The Bible and its potential
conflict with modern science is, believe it or not, the topic that generates the
most heated discussion on this site's forum. In note after note, people return
to the ongoing discussion of the Bible: it's authority (or lack thereof) and it's
relevance to the problems people face today, either in their personal lives or
in the public arena. One of the things that makes this conversation so vital is
that people hold radically different views of the Bible.
extreme are the fundamentalist Christians who view the Bible as being a totally
accurate document, authoritative and reliable in every respect. When
a biblical text implies that the world was created in just seven days, these Christians
believe that is exactly what happened. You can tell it's a fundamentalist Christian
talking when he or she begins nearly every sentence with, "The Bible says......"
At the other end of the spectrum are those who may or may not identify
themselves as Christians, but quite clearly do not regard the Bible as authoritative.
To be sure, it may contain some good poetry, some profound ethical instruction,
myth and legend, but when faced with a conflict between something affirmed in
the Bible, and a lesson drawn from science, for example, then the science prevails.
If the prevailing view in the scientific community is that the world began with
a "big bang" millions and millions of years ago, then that is exactly
what happened. After all, "Science says....." Such persons seldom quote
from the Bible, either because they do not view its content as being reliable,
or because they are unaware of what its content is.
But in searching
for the truth is it necessary to choose between the Bible and modern science?
As a Presbyterian minister with a deep commitment to both Scripture
and modern Science, neither of these positions is particularly appealing. On the
one hand, I do not believe that the Bible contains a completely accurate account
of the how this universe was created, the origin of the species, or the laws that
govern the natural world. Biblical writers appear to know very little about the
cause or cure of important diseases, for example. When I'm sick, the first thing
I think of doing is calling my doctor. On the other hand, there are many things
on which science is largely silent. What is the chief end and purpose of human
life? Why was this world created in the first place? And what is our ultimate
destiny as a people? Science can assist in the development of ever more effective
means of birth control, but it doesn't have very much to say about the value of
having a child. Or how many children you may want to have. And these are questions
on which a great many of us would like to have some illumination. To such questions,
the content of the Bible is pertinent indeed, for it is a document written by
people who wrestled with them just as we do today.
My own view is
that the greatest wisdom comes not in choosing the Bible over and against the
discoveries of modern science, but rather in taking the insights of both science
and the Scriptures with equal seriousness.
Rather than lifting up
one source of wisdom and knowledge and putting the other down, why not draw upon
both? Test one against the other, and arrive at an answer utilizing the latest
scientific research and the deepest insights of the sacred Scriptures.
Still, while many of us are introduced to what science teaches in years of schooling,
most Americans are woefully ignorant of the Bible. For this reason, I've assembled
a collection of articles, sermons, and other resources
pertaining to the Bible for your study and enjoyment. I also recommend taking
a look as the special issue of Cross Currents magazine,
"Returning to Scripture," which features a number of articles in
which some very insightful writers draw upon the deepest resources of the scriptures
to address problems of this day and time. Finally, if your are interested in the
wider question of the relationship between science and religion, you might want
to take a look at the book I have written:
"God and Science." First published in 1986, I now working on the
second edition; several updated chapters are available online now.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.