The Language of God 1

(Say the Jesus Creed morning and evening during Lent.)
This series is from RJS and she is an expert in this topic and way beyond what I could do. I’m honored to have her leading this discussion.
Almost two years ago now Francis S. Collins, Head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), published a book entitled The Language of God. This book describes how Dr. Collins, an outspoken evangelical Christian reconciles his faith with his science. With this post we begin a blog series on this book. Of course there are many good books available dealing with the relationship of science and faith – so why, you may ask, is this book so important? And why is it worth a blog series?

First – this book is by an absolutely top rate scientist. Dr. Collins has made several seminal advances and as a consequence has been elected to both the National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine. Non-scientists may not realize the significance, but to use a baseball analogy Dr. Collins is a real Hall-of-Famer in this business. His research group (science is a team endeavor, usually involving a professor, post-doctoral scholars, graduate, and undergraduate students) at the University of Michigan identified the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis and a gene responsible for an inherited susceptibility to breast cancer. Second – Dr. Collins is a devout evangelical Christian with a high view of Scripture and a firm conviction of the reality of God and his atoning work through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost.
This book has three sections. The first is autobiographical. Dr. Collins tells the story of his journey to faith from a childhood raised by parents best classified as highly educated unconventional free-thinkers; how he found God (or God found him) and how he reconciles the various attacks on faith with his belief.
The second section of the book deals with the scientific evidence for the origin of the Universe, the age of the earth, and most significantly the evolution of life. Dr. Collins is at his best here when he discusses the areas of his expertise.
The third section of the book discusses the various ways that science and faith have been and can be reconciled.
Finally in an appendix Dr. Collins discusses several of the ethical dilemmas arising from modern bioscience.
Before beginning to dig into this book in the next post there are several questions to consider.
Do you think that there is a real conflict between science and faith? Why or why not?
How does the rhetoric of the 20th and now 21st century on the science/faith conflict impact the church?

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  • Scott

    There is no real conflict between “science” and “faith”. The problem has to do with scientism and its overreaching epistemic norms and,ironically, Christian faith expressions which espouse obscurantist positions vis-a-vis science are also allied in applying similar modern,”scientific” norms to the Bible.

  • To say that there is no conflict between “faith” and “science” begs the question as to what we mean by conflict. I just gave a presentation today on the Unity of Truth in education at Azusa Pacific University. It is the idea that all disciplines are inter-related, and I hope to blog about this idea in the future. What is important is mainly the idea that faith and science have to be in dialogue with one another. One does not have to lose for the other one to win.

  • Scot,
    Thanks! I am very happy to see this book being reviewed. I had heard about it, but didn’t know what to think of it…of course, I have not read it!
    I agree with Danny. To say that there is no real conflict between faith and science is to deny the perceptions of all those who say there is one. I look forward to having the conflict identified in such a way as those who have perceived such a conflict may be able to set down their axes and quit grinding them.
    I am particularly looking forward to a gracious Jesus Creeder look at the challenge of integrating science and God and to getting to experience RJS in her area of expertise. You go, sister! 8)

  • Peter

    This was one of several books used in a Sunday School class last semester at the church that I attend. The class was, “Made in the Image of God: How do we know what we know” (or something like that) and was attended by young earth creationists, intelligent design enthusiasts and some who are totally comfortable with the notion of spontaneous generation and the eventual appearance of intelligent life through the mechanics of Dawinian evolution. My own position is that Dr. Collins overstates his case when he describes the evidence for undirected evolution/differentiation of species, but I will be looking forward to seeing the thoughts of others in this blog. Thank you very much.

  • RJS,
    This sounds fascinating, and I’ll be most interested to learn what I can from it.
    This is something of my take right now:
    Isn’t science something like observation, hypothesizing, testing, more observation, etc?
    So one can do good science regardless of their faith or lack thereof.
    And I’d like to say that science needs to keep at its work with humility, knowing that there is much more to learn, which may make our understanding now an antique in years to come.
    But suffice it to say, I don’t see science and faith as being antagonistic and mutually exclusive. What becomes problematical is when either side insists that their field subverts the other, I believe. Instead we need to let each be what it is.
    (Of course I affirm that nature is a part of general revelation from God.)
    Something like that. So I look forward to clarity and refining and better understanding in this.

  • No contradiction in truth exists. Whatever is true is compatible with truth. The issue is that relativism has crept into both. Even those that say they are promoting absolutes (like Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth) seem to be quite comfortable with contradictions when it supports their particular views. It is VERY frustrating.

  • I don’t know. Obviously, the church has been at odds with science in the past, Copernicus, for example. It is also true that scientists are people and are not free from bias in interpreting available data. It may sound facile, but I suspect that in the end all truth is God’s truth and that apparent impossibilities will be revealed as problems of interpretation rather than true conflict between Scripture and Science. I think “chastened epistemology” applies to our approach both to Science and to Scripture.

  • OK, I have to jump in even though I’m not very scientifically minded. It’s nice and right to say all truth is God’s truth. That’s hardly our problem here, friends.
    The problem is his: What if we have clear scientific evidence for things the Bible speaks of in a different way? What if we think evolution happened and the Bible teaches creation all at once out of nothing?
    The fundamental question we have to face is this: Do we, as we gradually assume more results from science, re-read the Bible now as metaphor or phenomenological language when we are reasonably confident the writers were thinking the earth really did stand on pillars etc?
    Does science re-shape how we read the Bible?
    I’d like to hear responses to these sorts of question.
    In other words, this talk about it all being one truth is good but the world we live in isn’t so sure it wants to go along with science. When there’s conflict, there’s not conflict.

  • I can only tell you what my personal perspective is, and that of those I attempt to shepherd.
    I tend toward the idealistic notion that there is ultimately no conflict between things that are true, so there must be some ground of reconciliation between God and the true discoveries of science.
    However, in my experience, there can be no faith without conflict. Faith necessarily involves, at times, the refusal to accept that which seems to be true, logical, rational, reasonable, wise, etc. So I really do think it’s inevitable that there will be a minefield of conflict between one’s faith in a God who blatantly claims to be in opposition to “the wisdom of this world,” and any system of this world that claims ultimate wisdom – as science does.
    I’m not saying we should abandon the search for the overlapping ground of truth between God and this world – for there’s bound to be plenty since He created it – but I do think such pursuits are often merely a means to tame and control not only our own world (the very purpose of science according to Francis Bacon), but God as well.
    So I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes when we enter that minefield our conflict isn’t just with science, it’s often with God. We must tread carefully.

  • Duane

    Both portend or pretend to assert and claim what “IS.” Thus the immediate problem is variation. It would seem that one reason science appears to trump religion is that it is perceived as more monolithic. Whereas there are myriad “religions” (and there is a general reluctance to assert that there is one true religion)the pedestrian notion of “science” is that it is unified, i.e. scientists are all on the same path of discovery.

  • Of course there is no conflict between science and faith per say. However…
    The conflict between even the wisest voices of the scientific community and the wisest voices of the faith community is real, and should not be diminished.
    I do not mean by this, that science and faith in any way conflict – I do not believe they do.
    The best, the most benevolent, of both voices will recognize the conflict – it is a “conflict of conclusion.”
    The conclusion from which the conflict gains it’s heat is: Is there a God, or is there not?
    The cosmos and our studies of it in macro or micro, are discoveries applied to reinforce worldview – not the bearers of the worlview themselves.
    Faith must be shaped by science. The best of science will not demand Faith’s dissolution (yet will challenge it’s assumptions).
    Science must be shaped by faith. The best of faith will not deny Science’s discoveries (yet will challenge it’s assumptions).

