Your Q & A

At Odds with the Biblical Narrative?

A) How can we present a compelling case for the harmony of science and Christian faith to non-Christians when Christians are divided on fundamental issues such as the age of the earth and the evidence for our origin by evolution/common descent?

B) Is proclamation of a young earth and a 6-day 24-hour creation event damaging to the public reputation and validity of the Christian faith?

C) How should we respond to the view that evolution and the Bible teach opposing views of the origin of species?

D) How should we react to the claim that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is absolutely fundamental to the truth of the rest of the Bible and the Gospel itself?

4 Responses

  1. /February 20, 2017/

    D. How should we react to the claim that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is absolutely fundamental to the truth of the rest of the Bible and the Gospel itself?

    There is nothing in the Bible that says every sentence should be taken literally.  There are many expressions of truth in literature that are not meant to be taken literally and, often, to mistake them as literal destroys the meaning actually intended by the author.

    Robert Burns, for example, would have been amazed if we took literally the words, ‘And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry’ from his romantic poem, Red Red Rose.  He would have been nonplussed if they were presumed to be some geological claim as to the life span of the oceanic mass. Yet, properly interpreted, they stand the test of time as a convincing poetic expression of the passion we feel in our human loves.

    So the question to ask of each passage of the Scriptures is what kind of style of writing it is and then we can move on to understand what the author was trying to say and the truth and meaning God wanted to convey through his craft.

    The Genesis account of creation is plainly not meant to be a science account since this form of empirical literature was not around till the scientific revolution.  Furthermore this is clear from the text itself since it talks of the first three days of Creation before we have the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day and so begs the question as to what was the measure of the first days without a sun to rise or set.

    Instead the Genesis Creation account is intended to reveal theological and anthropological truths, such as that there is a good and wise God who created the Universe at a beginning out of nothing in order to display His glory and, in love, to share it with mankind.  This mankind He made in His image as a communion of persons joined in love, to give life and to build up the world by cultivating it.

    Many other such truths are contained in these chapters which remain precious to our cultural identity and self-awareness and which cannot be expressed by means of science alone,  As the scientist Brian Cox put it, ‘Meaning is something that scientists alone are not qualified to extract from the world.  This is where art and music and philosophy and theology live, and ... are an essential part of our discussion, (allowing us to reflect on) what the discoveries that we make mean (and) how should to respond to them as human beings?’

    Right Reverend John Keenan
    [The Right Reverend John Keenan is the Bishop of the Diocese of Paisley and the representative of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland in relation to Grasping the Nettle.]

  2. /March 1, 2017/

    Question 7a - How can we present a compelling case for the harmony of science and Christian faith to non-Christians when Christians are divided on fundamental issues such as the age of the earth and the evidence for our origin by evolution/common descent?

    This is a problematic issue which brings great discord to the Christian Faith and embarrassment in relation to our witness to the world. One of the corollaries of Monotheism is the dictum that “All truth is God’s truth.” Traditionally Theology has seen itself as the “Queen of the Sciences” (the latter term referring to the older definition of science as the systematisation and classification of a body of knowledge pertaining to a particular subject). This was not because of some innate superiority over other disciplines but because of necessity. Concerning itself with ultimate issues, the “Queen” was completely dependent on all her “hand-maidens”. Theologians therefore, have always been required to integrate the best deliberations of all other disciplines into a comprehensive vision of reality. The fact that this has sometimes been done poorly or, on occasions, even been resisted, does not nullify the basic principle. I would want to argue that it is no accident that the contemporary sciences had their origins and development in a culture underpinned by the Biblical Worldview. Atheist Lewis Wolpert acknowledges:
    “A case can be made for the importance of Christianity in fostering in the West, the rationality, in the sense of logical arguments and reasoned discussion that was necessary for science, and in also providing a system in which there was the possibility – even conviction – that there were laws controlling nature. Such a conviction was unique to Christianity…The relationship between religion and science is an intimate one, but a most important aspect of the Christian religion alone is its role in supporting and fostering rational thinking.” Amen to that!
    Therefore it is all the more frustrating to witness the phenomenon known as “Creationism”. It is by and large a “Protestant” problem and mainly within certain sections of that Christian grouping. The sad truth is that it is the influence of this phenomenon in the United States coupled with the tragic events of 9/11 that spawned the New Atheist movement and we are all living in the aftermath of this.
    My plea is simple.  Let science be science and let theology be theology. Christians need to engage in every generation with the “best of scholarship” in every discipline when trying to integrate a working understanding of reality into a Christian worldview. If Creationists (both Young Earth and Old Earth varieties) and ID proponents are to be believed there is a conspiracy at the heart of modern science which is at worst deliberately deceiving the public and at best is steadfastly antithetical to the Christian faith. I totally reject this and so should Christian Church. In all things we need “wisdom” and “understanding” (to use two Biblical words) and that requires honesty, realism and hard work. It means reading and engaging with not only writers who will reinforce our own viewpoint but also those who will challenge it. The contemporary dialogue between science and religion is exciting, rewarding and ongoing.  Long may it continue. 

