This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/using-scripture-to-interpret-science
Thanks to @LorenHaarsma for tackling a difficult and complex topic in such a clear and compelling way. He is available to respond to thoughtful comments and questions.
Loren here has written a good article. In the generalities, there is probably little disagreement. But in the specifics, there almost always is disagreement, at least in the issue of Genesis 1. But this article does provide a good context for understanding how our world and life view affects our understanding of scientific data.
Nevertheless, those who years ago said that when you reinterpret scripture in substantial ways, ie. Genesis 1, then Genesis 6-8 also will be chopped, after that miracles will be chopped, Jesus resurrection will be chopped, and eventually Jesus very existence chopped. The reliability of scripture to be written in a way that we can understand it as God’s word to us is the issue. And a substantial reinterpretation will be seen by many as mere subterfuge and prevarication, based on their common sense approach to life and words. So extreme caution must be used.
The age old comparison of some misunderstandings of some metaphors or hyperboles in scripture ought not to be used as justification or even explanation of why some passages ought to be relegated to wholesale allegory… this would be an innappropriate and unjustified comparison. Just as geocentrism should not be used as a comparison to deny the validity of the theory of gravity, or to deny the Mendelian understanding of heritability.
Thanks, Dr. Haarsma, for addressing the perceived and sometimes even touted lopsidedness of this relationship.
At the risk of still seeming to justify the reverse situation, I wonder if it shouldn’t be considered normal that God’s creation (to use the two-book model) doesn’t more often help discernment in theology than vice versa. Here is what I mean. I’m thinking of our philosophy/theology as being in the “processing/command center” of operations in our lives, and science as being a peripheral instrument that feeds data to us. So an experimenter who takes a reading from a thermometer makes use of that data, we wouldn’t say that the thermometer is now dictating to the experimenter how all things should be run. Even if the experimenter accepts the reading as a “brute fact” and acts accordingly, we don’t fret about asymmetry in that relationship and wonder when it will be the experimenter’s turn to dictate to the thermometer what it should be revealing. There is no real authority contest in this situation. All authority is retained by the experimenter, save the authority to dictate to reality (God’s creation, after all!) what it needs to be. The experimenter does not have that much authority!
But in this sense, I see worldview/philosophy/(“theology” for all of us who are not frightened by that word) as truly still being “the queen of all sciences”, with science as a valuable (but not only) servant that we can utilize as necessary.
Science can tell us how things work and how to do things, but it is silent on which of the things we can do we should not do. If science decided the world would be better off without humans around to mess things up, religion would prevent mass executions from being carried out. The first reaction to Darwin’s theory was that if humans were merely another species of ape, we might as well behave lawlessly and godlessly. Religion instinctively opposed this view, and further reflection led people to realize that love, empathy and religion are indispensable parts of being human.
Science and reason is required to keep humanity from destroying itself. I see religion either lagging behind or obstructing this. And it is getting more and more apparent every day. The moral fabric of the US is now not in the hands of the religious but more in more in the hands of the non-religious millennials.
Why? Why is it necessary to keep humanity from destroying itself?
It is not necessary. It is our only hope.
Thanks, Merv. I agree. I’ve got another blog coming out soon about this topic. I’ll mention your thermometer analogy to some theologian friends of mine; I think they’ll like it.
Thanks, Larry. I tend to think about the relationship between science and morality as you do. Some examples I’ve used in the past: Our moral philosophy (whether that comes from our religion, our philosophical worldview, or wherever) tells us that when someone is sick, we should take care of them and try to heal them, and when someone willfully harms another person, we should hold them accountable and punish them. Advances in science don’t change those moral principles, but advances in science might give us new information and tell us that some people who we used to classify as willfully-harming-another-person are more accurately classified as sick-in-need-of-medical-help. Our moral philosophy tells us that it’s good to grow abundant, inexpensive food for the good of everyone, and it’s wrong to harm things which don’t belong to us and have value to many people. Advances in science don’t change the moral principles, but advances in science might give us new information that some of our farming practices are harming our shared environment in ways we hadn’t considered.
Patrick, you’re right that any religion would ignore science and reason to its peril. There are many historical and present-day examples of Christianity embracing the results of science and reason. Unfortunately, there are some historical and present-day examples of parts of the Christian church ignoring or resisting some results of science and reason. Of course, the same could be said historically for various atheistic philosophical systems. The horrors committed in Stalin’s Russia, or during the Cultural Revolution in China, or by the Khmer Rouge, show the worst historical examples of non-religious moral/philosophical systems. There are also better examples, fortunately. I think of it this way: Science and reason are not moral/philosophical systems in themselves. Moral/philosophical systems come from elsewhere. Science and reason are powerful tools which, at their best, can have a significant positive effects on religions, philosophical worldviews, and moral systems.
