The Bible and Science

The Bible is the greatest love story ever written. It is the metanarrative (drama) of redemption which culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus. Kyle Greenwood writes, “The Bible’s primary function is to demonstrate how God has worked in history for the redemption of humanity, ultimately pointing to the one who brings about that redemption.”[1] Thus, the Bible is not a science textbook. If this is the case, then why does science get such a prestigious seat at the metaphysical epistemological discussion table? If the Bible’s main focus is on the redemption of the human soul and on a metaphysical resurrection, and physical science cannot speak to such metaphysical concepts, then why do some elevate science in such a way that it needs to align with scripture? Narrative theologians would not make such an assertion in the other direction. They would not presume that the drama of redemption and science need to align at every point. Scientific propositions do not objectively prove the truth of the narrative and the narrative does not purpose to objectively prove scientific truth claims. For Christians, God’s illocution and perlocution as portrayed in the locution is sufficient. Thus, science should be put in its proper place and theology should dethrone herself as the “queen of the sciences.”

Greenwood quotes from Augustine,

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 [scientific] 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….If they [critics] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?[2]

Augustine argues for the use of science as an appropriate apologetic, which it certainly should be used when necessary. Greenwood writes, “Let us appeal to Augustine, who models for us an appropriate tension between the authority of Scripture and authenticity of scientific investigation.”[3] However, some questions need to be asked of Augustine’s comment concerning critics; Will the alignment with science really prove or disprove the metaphysical (i.e. resurrection, eternal life, heaven)? If a redemption narrative conflicts with physical science does that really mean that the narrative’s metaphysical claims are false? Do the scientific defeaters of the critics really defeat the metaphysical defeaters of the redemption dramatists?

In view of Augustine’s statement, one can see scholasticism and the enlightenment and its application to biblical studies on the horizon. This is the endeavor to scientifically prove biblical objective truth claims. This is the modernism approach which postulates that scientific methods and principles form objective meaning and truth. In other words, science, and its application to the Bible, is viewed as the universal authority in epistemology and truth.[4] This type of scientific method continues in many Christian circles today and contributes to the high positioning of science within theological discourse. However, postmodernism challenges such methods and rejects the stories that science uses to legitimize universal knowledge, truth and authority and rather prefers narratives of knowledge that are situated with individuals and communities. From the postmodern view, modernity has failed in its rational and enlightenment pursuits and has become implausible in its ability to contribute to philosophical and theological discourse.[5] Postmodernism has shown us the shortcomings of modernism’s emphasis on science, and thus we should acknowledge these limitations and resist from elevating science to an equal level of that of the scriptures.

For those who strive to align the scriptures with science, Greenwood explains that one way is by the divine accommodation theory. This theory proposes that God accommodated to his people by communicating with them in terms and by means based on their knowledge, understanding and experience within the ANE context. Greenwood compares this to parents speaking to their children in a way that is appropriate to the setting and in a way that they can understand.[6] While this is an interesting and perhaps a promising theory for some in the Bible and science discussion, I can not advocate for this position. Divine accommodation is an accommodation to science because it continues to approach the discussion with a modern mindset which demands that there be harmony between scripture and science in order to present objective universal knowledge and truth. Furthermore, divine accommodation begs the question, Do we need a divine accommodation theory with the end as some suggest we need with the beginning? The science of thermodynamics suggests that the heat death of the universe is very plausible, but the scriptures speak of an in-breaking of a future eternal kingdom. It is inconsistent for a Christian to attempt to harmonize scripture and science regarding scripture’s narration of a cosmological event and not scripture’s narration of eschatological event. Scripture and science do not need to align in eschatology nor do they need to align in cosmology; thus, the divine accommodation theory can be placed aside.

In conclusion, Christians should adopt some the the concepts of postmodernism and its emphasis on narratives by emphasizing the divine script’s presentation of the Theo-drama, God’s metanarrative of redemption. Greenwood writes, “Scripture is authoritative not because it answers all of life’s questions or resolves all the mysteries of science. Rather Scripture is authoritative because it testifies on behalf of Jesus (Jn 5:39-40), the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (Mt 28:18).”[7] The scriptures are one continuous redemptive story that leads to the life and ministry of Jesus. This is the Theo-drama that has been performed (lived out, testified to) by Christians throughout history, and we continue to perform this drama of redemption before the onlooking scientific audience.

[1] Kyle Greenwood, Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science (IVP Academic, 2015), EPUB edition ch. 7: Conclusion.[2] Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 8: The Authority of Scripture and Science quoting St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ed. J. Quasten, W. J. Burghardt and T.C. Lawler, ACW 41 (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 1:42-43. [3] Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 8: The Authority of Scripture and Science. [4] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Theology and the Condition of Postmodernity: a report on the knowledge of God” in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology,ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Cambridge Companions to Religion (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 8-10. [5] Vanhoozer, “Theology,” 9-10. [6]Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 7: Divine Accommodation.[7] Greenwood, Scripture, EPUB edition ch. 7: Conclusion.

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