  • Harvey

    Scott, you point out an important challenge: How do we read Genesis if scientific evidence for evolution is convincing. I just finished a 6 week series addressing that topic, using two books: 1) Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution by two Calvin College professors and 2) Perspectives on an Evolving Creation edited by Keith B. Miller. Both books attempt to take science and the Bible seriously and both come out pretty much favoring evolutionary creation. If anyone is interested, my powerpoint presentations can be seen at under the Questions About… tab.

  • Brian

    Scot (#8),
    Thanks for pushing the conversation in this direction. Two broad questions come to mind for me.
    First, is the God of the gaps a part of the Biblical picture? Those inclined toward Intelligent Design want to say yes. Some others want to say no. As I see it, the soul is a candidate for the quintessential gap filler since it makes the difference between bodily life and death. We now know that thought and memory are tied to the brain in ways never before imagined, so the function of the soul has become harder to describe.
    Second, does God interact with the world in ways that we would expect from the Bible? That question leads to testable propositions. For example, if God routinely heals in response to prayer and protects his people from danger, then the mortality statistics of believers should be skewed compared to the general populace.

  • RJS,
    Great to see you doing a series again!
    My answers to your questions and Scot’s (8) are different today than they were say, 15 years ago. Although an amateur with no science background, I was passionately drawn into the science/faith question for many years. I was particularly drawn into authors who discussed the philosophy of science. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I believed science and faith were more antithetical to each other (particularly in the creation/evolution debate).
    My understanding of faith and science has evolved, one could say (or “re-shaped”). I have participated in the sharp language between those who are evangelicals and those who are “evolutionists” (first, the secular variety such as Dawkins etc. and then second, those like Kenneth Miller, and then third, Howard Van Til). I was reading the Bible differently back then.
    I don’t have a problem with saying now that science does “re-shape” our reading of Scripture.

  • Fascinating thread already.
    Maybe I’m being naive (and bold to the point of silly in getting in here with trained educators in of all things, science) but it seems to me that any conflict between Scripture and science is in more ways than one, beside the point.
    The point of Scripture must be kept in mind. It’s the Story of God setting to right and renewing all of creation in Jesus. (wish N.T. Wright could jump in here, just to see what he might say). Any thing it may say about science must be kept in that context. I know that doesn’t solve all the problems here, for sure.
    But great post and comments.

  • Tough question.
    The Genesis factor is huge. Those of us who want to read it as ‘metaphor’ or ‘true myth’ or what have you are confronted with the evidence of Creation: the Big Bang.
    In the day of Thomas Aquinas, Genesis was read as pure metaphor, simply because philosophers agreed with theologians that the universe was more or less eternal. ‘Creation’ then, referred to an ontological dependence of Creation on its Creator.
    But enter the Big Bang, and all of a sudden, a much more literal reading of Genesis becomes possible. So then the question is ‘how literal?’
    I have no answers, but I’m a vegetarian because I believe Genesis truthfully discloses God’s intent for his Creation, even though I am compelled to accept Darwinistic evolution as well (or call it theistic evolution–whatever).
    The tension between the two Creation stories is real.
    Which is why ‘evolution’ begs to be interpreted–and interpreted differently than its atheistic proponents have been doing.
    My two cents.

  • RJS

    Some of the issues raised here will be discussed at greater length in future posts. I don’t want to jump the gun too much, as that will sidetrack or blur the discussion.
    I think that Scot’s question gets at the important point of my first question. Is it appropriate to let an improved understanding of God’s creation reshape how we read the Bible? If not there is a real conflict between any form of science and “the faith”. What is the root of knowledge?
    My second question hasn’t been addressed yet by anyone, and I would love to get the point of view of some of the Pastors here. How does the rhetoric (polemic even) impact the church? From my side it seems clear that some of the rhetoric makes it difficult to get colleagues to even engage with or talk about the Christian story. Is this, in general, a non-issue – or is it a serious issue?

  • Tom Hein

    I don’t think that there’s a conflict between science and faith, but I’m also not real up to date on my study of evolution as I just haven’t had the time to dig into the issue.
    I am open to learning more, but I am under the impression that books like Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and Philip Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial” has pretty much debunked Darwinian macro evolution. So, this should be an interesting series.

  • Nadine

    I wonder if the problem is simpler than we make it out to be. In the matter of “evolution” vs. “intelligent design” or “creationism” there are two different questions being answered. One is how did things develop and the other involves the origin of the universe. I wish I could say this was my own thought but it was pointed out to me by a friend who is an atheist. Looking at things from that perspective, perhaps the idea of creation or “how did things come to be” is less in competition with the idea of “how did the things that are develop.”

  • Jeremiah

    I believe God is the author of both the Word and the world, and therefore there cannot be inherent contradictions between the two “texts”. But theologians who interpret the Word and scientists who interpret the world can make mistakes. And therefore theologians and scientists need to listen to one another.
    From Galileo episode we learnt that science can help us interpret the Word more acccurately.
    #18, I think Behe and Johnson and other ID proponents have used ‘god of the gap’ argument, which to me is not a very good theology.

  • Dianne P

    This is very interesting. My husband is a scientist (PhD, biochem), has read this book, and thinks that it’s excellent. I’m eager to have him respond to this; however, he’s currently at his computer doing his *science* work (one of us has to have a day job to pay the Amazon bill ;-), so hopefully later today. Once again Scot, thank you.

  • I appreciate both RJS’s and Scot’s concern here.
    On a blog there is a debate going on on a certain level between two scientist, one a Christian the other an atheist. I can see where the questions here could potentially help Christians in that context.

  • Dianne P

    And thank you RJS.

  • Surely the question of interaction between studies is one of the most exciting around! I grew up with the common (and perhaps stereo-typical) evangelical rejection of mainstream science concerning geological and biological history. Since my university days (science degree) I have fortunately been exposed to christian thinking that embraces evolution (at various levels) and the potential theological questions that it raises. I think the biggest fear of my early exploration was that if I accepted evolution as a valid explanatory tool, then I would no longer be able to consider myself part of the faith.
    Fortunately for me the journey continues, but I fear that many have walked away becasue the particular interpretation of christianity they held was no longer tenable. Baby and bath water situation. . .

  • It seems to me that we cannot escape having science re-shape our reading of the Bible any more than we can escape having our experiences filter our reading. It seems hugely important to be able to identify biases and preconception (our own and of those who present & interpret data). When science claims total neutrality and objectivity, then it seems to me that a conflict with faith is inherent. And likewise, when faith asserts absolute knowledge of absolute truth, epistemological truth is sacrificed and conflict is inevitable.
    From pastoral point of view, inflexible and rigid belief systems of people from any viewpoint, can destroy ministry and the body (especially if the viewpoints are extreme). Some of this also depends on what kind of groups (ethnic, cultural, economic, etc) that one pastors. We serve at some of the homeless shelters and many of the people who come in could care less about Genesis and creation accounts (I try to ask questions to people to see what they are thinking and hear their stories). Most live in the moment. One obstacle that I believe we encounter is when experience doesn’t line up with either faith or science. And as I think about it, perhaps experience has as much (or more) to do with one’s faith acceptance and even rigidity of belief systems. One solution that sometimes works is the use of narrative to reframe the interpretation of experience (which is why I found it interesting that the book in review begins with the doctor’s story).
    Still mulling things over and will look forward to hearing more.
    In Christ,
    Mark Eb.