Thanks for appreciating or maybe passing along my analogy. And of course it is an oversimplification to think of all science as if it were a mere instrument for recording raw data. So your emphases on the ways in which our scientific ways of thinking have been influenced or even built up by theology are still indispensable subjects for us all.
But I do think there is something to the notion of our ways of thought being responsive to reality (God’s works) just as we hope they also are to God’s revealed word. It is a humility of letting our understandings be subject to correction. To the extent that science may help us apprehend reality, it may be a valuable tool in that process. When done in a wholesome manner (and not in the hands of of those who try to turn science into an anti-religious bludgeon) it should seem fairly normal and healthy, I think, for theology to enlist science as a valuable input, in a manner which need not always be reciprocal.
I enjoyed your article, everything you said made sense to me except the title. Don’t you think it is backwards? Shouldn’t it have been - Using Science to Interpret Scripture? It is science that is advancing rapidly in all directions in all fields of scientific endeavors. It is science that will uncover new truths about the world, our minds, and the universe. Isn’t the whole purpose of Biologos to harmonize the latest scientific discoveries/insights with previous interpretations (misinterpretations) of Scripture?
Patrick, thanks for your response to my article.
I believe that I have two more blogs coming out fairly soon which address your question – using science to interpret scripture, and how that can be a good thing if done well. But I wanted to start by discussing how it’s not a one-way relationship, with all the “corrections” going in one direction.
Thanks, looking forward to reading them. I certainly agree that the corrections can go both ways - science correcting misinterpretation (or impossible interpretations) or substantiating prior interpretations of Scripture. But I can’t see how scripture can be used to correct (or change) interpretations of scientific results. Isn’t that a property of science as being provisional until new results come along? - Self correcting?
Can you give me an example where Scripture helped to reinterpret/correct scientific results where science didn’t do it itself? i.e. Steady state universe to big bang.
@LorenHaarsma I can only justify doing science based on my faith that reality depends on ultimate causality, e.g that everything inside reality has a reason, and that this reason is restricting subsequent events by the logos thus allowing me to comprehend the consequences of the reason onto subsequent events as they follow the laws embedded in this ultimate reason. To use scripture for the interpretation of science is more of a problem as scripture is a poetic description of reality as to convey emotional information about it whilst science is using mathematical language to describe the material aspects of reality. As John Lennox said so nicely - I don’t use the book of numbers to teach mathematics.
If you however use the bible as a guide to understand the overall logos behind the workings of the universe you will be surprised to find how you can explain evolution of the new out of the ultimate law of God, to love thy neighbour like thyself. It is essential to understand the third person language of that law as it does not work in first person terms as in third person it becomes an integrative function towards higher complexity. It applies to biological systems as well as geological ones as to the law of persistent existence demanding that the net benefit of your existence to the entire system has to be greater than the benefit to the individual self or you get extinct - evolution in a nutshell. Jesus does not work under the golden rule as this is using your own self as the point of reference. It would make it impossible to give your own life for the sake of those you love unless you see your “self” outside your personal self.
I sometimes feel like someone looking through a window into another building - by this I mean a discussion that deals with using anything to interpret science is odd to me - science should be done on the basis that we seek to establish some factually confirmed aspect of the natural world. The link to scripture is surely obtained by the admonition to be honest and truthful, and these are aspects of a person’s character. Apart from this, we fall back on slogans such as the Bible is not a science text book and should not be treated as such.
I can understand an overall point of view, which for a Christian means God is the creator of all, and the Logos, as the Word of God, spoke and the creation became. This gives us a point of reference that distinguishes Christians from atheists.
Ok, what is the reason for eye cancer in children?
the reason for cancer tends to be the same in children as in adults,e.g. the malfunction of a cell turning selfish, e.g. refusing to restrict the growth of its individual self for the benefit of the system it belongs to. It is the basis of evolution that systems who’s elements turn selfish tend to collapse.
yes, the underlying reason is an accumulation of random genetic mutations and environmental conditions. So more randomness (unluckness) than causality?
We carry a constant burden of cancer cells with us that tend to normally die away quietly, only sometimes they fail to die of. Considering that the physical death of humans is a fairly randomised process I see no difference with that on the cellular level and it looks like it is a fair principle. What I find problematic is if people expect the bad guys to die more than the good guys as it reveals a certain level of naivity in their thinking. Its a bit like cancer to be a more cruel death to a child as compared to a grown up. Was there any reason you asked about eye cancer in children? Would you think it to be more cruel than pancreatic cancer or a brain tumour?