Thinking deeply about science and religion, and thinking especially about how the two disciplines should properly interact, is now a multimillion-dollar industry. Or so it seems. The Templeton Foundation and BioLogos, for example, are big players.
But there are many other participants, including the Henry Center’s Creation Project.See Melissa Skinner, “Funding Darwin in the Church,” Answers Magazine 12.3 (May-June 2017), 70-77. This is a provocative article, though it is marred by several false assumptions and factual errors. Top tier universities like Oxford and Cambridge are part of this broad initiative, as are evangelical and mainline seminaries. Countless books and articles are pouring off the presses, conferences and meetings convened throughout the year—so much money and research, and what is it all for exactly? To what end?
The Bible and Science
Plenty can be said here, and plenty that needs to be said with care (e.g., these initiatives are not all of a piece, for they represent different theological concerns, agendas, and priorities). But surely a plausible explanation for all this thinking and writing involves the apparent discrepancies between the Bible and science.The two books tradition has a noble heritage going back to early patristic and medieval theologians, but it still needs to be handled carefully. There are other relevant factors, but this one looms large. And it is one reason why atheists dismiss Christianity as a royal waste of time. The Bible, they say, is chock full of historical and scientific howlers; elementary mistakes abound. There is nothing “divine” about this book; the whole thing is a sham.
Christians with a high regard for Scripture obviously dispute such claims. They might object that God gave us two books, the book of creation and the book of Scripture. It is impossible for either of these books to mislead us, for the two cannot contradict each other. Since they have the same Author, we can expect harmony between science and faith. The two books tradition has a noble heritage going back to early patristic and medieval theologians, but it still needs to be handled carefully. For example, what is the precise relationship between science and the book of creation? Much turns on how we answer that question.
In searching for a biblical perspective on evolution, Peter Enns has suggested that “we have to adjust our expectations of what the Bible can or cannot do; that is, we need to calibrate our genre expectations of Genesis in view of newer historical information.”Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 42. Most Christians would agree that the Bible is not a scientific book; Scripture cannot help you with your questions about gravity, dark matter, or photosynthesis. But some go further to say that the Bible actually reflects an ancient science and one that we now know to be false. For example, no serious Christian today endorses geocentrism (e.g., Josh. 10:12-13; 1 Chr. 16:13; Ps. 104:5) or the idea that kidneys are the seat of our emotions (e.g., Prov. 23:16; Jer. 20:12).
Divine Accommodation: A Specific Test-Case
Many believers would question the legitimacy of these examples, for good reason. What is interesting, however, is that some scholars have defended inerrancy by claiming that Scripture never intended to teach biology, or any other science. God is addressing us as infants, accommodating his word to our puny minds. They contend that the Lord uses the mistaken science of the ancient Near East to communicate Scripture to his people, but we should not think that he actually endorses those positions. Such errors in the Bible are just a function of divine accommodation, they say.
These are controversial claims. They raise questions about how we understand revelation, how divine communication actually works, the idea of accommodation, the purposes of Scripture itself, the hermeneutical significance of the biblical authors’ ancient cultures, and more.For a stimulating argument, see Vern Poythress, “Three Modern Myths in Interpreting Genesis 1,” Westminster Theological Journal 76 (2014): 321-50. To help us unpack these issues, we have recruited a group of experts: Ardel Caneday, Denis Lamoureux, Kyle Greenwood, and Noel Weeks.
We asked them to answer one specific question: Does the Bible teach a wrong cosmology, and does the doctrine of accommodation shed any light on this question? Each of these scholars comes to the problem with different intuitions and theological commitments. Our hope for this Areopagite series is that it will push our readers to discern the key issues at stake and come away with a better idea about where the sober truth lies—and through the process, experience genuine intellectual and spiritual edification.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating . . .