Engaging Faith with Science amid a Pandemic

David Jeans writes: In the relationship of science and faith, the public perception is often one of conflict. When I talk about being a Chemistry teacher before ordination, I am often met with one of two comments.  The first is “that was my hardest subject at school”; the second is “what made you change your mind?”, as if I must have had a huge conversion experience and abandoned my science. Actually, I was already hooked on science before I became a Christian as a teenager, and I never saw any need of conflict between the two.

The conflict view is reinforced by how our society increasingly discusses issues in terms of (apparent) opposites. It is fueled by the loudest voices which come from the extremes. On the one hand are the ‘New Atheists’ such as Richard Dawkins. On the other hand are the ‘Creationists’, wedded to a literalistic seven-day creation and (usually) an earth only a few thousand years old. But the conflict model is much too simplistic, and its inevitability much exaggerated.

In my 2019 Grove booklet How to talk Science and God—Grove’s title by the way, I wanted to call it “Engaging with Science”—I have tried to give reasons for engaging with science as Christians, and examples of how to do it, looking at the area of human significance. In that second part, I discuss the need to take both science and faith seriously, giving both respect. As 1 Peter 3:15 says:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

I also engage with science by looking at the anthropic principle (the fine tuning of the universe), as one example of where scientific ideas may give credence to belief in meaning and purpose for the Universe.

So why engage with science? Immediately there is an apologetic reason, accompanied by a pastoral reason. The apologetic reason is that a strategy based on challenging science is both unnecessary and likely to fail. By dismissing scientific knowledge, the church risks alienating both its own young people and seekers with scientific backgrounds. John Walton writes from an American context that…

…they have heard that to accept Christianity means to abandon their brains. They have heard from both the secular and the Christian world that to accept Christ means to reject certain scientific conclusions – a step they cannot take. They have been told that to become a Christian means to jettison science that they find convincing. So, they remain outside looking in. (The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Downers Grove, IVP 2015 p 208).

The pastoral reason is exemplified by Denis Alexander’s experience from writing his masterpiece Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Oxford: Monarch, 2008). In the preface to the second edition, he tells how alongside very fierce criticism from some, he received letters from young Christians who were thinking of leaving their faith on beginning the study of, but realized from his book that this was not necessary.

A good starting point for engaging with science is that many scientists have faith. Historically, giants like Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell were Christian believers. The idea of the Big Bang was first proposed by a Belgian Catholic priest called George Lemaitre. Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics, was an Augustinian friar.

One excellent resource for apologetics, Test of Faith, has contributions from several prominent scientists who are Christians, including the ordained particle physicist John Polkinghorne, and the former director of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins. A survey of faith in American research scientists found that 39% of them believed in a God who answered prayer. (For details see R. Bancowiecz (ed) Test of Faith: Spiritual Journeys with Scientists Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009). Just yesterday I was on a Zoom meeting of the my local group of Christians in Science. Of the five people facing me on the screen, four were university lecturers in Physics, and the main conversation was about anti-matter and then muons!

One other useful illustration apologetically is to boil a kettle. When it boils I ask the question  “Why is the kettle boiling?” I then give a scientific explanation involving delocalised negatively charged electrons being accelerated by an electrical potential and acquiring increased energy, some of which is changed into heat energy as they encounter resistance. The heat energy increases the vibrational and kinetic energy of the molecules of water in the kettle until they have so much energy that they turn into steam. The other answer, of course, is that I am making a cup of tea—and would anyone like one?!

Both of those answers, of course, are legitimate answers. Both are true. It would be nonsense to say that one is more true than the other. This leads to an alternative model of the relationship between science and faith. Science tries to answer questions of how the universe began and developed, and what laws govern it. Faith answers different questions—who created it—who ‘switches the laws on’—and for what purpose. The methods of science rule out those questions, because science is not looking for meaning or purpose. So, it is not surprising that science does not find answers to those questions.

A founder of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrödinger, said that:

The scientific picture of the world around me is very deficient. It gives me a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all that really matters to us… It knows nothing of beauty and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. (Quoted by one-time atheist philosopher Antony Flew There is a God Harper One, 2008).

In my booklet I give some other apologetic principles. The most important are to recognize that God works through process as well as through miracle, to point out the fallacies of reductionism (eg we are nothing but physics and chemistry), and to avoid ‘God of the Gaps’ arguments.

There are some very good resources around for engaging with science. I have already mentioned two of them: Christians in Science; and the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. A third is Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science, led by David Wilkinson and Tom McLeish.  Tom McLeish is looking to move away from the approach of the issue of science and faith and instead shifting his focus to the theology of science. He has explored this in his book Faith and Wisdom in Science (Oxford: OUP, 2014), where he argues that science is

…an intensely theological activity. When we do science, we participate in the healing work of the creator. When we understand a little more of nature, we take a step further in the reconciliation of a broken relationship [between humanity and the creation] (p 210).