    Rev Dr Russel Moffat
    [Rev Dr Russel Moffat is minister of Balquidder linked with Killin and Ardeonaig Parish Church.  He has a well developed interest -  and expertise -  in the relationship between science and theology and has devoted considerable time and energy to issues arising from Darwinism.  He has been pro-active in holding constructive dialogue with members of the Humanist Society. Dr Moffat is a member of the Grasping the Nettle Council of Advisers.]

  3. /March 27, 2017/

    C. How should we respond to the view that evolution and the bible teach opposing views of the origin of species?

    This is a key question that concerns many Christians, and those of no faith seeking to understand better the place of religious belief in today’s science-based culture.

    Evolution is a very successful explanatory framework – ‘theory’ – which describes the relationship between species and the mechanism of common descent. It is supported strongly by coherent evidence from geology, fossils, and DNA analysis. Central to the theory is the concept that over a long period of time complex life forms, including homo sapiens, arose from simpler ones in a process driven by genetic (DNA) variation and ‘natural selection’ – enhanced survival of the most effective organisms.

    The view from modern Bible scholarship is that the origins account we see in the early chapters of Genesis was written for the people of Israel as a monotheistic counterbalance to other creation ‘epics’ prevalent in the ancient Near East. It is not meant to be read as scientific literature as we understand it today (for example a paper published in Nature) but rather (from a Christian perspective) as a God-inspired narrative setting out critically important messages for the those to whom it was first directed, and for the generations thereafter.  Briefly, these are that there is a God who has ultimate authority (is ‘sovereign’ in theological terminology), who brought into being the physical world in an organised manner (giving rise to the conviction that the universe is ordered and amenable to exploration), and that the Creator desires a benevolent interaction with creation especially humankind. Our species as sentient beings and the pinnacle of the creative venture has a stewardship role, is able to exercise moral judgement, and has the capacity to experience a personal relationship with God.

    Seeking to understand better the nature of the relationship between God and creation (as far as we ever can) has been for many commentators a way of approaching the apparent opposing views noted in the question.  The argument is that God desires a relationship based on love and hence choice. This entails imbuing humans with freedom (of choice) and by extrapolation this freedom may be the defining feature of creation. Evolution as a mechanism with inherent creativity can then be considered as an expression of this freedom within the framework set by the Creator.

    There are clear challenges in incorporating evolution and the Bible narrative into an integrated perspective, especially in light of a number of prevailing Christian doctrines, but many, including prominent church leaders, have already set out on this further journey of faith. The robustness of the core theological tenets set out in Genesis is not threatened by scientific discovery; however, our interpretation of what the theology is communicating to us may benefit from being revisited in light of new knowledge of the physical world, as has happened in the past.

    Chris Packard
    [Chris is honorary Professor of Vascular Biochemistry at the University of Glasgow with an interest in the causes of heart disease. He is a member of the GTN Council of Advisers.]

  4. /March 27, 2017/

    B. Is proclamation of a young earth and a six-day twenty four hour creation event damaging to the public reputation and validity of the Christian faith?

    The whole purpose of a respectful dialogue between the disciplines of science and theology is that each has much to learn from the other. Theology, once known as the “queen of the sciences”, has often set itself apart as a study which has little or nothing to learn from other disciplines. This, of course, is not just naive it is arrogant. It is, however, no more arrogant than those who have now given this title over to mathematics.
    So, in the first instance, if we are to start the conversation, not just about our origins but also about our purpose, then we have to begin with some kind of mutual respect for one another’s disciplines. Christian theology has not always been good at that. Most famously it was the theological thinkers of the day who stood in the way of Galileo who was condemned by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633 for his support of heliocentrism – this was regarded as a heresy, he was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment and kept under house arrest until his death in 1642. And just in case you think this flaw in theological thinking belongs in the pre-reformation world, you should read the story of Copernicus, whose heliocentric ideas were banned in a wave of Protestant opposition in the 17th century.
    When a scientific theory reaches the point where all roads lead to a certain conclusion – it is the job of science to keep on testing the theory and learning from its further findings. Nowadays, the overwhelming evidence led by cosmologists, geologists, biologists and mathematicians places us where Galileo was 400 years ago, that is to say, in possession of so much evidence that long held views on young earth creation should be discounted and six-day, twenty-four hour creation cannot be taken literally.
    To compound the problem for Christian apologists, those who aggressively campaign for an anti-theist world-view lampoon the idea of a God who sits outside of the framework of all that science has to teach us. That’s what happened in Galileo’s time and it’s happening again. The God that I believe in is not the God described by the evangelical atheists of today. The God I believe in is pre-eminent and pre-existent and neither God nor scripture have to be defended against evolutionary theories or ideas that the universe is older than my tiny mind can comprehend.
    But most importantly of all; the God I believe in is alongside, known in the Word made flesh, still seen in the face of the poor and known in the power of love and forgiveness. This God will apprehend us through grace (undeserved love) and this God needs to be comprehended by more than scientific language and understanding.
    While saying all of that Grasping the Nettle stands ready to hold a respectful dialogue with those who are finding it difficult to leave some of these old literal views behind or who feel that their faith is undermined by what is now widely held as scientific knowledge.

    Very Rev Dr John Chalmers
    [Dr Chalmers is Principal Clerk to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and Chairman of Grasping the Nettle]