Tag Archives: Science and Faith

Vicki Lorrimar on Science & Faith

Vicki LorrimarThe first issue of a new magazine “connecting” science and faith has been released in the UK. The opening article is by our good friend, Vicki Lorrimar.

As Christians we are all amateur theologians, seeking to know and understand our maker. Perhaps we should extend this view to consider ourselves as amateur scientists too. God equips us with curiosity and imagination to seek out answers, to understand the created world and our place within it, and to do our bit in helping the whole of nature to flourish. Thus science and faith are mutually enriching, vital dimensions of human relationship with the Creator and his creation.

To see a previous two-part article Vicki wrote for Theology and Church, see “Can Science Determine Morality?”

A Sermon Revisited – and Young Earth Creationism


On Sunday morning I had opportunity to preach at Lesmurdie Baptist Church, and it was a delight, as ever, to join the folk there in worship. I have wonderful memories and many friends from my time there as pastor.

I was a little nervous with the prospect of preaching my message, being quite aware that I was taking the role of a theological provocateur. The focus of my ministry has always been to build faith and congregations, yet I was aware that my message on Sunday could be disruptive to the faith of some of the people there, and perhaps disruptive in the life of the church generally. Still, I think the topic was important enough to risk this disruption, though I hope, for the sake of the people and the pastoral leadership, that the overall result is positive for the church.

But maybe I was concerned unnecessarily? The response of the people during and after the message was very heartening. Many in the congregation work or have worked in science-related fields and appreciated a forthright attempt to affirm the value of science and seek to build a positive bridge of dialogue between theology and science. At the end of the sermon the pastor facilitated a brief Q&A session, with two very thoughtful questions put to me.

The first question was, “How can there be death prior to sin?” This question puts its finger on perhaps the key theological issue to be faced when discussing human origins and the possibilities of evolution, progressive creation, etc. I reiterated the point made in the message itself, that perhaps we must think of the nexus of sin and death only in relation to the spiritual relationship given to humanity by God as modern humanity emerged in accordance with God’s purpose and activity. But there is a cost here: the acceptance of death as a normal part of earthly or physical existence. The fossil record argues for this reality with the death of creatures prior to the advent of modern humanity.

The second question was a ‘doozy:’ “if God calls humanity to join his creative activity, his ongoing project of creation, might this ‘play’ include practices of genetic modification, particularly with reference to designing babies, selecting gender, striving to eliminate diseases and so on?” I answered this question as best I could given the very limited time and my own limited competence in medical or bioethics. I tried to show that the use of technology  and the practise of science are not neutral, but instead are value-laden activities which might be directed to life-affirming and beneficial ends, or life-destroying and manipulative ends. I suggested that great care and much ethical reflection is required as we think through the manner in which we apply the results of scientific research. This, of course, is one way in which theology might speak to science, by calling science away from philosophical naturalism toward a higher and grander vision of existence and reality.

As I was answering the first question I became starkly aware of a tangential but important point: young earth creationism cannot maintain a positive and open dialogue toward the world of science, but can entrench only a divisive and oppositional stance between faith and science. It will lead only to the ghettoising of Christian faith. It wants to speak to science but cannot allow science to speak to it. In an age in which a fulsome dialogue between faith and science is desperately needed – not simply for defending the credibility of faith, but also for enhancing the human vision and practise of science – this form of Christian withdrawal from the dialogue would be and is a disaster.

This sermon task challenged me in quite a number of ways. It has been the most demanding sermon I have faced in quite some time. Thank you, Lesmurdie, for forcing me to push my own boundaries!

A Sermon on Sunday

IWOK_widescreenToday I am speaking at Lesmurdie Baptist Church—my old stomping ground… The church and congregation hold a special place in my life; I was pastor of the church for five years, and an ordinary member for another two years, and in that time grew to love the people and the pastoral team with whom I worked. It is always a privilege and a joy to return. My topic for today is: “If We Only Knew: From Academia to Application.” My brief is to bring something from the world of academia which might otherwise take years to filter down into congregational awareness and life. I love the fact that senior minister, Karen Siggins, wants her congregation to be informed concerning important developments and trends in contemporary theology: may her tribe increase! She and the pastoral team have devoted the whole month to this series.