He gave one of the lectures (on a Theology of Science) in the recent on-line conference of the Faraday Institute (available on YouTube). One of McLeish’s key points is that the key to both good theology and to good science is asking the right questions.

Today there are many areas where we have questions. In my booklet, I raise the question of the search for intelligent life beyond our solar system—an issue we are going to need a theological response to. More practically, Christians need to engage with the fundamental questions about pollution and climate change, and the challenges of those for both our thinking and our practice.

In our current situation, there are lots of questions to be considered. This week, the Christians in Science on-line conference “God and Pandemics” is trying to help people engage with some of them. The lectures will be on Monday 10 August to Friday 14 August at 4.00 pm on the Christians in Science YouTube channel. They are free and open to all. The lectures can be viewed live, but they are recorded and can be viewed later.

Here is the programme:

Monday: Prof Bob White, FRS. Plagues and Pandemics: perspectives from science and faith.

Bob is Professor of Geophysics at Cambridge University, and Director of the Faraday Institute.

Pandemics are frightening. They can spread unseen through a human population with devastating consequences…Yet throughout most of history people have lived much closer to death than we do, and much more aware of the fragility of life….In the high-income countries today we have developed the hubris of thinking that we can control our world, that we are in charge. So when something like the Covid-19 pandemic hits us, there is almost nothing we can do except isolate ourselves. It’s a shock to our individualistic lifestyles, and it exposes the inequalities and injustices in our world. There is much we can learn from this, and some specifically Christian perspectives that may be helpful.

Tuesday: Dr Mirjam Schilling. Viruses as part of God’s creation?

Mirjam has a PhD in Virology, and is engaged in postdoctoral research on the interplay of viruses and the innate human system. In her spare time (!) she has been studying theology and is currently working on a DPhil exploring the theological aspects of viruses.

Ebola…Zika…SARS…Every couple of months there is a virus outbreak somewhere in the world…In the meantime we forget that viruses exist. This year a virus is affecting all of us dramatically. But what exactly are viruses? Are they as evil and vicious as we like to portray them? Modern technology has begun to open up another universe that we were quite unaware of for a long time. What do we know about the virosphere around us? The role of viruses in our ecosystem? Or how they relate to us?

Wednesday: Dr Simon Kolstoe. The Ethics of evidence in a Pandemic

Simon is a Senior Lecturer in Evidence Based Healthcare, and chairs Research Ethics Committees for the NHS, MOD and PHE. He sits on the Department of Health’s Confidentiality Advisory Group.

Science is broadly concerned with the creation, evaluation, testing and publication of evidence … (today there is) a framework based upon concepts including research culture, ethics, governance and integrity. I will consider the challenges that the COVI-19 pandemic has created within this framework. I will consider the processes and attitudes needed for reliable, rigorous and transparent science, and how these can sometimes conflict with wider societal needs …and reflect on how a Christian worldview can contribute to this dialogue.

Thursday: Anna Pearson. The Oliver Barclay Lecture

Each year Christians in Science have a competition, the prize for which is to give this lecture. Anna is this year’s prize winner. She studies Quantum Information Thermodynamics.

Faith has inspired and continues to inspire scientist to do their work for the glory of God …what can one learn from looking at it the other way around? How can one’s approach to science help one’s approach to faith, specifically with respect to looking at unresolved questions? This talk will consider this, focusing on introductory level quantum mechanics (DJ- don’t worry!)…and will draw parallels to an approach one can take when it comes to unresolved questions within faith.

Friday: Panel Discussion with the 4 speakers

This conference looks to be extremely relevant, and is asking key current questions, which we need to consider in helping ourselves and others in the midst of Covid-19.

David Jeans has been a science teacher and a parish priest, and continues to be a theological educator. He has taught evangelists, lay ministers and ordinands in both the UK and New Zealand. He currently teaches doctrine for Sheffield School of Ministry, and science and faith issues for St Mellitus North West.

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70 thoughts on “Engaging Faith with Science amid a Pandemic”

  1. I don’t see a way of harmonising the generally accepted understanding (GAU) of the chronology of creation and life on earth (big bang, death, disease and predation before the appearance of mankind etc.) with a wholly trustworthy Bible. As I see it, there are two big problems: predation before the Fall in the light of Genesis 1:29-20, Genesis 9:2-3, Isaiah 11:6-9; and there is no place in GAU for subjection of creation to the slavery of corruption, in the light of Genesis 1:31 – “very good”.

