Darwin: Liberator of the Bible

Darwin: Liberator of the Bible September 24, 2012

The story of the relation of Genesis to science is complicated. In fact, there are a number of stories, but the first one is the story of difference and then the story compatibility and the third one the story of monopoly. So argues Francis Watson in his chapter in Reading Genesis after Darwin.

The story many receive today is that either Genesis is right and science wrong, or science is right and Genesis is wrong. Watson contends that sells the story of their relationship short and misses out on big chunks of good thinking.

Do you think Darwin led to the liberation of the Bible from one kind of interpretation?

His focus begins with Calvin who in his own way and in his own terms, including the scientific terms of his day, saw astronomy as the world of reality and worthy of serious thinking, and Genesis a message of God’s gift to humans that what they “saw” (appearance) entailed a message of God’s gift to the real world. It appears to me that Watson sees in Calvin what some would call separable magisteria of knowledge. We see two lights in the sky — Genesis 1 — while science shows us there is one light and another that is reflected, along with Jupiter which is far bigger than that second light. This is about two modes of knowing. Both are good and gifts from God.

For Calvin we weren’t to surrender what the Bible says to science, or science to the Bible. Genesis teaches us about life as a gift from God. In this sense, the Bible has precedence because this is a fundamental perspective about reality.

But the story soon was reshaped to where science could falsify the Bible. In other words, the story of compatibility — leading to choice about which tells the truth — soon overtook the story of difference. Rocks were discovered — at first they were explained by the Genesis flood, and then when that was falsified the geological ages were fit between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 (I was taught this in college by a professor). This is all the story of making science and Genesis compatible. But compatibility nearly always leads to an alternative narrative of both the Bible and science, but the narrative is neither science’s or the Bible’s!

Watson’s argument is that the story of compatibility, which is an interpretation of Genesis, was eventually beaten by the story of science and can lead us back to the story of difference, as we read in Calvin (and probably too in Augustine in some ways). What he emphasizes is that science ruled out the interpretation of Genesis, but that interpretation can’t be equated with the text itself. Scripture is the narrative of salvation, the narrative of God’s ways with humans through Christ.

Darwin avoided Genesis; Darwin read the world of nature. He in effect, according to Watson, liberated the Bible from the natural sciences. A book like John Walton’s The Lost Worlds of Genesis One  steps in now to show the kind of difference we are talking about.

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