I have chosen as my theme a topic completely out of my comfort zone: the relation between science and theology, and exploring the particular issue presently experiencing vigorous debate in Evangelical theology—the historicity or otherwise of Adam. Here is the outline…


My own awareness of these issues has been stimulated by a BBC production The Incredible Human Journey and by the work of the Human Genome project. I recognised almost immediately that both these scientific projects would issue a great challenge to Evangelical Christianity. I was right. In the next few years a debate arose in evangelicalism around the historicity of Adam and Eve: did Adam and Eve really exist? Two books from evangelical biblical scholars spotlight the issue: C. J. Collins’ Did Adam and Eve Really Exist and Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam. As you can guess, the two books took opposing positions with respect to this question.

Of course, serious theological questions arise around this issue: not least the issues raised by common interpretation of Romans 5:12-21.

Lost WorldHuman Origins: How did we come to be here?
In the modern era many answer that question with the word evolution. Some Christians accept evolution as fact. Others reject it out of hand, and insist on a literal six-day creation by divine fiat. Still others adopt a position of theistic evolution. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, is not comfortable with the term theistic evolution and prefers simply to speak of evolution by itself. Yet, as a committed Christian, Collins believes that God being almighty and all-knowing pre-loaded the evolutionary process so that it would result in his intended purpose.

Science and Faith: Must the relation be conflictual?
This issue raises the perennial question of the relation between science and faith. On the one hand, in the modern west science has achieved a kind of cultural status as the arbiter and final authority of truth and wisdom. That which is not ‘scientific’ is intellectually and possibly, morally, suspect. Yet Christians—and not only Christians—claim that there are other sources of truth and wisdom, the Bible in particular. How, then, are Christians to respond when it seems that science and faith come into conflict?

The response of liberal theology to that question was simply to re-interpret or even jettison those parts of the Bible which conflicted with scientific discoveries; they gave science the priority. Other Christians adopted a defensive posture, ignoring or attacking the science, or else developing their own supposedly ‘scientific’ programmes to insist that the Bible teaches precise and actual scientific knowledge, with the result that ‘true science’ agrees with the Bible. If it does not agree with the Bible it is not ‘true’ science.

A major part of the issue, however, concerns the question of biblical interpretation. Sometimes Christians fail to recognise that what we think is the teaching of the Bible is in fact our interpretation of the Bible, and the reality that the Bible can be and is interpreted in different ways by believers who are equally committed to a high-view of Scripture. And so the question comes to us: Can we be open to new ways of interpreting familiar
passages? And can we look for ways of interpretation that maximise the possibility of finding common ground between science and faith without compromising what we consider to be essential theological convictions? Note, here, Augustine’s wisdom:

In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it (cited in Collins, “The Language of God,” in Metaxas, Socrates in the City, 317).

Two Interpretive Moves
I want to suggest two interpretative moves that will assist us as we think about this particular issue. First, Millard Erickson’s view of progressive creationism. Erickson argues that God uses both the processive mechanism of micro-evolution—evolution within a particular species, and de novo creative events. There may well have been ‘pre-human’ creatures prior to the creation of Adam and Eve, but Adam and Eve were a fresh creative work of God (Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd ed., 446).

I note also, that Francis Collins, despite his insistence that God pre-loaded the evolutionary mechanism, also speaks of God ‘gifting’ humanity with ‘the knowledge of good and evil (that’s the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul. And Homo sapiens became Homo divinus’ (Collins, in Metaxas, 315). This sounds very much like a direct intervention to me.

The second interpretative move involves ‘re-thinking’ of Genesis 1:31: must God’s ‘very Time Cover God vs Sciencegood’ be understood in terms of some kind of metaphysical perfection, or might it be understood in terms of the value God the Creator places upon his work? English theologian Colin Gunton suggested that, “Rather like a work of art, creation is a project, something God wills for its own sake and not because he has need of it” (Colin E. Gunton, “The Doctrine of Creation,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, 142). Such an interpretation suggests that God’s work of creation was not the end of his purpose, but the beginning of a project playing out across history and moving toward a divine purpose and climax. In this view, the immanent God accompanies his creation, at times doing new things, providentially guiding the creation toward his appointed goals.