    Phil Almond

      • Peter
        Thanks for this. But how can predation before the Fall be harmonised with Genesis 1:29-30, Genesis 9:2-3, Isaiah 11:6-9? I am assuming that we agree that God did say Genesis 1:29-30.
        Phil Almond

        • What do you mean by a wholly trustworthy bible? If you wish to interpret Gen 1 ,2930 to exclude predation then you have to say all science is wrong and must be rejected as ALL science demonstatre a 4.6 billion yr old earth, life death disease and predation going on for 4 billion years etc. It does not harmonise with a forced literalism and never has done.

          Pity all the Christian founding geologists eg Buckland, Sedgwick, Conybeare, Townsend, Playfair, Fleming et al were left out.

          • “Do you realise that God does not have a mouth? What do you think it means to talk of God ‘saying’ things?”

            Ian this post of yours makes me wonder where you really stand.

            I reply:

            The 13 cases (by my count) in Genesis chapters 1-11 where God is represented as communicating to a specific person or persons – (the man and the woman, Adam, Eve, the serpent, Cain, Noah, Noah’s family) describe real communication events which took place, where God did say the message attributed to him and that message was received by the stated audience. We can leave open at this point questions about the mode of communication (was it an audible voice? was it an internal impression which the receiver correctly verbalised? etc.).

            Phil Almond

          • Where I stand? Recognising that all language about God doing things (speaking, looking, snorting, having an outstretched arm) is true language about God which is also anthropomorphic metaphor.

            Unless we recognise this, I don’t see how we can have even the most basic conversations about God together.

          • Ian
            Thanks for replying. Do you agree with my “describe real communication events which took place, where God did say the message attributed to him and that message was received by the stated audience. We can leave open at this point questions about the mode of communication (was it an audible voice? was it an internal impression which the receiver correctly verbalised? etc.).”

          • Hi Ian
            I do agree that “all language about God doing things (speaking, looking, snorting, having an outstretched arm) is true language about God which is also anthropomorphic metaphor.”

            I hope you can see what I am driving at with my question about “real communication” on the instances when God is described as speaking/the word of the Lord came/ etc?

            Phil Almond

        • Until relatively recently anthropologists and historians were rather patronising about oral records of ancient history but developments in marine exploration have revealed that, for example, the ancient natives of Australia really did have magnificent hunting grounds with mega-fauna that had been lost when the seas rose, a number of fabled submerged cities really did exist etc If one treats the earlier parts of Genesis as deep oral history retold in the language and poetry of the transcribers we have some quite remarkable factual elements embedded in them along with the theological interpretations.



        • “I am assuming that we agree that God did say…”

          God said it? How?
          I thought we all agreed that the creation stories were mythical – an attempt to put in a dramatic and story type form how people might understand what was going on. Do people seriously think Genesis is dealing with fact?

          • Andrew
            I for one “seriously think Genesis is dealing with fact” regardless of whether the account is literally true, figuratively true or poetically true. And I am not alone. Jesus and Paul agreed with me.

            Phil Almond

          • God’s peoples understanding of how God was dealing with therm. Faith history. Not fact. Paul and Jesus understood it that way too.

          • Andrew
            I won’t prolong this. We have established elsewhere that we disagree fundamentally about what the Bible is.
            Phil Almond

        • St. Augustine wrote a long thesis “On the literal meaning of Genesis”: he had this to say:

          “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

          Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

        • Phil

          I am sure we agree that Genesis 1 and 2 are two distinct and historically separate creation myths. And that other creation myths, ova more agnostic style, appear in other Hebrew Bible texts, notably the Psalms and Job.
          Myths tell us deep poetic truth about our origins, our mistakes and our hopes and dreams. None of them is in conflict with scientific theories of how the earth and life came into being.
          Even within our readings of these myths there may be differences of interpretation. The Orthodox do not believe in original sin; Jews do not believe in the Fall. Same texts, different readings.

          • Penelope
            The Orthodox and the Jews are wrong, given a wholly trustworthy Bible, breathed out by God.
            Phil Almond

          • Neither are wrong. Their understanding simply brings different perspective on a hugely complex question. The wholly reliable bible is clear that we see through a glass darkly so obviously can’t know the complete truth.

        • Hi Philip, sorry not to reply, but I no longer get the tick-box option to receive notifications if someone replies to my comment.