  • Over the past year and change, I’ve moved from Young-Earth Creationism to Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creationism through a combination of events:
    (1) Understanding the early chapters of Genesis (1-11) from an ancient Near East (ANE) perspective. Dr. John H. Walton, an OT professor at Wheaton College, has written two fine books, one of which is his commentary on Genesis (NIV Application Commentary series). His other book, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible will do wonders for one’s hermeneutic by introducing them to the ANE perspective. The combination of these two books will help one realize that Genesis 1 (at the very least) was not written to describe the creation of material structure but rather the assignment of function and purpose to those things that God had already created. Walton has an outstanding audio/PowerPoint presentation here:
    (2) Recognizing that science and religion answer two entirely different questions. For example, science can (attempt to) answer questions regarding the evolution of the cosmos, but it cannot answer the question regarding the origin of the cosmos. Likewise, science can (attempt to) answer questions regarding the laws of nature, but it cannont answer the question regarding what/who established those laws and who/what sustains them. Religion answers those questions that science cannot answer. Howard J. Van Til’s works are outstanding in helping recognize the false dichotomy that has been presented to the modern church, to wit, that there is a fundamental contradiction between the Christian faith (as presented in the Bible) and scientific discovery.
    (3) Like Francis Collins, the more I delve into the latest and greatest in scientific research and discovery, the more amazed I am at God’s creation and the manner by which He created us. (From my perspective, I am more in awe by a God who uses evolutionary methods to create than I am by a God who merely speaks something into existence.) The DNA evidence supporting the fact of evolution (both human and otherwise) is overwhelming, and this body of evidence is growing by leaps and bounds every year. Through additional research, the theory of how evolution works will, I believe, be firmly established within a generation or two. As the knowledge “gap” that the ID movement claims bears the marks of the Creator shrinks with additional scientific discovery, the ID movement will wither as more and more ID proponents defect to Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creationism. It’s just a matter of time.
    Scot’s question, “Does science re-shape how we read the Bible?” is a good one. But one should understand that the answer to that question is different for every person. For me, it was an understanding of what the Bible was actually communicating to the original readers that allowed me to explore the body of evidence supporting evolution with an unbiased mind. Hence, my 180º move from YEC to TE/EC.
    Thus, science shouldn’t re-shape the meaning of the Bible, for the original meaning of any book of the Bible (and/or its literary components) is static. Science can, however, force us to take a harder look at our hermeneutic and how we read the Bible.
    For those interested, you can follow me on my journey from YEC to TE/EC at my blog, The Creation of an Evolutionist. Just click on my name. (Sorry for the shameless plug, Scot.)

  • Glenn

    We know that the author(s) of Genesis had a unique premodern view and knowledge of creation, earth and man that was very limited (in comparison with our knowledge today)and shaped by the framework of their own story. Why should we try to force a text to fit our modern views and rules of biblical interpretation, science, etc. so that the creation story sounds clear cut and sensible to our rules of logic? Especially if we are confident the writers were thinking the earth really did stand on pillars! This is one of my struggles. It seems very few Christians I know can acknowledge the possibility that perhaps the author held primitive beliefs and this was expressed in the text itself. Instead I am told that the author intended the framework view to be held and understood by the reader, or that the author framed the creation around a sequence of long periods of time/ages described as “days”, etc. This all seems to me to be very dishonest to the text and very unlikely for someone in that day and time to have the theories we now ourselves hold so dear.
    Great discussion and topic!

  • As a pastor I recently met with a college student and his mother who were members of the church I pastored for 23 years. The son had gone off to college and came home thoroughly convinced of a deep conflict between science and the Christian faith. His mother was understandably concerned. He was introduced to evolutionary theory slanted strongly against the faith and was at a crossroads—dump the Bible and go whole hog into science or dump science and reject what was, to him, very convincing science. The old horns of a dilemma. What if there were a middle way? I suggested. What if the Bible is not intended to settle issues of scientific discovery. What if Genesis 1 is poetry and not a science textbook? What if Adam and Eve were the end of an evolutionary process (still “touched” /created ultimately by God? You could see the tension drain from the young man’s face, and I saw the mother, more conservative, squirm. But for me, I don’t want to lose his soul over this debate.
    Thanks, RJS, for this series. Bless you!

  • Mark O

    I’ve thought about the conundrum of science influencing my understanding of scripture and vice versa for a few years now, but it’s not only related to science, it affects how we engage all of the disciplines.
    On the one hand, I want to say that scripture creates my worldview. I want to see the world through the lens of God’s word. I remember Chesterton saying, in reference to the understanding of history, that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus should be seen as the pinnacle of history thus far. If the incarnation is really true, (and all that it implies: atonement, redemption, coming of the kingdom) it unsettles so much of what I tacitly believe (because I have many secular assumptions that I’m not even aware of).
    At the same time, how I understand scripture is determined by my external influences. What we must be careful is to examine and evaluate these influences once we submit to the authority of scripture. For instance, if I acknowledge the deity of Christ, and then realize that I don’t believe in the supernatural in general, something’s got to give. In my life, my belief for in Christ’s deity trumped my belief in materialism (though the battle is never over).
    This becomes more difficult when science puts forth new knowledge, like explanations of how the world was created / developed. (Even here, my language is determined by my belief in a creator and not in a passive development) The trouble is, no matter how much something scientifically makes sense, it is always open to the possibility of being proven false. As an earlier post said, some of Darwin’s theories of macro evolution have been proven by scientific inquiry to be wrong. My point is, scientific knowledge is not certain, even though it often seems to be.
    And so, after this long rambling post, it comes down to epistemology, and at heart of belief in anything is faith. There’s no certainty or proof in beliefs about real things. So do I let science (or my observation of reality) influence how I read scripture? Sure, but I need to be reflexive, and not cling to a belief shaped by my scientific understanding, which would illustrate that science is infallible.

  • We did this book in our Adults sunday school class and it was outstanding. It generate significant discussion and was very well received. It was great. I would recommend it highly. Go for RJS!

  • I had the chance to interview Dr. Collins several months ago for a website. His book touched me deeply–because it gave me permission and language to defend science and reason against fundamentalism. His God of the gaps argument is incredibly powerful.
    Scot asks, “Does science re-shape how we read the Bible?” I agree with Mark Eb’s response. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, but God’s Word is bigger than the book itself. And God’s truth is bigger than rigid fact or law.

  • RJS

    John (#28),
    I don’t come from a fundamentalist background – but I do come from a thoroughly evangelical background. I know first hand how deep the apparent conflict can be. That is part of the reason I asked the pastoral question. The “horns of a dilemma” is right.
    There was a time – in the middle of my graduate school career – when I would have laughed scornfully at the suggestion that I would, some quarter of a century later, be actively involved in a church and interested in the discussion on this blog. I am here today because I eventually realized that there had to be a middle ground, although it has taken me a couple of decades to work it out (ok most of that time simply ignoring the issues and five years or so wrestling with them more fully). The common taboo on open discussion and conversation within the church has unfortunate consequences.

  • RSJ,
    Well, I’ve only heard a few nibbles at your question #2, but I must say that there has been, and continues to be, a tremendous amount of damage being done to the Body of Christ over this topic.
    There are those who teach that is you believe if evolution that you have rejected the God as revealed in the Bible. It is a line drawn in the sand and it has divided churches — and will continue to do so unless we can come to a way of helping folks understand that this process of knowing and understanding both God and his creation and science as part of that creation is more of a dance than a tug-of-war.
    But this is very difficult because of the way the “sides” posture themselves. Those who “believe” call those who “know” (or think they know or are in the process of scientific inquiry) as lacking faith, and therefore, ultimately unable to know God because knowing God requires faith. (So, Hebrews.) And those who claim to “know” often ridicule those who “believe” as fools and simpletons.
    I have yet to witness an exchange that doesn’t at some point devolve to this kind of impasse…and I’m really looking to this discussion to be different and to show a way forward.
    I think there is one sacred cow for the “Faith” folks: the creation of humanity as image bearer and crown of creation. There will need to be a way to frame this understanding of uniqueness that doesn’t demean humanity while looking at the wonders of DNA and how DNA evolves.
    My two cents…

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  • KJ

    “How does the rhetoric of the 20th and now 21st century on the science/faith conflict impact the church?”
    Quick stab at this one: I think the culture-war approach to the evolution question has been very harmful to the church’s ability to reach out to certain more highly-educated segments of our population. They see high-profile evangelicals/fundamentalists out there talking a lot about “truth” while at the same time summarily rejecting information arrived at through scientific inquiry.
    I think Collins’ book has been very helpful in this respect–giving interested nonbelievers a sense that sincere and passionate belief in God can be reconciled with a modern worldview (I’m not sure “modern” is the right word–but you get my meaning).