These two interpretive moves may help us find a place of common ground between contemporary science and biblical faith. The fact that we share 96%+ of our DNA with chimpanzees, the fossil record of pre-modern humanoids creatures, the idea that the complexity of the human genome requires a beginning population of not two but many thousands—all these and more may be addressed within this interpretive framework. Nor does this require the story of Adam & Eve to be a fictional story. Christians may still argue that God ‘instilled’ this distinctively human nature and spirit into an original couple so they were not simply pre-modern humanoids but ‘new creatures.’

But what about death? Does not this interpretation undermine the biblical teaching that sin entered the world through one man and death through sin? Not necessarily. It may be permissible to interpret death strictly as spiritual death, both in Genesis 2:17 and Romans 5:12. Adam & Eve died when they ate the fruit—but not physically. Prior to this special creation physical death was in the world but not spiritual death for God had not created the earlier creatures as spiritual beings in the same way as modern humans have been created.

Further benefits of ‘re-thinking’ our interpretation of Scripture include a greater awareness of our natural solidarity with other creatures, especially the animal kingdom, and so of our responsibility for their care. If God’s creation is God’s project, and God has created us in the divine image, it speaks to God’s intent that we participate in this project, that we ‘play’ and ‘paint’ with him, as it were, actively taking our place and playing our part in building the kind of world that God always intended, aiming always at the festivity and shalom of the Sabbath rest which is the climax of the first creation narrative.

Can Science Determine Morality? Part 2

Thank you to Vicki Lorrimar for this post. Part 1 of the essay was posted yesterday.
The full version of this essay with references and notes can be found at Vicki’s Academia.edu page.

SamHarris_Moral LandscapeHerein lies one of the major problems with Harris’ reasoning. While science has the potential to provide us with substantial information concerning human well-being, it does very little when it comes to providing the necessary impetus to implement these insights in our lives. Even experts in neuroscience, psychology and behavioural sciences, with their superior understanding of cognitive biases, irrational behaviours and impulse control, make choices that are selfish, or prioritise fleeting pleasures over long term well-being. To argue that further advances in these fields will translate into greater well-being seems overly optimistic.

How would Harris have us obtain the motivation necessary to do what is right? He envisions a society in which hidden lie detectors keep us honest. Advances in neuroimaging technology will allow the monitoring of truthfulness in particular contexts e.g. the courtroom or job interview. Even Harris concedes, therefore, that while science might increase our understanding of human behaviour, and provide the technology to monitor it, external enforcement is required to actually motivate people to do the right thing. Robinson raises an interesting issue when she questions the identity of the invisible accuser. Whose assumptions will be programmed into these imagined devices?

Throughout The Moral Landscape, Harris often seems more concerned with providing a critique of religion than in establishing the sufficiency of science for determining human values. It is as if he believes that the latter conclusion will proceed directly from the former i.e. religion does not always produce ideal societies, therefore we must abandon it in favour of science as the true source of moral knowledge.

Harris’ analysis of religion in this volume is characteristically belligerent, not just atheistic but aggressively anti-theistic. He caricatures religion as the antithesis of intelligent thought, and selectively cites only the worst examples of faith in support of his argument. His understanding of religion aside, however, Harris is operating on the basis of flawed logic. He takes two disconnected arguments: (1) scientific research can provide information about what makes us happy and healthy, and (2) religion is often (in his view) responsible for impeding scientific progress and producing vast suffering, and combines them to arrive at his final conclusion that science alone can provide us with a sufficient and objective morality.

Harris argues that “religion and science are in a zero-sum conflict with respect to facts.” It is unclear how he has arrived at this conclusion without attributing it to his obvious distaste for religion. Several times in his account of the usefulness of neurophysiological research Harris argues that science helps – indeed, science can assist immensely in determining which measures might increase overall well-being. This does not eliminate religion from the moral sphere, however.