          I do accept that what is written was inspired but not that it always conveys a scientifically specific point: rather, it was written to reveal the Creator in his creation. In the most general terms it is true that ‘every green herb is food’ in that they are the bottom of the food chain. I don’t fret over what I don’t (or can’t, or never will be able to) understand. The categories of creation in Genesis 1 are not a scientific taxonomic list but an illustration of the Creator’s breadth of creation which would be understood by ancient readers and hearers. It is possible that the environment in Eden was different to the rest of the earth in that it was carefully cultivated and controlled. We can surmise ad infinitum.
          I have never seen Isaiah 11 anything other than an allegorical picture. This is not least because it has children and nursing infants which Jesus precluded from the New Earth in that there is no marriage.
          I support ‘Reasons to Believe’ as they seek to understand God’s revelation of Himself in science (the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture). They are keen to support their interpretation of biblical inerrancy too.
          I am no longer concerned about predation on an emotional level. I am convinced people’s objections stem more from the easy lives we live in the West and things like veganism where people in the UK eat high-end expensive imports flown in from countries in which what is bought is too expensive for the people who live there. True British veganism would be a diet of cabbage, carrots, potatoes and beans. If we only ate what we grew, farmed or hunted no one would have a problem with this.

          • Hi Peter

            I’m glad we agree about the inspiration of the Bible. Earlier on this thread Michel Roberts asked me, “What do you mean by a wholly trustworthy bible”? Well, part of what I mean is that God and Christ did say what the Bible asserts they said – these were true historical communication events which did happen. I assume we agree on that.

            I do recognise how compelling the evidence for the Generally Accepted Understanding (GAU) of the chronology of the universe and of life on earth can seem to be, especially if the evidence has been examined first hand and not just taken on trust from experts in the various disciplines involved in gathering and assessing that evidence. I also recognise that this whole debate is fraught with danger. Although the view of the Bible as wholly trustworthy is certainly not the target, it may for some people and in some outcomes be a casualty – in cases where someone is convinced that GAU is true and recognises that GAU is contradicted by a wholly trustworthy Bible and is constrained to abandon belief in a wholly trustworthy Bible.

            No-one should feel obliged to enter the debate and no-one’s views should be challenged or criticised who has not explicitly or implicitly (e.g. by writing a book) stated that they are willing to have their views challenged or criticised.

            I know that many (like yourself, ‘Reasons to Believe’, the late Professor Packer, Benjamin Warfield, the youtube talks mentioned by Ian Paul (which I need to listen to) and Ian Paul himself) are convinced that they can successfully harmonise GAU and a wholly trustworthy Bible. I am familiar (not first hand) with the arguments for GAU and some attempts at harmonisation but am presently unconvinced by those arguments (I recognise that I need to face the challenge of the youtube talks).

            So I make the following points in reply to your August 13, 2020 at 1:16 pm post:

            Genesis chapters 1-11, however we view the genres, whatever mix of symbol and literal there is, and although they lay the foundation for the unfolding of God’s future plan, are about the past.

            The 13 cases (by my count) in Genesis chapters 1-11 where God is represented as communicating to a specific person or persons – (the man and the woman, Adam, Eve, the serpent, Cain, Noah, Noah’s family) describe real communication events which took place, where God did say the message attributed to him and that message was received by the stated audience. We can leave open at this point questions about the mode of communication (was it an audible voice? was it an internal impression which the receiver correctly verbalised? etc.).

            In Genesis chapter 1(which is agreed by most to be of fundamental importance), there are (if we follow the AV) 111 words addressed by God to ‘them’ (male and female whose creation is stated in verse 27) in Genesis 1:28-30. Of these 74 concern the diet of man and the animals:

            ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
            And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat.’

            Genesis 9:1-3

            ‘And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things’.

            Genesis 9:3 looks back to Genesis 1:29 (‘even as the green herb’).

            The straightforward way to understand this is that just as God gave man the plants and the fruit to eat before the fall, so now after the flood he gives them also the animals, birds, fish and creeping things. A clear corollary is that the animals, birds, fish and creeping things were not to be eaten by man before the fall.

            Genesis 29 and 30 are parallel statements.

            So if Genesis 29 limits the diet of man to fruit and herb bearing seeds, Genesis 30 limits the diet of the creatures mentioned to green herbs.

            You said, “I have never seen Isaiah 11 anything other than an allegorical picture”. But the chapter describes some of the results of the Messiah’s reign. I assume you agree. If it is an allegory the point is that in Isaiah 11:6-9 hurt and destruction is clearly not good, and is removed as part of Messiah’s work. If hurt and destruction (predation) were present before the appearance of man, it was simultaneously (very) good and a blessing and not good and removed by the Messiah. This contradiction cannot be.

            Phil Almond

          • “We can leave open at this point questions about the mode of communication (was it an audible voice? was it an internal impression which the receiver correctly verbalised? etc.).“

            I’m afraid I can’t leave that question open. It’s a crucial question.
            If God said “let there be light” before there was anyone there to hear God speaking, how do we know God said it?
            If God told Adam that if he ate of a certain type of fruit he would die, how do we know that God said such a thing, especially in light of the fact that Adam didn’t actually die?
            If, as you claim, these were historical communication events that actually happened, you need to explain how they happened.

