Two Items on Science and Christianity

A couple of recent items to pass along regarding the relationship of science and Christianity:

The first comes from prominent sociologist and historian Rodney Stark. Stark has a reputation for producing work that debunks conventional wisdom in matters of history and religious faith, a trait on full display in this wide ranging recent interview. While his comments are consistently thought provoking, I’ll limit myself to a couple of short excerpts on the subject at hand:

And this ties together with works you’ve written on how Christian thought laid the groundwork for the development of western civilization, with all its innovations in medicine and science, politics, and so on.

Sure. Let’s face it: Christianity was the basis of western civilization. When you look at western civilization and see what it has, it came from Christianity. The notion that somehow western science broke through against the resistance of religion is total nonsense. Without the religious background, there wouldn’t be any science, because the fundamental notion that separated the West from everybody else was the notion that God is rational and created a rational universe, so there were rules out there to be discovered.

Nobody else looked for the rules, because they didn’t believe they were there to be found. They didn’t believe that the world had been created in the same rational way. The marvelous thing is that these early Christian scientists, including Newton, believed God had created a rational world, went ahead and looked for the rules of that rational world — and darned if they didn’t find them. In an interesting sense, it was a scientific confirmation of the Christian religion.
You have astrology all over the world, but scientific astronomy only really happened in Europe. You have alchemy all over the world, but it turned into chemistry only once — in Europe. And so it goes. And that’s why in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Europeans could sail around the world, when everyone else could only row around a “lake” like the Mediterranean.

The most surprising discovery for Europe when the age of exploration began was not the discovery of the New World or the civilizations in the Americas. It was the fact that the whole rest of the world was so far behind them. They had rather assumed that China would be way ahead of them. But that wasn’t the way it was.

Just to be clear, I don’t include Stark’s comments here as some kind of truimphalistic defense of all things involved with western culture. Rather, I hope they help to erode the misconception that Christianity and science are antagonistic by nature. At root, I think the exact opposite is the case, despite the protestations of secularists and a contingent of philosophical naturalists in the scientific community.

On to the second item: Reformation 21 has recently posted an article by Michael Reeves called “Adam and Eve.” The article is a chapter excerpted from an edited volume entitled Should Christians Embrace Evolution, a book that is already in print in the UK and scheduled for release soon in the U.S. The aim of the chapter is “is to show, in sketch, that, far from being a peripheral matter for fussy literalists, it is biblically and theologically necessary for Christians to believe in Adam as first, a historical person who second, fathered the entire human race.” A few excerpts:

The early chapters of Genesis sometimes use the word ‘adam’ to mean ‘humankind’ (Gen. 1:26–27, for example), and since there is clearly a literary structure to those chapters, some have seen the figure of Adam there as a literary device, rather than a historical individual. Already a question arises: must we choose between the two? Throughout the Bible we see instances of literary devices used to present historical material: think of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, or the emphasis in the Gospels on Jesus’ death at the time of the Passover. Most commentators would happily acknowledge that here are literary devices being employed to draw our attention to the theological significance of the historical events being recounted. The ‘literary’ need not exclude the ‘literal’.

The next question then must be: does the ‘literary’ exclude the ‘literal’ in the case of Adam? Not according to those other parts of the Bible that refer back to Adam. The genealogies of Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 all find their first parent in Adam, and while biblical genealogies do sometimes omit names for various reasons, they are not known to add in fictional or mythological figures. When Jesus taught on marriage in Matthew 19:4–6, and when Jude referred to Adam in Jude 14, they used no caveats or anything to suggest that they doubted Adam’s historical reality or thought of him in any way differently to how they thought of other Old Testament characters.
The role Adam plays in Paul’s theology makes Adam’s historical reality integral to the basic storyline of Paul’s gospel. And if that is in fact the case, then the historicity of Adam cannot be a side issue, but must be part and parcel of the foundations of Christian belief.
Throughout [Romans 2:12-21], Paul speaks of Adam in just the same way as he speaks of Christ (his language of death coming ‘through’ Adam is also similar to how he speaks of blessing coming ‘through’ Abraham in Gal. 3). He is able to speak of a time before this one man’s trespass, when there was no sin or death, and he is able to speak of a time after it, a period of time that, he says, stretched from Adam to Moses. Paul could hardly have been clearer that he supposed Adam was as real and historical a figure as Christ and Moses (and Abraham).

Yet it is not just Paul’s language that suggests he believed in a historical Adam; his whole argument depends on it. His logic would fall apart if he was comparing a historical man (Christ) to a mythical or symbolic one (Adam). If Adam and his sin were mere symbols, then there would be no need for a historical atonement; a mythical atonement would be necessary to undo a mythical fall. With a mythical Adam, then, Christ might as well be–in fact, would do better to be–a symbol of divine forgiveness and new life. Instead, the story Paul tells is of a historical problem of sin, guilt and death being introduced into the creation, a problem that required a historical solution.

To remove that historical problem of the one man Adam’s sin would not only remove the rationale for the historical solution of the cross and resurrection, it would transform Paul’s gospel beyond all recognition.

Once again, let me offer a caveat. It’s not my intention here to argue for a 24-hour creation days/young earth position. (Though I strongly believe the Bible to be God-inspired and completely trustworthy, I think a careful reading of Genesis 1 and 2 allows for God’s creative process to unfold over much longer periods of time.) What I do want to do is suggest that Christians wishing to embrace a largely evolutionary view of life’s origins must reckon with the biblical material—material that poses serious problems for such a perspective. Yes, science can and should sometimes cause us to reevaluate our biblical interpretations. But the reverse is also true. Good biblical interpretation will sometimes compel Christians to reevaluate their science.

HT: Justin Taylor

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