Harris also overlooks the fact that a lot of contemporary research into neural impulses and human behaviour is taken up by, or even funded by, marketing bodies interested in harnessing this knowledge to bring about increased sales of their products. This fosters a consumerism that concentrates wealth into the hands of fewer people and is likely to have a detrimental impact on natural resources – clearly not the road to greater human flourishing.

On the contrary, David Bentley Hart points out that certain advancements in science required the scientific mind to set aside religious “superstitions” regarding the soul and the image of God within – the development of nuclear weaponry, the eugenics movement, and medical experimentation on prison populations are just a few of the examples he gives us. Scientific progress does not have the morally pure track record Harris would have us believe.

Harris’ thought betrays a dependence on modern assumptions about truth and absolutes. Though he claims to be well-versed in philosophy; though in fact he completed an undergraduate degree in the field, Harris writes as if unaware of the postmodern shift. The Enlightenment quest for a universal epistemological foundation has been criticised by the likes of MacIntyre, and replaced with the view that rationality is tradition-dependent. The stridence of the New Atheist approach is rather embarrassing in the current postmodern climate of philosophical modesty and tolerance. With philosophers and theologians alike moving into a new paradigm in which appeals to universal reason and truth are replaced by contextual and narrative approaches to meaning and morality, Harris’ approach cannot help but come across as stale.

Though he diverges from the tired atheist argument that morality is simply the outworking of our evolutionary impulses, Harris’ approach fails to provide an alternative source for our concern over morality. It is true that scientific insights can assist in increasing moral knowledge; however they are not exhaustive. Not only is science unable to justify well-being as the concern of morality, it cannot provide the motivation to consistently overcome baser human instincts in making decisions that impact well-being. Our ethical choices must derive their meaning and conviction from another source.

The aim here is not to provide an argument in favour of any specific religion, but rather to evaluate Harris’ assertion that science alone can determine human values. Harris is most convincing when writing on his subject of expertise – neuroscience. It is true that brain studies are producing interesting insights into how we might improve our sense of wellbeing. Behavioural economics and the science of happiness are burgeoning fields. The existence of scientific facts about human nature that have important moral implications is not a new idea, but rather one that sociobiologists have been arguing for decades.

This does not pose any problem for religion, however, or for the existence of God. Harris’ zero-sum conflict is apparent only to him. There need be no antagonism between the capacity of science to discover more about what leads to well-being, and the role of religion in providing both the motivation and ability to integrate this knowledge into our lives. It seems that Harris’ antipathy toward religion causes him to overstate the potential of scientific research in determining morality, and to overlook its many shortcomings. The ’moral landscape’ envisioned by Harris is little more than wishful thinking on his part; when it comes to moral discourse, religion is likely to persevere.

Can Science Determine Morality? Part 1

Thank you to Vicki Lorrimar for this post. The full version of this essay with references and notes can be found at Vicki’s Academia.edu page.

Picture by obviouslycloe; see obviouslycloe.org

Many consider morality to be the purview of religion and not science. Stephen Jay Gouldarticulated this thinking best in his argument that science and religion each have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority,” and that these magisteria do not overlap. For those who subscribe to this view, science deals with facts about the natural realm, while questions of morality or purpose fall exclusively within the domain of theologians and philosophers.

Sam Harris, in The Moral Landscape, challenges this prevailing understanding that science has little to contribute to moral discourse. Instead, Harris defines morality in terms of human flourishing and locates a moral compass in biological sources. According to Harris, “only a rational understanding of human well-being will allow billions of us to co-exist peacefully” – and such a rational understanding precludes any input from religion. Drawing momentum from the current popularity of behavioural economics and the science of ’happiness,’ Harris argues that an increasing understanding of neurophysiology promises a morality that is entirely determined by science.

Harris departs from traditional atheist arguments concerning morality, which often invoke evolutionary pressures as the source of our moral code. Rather, Harris argues that we must often oppose these natural tendencies and transcend them through reason, for “our modern concerns about meaning and morality have flown the perch built by evolution.” He spurns moral relativism, the notion that moral truth does not exist and that right and wrong are merely constructions. The title Harris gives to his work represents his own understanding of morality – that there are multiple answers to moral questioning. For Harris, ‘the moral landscape’ describes “a space of real and potential outcomes whose peaks correspond to the heights of potential well-being and whose valleys represent the deepest possible human suffering.”