    • Phil, I think your questions are good ones, and I find the responses from a theistic evolutionary perspective unsatisfying. You may find the work of my colleague Dr Stephen Lloyd helpful in this regard. He shares many of your theological concerns, and has a refreshing way of articulating them. See, for example, his paper for Foundations (the journal of Affinity): http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-72-article-5-chronological-creationism

      • I think the problem that many of us have with this kind of approach is that it exhibits a real fear about any possible discrepancies in the bible. For those who want to ascribe a more literal reading to scripture it can seem as though any evidence that the scriptures might not be literally true on the very details that they present on the face of the page will bring the whole library tumbling down. For me, that approach seems like a lack of faith, and not evidence of a firm faith.

        For those of us who want to ascribe a more mythical quality to scripture it can seem to some (e.g. like Stephen Fry) as though science challenges it until it dies the death of a thousand qualifications. But that’s only true if science is deemed to be literally true. But it isn’t. Science is another mythical structure. It deals with abstracts and is liable to reform at any moment. For very obvious example the hubble telescope allowed us to discover a great more about the universe and its age.

        Myth does not equal untrue. It is about presenting things to the best of our knowledge. “What did they believe then that made them express themselves in the way that they did?” is not just a question for scripture. It’s a question for science as well.

        • Phil

          In one of your posts above, you mention the Messiah’s work. If that is to reverse the effects of the fall, why did Jesus choose to eat fish for example, thus causing their death? Why was He not a vegetarian and indeed encourage others to do the same?


          • Peter

            In Genesis 9:3 God gives explicit permission to the human race to eat meat. There is therefore no problem in Jesus so doing before his death and resurrection. The fact that he did so does not weaken my argument at all. For the same reason there is no problem about Christians eating meat. My line of thought about Genesis 1:29-30 and 9:3 leads me to the conclusion that animal predation is something that has gone wrong or been made wrong with the original creation. That is the focus, not human vegetarianism. And it is that which is rectified in the new heavens and the new earth if we take Isaiah 11:6-9 literally. And even if that passage is figurative its force, as I pointed out earlier, depends on animal predation being something gone/made wrong.

            The counter-arguments of Jesus eating fish after the resurrection and what Paul says to Timothy ‘bidding to abstain from foods which God created for partaking’ don’t seem at the moment to me to overthrow the main argument from Genesis 1:29-30, Genesis 9:3, Isaiah 11:6-9 that a wholly trustworthy Bible rules out animal predation before the fall.

            Phil Almond

      • Which is like comparing apples and oranges. Why is modern man [sic] so intent on harmonising science with mythical and poetic texts? Our Fathers in Faith didn’t. Is this a sad by-product of the Enlightenment?

  2. What came first? Where is our hope placed?
    How far does science take us? To the incarnation? To the bodily resurrection? To the return of Christ? To a new heaven and earth?
    I heard David Wilkinson at a local live church Methodist meeting give the boiling kettle illustration.
    The why question always remains, the irreducible complexity, the telos, without which science is a dead end, and the philosophy of Scientism self defeating.

  3. Tuesday should be fun – I was reading something by a virologist turned priest and enjoyed this little morsel: God indeed made viruses very good. So I look forward to hearing another virologist temper their enthusiasm – they MAY be very good but there are quite a few you might not want to have inside your system!

    • John
      Yes. That indeed is a key question. Did the Fall have any physical effect on all that God had made, which he saw as very good? Let’s also bear in mind that the Bible is full of assertions that God said things, assertions that are among the most important claims that the Bible makes. Is it common ground among us that these assertions are true?

      Phil Almond

      • Michael

        I am fairly confident that you are not really questioning the reality of the Fall. I know you have studied first hand the evidence for what I have called ‘GAU’ in a post above. I have not studied it first hand but I have some idea of how convincing it can seem to be. But I do stand by my earlier posts about the difficulty of harmonisation. I just want people to accept that difficulty.

        You describe my view as ‘forced literalism’. Is that a fair description? I am saying that God did say certain things, like Genesis 1:29-30 and the verses in Genesis 9. A straight reading of what God says there, plus the Isaiah passage, does rule out predation before the Fall, as I see it. I don’t see how that conclusion can be avoided. And this does not mean that I have to reject ALL science, as you assert. There is a difference between, let’s say, experiments to prove the rotation of the earth on its axis, and the evidence that convinces you that GAU is true.

        Phil Almond

  4. Thank you Philip for you comment for which I await an answer. To your list of problems add Romans 5, “….as by one man, so by one man ….”, the latter being Christ.

  5. What is it about us Christians that we seem to find it so difficult to maintain a calm perspective as soon as we are presented with both what the Bible teaches and what science reveals? Perhaps it’s an unhelpful inheritance from some ill considered historical prejudices which owe more to preservation of ecclesiastical power than coherent thinking.