  • RJS,
    I think the rhetoric of the science/faith conflict is as important if not more important than the conflict itself.
    When you deal with origins, you are not just dealing with faith and/or science, but with metanarrative. Questions like, Where are we going? What is true? What is good? and What is right? are also implied in the discussion. Sometimes I feel like the faith/science dialogue is at a deadlock because the rhetoric has gotten out of hand. It’s no longer about a search for truth but about power plays.
    I am all for having strong beliefs, but when we dialogue with people who don’t share those beliefs, mockery, ridicule, sarcasm, and intellectual/moral snobbery are all out of place.

  • RJS,
    I think the “Battle for the Bible” era (middle 70s) in the USA forced many of us to a position that the Bible had to be “right” on technical matters of science or the Christian faith would collapse. This seems ridiculous now because it pushed us right into the Enlightenment categories of epistemology. We lost the sacred ground of text to the scientists and ended up awkwardly creating a belief system that was going to win the day–creationism, young earth science, etc. I have a friend whose faith almost evaporated when he found out that so-called creation scientists were skewing the data to fit their views as blatantly as some evolutionists were doing to fit theirs.
    I am glad that we can follow your lead and have a civil and informed conversation here at JESUS CREED.

  • Does science re-shape how we read the Bible?
    This question goes to how we understand inspiration. Is it possible that the inspired authors wrote truths they didn’t understand? Could they be right and not understand why?
    Did God dictate to them, or did He give them true knowledge that they were forced to convey using the means available to them?

  • Science does not conflict with faith. Science compliments faith. I enjoyed Dr. Collins’ book when I read it.
    I will answer no. 2 by telling you of my neice’s research at U of Michigan. She is studying fruit fly DNA. She, in a nutshell, has been manipulating the DNA and recording the results. One of the discoveries made based on her research is that when DNA “communicates” (that is the word she used) to a cell, as it is being formed, there are these “enhancers” that chemically, um, bark the order. What is intriguing is that the enhancers are so far removed from the cell they are trying to “enhance” that it would like trying to whisper the Gettysburg address in Pennsylvania to a person trying to hear it in Indiana…in a very small fraction of a second. The only way it is possible is through community, the communication being passed along cells from the enhancer to the enhancee. Rhetoric would say that her findings have no spiritual or theological significance. I see a beautiful system of relationships that is a model for what happens when creation, the creatures, us, are busy “enhancing”.

  • Steve

    It seems to me that the tension is between the assumptions that often underlie “science” and “faith”–that is between materialism and theism.
    Materialism is fine as method for trying to advance the amount of stuff we can learn through experiment, hypothesis, testing, etc. But as a worldview (epitomized by Sagan’s “The comos is all there is, all there ever has been, all there ever will be”), it is plainly in conflict with a Christian worldview that God transcends creation (the cosmos) and in fact created it and its rules.
    From the science side it seems like the conflict arises when people confuse the assumption of materialism with proof that materialism is true (that space/time is really all there is). That is a pretty basic logical error and it is strange to see otherwise scientifically rigorous people fall into it. But protecting ones’ worldview pulls lots of things beyond logic into the issue.
    From the faith side, the conflict often arises in responding to 1) claims by “scientists” (that are at base unscientific)like “we’ve proven God doesn’t exist” or 2) philosophical disputes like “there is evil, so how can you believe in God?” or 3) by insisting that “faith” requires belief in certain interpretations of the Bible that seem contradicted by our best scientific understanding today.
    For example, it seems to me that Genesis 1 is plainly a poem (and therefore not to be read in exactly the same way as say a history account or physics textbook) and plainly primarily about the fact of creation of heaven and earth by the God of the Bible. The level of detail that must be believed beyond that is up for debate and (dare I say it?) “more light.”
    I think we are well advised to be somewhat humble both about the state of our scientific knowledge and about our understanding of the Bible. For example, as noted in a previous post, lots of people for many years winked at the creation story because “everyone knew” that the universe had always existed. Now we are pretty much convinced that it started at a specific point in time, very suddenly, out of nothing. Suddenly the creation story seems lot more relevant in some respects.
    I haven’t even gotten to the whole evolution issue–but let me just note that there is a lot of confusion due to the inconsistent definitions people put on the words they and others use here and this is a place where the intrusion of a materialist worldview mascarading as science is common. Finally I would note that “God could not have done “X” that way” is a risky theological place to be–God is sovereign and all powerful. Good luck basing an argument on what is impossible or inappropriate for God.
    My bottom line is that God made us, including our minds. He put us in a place where we have remarkable access to a variety of data to permit us to learn a lot about how this universe works. I think that was intentional on his part. As the physicists have noted repeatedly over the last 50 years–the more we learn in science the closer we get to God. I forget which physicist said that they climed to the top of the mountain and found that the theologians had been sitting there all along.
    by the way Ted (no. 15)–Wright did say something about science and faith.
    Thanks for addressing this Scott!

  • Dianne P

    #40, Steve,
    A friend (engineer, physician, attorney) once said that since we’re made in the image of God, then our minds must also reflect the image of God.
    As a nurse, the whole study of the body just blows me away and convicts me of God’s awesome creative providence. The multi-layered immune system, the intricate workings of any cell, the ability to heal, reproduction, the brain and nervous system, speech, vision, even digestion. Obviously I could go on and on. But the more I study the body, the more I understand about God.

  • Steve’s post reminded me of something I heard Dr. John Medina said about the issue of materialism:
    “Science is just one way of knowing. It is actually a fairly small sandbox. Over 200 years ago, Emmanuel Kant said that if something is physical in nature, you may utilize the tools of this great sandbox called natural philosophy—the scientific method. The instant something is not physical in nature, those tools collapse because you have introduced an uncontrollable variable. Not an uncontrolled variable. An uncontrollable one. That’s key.”
    The scientific method depends on materialism. But the world is bigger than the scientific method. I think many scientists recognize this.