Harris challenges the “firewall” that has been in place between facts and values ever since Hume drew his ‘is/ought’ distinction. Values, according to Harris, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood. As a neuroscientist, Harris considers the human brain to be the nexus of social, emotional and moral development. Beliefs about values and beliefs about facts seem to arise from similar brain processes – therefore values are derived from facts about how our brains interact with the world.

Harris proposes that advances in our knowledge in areas such as the neurophysiology of happiness and suffering, the effects of social institutions on relationships, and retributive impulses will provide all the necessary tools to identify right and wrong with respect to human values. This leads him to suggest that morality is not philosophical or religious in essence but rather an undeveloped branch of science. “If there are objective truths to be known about human well-being… then science should one day be able to make very precise claims about which of our behaviours and uses of attention are morally good, which are neutral, and which are worth abandoning.”

Harris contends that “science can help us find a path leading away from the lowest depths of misery and toward the heights of happiness for the greatest number of people.” Chopra is quite right when he describes Harris’ account as “gussied up old-fashioned utilitarianism.” The inherent problems in such an approach have long been established in the literature. Ewing, for example, posed the question: “Suppose we could slightly increase the collective happiness of ten men by taking away all happiness from one of them, would it be right to do so?” Harris would answer ’yes’ – in fact he poses an even more extreme version of this question himself and answers in the affirmative. Harris does acknowledge the dilemmas arising from consequentialism, however persists in his belief that it must form the basis of morality.

The issue of individual justice aside, there remains in the utilitarian approach the challenge of discerning which actions will result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number. According to Harris, science is much more clear-sighted in determining the consequences of behaviour than we are! In reality, it is often difficult to weigh the far-reaching effects of any given action, another problem acknowledged yet not addressed by Harris.

If a consequential approach to ethics were to be accepted, is well-being the most appropriate criteria by which actions are assessed? The term itself is rather vague, although Harris appears to employ it interchangeably with happiness and human flourishing. All religious and philosophical notions of morality are reduced to a common concern for well-being. Harris imagines an unlikely scenario in which an honour culture might result in a high level of human flourishing, and concludes that killing for the sake of honour would then be morally acceptable. This moral reasoning appears dubious at best.

Even if maximal well-being were considered a sufficient basis for morality, we must ask how this end goal is selected in the first place. Harris claims that “once we begin thinking seriously about human well-being, we will find that science can resolve specific questions about morality and human values.” However, what directs us to consider human-wellbeing seriously? Science does not supply us with the notion that well-being should be our ultimate concern – Harris has arrived at this conclusion by some other means.

Let us again assume for now that the optimisation of human well-being is indeed an adequate foundation upon which we may construct an ethic. In yet another statement of his thesis, Harris argues that “science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want – and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible.” Having attained such knowledge, how do we then put it into practice? We already know that driving our cars at reduced speeds, or removing unhealthy sugars from our diet, has a positive impact on well-being – but this does not stop many people from speeding on a regular basis or reaching for the slice of cake instead of the piece of fruit. There is a significant gap between knowing what is right and doing what is right.

Continued tomorrow

Bruce McCormack on ‘Modern’ Theology

JacobWrestlingAngelBruce McCormack asks what constitutes and characterises modern theology as ‘modern,’ as opposed to ancient theology. He considers this question in two introductions: first to his Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, and second in Mapping Modern Theology: A Thematic and Historical Introduction. In the first introduction, McCormack argues,

The conviction I came to at that time is one I still hold today: that it was the rise of ‘historical consciousness’—by which I mean the awareness that all human thinking is conditioned by historical (and cultural) location—that was most basic to the emergence of what we tend to think of as ‘modern’ theology today (10-11).

