant to deal more with what was considered a human being, and for example, Gregory of Nyssen discusses the mind/rational aspects of humanity, and within this discussion we find mention of composite as some may discuss at that time, the four elements, platonic notions - all of which would appear strange to us today. In some cases they extrapolated into odd areas - however my reading is they accepted a lot of this as speculation and more often were concerned with the pagan teachings that were associated with such ideas. Thinking during such periods ranged far and wide, but the theology would come back to what we understand on God and how humanity was understood with Christ.

I put it to you their concerns were for theology and human intellect and they more or less noticed natural philosophy as a matter of taste. The pre-fall world was also discussed in ways that you mention, and I interpret that more along the lines of the need for salvation and the new heavens and new earth.