  • ron

    I am a practicing physicist myself (first academia and then industry). Like Mike (#26, with whom I think I completely agree), I have moved from a fundamentalistic position to an evolutionary one.
    As a physicist I think it is likely that physicists understand a much greater fraction of what there is to be understood about the evolution of the cosmos, than biologists understand about the evolution of life. This is not because physicists are smarter than biologists, but because biology is a lot more complicated than physics. And also because it is in the nature of things that physics must come first — that is, it’s just not possible for humanity to understand biology at a fundamental level without already knowing a pretty good chunk of physics. Physics enables biology.
    Following the “discovery” of the big bang, physicists have been able to work out, at least in broad outline, how the universe evolved. The story is comprehensive, including not only the knowledge we gain through telescopes and satellites, but through studies of atomic, nuclear, and particle physics in the lab. Among the marvelous pieces to this story is the notion of the big bang itself — the mysterious, beginning of the universe, perhaps even the beginning of time (the big bang is by no means incompatible the the creation story). Another piece is the fact that the laws of physics and the nature of matter (by that I mean the strength of the forces of gravity and electricity, as well as the masses of the various fundamental particles in nature, such as the neutron and proton) are extremely finely tuned. Numerous books and papers have been written — many by scientists who have no theological axe to grind — that point out that these fundamental properties are tuned such that if they were only slightly different, some in the ninth or tenth decimal place, the universe, if it existed at all, would not be hospitable for life, at least nothing like life as we know it.
    This is allusive, but the allusion is very powerful. The late astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, himself an atheist at least in his younger years, said that it looked like someone was “monkeying with the physics”. Another writer said that the physicists had laboriously ascended a mountain, but found that the theologians were already there. Realization of this allusiveness recently led the atheist philosopher Anthony Flew to admit to a change in his point of view.
    It is stunning that something is here rather than nothing, but it is even more stunning that that “something” could have been different from what it is in any of a simply astronomical number of ways, with the consequence that we would not be here. As another has pointed out above, “Intelligent Design” seems built to fill gaps in scientific knowledge. There is no need for ID, at least in this form. Rather, what happens is that as our knowledge of the basic structure of reality more complete, that knowledge points ever more clearly to the craftsmanship of a loving creator, at least for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. [From RJS’s comments it is likely that Collins book has some detail on the evolution of the universe.]
    The evolution of the cosmos is thus built into the basic structure of matter and the fundamental laws of physics. The universe evolved the way it did because once it began it could do no other. By analogy, I believe biologists will eventually find that the evolution of life, which is likely even more improbable than the evolution of the cosmos, is also built into the structure of matter and chemistry. In other words, life, like the evolution of the cosmos, simply has to happen.
    When we understand how life occured and evolved, it will be marvelous indeed. There will be no need for “Intelligent Design”; our knowledge of the necessity of evolution will point to the creator, just as our knowledge of the evolution of the cosmos points many to the creator even now.

  • RJS

    Wright’s lecture “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection” is excellent – and points out the issues in ways of knowing.
    If one equates science with with the philosophical worldview of “scientific naturalism” – that is ontological naturalism (ala Dawkins and Sagan and so forth) there is an irreconcilable conflict. On the other hand if science is a systematic way of knowing and learning about the world – about God’s creation, about God’s method – then there need be no conflict. As Christians the conflict arises in “ways of knowing” and in our understanding of scripture as God’s word; how it is to be approached and understood. Genesis 1 seems to me to have the form of poetry, thus relatively easily dealt with – but Genesis 2 and 3 do not. How do we view scripture?
    Mark Goodyear,
    I read your interview with Dr. Collins. It is quite interesting.
    ID is an interesting concept and we will focus a post on this later in the series.

  • Thank you, RJS; fascinating discussion. While there does seem to be tension between science and faith, Dr. Collins notes in this insightful interview that “40% of working scientists are believers in a God who answers prayer, and that’s a lot bigger number than many people would have guessed.”

  • Steve

    Ron (#43)–thanks for a very thoughtful and insightful post. Two comments though–First, your use of “evolution” to describe the development over time of a) the cosmos and b) life is an example of what I was referring to in #40 of the different meanings people put into words.
    While at one level of generality evolution is properly applied to both of those things, “evolution” as it is typically talked about wrt biology (natural selection and mutation creating diversity in life) is really different from and unrelated to the way the universe developed (for example, the universe’s evolution is not driven by many generations of new universes being selected for fitness and reproductive success). And, the fact that the cosmos developed over time according to consistent physical laws does little to address the specific issues around the adequacy of biological evolution as a complete explanation for the diversity of life.
    But using “evolution” to describe both processes tends to imply that they are related and reinforce one another, if not that they are identical. So, that could be confusing or misleading.
    Second point–if/when we arrive at the point you describe at the end of post–understanding the evolution of both the cosmos and life as necessarily occurring the way it did because of the way the universe is (or was set up/created)–isn’t that pointing to the creator you refer to exactly what many ID proponents argue for–the conclusion from science that there is a creator?

  • Thanks, RJS. It was a lot of fun to talk with him.

  • “The Language of God” blog series. « The Heartwood Harold

    […] 6, 2008 “The Language of God” blog series. Posted by theheartwoodharold under Science Faith Interplay   Check it out! A blog series hasjust been kicked off over at the Jesus Creed covering Francis S. Collins’ most recent book The Language of God. This book describes how Dr. Collins, an evangelical Christian and head of the Human Genome Project reconciles his faith with his science. If you have not read it yet, this would be a great time to pick it up and follow along with the discussions. […]

  • RJS

    That is Mark Goodyear’s interview you’ve linked. The 40% figure is interesting. Dawkins and the like will point out that the figure is much lower for “elite” scientists (Professors at elite institutions or members of the National Academies, or …). There are many reasons for this – but it is still not zero and not nearly as low as many would like to make out.

  • Thanks, Steve #40.
    N.T. Wright is interacting with a well known former atheist, Anthony Flew, who is quite impressed with what he is saying. Seems to be a dialogue.

  • Steve

    Thank you RJS for keeping me honest 🙂 If there were an easy way to deal with Genesis 1-3 that was compelling, I suppose we wouldn’t still be talking about it.
    I think ch 2-3 change the topic from why is there something (ch 1) to what is a person (ch 2) and why are things so messed up (ch 3). I think trying to interpret the text in the context of what it is addressing helps us limit (but not eliminate!) the problems of interpretation we are faced with.
    I don’t think Gen 2 compels us to think that God formed us with his hands out of dirt and literally breathed life into our nostrils. I do think it insists that God was intimately and personally involved in creating people and that somehow people bear his image and are different from other parts of the cosmos–there is some kind of discontinuity between humans and the rest of creation.

  • I think that Aver Cardinal Dulles had something to say on this topic that struck me as helpful; see First Things, October 2007 issue.

  • I like that you’ve begun with questions. That is a humble place to start, and inviting.

  • I went to a presentation by Collins about 10 years ago at OHSU here in Portland where he reported on the progress of the Human Genome Project up to that point. (I’d read that he was a Christian prior to attending)
    At the end he capped of the talk to these dozens of scientists and physicians with a quote (I think by Pascal) remarking at the wonder and complexity of Creation that pointedly implied a Designer. There was an ackward pause and some grudging chuckles but He had done such a great presentation most gave him a warm ovation anyway. He’s really got a unique position and platform as such a well-respected scientist spear-heading one of the most important scientific/medical investigations in history.

  • Doug Allen

    Yes, I think that there is a conflict between science and faith as it is usually understood. Science is both elegant model and tentative. It is subject to peer review resulting in fairly general consensus.
    Faith as orthodox belief is more rigid, more static, and much less subject to peer review and consensus. It is based on understandings (and misunderstandings) from 2000 years ago. There is no accepted means for solving disputes.
    On the other hand, faith as attitude and way of life may not be in conflict with science. Example. In my poor way, I try to follow Jesus’ teachings, as I understand them. The only belief (all the orthodox stuff about born of a virgin, etc., etc. is unimportant to me; much of the argumentation over it seems silly) is that I am doing what I think is pleasing to God. Sometimes I wonder if the emphasis on faith as belief isn’t a tragic distraction (maybe an an idol?) from what is important.

  • Scott M

    Is it appropriate to let an improved understanding of God’s creation reshape how we read the Bible?