McCormack identifies two preconditions necessary for the emergence of historical consciousness in German culture: Kant’s limitation of what may be known by the theoretical reason in phenomenal reality, and second, the emergence of early romanticism in Herder and Hamann. “It was the confluence of these two developments especially which brought an end to Enlightenment rationalism and made possible the first truly modern theologies” (11). McCormack goes on to identify the features which characterise modern theology:

Beyond the historicizing tendencies unleashed by the rise of historical consciousness, any truly ‘modern’ theology will also include the following: an acceptance, in principle at the very least, of critical methods for studying the Bible; a recognition of the loss of respect among philosophers for classical metaphysics in all of their (Greek) forms; the recognition of the breakdown of the old Aristotelian-biblical cosmology in the course of the seventeenth century; and acceptance of the necessity of constructing doctrines of creation and providence which find their ground in more modern theological and/or philosophical resources.

Negotiable elements (i.e. those found in some ‘modern’ theologians but certainly not in all) include the following: a relatively positive stance towards evolutionary science…; nonfoundationalism, and opposition to natural theology (11).

In the second introduction McCormack covers much of the same ground though with a little more detail and discussion. Here he speaks of three defining moments in the move toward modern theology:

  1. The Rise of Science and its challenge to traditional orthodoxy, especially in the field of creation. Traditional theological authorities, especially Scripture, could no longer be taken at face value, but required interpretation in the light of new knowledge and new realities.
  2. The Rise of Critical Philosophy and its challenge to our knowledge of God. Kant’s dualist epistemology meant that God could not be known. Enter Hegel, whose speculative theological philosophy brought God back into knowledge, but understood now in personalist terms as an infinite Subject rather than in terms of classical metaphysics as an infinite Substance.
  3. Given God’s personal subjectivity, revelation came to be understood in terms of personal self-disclosure rather than the communication of information, and Scripture as a witness to revelation, as revelation only in a secondary and derivative sense.

As a result of these defining moments, modern theology either accommodates its interpretation of Scripture to knowledge gained elsewhere, or mediates traditional theological values in entirely new forms. It puts aside classical metaphysics and theism, and seeks to understand God and the God-world relation in new ways. It embraces biblical criticism as a matter of principle, while not necessarily affirming every form of criticism.

McCormack notes that not all theology done in modernity is actually ‘modern.’ It is only characterised as modern if it shares these modern commitments. Nor is a return to pre-modern theology desirable or legitimate, for the modern challenge has arisen precisely because of problems inherent in classical thought. McCormack therefore approves these three moves and obviously wants to be a ‘modern theologian’ in this sense, but is also very aware that these three commitments have often led modern theologians in unbiblical, unorthodox directions. His intent is to be a modern theologian, but within the orbit of biblical orthodoxy. Has he managed to walk this fine line?

Creationism: Reflections on a Dialogue

Hugh Ross
Hugh Ross

Last night I was MC at an event in Perth in which Hugh Ross, founder and president of Reasons to Believe, and Carl Wieland, Managing Director of Creation Ministries International, engaged for the first time ever in a public forum. The event was billed “A Gracious Dialogue” rather than a debate and it retained a gracious character throughout – for which I am grateful!

There was a good turnout – almost 400 people, which is quite outstanding for Perth. The audience Q&A was handled by SMS, and I would do it again like that in a heartbeat: around fifty questions were received and scrutineers sifted them, choosing the most relevant and representative half-dozen. This allowed the best questions to be sourced, while avoiding any grandstanding, preaching or rancor. Given the topic and the heartfelt passion and the division it stimulates, this was a major achievement on the part of the organisers.

So what did I think?

1. Why did I get myself into this position?
Before the event I was somewhat nervous that it might be less than “gracious,” or that some members of the audience might become inappropriately militant. Happily, that was not the case. Further, and perhaps more to the point, I am neither a scientist nor the son of a scientist. Would I have anything constructive to say? Finally, I have a good friend who can’t believe that I would even give airtime to what he considers one of the more disreputable pursuits of conservative evangelicalism! In his view, giving oxygen to this discussion simply allows the worst aspects of fundamentalist evangelicalism to continue and even thrive.

2. This is an intra-mural discussion that probably has little interest or traction in wider Christian circles, not to mention those outside of Christian faith. It may even appear as incomprehensible to those outside the faith.