    In fact we have no reason to doubt that the Bible and good science tell us different things about the one true God. Since science (honest, objective science) simply tells us about that which exists and how it works, to deny it is to deny God as creator of all that there is. Alternatively, to say that the Bible got it a bit wrong in certain places is to deny it speaks throughout with God’s authority (as some people do). Where we think there appears to be a conflict between the two, we would first do well simply to admit that we don’t, at this point, understand the full picture. Given that science is always a work in progress, it would be dangerously presumptive to pretend that we do!

    We have to remember that the moral or natural law which we believe God wrote into every person’s human design was never claimed to be written into everything else he created. When God saw something he made was ‘good’, I would take that to mean a rejoicing in the wonder of its design rather than implying that every physical object or biological form of life had the same moral instinct about it that is the case with us humans. Animals that devour each other for food, whether before or after the fall, may offend our human feelings; but that mechanism for the sustaining of life in parts of the animal world is outside the boundary of our human moral judgements. And if God advised that humans too could avail themselves of animals for food, who are we to argue?

    And we have always to remember that God exists outside of our human time. This side of eternity we are never going to comprehend exactly how that works or how it impinges on what may appear to us to be strange or inconsistent timing in the biblical narrative. Seven day creationism takes a narrative which is clearly intended to place God above, beyond and yet intimately involved in the human story and tries to interpret it in nuts and bolts mechanistic terms. That is to miss the point rather spectacularly.

    I cannot think of anything less true than the idea that the Bible and science could ever be at odds with one another. But I can think of reasons why forces alien to God would take every chance to lure Christians into thinking that must be the case. And one very obvious reason is that it tells those who might wish to consider the veracity of claims for the Christian gospel that they are being made by those whose judgement is highly suspect.

    • I cannot think of anything less true than the idea that the Bible and science could ever be at odds with one another. But I can think of reasons why forces alien to God would take every chance to lure Christians into thinking that must be the case. And one very obvious reason is that it tells those who might wish to consider the veracity of claims for the Christian gospel that they are being made by those whose judgement is highly suspect.

      Augustine, in his commentary on Genesis, has a similar viewpoint – but directed at Christians. If recollection serves, he basically says that Christians should not say things about Creation (e.g. about stars and planets etc.) which are clearly wrong to reasonable people. Long before modern science, the interpretive issues with the early chapters of Genesis were known.

      As the article states, the key thing is to ask the right questions. What questions are we asking of the different texts of the Scriptures? What questions are we asking of the world around us? They should probably be different questions.

  6. Maybe ‘Before the Fall’ isn’t a helpful way to read Genesis. 1. I can’t find a ‘Fall’ referred to, but rather an aetiological account of some observed realities of life as experienced by the writer(s) and their contemporaries. A very powerful and endlessly fruitful account but not one that is best read within a ‘creation followed by a fall’ narrative. It’s a theological statement and even a poetic one, not a ‘scientific’ one.
    2. It suggests a process within historical time – a before and an after. Neither of these seem to me to be readings justified by the text.
    On a different point, I would also note how science is often provisional and offers us a ‘current best interpretation’ rather than a final set of truths.

    • Tim
      Enlarging on Leslie’s August 10, 2020 at 4:16 pm post:

      In Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 the Apostle Paul spells out the significance of Genesis chapter 3. (Whether that account is literally true, figuratively true or poetically true Paul is clearly teaching that it is a real historical event). As a result of that event we are all born facing God’s condemnation and we all die, including those of us who die before committing actual sin. The Apostle John points out that the wrath of God remains on those disobeying the Son. In Romans 8 Paul says that the mind of the flesh is death and the ones being in flesh cannot please God and in Ephesians 2 that we are all by nature children of wrath. So, in the words of our Lord, “It behoves you to be born from above”.

      That is the fundamental importance of the before and after of Genesis chapters 1-3, summarised in the theological shorthand ‘the Fall’. The terrible true diagnosis of the human condition before a holy and just God.

      Phil Almond

      • (Assuming that is not entirely futile to enter the fray…)

        Phil, it is interesting that you use these verses from Romans and 1 Corinthians, and assert that they mean that Paul is ‘clearly teaching that it is a real historical event’. Romans 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 both have a clear and unambiguous structure relating Adam and Christ. In both cases the effect is on ‘all’ or ‘all people’ (the equal opportunity ἄνθρωπος). If the disbenefit applies to ‘all’, then the benefit must apply to the same ‘all’. Any other reading is not reasonable. Oh dear. We have universalism.

        No doubt you have your machinations to avoid this uncomfortable conclusion which conflicts with your theology. However, there are probaly equally acceptable machinations which see the reference to Adam in a typological way in 1 Corinthians, in particular.