    I find that question is phrased in a way that intrigues me. I want to set aside for the moment the particular emphasis introduced by improved and reshape. I think they mask something. So then, is it appropriate to let an understanding of God’s creation shape how we read the Bible?
    I think, when you view the question in that light, you might perhaps see how it is simply not possible (whether or not it is appropriate) to read and interpret scripture without that dynamic interaction being influenced by our understanding. This is nothing new. Others have mentioned some specific examples, but the understanding of Christians has always been shaped and, yes, reshaped by their understanding of the world around them. That is inevitable.
    In fact, I gather it’s the largely evangelical “young earth creation” perspective which sparks this particular discussion. That reading of scripture is as intrinsically modern as anything against which it sets itself. And it reduces the interplay between God and creation into a form of separateness that, in the end, is not very different from the perspective that would remove God from the picture altogether. Once you place the Creator outside and apart from the creation, it’s a short step to the absent or nonexistent watchmaker.
    If you put back what should never have been separated, the picture changes. Ours is a story of a God who fills his creation, who sustains it moment to moment, who draws near, who is never farther from us than the air in which we move. John Caputo’s Philosophy and Theology looks at how things which were never meant to be separated were and the damage that has wrought.
    Personally, I’ve come into Christianity through such a different path, have so many scientists and artists in my immediate family, and am influenced even now by so many strands of Christianity (the majority of which don’t particularly have major issues over this question) that it’s never been an issue for me. Nor do I have any particular desire to argue over it.
    However, to touch on your second question, I wince when I hear the polemic in my church environment. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be my father’s son if I weren’t able to mentally deconstruct the arguments proposed supporting the whole young earth concept. Still, I keep my mouth shut on those (other than to share the information privately with my children). I don’t see any point or gain to enflaming the argument even more. But, I do recognize with sorrow that that’s yet another whole category of people and friends I could never bring through the doors of the church I attend. And that’s too bad. There are a lot of very good people in our church. But the level of rhetoric would alienate and distance so many that I know.
    Aren’t we suppose to encounter the living Jesus embodied in his people when we gather? Or did I completely miss the point?

  • The question really isn’t does there need to be a conflict between science and faith? Obviously there doesn’t, because there are many people of faith who do not have any trouble reconciling their faith with science, and for whom there is no conflict. There are many people who accept the theory of evolution, who acceptance that earth is billions of years old, etc., but who have no problem also accepting the existence of a living God and accepting Christ as their redeemer. The question you are really asking is is there conflict between a particular way of reading the BIble and Science? Does there need to be a conflict between science and a view of scripture as true in the narrowest sense of that word – true to history, true to science and God-dictated. If you don’t see scripture that way there is no conflict. When you make God so small that he must fit between the pages of a book, when we say this is the way God must have created things and we don’t allow for the possibility of God revealing himself in new ways, it is a short step to making God so small and irrelevant He simply disappears.

  • Scott Watson

    Scot #8-
    The problem from the side of “faith” is modernist presuppositions about epistemology (i.e., a flat,ham-fisted realism which is ingrafted onto the Bible, which is alien to the Bible and the cultural,literary and historical sensibilities it was shaped in)which is the flip side of naturalist presuppositions of common understandings of “science”.
    For example,the seven-day schema in the so-called P version of the creation narrative reflects the centrality of the Sabbatarian understanding of reality,which is embedded in creation,and the de-diviniztion of the heavenly bodies and elements in the created order (as embodied in the divine combat motifs of ANE creation myths). Similarly,both physical anthropology and population genetics are converging in the understanding of the origins of homo sapiens in East Africa. The Bible narrative,with its general provenance in Mesopotamian ANE “myths,” understanably tells its stories from that perspective,but one should not miss the point that the so-called J creation story posits that the human being was “placed” in the Garden of Eden and did not originate there.

  • mariam

    Scott M
    Just realized I seem to saying the same thing as you.. I hadn’t read your post carefully. Sorry about that. I didn’t intend to plagiarize – honest.

  • ron

    Steve (#46): I would agree that “evolution” can take on shades of meaning. I was merely trying to say that just as understanding cosmic evolution has provided surprises that can elicit rather than destroy faith, we can also expect our “evolving” understanding of biological evolution to do so as well. Insistence that there are gaps in the process that need to be filled in by extraordinary intervention implies a limitation in the power and ingenuity of the creator – perhaps he didn’t quite get it right in the beginning and has had to come back in and tinker here and there. So yes to your second point.

  • RJS

    Scott M,
    You capture my sentiment here exactly –
    But, I do recognize with sorrow that that’s yet another whole category of people and friends I could never bring through the doors of the church I attend. And that’s too bad. There are a lot of very good people in our church. But the level of rhetoric would alienate and distance so many that I know.
    I am a chemist/physicist and a university professor.
    I have sat in church services or functions with my children, listening to a speaker or preacher paint scientists and university professors as “evil” and to be challenged.
    Likewise I have heard similar things, knowing that visiting graduate students, scholars, and/or faculty colleagues were in the audience.
    I have watched typical evangelical video presentations, the most notable one from Josh McDowell, where points are deemed best made by ridicule and derision of scientists and academics.
    I have had more than one pastor tell me I am being overly sensitive in suggesting that this might be a problem.
    Is it worth turning people off with rhetoric and ridicule – often before they even come in the door?

  • tim atwater

    thanks RJS (and Scot) for this discussion.
    On #2 (pastoral side) — my experience is mostly from small town methodist churches, where perhaps there’s less pressure to agree and more tendency to roll with whatever… i’ve had parishioners publishing letters and an oped piece in favor of darwinian theory and some leaning towards young earth theory a few rows away with no real tension… we’ve had enough timet together to know we aren’t going to change each other’s minds often…
    Biblically, I think a lot of our problem is that we’ve only recently begun to be as honest as (most) Jews about our dependence on the oral word… All or nearly all of us Christians seem to me to rely on our own equivalents of Talmud, targums and midrash… We just deny that they are of as much importance as (nearly all practicing) Jews say…
    Hence Rashi(who’s shorter commentaries have been attached to Jewish bibles for centuries) said back in the middle ages…of course Gen 1 is not intended to be a literal chronological telling, since God’s Spirit is hovering over the waters on day one before God has created the waters…
    (The first creation story does very closely parallel the hypothesized stages of evolutionary theory, except for the minor detail of sun moon stars — demoted to day four, probably to show the subsidiarity of these entitites which were commonly worshiped as gods by the neighbors)…
    I am working on a hypothesis now, mostly from John’s gospel, that our own new creation in Christ flows in parallel track with the first creation (and with Rashi, against James Fowler, Kohlberg etc) — it’s not necessarily linear… (any more than any good discussion…) sometimes like exodus, like jericho… the route kinda has to be circuitous…
    And of course, always God IS…
    grace and peace,

  • RJS,
    I wonder how you can be “overly sensitive” when the rhetoric is portrayed as fight between good versus evil? When there is no acknowledgement or mention of the breadth of Christian scholarship (or those in the science field) that might have a different understanding of evolution but still embrace Christian orthodoxy?
    It’s obviously an issue within certain evangelical communnities–for welcoming scholars (or serious students)into a faith community. But it is also a “control” issue over what is orthodox for those within the faith community. The rhetoric and posture can unnecessarily push a crisis of personal faith.

  • Jesus Creed Takes on Evolution — Goodword Editing

    […] Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed is letting RJS guest post about Francis Collins and his book The Language of God. […]

  • “How does the rhetoric of the 20th and now 21st century on the science/faith conflict impact the church?”
    From St. Augustine, in Darrel R. Falk’s “Coming to Peace With Science”:
    “It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, while presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense. We should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn… If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well, and hear him maintain his foolish opinions about the Scriptures, how then are they going to believe those Scriptures in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven?” (34)
    I’m a theistic evolutionist. I’m perfectly happy to discuss ID and other topics, but I frequently cringe at the sophmoric positions taken by Christians concerning the nature of science in the presence of unbelieving scientists. (Not to mention other topics like economics which I deal more directly with.)
    My dad is a scientist and I’ve been around an inordinate number of scientists in my life. I may not be able to interact much but I look forward to your posts, RJS.