Carl Wieland
Carl Wieland

3. At base the discussion is a matter of hermeneutics, and so I was interested to see how marginal a role hermeneutical discussion played in the overall dialogue. Both speakers have an explicit commitment to biblical authority and want to find not only that the Bible is not antithetical to the findings of science, but positively corroborates the findings of science. They vigorously advocate their position, but do so differently, in accordance with their hermeneutical presuppositions.

Carl Wieland claimed that his position was based simply on the plain meaning of the text, and proceeds to read the science through the lens of this commitment. For Wieland, the biblical text is primary, and his group looks for means to interpret the science in accordance with this a priori conviction. A central feature of this approach is a commitment to a literal global flood, the literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1 as 24-hour periods, a literal reading of the Genesis genealogies, and many other passages, including Old Testament poetic passages.

Hugh Ross was more aware of the hermeneutical issues stating that both science and theology are interpretations of nature and Scripture respectively, and acknowledges the possibility of faulty interpretation, especially when conflict arises between the findings in the two fields. Although his appeal to Scripture also includes literal interpretation, even of poetic and proverbial passages, he is prepared to apply metaphorical interpretation when it suits his case (e.g. the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1).

4. Still on hermeneutics, the question must be asked concerning the legitimacy of treating Genesis, or indeed any other biblical text, as a proof-text for a scientific perspective. That this question was not even asked, let alone addressed, is indicative of a troubling oversight. It is anachronistic to read modern scientific theories back into Genesis, or to expect Genesis to speak in a scientific voice to our place in history.

Faithful reading of the biblical text is attentive to its original context, vision and purpose. It is far more likely that a faithful reading of Genesis 1-11 will see it as a theological polemic against the cosmogonies which confronted ancient Israel in their cultural environment. It adopts the form of other ancient creation myths, but communicates a very different vision of God, humanity and God’s relation to the world. Its purpose is theological rather than historical or scientific. The question of genre is inescapable here, and reading it as a modern scientific or historical treatise is to mistreat the Scripture. Our understanding of the plain sense of Scripture is culturally conditioned and may, in fact, impose an alien sense onto what the message of the text actually was and is.

5. More hermeneutics: Hugh Ross used the common analogy of ‘God’s two books’ to identify the knowledge which may be gained from nature and Scripture. Why should we expect the ‘two books’ to say the same thing? Why should we expect the Bible to be the full and perhaps only legitimate source of true knowledge? May we allow science to explore the what and how of creation, while allowing Scripture to provide why, that is, the overarching narrative and teleology?

6. Finally, a comment on each presenter’s approach to the topic. Carl Wieland gave an evident primacy and authority to the Scripture and would only accept ‘science’ that conforms to his interpretation of Scripture. At the heart of his argument is the problem of death: an old earth must reckon with the reality of death prior to the sin of humanity. Hugh Ross approaches the topic from the other side, identifying what he considers certain scientific constants, and seeking to show that they are not incompatible with Scripture, and may indeed be found in scriptural imagery.

To Conclude…
In the end, Wieland is forced to reinterpret science to make it fit with his interpretation of Scripture, and Ross is forced to reinterpret Scripture to allow it to fit with the findings of science. In the end, Wieland’s ‘science’ is less than scientific,and must resort to all kinds of pietistic suppositions about what God could have done or might have done. Ross’ interpretations of Scripture, however, are not illegitimate even though his hermeneutics might be further developed. It appears to me, then, that of the two options, Ross has the better approach and argument.

In some respects, Wieland is more consistent in the application of his literal hermeneutic. I get the sense that this is the ground of his appeal with ‘Bible-believing’ congregations. His rhetorical approach is thick with appeal to Scripture verses and references to ‘faithful interpretation’ and ‘the clear meaning of the text’ etc, and thus trades on concepts of biblical authority which resonate so deeply with Evangelicals, especially when they have not developed models for understanding this authority. Fortunately, however, there are other options available to evangelical believers; options which respect the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but which operate with a different understanding of what inspiration entails and how that authority functions.