In this BioLogos Forum discussion , “Gabe” raises the question about how to reconcile a biblical worldview with science. He is struggling with verses like:
Acts 17:26 NIV
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
1 Timothy 2:13 NIV
For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
2 Peter 3:5-6 NIV
But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.
He says he is: “…still struggling to reconcile Peter and Paul’s beliefs in things like a global flood and traditional Adam and Eve as significant points in their theology with the idea that science says that there was no global flood or first pair of humans.”
Moderator Phil McCurdy (jpm) gives an answer that most of us are probably familiar with:
“We often speak of “God meeting us where we are,” and I think that that is what is happening. The text is not addressing science and origins, it is addressing theologic concerns, and God is accommodating their knowledge and belief and using it to make a theological statement, revealing himself to us through our finite senses.
I have no real doubt that Paul and Peter had a literal historical concept of those things. No doubt they also believed in geocentricity, if they were well versed enough to believe in a spherical earth, though they may have accepted the description given of the cosmos in the Bible as flat and covered by a dome, or by concentric shells supporting the heavens, or whatever. But that is not the point of the scripture.”
It’s a pretty good answer. Christy Hemphill, another Moderator, fleshes out the answer by referring to cultural contexts of Paul’s answer to Timothy that Paul “…was probably countering the Roman Artemis cult in Ephesus that taught women were created first, were superior to men, and should forego marriage and childbearing. So, the communicative intent was more to point people back to the teaching of the Christian church that held marriage as sacred and good, and women as not justified in trying to lord it over men or become completely independent from them from a position of alleged created superiority.”
But the money answer, Christy notes, is “…I think a lot of these questions come down to your doctrine of inspiration– what you believe it means that human words are God’s words and how it all works.”
Now I read to the end of the comments with no mention of how old Gabe was, but I’m betting he is a young person. Which led me to ponder how I am communicating the Bible’s importance to my children and grandchildren. What doctrine of inspiration am I promulgating to them? Towards the end of the discussion, commentator “Peter” delivers the most succinct and valuable summation of the issue:
“It is the central theme of this site and the project of most modern religions – not just Christianity – to find some way to reconcile scriptures written in the past with what we know today. The strategies vary from losing one’s faith entirely to denying science entirely, and everything in between. Francis Collins has tried to find a way to reconcile them so that they are both true.
Here is the thing. For them both to be true, and to accept science as being about the natural world, we must accept the literal truth of the results of science (although they are ultimately provisional) and do the work of finding new ways to conceptualize bible verses.
As has been commented here, many translations, changes and additions have affected the bible as read today and so this discussion is prone to lead us down fruitless pathways that ultimately teach us nothing other than that we don’t know what the original verse was or what it was meant to convey or if it really was just a metaphor or allegorical or poetic, or literal.
I am no biblical scholar, and I know that this problem has been written about by many many learned folks before this, but I would say that a more profitable use of your time is to not see science as destroying your bible, but to see the bible as a means that God used to convey ideas to simple, primitive people in ways that they could comprehend. There is no way that the people of that time could have been convinced of the world being a sphere orbiting a gigantic thermonuclear furnace, or about the eons of time, survival of the fittest, evolution and common ancestry (particularly when these people knew such or a small number of lifeforms), or about physics, genetics, organic chemistry, let alone the fact that the vast majority of people could not read and had little formal education.
Yes, God could have done anything, but as it is, the bible is a useful device to teach God’s word to people who have little understanding of the greater world and the actual reality as has since been revealed by science. Now that we have science, we must focus not on what the bible says that conflicts with science, but on what was meant by those things. That is the whole point.
On this reading, there need not have been an actual global flood to cleanse us of sin, but a story that teaches us of the need to be cleansed of our sin, or more importantly to avoid the need to be cleansed!
Similarly, we have no need to try to shoe-horn Adam’s genetic code into each of us, and bend the laws of inheritance to our beliefs. Adam can be the metaphorical ancestor of us all spiritually, and could have existed not as an individual but as ‘all of us’ in spirit, and that could have been 250,000 thousand years ago or 6,000 years ago because once we liberate ourselves from the tyranny of literalism, we are free to grasp what is truly important.”
That’s a money quote there: “…once we liberate ourselves from the tyranny of literalism, we are free to grasp what is truly important.” That is what I want to communicate to my descendants.