Friday, May 06, 2011

Science and Religion

There are many things that fuel the so called conflict between science and religion. Based on my experience, one of the biggest problems is Biblical illiteracy and the concomitant lack of Bible interpretation skills. If folks had better interpretive skills and knowledge about the Bible, a significant amount of the science and religion pseudo conflict would vanish.

It seems to me there are three basic concepts that people miss which then can send them off into odd interpretive places.

First is the very common idea that the Bible is some sort of instruction manual, guide book or set of lessons with practical applications. Can we go to Scripture and find wise advise for how to live our lives? Of course. But that is not, in my estimation, the primary reason we have been given the Bible.

The Bible is the story of God's relationship with us. It is story in the most honest and truthful sense of the word story. The Bible tells God's story, the story in which we find our place and is not the answer book given to solve all our personal problems.

The second concept is the idea that the only serious, faithful reading of scripture is a literal reading. I have been surprised at the number of well education Christian people I know who do not realize the church has a long, very long tradition of faithfully reading the Bible using a variety of interpretive methods. Long before Darwin and the Scope's Trial and Creationism and Intelligent Design, people realized that there were other ways of reading Genesis 1 and 2 than as historical fact. Reading Genesis in a way other than as the recitation of historical scientific facts about creation is not a modern accommodation of evolution but a way of engagement of the text with a long tradition in the church.

These are two rather significant shifts in the way one reads the Bible. There is no way around that. This entails some major relearning for some people. For other people, these two concepts open up a way of faithful, serious engagement with the Bible that can be liberating.

This is what I tell people, who ask, about Genesis 1 and 2- These chapters are not about science. These chapters are not given to us to tell us how the world was created. These chapters are given to us to tell us about the Creator of the world. The text isn't interested in proving that God created the universe. The text assumes that God created the universe. And the text wants to tell us about that God. Who that God is, how that God acts, the ways that God relates to all that was created.

To believe that these chapters in Genesis are not a historical accounting of an event is not to believe theses chapters are not true. Which brings us to the third idea that aids Biblical interpretation. The truth is not merely equivalent to the facts. This is a difficult idea for modern people, people who were raised in the age of science. Our assumption is that if we know the "facts", we will know the truth. But somethings are not reducible to facts. For example- Love. Beauty. Justice.

Dick Murray in his book, Teaching the Bible to Adults and Youth, suggests that we ask three questions when we read the Bible.

What does this tell us about God?
What does this tell us about the relationship between God and humans?
What does this tell us about the relationship between humans?

The order is important and the questions are deceptively simple yet incisive. They are questions that help us think about truth rather than facts.

All three of these concepts deserve a more complete discussion than I have given them here. But as a starting point, what do you think? Is this a useful approach to help lessen the idea of a conflict between science and religion?

This is more than an academic exercise, my friend Bill Tammeus writes about the important of science and religion to work together in health care.

There are three books I recommend on the topic of Biblical Interpretation, Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book, Chapter 5 of N. T. Wright's New Testament and the People of God (Actually I hope you read the entire book but chapter 5 is what this post is about), and Micheal W. Goheen and Craig Bartholomew's The True Story of the Whole World: Finding your Place in the Biblical Drama. What would you add to this list?


Nancy Janisch said...

Then of course there's this:

John Shuck said...

Our Science and Spirit group is reading a helpful book, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. He teaches Physics at Eastern Nazarene College. This book might be a helpful resource.

Nancy Janisch said...

Thanks John, I've requested it from the library. I've been appreciative of Karl's work with Biologos.