        Also, in Romans 5:12 we read that death spread to all men. The word seems to suggest to me more the passing of a contageous disease than simple inheritance. Also, this only speaks of death as the result of people’s sin. Do animals die because they also sin?

        Perhaps Paul is speaking here of a death different from physical death. Perhaps this help us to get over one of the issues with a simplistic reading of Genesis 2-3. Genesis 2:17: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Did the man and the woman die the day they ate of the tree?

        One might add that David Bentley Hart asserts that Augustine developed his doctrine of original sin as a result of him having a poor Latin translation. The Eastern Church, not being dependent on a Latin translation, does not hold to this doctrine.

        • And it’s not just David Bentley Hart who claims this. I have seen it described elsewhere as “The Augustine Heresy”. Good one for bringing up in theological discussions!

        • Yes, I think that the Vulgate is fairly universally blamed for Augustine’s specific take on original sin. But it is accurate to believe in original sin, and inaccurate to disbelieve in it. To be human is to be born with a propensity for selfishness shared with animals but with the difference that being human we have a much better idea than animals do that that selfishness is both wrong and avoidable.

        • David Wilson

          Romans 5:12-21 is widely regarded as one of the most challenging passages in the Bible. But the key points about sin, condemnation and death are clear:
          Sin entered the world through Adam’s sin, and through sin death, and death passed upon all men because all sinned. The right understanding of ‘inasmuch as all sinned’ (5:12b) is a matter of great controversy. The reason why ‘all sinned’ does not refer to our personal sins but means that Adam’s sin is reckoned to all humanity (apart from Christ) is as follows:

          5:13 (following Marshall’s literal translation): ‘For until law sin was in [the] world, but sin is not reckoned not being law.’ Who ‘is not reckoning sin before the law was given?’ Surely it must be God who chose not to reckon sin before the law was given. 5:14 continues: ‘but death reigned from Adam to Moses even over the [ones] not sinning on the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the [one] coming’. How should we understand ‘sinning on the likeness of the transgression of Adam’? There are two possibilities. Either it means those who, like Adam, disobeyed a direct command from God and/or their conscience or it means ate of the forbidden fruit like Adam did. In either case it is clear that there were some between Adam and Moses who did not sin on the likeness of the transgression of Adam. But they still died. Why? It could not be because of their personal sins because God chose not to reckon them before the law was given. They must have died because of Adam’s sin. (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22). So ‘all sinned’ (5:12b) means that Adam’s sin is reckoned to all humanity (apart from Christ).
          5:16a (the judgement is of one[offence] to condemnation), 5:18a (So therefore as through one offence to all me to condemnation) make it clear that Adam’s sin resulted in condemnation for all men. Because of this we all face that condemnation from birth onwards. That is the reason why infants die before they commit personal sin. Of course, when we commit personal sin that condemns us as well because since the law was given God does reckon our sin.

          On your “Oh dear. We have universalism” I reply:

          It is ‘the [ones] receiving the abundance of the grace and of the gift of righteousness (who) will reign in life by one[man], Jesus Christ’. Also 1 Corinthians 15:22 ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive’. We need to look at the rest of the New Testament so see how anyone becomes ‘in Christ’. It is clear that all of us are ‘in Adam’.

          Phil Almond

  7. Three questions seem to me to come out of the comments above.

    1) Is the earth ‘old’? I’d confess that I think that every scrap of evidence that I’ve seen says that it is. And predation and disease are part of that evidence. Are some of the above comments coming from a 6,000 year old earth / seven day creation position? In which case we might as well all go home, as everyone will just talk past each other.

    2) What is truth? Some of the above comments seem to make the Bible out-science science, and apply scientism to the Scriptures. The Bible is True. But hymns, poetry, prophecy even, do not claim to be forensic truth. Jesus’ parables are true – but are also stories. Every scientists that I have met believes the Bible to be true, but that doesn’t make it a scientific textbook.

    3) Am I right? If the Bible is true, and science is telling us something slightly different, perhaps one needs to question not the truth of the Scriptures – or to just reject science – but to question one’s interpretation of them.

    As usual, I’ll now go and hide behind the sofa…..

    • Hiya Jon, there wasn’t a reply button further up, but just wanted to say that book looks fascinating. Thank you. PS is there space for another behind the sofa. I’ll bring biscuits.

    • “Some of the above comments seem to make the Bible out-science science, and apply scientism to the Scriptures”

      Examples please John of such above comments
      Phil Almond

  8. Leaving creation /evolution to one side for a moment. I wonder if we invent anything. Perhaps God puts the solution in the mind as an act of grace. Starting with clothes made of skins. Perhaps everything we make is copied . All discovery is revelation by grace.

