Science continues to create theological problems that we have never been presented with before. This isn’t going to go away. We live in a scientific age where science is the dominant method for attaining truth.
Science is no conspiracy. While there is a degree of error, every scientific theory is under constant scrutiny and peer review. If someone were to find an alternative to, say, germ theory, they would instantly be famous. So how do Christians and other religious believers deal with our faith in light of such a science-dominated culture?
The Authority of Scripture
I recently had a dispute with a friend on Facebook. This individual (falsely) accused me of not accepting the authority of Scripture because of my views on Genesis 1-3. I have not doubt that this friend was well intentioned and was genuinely looking out for me as a fellow believer, but I think he missed the point. As Christians, our faith is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything that threatens those truths can rightly be seen as diminishing to the authority of Scripture. I do not see how one can say Genesis 1-3 affects that truth. This is not an issue of authority. It is an issue of interpretation. While an alternative to the literalism of Genesis 1-3 does present significant theological problems (death before the fall, historical Adam, etc.), none of them affect the authority of Scripture.
The History of Young Earth Creationism
While it is important to note that 7-day creationism was a view that some theologians had before the 20th century, it has not been, by any stretch, the dominant view. Ellen White, a Seventh Day Adventist in the 19th century, has been considered by many to have developed modern Young Earth Creationism. Later, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb wrote The Genesis Flood as a way to explain the fossil record. In 1925, we had the Scopes trial. Combine these three events together, and you have modern day Young Earth Creationism. Origen, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and many others saw the Genesis account of creation as having a very poetic nature to it and did not see the creation of the world as being bound by seven literal 24-hour days.
The problem is that Ken Ham and many others today have made a literal interpretation of Scripture as being the only way to properly understand the Bible as the authority of God. This is not true. In fact, in some ways, this it is the opposite. True authority comes from God, who inspired certain men to write the biblical texts, which are communicated through a specific cultural context. If we are to take the authority of Scripture seriously, we have to understand what exactly the author of any given text is saying. To just assume post-Enlightenment literalism does a disservice to Scripture. Literalism is a hermeneutic, just like any other, and it has to be defended on the same grounds.
Not only did Galileo provide sufficient evidence for a heliocentric solar system, but he also set a precedent for a particular kind of hermeneutic. It was widely accepted, without question, that the heavenly bodies did revolve around the earth, and the earth was fixed and could not be moved (Psalm 93:1; 1 Chronicles 16:30). It would not be seen as very sophisticated in this day and age to make a claim that these verses are literal, scientific texts that ought to overpower our basic understanding of astronomy. Galileo was vehemently accused of heresy in the Catholic church, but he stuck to what he believed is right, and now we have a proper understanding of the astronomy of our own solar system. “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” We should listen to Scripture on the basis of how we are to be reconciled with Christ, not what the material world has to teach us.
Darwin was no Christian, but he did not see his theory and Christianity as being in conflict. He had many friends who were Christians, and none of them saw evolutionary theory as a threat to their faith. Darwin developed his theory based off of his own observations. It had nothing to do with his lack of belief in God. Asa Gray, a friend of Darwin’s who was a Christian, wrote him after he developed his theory and said that it actually helped him make better sense of his theology. Charles Kingsley, another theologian who was acquainted with Darwin, wrote “We knew of old that God was so wise that he could make all things; but, behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that he can make all things make themselves.” Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular pastors of the 19th century, said in a sermon once that the notion of millions of years should not be a threat to biblical theology. YEC pastors and theologians were not widely known in the 19th century, and Darwin was seen as giving a rational method that God used to create.
The Bible is a very old book. It is easy to take it literally, and when any given literal statement contradicts objective reality to just assume it is literary or some sort of metaphor. People in the Ancient Near East really did think that the heart, intestines, and other body parts controlled intellect. People really did think hell was actually underneath the earth. People really did think there was a dome above the sky and the stars and other heavenly bodies were carved into it. This is ancient science, and nobody actually accepts it. Just because Ancient Near East writers had a false conception of what the cosmos actually looked like does not diminish the inspired theological truth of the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book to the universal truths of every field of study; it has a very specific message just like any other piece of literature.
The Quest For Truth
Literalism is easy. After all, if God wanted to convey truth to us through His Word, wouldn’t He make it easy to understand? Sadly, it is not that simple. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes the whole bible literally (at least in the post-Enlightenment sense). Many only take the Bible literally when it doesn’t conflict with common sense or their prior convictions. This is not a consistent hermeneutic, however. Culture plays a huge part in how the Bible was written, and it plays a big part for us when we go about interpreting it. God speaks to cultures. There is not one objective way to speak to a human being, it is done differently depending on the understanding that person has about the nature of reality. In an age of science, where much of the data we acquire in the fields of biology, geology, physics, anthropology, etc. contradicts a literal reading of Scripture, we must be careful to take the Bible for what it is. The Bible is the Word of God, but it does not define every aspect of truth that can be discovered. God created the natural world, so it will not contradict His Word. Science and religion are not in conflict; they both point us toward truth.