  • RJS

    That is one of my favorite quotes – available in English translation: St. Augustine, the Literal Meaning of Genesis. vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers., vol. 41. Translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J. New York: Paulist Press, 1982.
    Your quote is found in Ch. 19 par. 39.
    Another quote I appreciate greatly from the same source:
    In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture. Ch. 18 par. 37.

  • Scot asked, “Should we let science influence how we interpret the Bible,” to which I would answer, “How can we not?” Science is but a description based upon observation; we form conclusions based on observations all day long every day, even when interpreting Scripture. Therefore when I read the Bible and see it talk about trees, marriage, and grapes, I relate to those things based upon my understanding of those subjects; I obtain this understanding of how to interpret Scripture either by my own personal observation of those things or (preferably) by my observations on how the original audience viewed those things. “Science” is not in nature different from the k
    Now, the elephant in the room is the subject of the Fall. For the most part, my fellow theistic evolutionists have not gotten deep into this doctrine and reconciled the incongruity of between theistic evolution and the classic view of the Fall and Original Sin. This is not to say that there aren’t any solutions or viable treatments (see this discussion for a couple examples), but I do think we oversimplify it a bit if we view the problem only in terms of science vs. faith, especially viz. my comments in the paragraph above.
    Great topic and discussion!

  • Woops…I meant to say:
    “Science” is not in nature different from the kind of knowledge that even the young earth creationist uses to interpret Scripture.

  • RJS #66
    Thanks for that quote! I have vague recollections of reading it before but it is nice to read it again and know its source. Just shows that the issues we wrestle with tend to be the same over many centuries.

  • Jesus Creed on Collins | Through a Glass Darkly

    […] Posted on March 8, 2008 Scot McKnight’s guest science blogger has a good discussion going on Francis Collins’ “Language of God.” The comments are very interesting, I think, because they suggest some diversity of views but without anger, and they also suggest that many people are (rightly, I think) concerned with the missional implications of the evangelical church’s difficulty in engaging constructively with the natural sciences. […]

  • Ted

    This is a very interesting discussion. Whether science “conflicts” with Christian beliefs depends on which specific beliefs are involved (and not all Christians agree on what those are in every respect) and what “science” is supposed to be claiming. Historically, there have been some conflicts, but the standard claim that Christianity and science have been involved in one long conflict, with science “winning” over the faith, is simply not supported by those historians who specialize in this topic. (Many scientists and science journalists seem not to realize this, or else they reject the conclusions of a field that isn’t their own–not usually a very good thing to do.) Copernicus (mentioned above), for example, was urged several times by church officials (including a pope) to participate in official church conferences about astronomy and also to publish his ideas (which he was reluctant to do, owing to fear of being considered crazy). In short, Copernicus was not in conflict with the church. Galileo, an arrogant man who had no tolerance for those who didn’t agree with him, did have his problems with the church, and to some extent they were self-created. Mainly however they reflected counter-Reformation concerns about interpreting the Bible in non-traditional ways, something that Calvin, Luther, and other reformers were doing. The church started cracking down on this, and Galileo got caught up in that.
    As for evolution, I agree with the post above that identifies the “fall” and our understanding of sin & redemption as the really hard issues. The age of the earth isn’t an issue at all–or, if it is for you, someone has probably mislead you pretty badly about both the science and the Bible. In my experience, most Christian scientists and clergy/theologians who accept evolution (in the sense of accepting that humans and modern primates are historically related) hold one of two general views on this. One school, descended from the “modernists” of the early 20th century, has pretty much given up the whole idea of “original sin” and the classical idea of redemption. These are the real “liberals.” The other school, which includes most of the “evangelical” scientists I’ve met, takes either a neo-orthodox view of the fall or a more classical view. Either way, sin is a reality requiring redemption. In the neo-orthodox approach, the fall was not historical–it did not involve a single pair of humans from whom we are all descended. Rather, it is a theological truth about all of us: we are all in rebellion against God by our own choices, and God holds us responsible for this. In the other approach, favored by some, Adam & Eve were, despite their highly symbolic names, actual first persons from whom we are all descended, and from whom we all inherit a tendency to sin. Although some may regard this second school as “liberal,” in fact it is not “liberal” in the classic sense I identified above. Classic theological liberals believe in moral progress, not an inherently sinful nature; classic liberals reject the atonement in favor of seeing Jesus (who is for many of them not divine) simply as the supreme example of a life lived in obedience to God, his Father and our Father.
    None of these approaches is likely to satisfy many traditional Christians. Mostly for this reason, I think, there has been much resistance to human evolution among conservative Christians. Usually this also expresses itself as strong anti-evolutionism in general: too many “gaps” in the fossil record, natural selection insufficient to produce all of these living things, and (for YECs) the earth and universe being far too young for evolution to be true.
    The big news in Collins’ book, which is interestingly also the big news in Michael Behe’s latest book, is that the genetic evidence for common descent is very, very strong. Regardless of precisely which species are related closely to which others, regardless of whether natural selection was the main force, regardless of various objections to “Darwinism,” it really looks like we are descended from other animals. And, since both Collins and Behe are very traditional Christians (they aren’t “liberals”), there is more of a willingness to take this seriously. That’s good.
    To a significant degree, the hard theological and hermeneutical work of relating biblical truth to scientific truth, on this point, has not yet been done. There won’t be one single way to do it, and some of the ways will make more or less sense than others. But it’s not a wise approach simply to keep denying the science. IMO.

  • Don Winterstein

    Steve (67):
    It’s easy to assert that there’s no conflict between science and faith if by faith we mean general faith in a supernatural creator we call God. In contrast, if by faith we mean accepting the doctrines of orthodox Christianity, then conflict arises.
    A common thesis of orthodox Christianity, clearly supported by New Testament writings, is that God is a “perfect” being who gets so offended over the slightest violation of his many rules that he condemns violators to eternal torture. The way out, of course, is to cling to Jesus as Savior. Presumably for those who don’t know about Jesus or don’t accept him as Savior if they do know, it’s tough luck. Otherwise, why missionaries?
    Now, if humans were originally created perfect, say, some 6000 years ago, such a teaching would be understandable: Humans blew it through Adam & Eve in the garden. So biblical teaching is internally consistent and sort of reasonable if the early chapters of Genesis can be taken literally.
    In reality, we now know that there was a fairly smooth transition from pre-human to human. Today we remain animals and retain a large fraction of our pre-human makeup. It’s very unlikely that any humans were ever “perfect” and sinless. And it’s absurd to think there was no death before about 6000 years ago.
    The biblical rationale thus puts God in the position of vindictively punishing humans sort of just for being human (cf. Romans 9:19 ff). In other words, the New Testament “plan of salvation” is thrown into question by discoveries of science including evolution and three-and-a-half billion years worth of dead organisms.
    I believe in a personal God, and I believe humans cannot approach him or be reconciled to him unless he performs his saving acts. Humans are naturally alienated from God.
    However, discoveries of science force a liberal interpretation of more parts of the Bible than just the first few chapters of Genesis. Otherwise, while the conflict may not be explicit, it’s as plain to thinking people as the “elephant in the living room.”

  • Scott Watson

    Don #72-
    One of the major issues in this dialogue, frankly, is the truncated and distorted views of what is passed off as Christian “orthodoxy”. For example,discussions of Creation and Fall have usually been grounded in Augustinian readings/interpretations of these issues,which were at the time novel ideas. Eastern Christian doctrines of these topics are still very different than this version of the “Faith”. A good book to read on this is Elaine Pagels’ Adam, Eve and the Serpent.