  9. Death is not the natural order of things!
    From today’s reading, Psalm 90:5- 12 there is this comment:
    “We are painfully reminded that our lives are exercises in disintegration – we are wearing down and wearing out until we are dust again (verse 3; cf Genesis 2:7).
    “Verses 7-11 Ps 90, remind us that death is not the natural order of things but the effect of our turning from God and the curse on all creation (Genesis 3:1-19).
    Without this robust doctrine of sin, we will not be wise (verse 12). We will be constantly shocked by what people (and we) are capable of, by how life swiftly takes away everything we love. We trust in our own abilities too much and seek satisfaction in things we will inevitably lose. Face sin and death or be out of touch with reality “My Rock My Refuge” Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller.
    Death is an enemy, the last enemy.
    An enemy we fear.
    Why do we fear, rage against the dying of the light? Why the search for eternal youth, a longing to live forever? A fear that the end is not the end, that death is not a nonexistence?
    Where is the hope? In Saviour Science?
    It is in the death of death in the death of Christ and his resurrection. Beyond science?

    • Geoff,
      I am unsure whether this was an answer to my comment, as it doesn’t seem to address what I wrote. However, for the record I do not question a robust doctrine of sin, just hope that people could think a little about how this doctrine fits in with the physical world that exists around us. I find ‘Saviour Science’ mildly insulting. Like all believers working in this field, Jesus is and only is my Saviour. Science (well, engineering) was my profession for over 40 years. Mostly enjoyable, but never my hope. Beyond science – probably yes – but science does inform and help our faith.

      • Jon,
        It wasn’t a reply to anyone, merely a contribution.
        Nor did I know that engineering was your career, but the comment seems to have been taken personally, with a defensive sensitivity or jolt, as “mildly insulting”. Has pride has been pricked, maybe?
        There are a number of comments here seeking to pour scorn or undermine the doctrine the Fall. We’re all Arminians now. There don’t appear many who comment on Ian Paul’s blog who do adhere to the doctrine.
        I can certainly see how science can add to a sense of a believer’s awe and wonder in our Triune God, in some aspects, and has led some to faith.
        I’ve personally known 6 GP’s who are strong Christians, and there are scientists who are Christian apologists. Such as David Wilkinson mentioned in the article and Alister McGrath, and others are available, as you will know. I’ve been able to make use of some of their work.
        As you will know John Lennox has written on the philosophy of science, a topic many overlook or even deny.
        Science doesn’t inform (but may support) the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, nor undermine it, as a former solicitor, though justice, jurisprudence and natural law do so inform.

        • Geoff,
          No worries. No pride involved. Just objected to ‘Saviour Science.’ Not sure where Joseph Arminius comes in, though. Perfectly robust doctrine of the Fall there….
          Peace, Jon

  10. Jon,
    PS. David Bentley-Hart appears to have been quietly taken down from the pedestal that some Christians sought to put him on. A very human endeavour.

      • Jon,
        Pelagius, remains on a pedestal, though perhaps unacknowledged or unrecognised.

        41:9 And if ye be born, ye shall be born to a curse: and if ye die, a curse shall be your portion.
        This is well before Augustine and Pelagius, from Jesus Ben Sirah , Ecclesiastes, not written in Latin.

        • Geoff,
          I’m probably just a bit crotchety with this hot weather, but I think you mean Ecclesiasticus. But if we’re going to proof text, I’d prefer the canonical Ezekiel 18:20.
          “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”
          Poor old Pelagius – he’d have fitted perfectly into a lot of churches today.

          I’m probably just a bit

  11. Not quite sure how to interject this in the puzzling mix of dates however here goes:-
    A man was asked once “Do you believe that Jonah was swallowed by a whale?”
    “Yes” he said, “and if the Bible had said that Jonah swallowed a whale, I’d believe it too!”
    Now for the point of argument, say both agreed on the inspiration of scripture, what difference would it make?
    The difference would lie in the interpretation and understanding of scripture, looking into the subject of authorial intent to begin with and then leading on to other things.

    • I thought the OT states that Jonah was swallowed by a ‘big fish’ – not necessarily a whale.

      Clearly Jonah had a ‘whale’ of a time though ..

      • Yes, but I was going on the “man in the street’s” view. However your comment shows that arguing over the detail of the text is often a ‘red herring’. I think you got my point.
        If the Bible had said something stupendously ridiculous it wouldn’t negate its inspiration only affect the way we would come to understand it.

        • Jonah always seems to me as an example of a Jewish morality story using kind of genre intended to make a spiritual point rather than being intended as literal history. Interpreting it in this way doesn’t and shouldn’t make it any less inspired of course, which I think supports your assertion.

  12. Yes, the difficulty is always how to discern between my assertion of the meaning of scripture and the authorial intention of it. The peacock’s feathers of the “eureka” moment is always very attractive to us.


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