  • Ted and Don,
    Heartily agreed on all counts. On my own blog I’ve recently made some suggestions on how to treat original sin that echo the neo-orthodox view Ted described; I address especially the difficulty Don mentioned of why God would judge humans for their humanity. It’s speculative, but if the Scriptures don’t reveal it to us (and I really can’t see that they do), speculation is all we’ve got.
    The internal debate among Christians, as Don pointed out, concerns science and “the faith” as received through channels of orthodoxy, and this is much less easily resolved than the conflict as seen by the unbeliever, i.e., between science and faith in the sense of basic theism. Collins in this book addresses the latter question fairly adroitly, in my opinion.

  • Scott

    The following link (sections 8-10) deal with the issue of knowledge,epistemology and the nature of the Bible and the sciences from the late Fr. John Romanides,an Orthodox priest. He was a controversialist and quite polemical in tone but his views have need to be heard.

  • Don #72
    “However, discoveries of science force a liberal interpretation of more parts of the Bible than just the first few chapters of Genesis.”
    I don’t know that it forces us to a liberal interpretation but it may force a reading other than to look at these stories as “video diaries” or “just the facts” presentations of historical events. This form of presenting history is a recent development in human history. Ancient cultures communicated truth about their world through narratives and would have found our “just the facts” mode of thinking highly peculiar.
    By the time of the Enlightenment, intellectuals had decided that “just the facts” presentations were all that mattered. They measured the biblical stories against this standard and thereby were able to disprove their veracity. Conservatives ever since have been defending that they are “matter-of-fact” accounts. If we understand them in the context of Ancient Near East narrative culture, then the dismissal because of factual errors (liberals) and the dogged defense of “factual” history (conservatives) both evaporate.
    They are authoritative narratives that reveal truth about our relationship to God that are grounded in historic realities but not “newspaper reporter” accounts of historical events. Interpret them other than the way an Ancient Near Easterner would (as authoritative narrative) is the real error. I think both liberals and conservatives make this error.

  • Merv Bitikofer

    I appreciate that insight, Michael (#76). It reflects a sort of attempted ‘takeover’ of intellectual high ground by the hard sciences (the ‘only the facts’ crowd) from the the humanities and even from the softer sciences. Where is an English major when you need one?
    As much as I chafe at the whole warfare mode of thought myself, it seems that instead of making battle lines disappear, we may just be re-aligning them between different sets of parties. The ironic allies are the anti-evolution creationists with the anti-religious Dawkins crowd. They find strong agreement with each other that either evolution or Christianity must go, and they provide fuel for each other’s fires. A traditional creationist friend of mine would never call himself an ally to Dawkins, and yet I think he takes a secret pleasure and comfort in Dawkins’ inflammatory rhetoric because it confirms his belief of the demonic sources and uses of Evolution. Dawkins he can take. It is the evolutionary creationists that really make the hair stand up on the back of his neck. I think the new battle line is between those who demand that truth is ‘facts only, please’, and those who think the truth is much bigger and can even be found in literary works that exist under the label ‘fiction’ (& is especially found in undisputed Scriptural fictions we know of as parables).
    I hate to keep thinking in terms of battle lines where ever they may be; I want to reach out as much as others here have expressed. But we need to recognize the reality that some are interested in burning the bridges even as some of us try to build them. ‘I came not to bring peace — but a sword of division…’, Jesus says (to that effect). This is a celebrated battle cry to those wary of wide religious alliances. Many other Scriptures can be cited that urge Christians to unity, love, and patient bearing. Pick your favorite posture! There is a much larger metaphysic at work in this age, and evolution and science are but one of the flash points.

  • Wow, I hadn’t checked this post for a few days. Some of the discussion here is really good. Thanks for keeping it civil folks. These kinds of posts I’m sure help a largely silent majority (like myself) work their way through this subject.

  • Ditto on phil_style’s comment. The fact that this discussion is civil means more to me than the persuasiveness of any particular argument.

  • One thing that it appears many fail to acknowledge about the age of the universe and the earth for that matter is time. Time to God is not the same as to us. For instance, God can make 1000 years happen in an instant from our perspective as much as a 1000 years is as a moment to God. If God did choose to create everything in 6 days [which is clearly an option open to God] one could easily objectively observe an old earth on day 8. If Adam cut down a very large Redwood and counted the rings there very well may be 1000 of them. If he was observing Rigel or Betelgeuse while contemplating Orion they would have looked millions of years old at that moment. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a contradiction in scientific age measurements and a literal young earth biblical interpretation.
    Really, anyone even considering these questions should read “Everlasting Man” by G.K. Chesterton. He gets to the real issues because he asks the right questions. He also shows how many of the conclusions drawn on such limited “pre-historic” evidence are ridiculous.
    Regardless of all, anyone who looks at creation and declares there is no God is a fool and will lie, manipulate, and intentionally overlook facts to hide his/her foolishness. The science today is VERY cloudy. It is rife with agendas and bias. I personally witness this everyday in the healthcare field.

  • Ken Tuinstra

    Thanks for this discussion!
    Do you think that there is a real conflict between science and faith? Why or why not?
    It seems to me that there are apparent conflicts for believers going on at all times. This is not all bad and might be called the “life of the mind”, but in relatively recent evangelical and fundamentalist history anti-intellectualism has dominated in science, eschatology and political thinking (Noll, M. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind). The nature of conflicts depends upon one’s understandings of philosophical presuppositions and the implications of those presuppositions, view of the nature and history of science, and view of scripture and interpretation of scripture.
    It seems to me it would help a lot of discussions to try to clarify presuppositions at the outset. There is the materialist/theist presupposition mentioned above which is crucial. I watched a discussion on Charley Rose’s show on PBS in December 2006, in which he interviewed E.O. Wilson and James D. Watson. Their imminence as biologists and evolutionists is unquestioned, but I was a little disappointed in their assumption that, like Sagan, physics and chemistry is all there is and that Darwin’s major achievement was to verify that for any one with common sense. Incidentally, they initially intimated that they knew of no distinguished scientist who believed in a personal god, until Watson remembered Francis Collins who took over for him at the Human Genome project. I recently saw Stephen Hawking interviewed by Charley Rose and he said that laws of nature are laws and there is no room for miracles. He also said that religious questions such as possibility of an after life are for those who are “afraid of the dark”. There is clearly conflict between science and faith for these men, or maybe it is better characterized as indifference as to any connection between science and faith. It seems like a very logical positivist view of reality, which I understand to be untenable or limited in philosophy. Another area of importance would seem to be epistemology. Many scientists, such as Watson, would argue that observation and experience are the only sources of knowledge, and that revelation is not.
    Science is a human activity which has changed significantly over time from Bacon’s inductive and objective science to the changes of viewpoint in the 20th century brought about thinkers such as Michal Polanyi, Thomas Kuhn and the Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg, all of which take into account the observer in any scientific investigation. It is ironic, to say the least, that much interpretation of Scripture in the past 150 years has been based on a Baconian view of science and a specialized version of the Enlightenment , which lead to a “literal’ hermeneutic and a “scientific” interpretation of the Scripture. If the Bible is taken to be a literal scientific textbook describing all natural phenomena as such, then conflict is inevitable. Science should inform our interpretation of Scripture but not be the whole story. Ancient literature must be interpreted with all the tools available.
    It seems to me that there are many conflicts between science and faith, and that the attempt to resolve these conflicts is to be encouraged. Come now let us reason together.

  • Biblical studies stuff from this week (links & quotes) « Ben Byerly’s Blog

    […] On Jesus Creed, RJS is guest blogging a series on The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This book describes how Dr. Collins, an outspoken evangelical Christian reconciles his faith with his science. The series begins here. […]