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> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science

by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP


1. Some useful books and websites

2. Christianity and the rise of modern science

3. The Enlightenment

• Descartes, Locke, Bacon, Newton

• Generic definition
• Kant; dualism
• Responses
• Modernity; scientism

4. Breakdown of the Enlightenment project

• Kuhn
• Polanyi
• Sociology of knowledge
• Postmodernity

4. Relating religion and science

• the conception of science is influential (3 approaches)

• science as a faith activity
• Barbour’s categories

• five principal concerns for science and Christian theology

• some major players in the conversation:
• the “scientist-theologians” John Polkinghorne, Arthur
Peacocke, Ian Barbour and Stanley Jaki;
• influential theologians Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen
Moltmann, Thomas F. Torrance and Keith Ward;
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

• many others, including: historians Reijer Hooykaas, Colin

Russell, John Hedley Brooke, Christopher Kaiser; scientists
Donald MacKay, John Houghton, Russell Stannard, Ghillean

• relating the Bible and science

• complementarity
• Genesis and science


Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners?

(SPCK, 2000)
John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology: An Introduction (SPCK, 1998)
John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science and Understanding (SPCK, 2001)
Arthur Peacocke, Paths From Science Towards God (Oneworld, 2001)

R Forster & P Marston, Reason, science and faith (Monarch, 1999)

Kirsten Burkitt, Unnatural enemies: an introduction to Science and Christianity
(Matthias Media, 1997)

Michael Poole, A guide to science and belief (Lion, 1997)

Andrew Barton, Questions of science: exploring the interactions between
science and faith
(Kingsway, 1999)

Alister McGrath, Science and Religion: An Introduction (Blackwells, 1999)

Chris Southgate (ed.), God, Humanity and the Cosmos (T & T Clark, 1999)
M Jeeves and R J Berry, Science, Life and Christian Belief (Apollos, 1998)

Philip Duce, Reading the Mind of God (Apollos, 1998)

Philip Duce, Another look at relating science and theology (Genesis Agendum
Occasional Papers, No. 6, 2001)

Ernest Lucas, Can We Believe Genesis Today? (IVP, 2001)

Douglas Kelly, Creation and Change (Mentor, 1997)
Andy McIntosh, Genesis For Today (Day One, 1997)
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

Stuart Burgess, Hallmarks of Design (Day One, 2000)

Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (IVP,

William Dembski, Intelligent Design (IVP USA, 1999)

J P Moreland et al., The Creation Hypothesis (IVP USA, 1994)

Del Ratzsch, Science and Its Limits (Apollos, 2001)

Celia Deane-Drummond, Biology and Theology Today (SCM, 2001)

C John Collins, The God of Miracles (Apollos, 2001)

See also:
Steve Bishop, ‘Science and faith: boa constrictors and warthogs?’,
Themelios 19.1 (1994), 4-9.
Steve Bishop, ‘Introductory resources for the interaction of science and
Christianity’, Themelios 19.2 (1994), 16-20.


These provide links to many other sites and resources:

Christians in Science

Biblical Creation Society

Centre for Theology and the Natural Sciences

The book Reason, Science and Faith (Monarch,1999) by Roger Forster and Paul
Marston has led to this website:


The significant role played by the Judaeo-Christian faith, through the

rediscovery of the central significance of the Bible, in the rise of modern
science in a particular place (Europe) at a particular time (the
seventeenth century) is now widely recognized, and has been
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

expounded in major historical investigations.

M. B. Foster, ‘The Christian Doctrine of Creation and the Rise of Modern

natural Science’, Mind 43 (1934), 446-468.
A seminal paper which showed the debt that the origins and nature of
science owed to Christian theology.

R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish

Academic Press, 1972).
Hooykaas traces the rise of science from Classical times through the
Middle Ages, Renaissance, and particularly Reformation and Puritan
period, showing that ‘”classical modern science” arose only in the
western part of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, and
that science is ‘more a consequence than a cause of a certain religious
view’ (p. 161); the ‘vitamins and hormones’ of science were biblical.

S. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways of God (Edinburgh: Scottish
Academic Press, 1978).
‘The birth of science came only when the seeds of science were planted
in a soil which Christian faith in God made receptive to natural theology
and to the epistemology implied in it’ (p. 160).

T. F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (University Press of

Virginia, 1980).

Torrance shows that natural science is based on ‘three masterful ideas’

(p. 52) developed by the early church:
1) the rational unity of the universe: the source of order is God.
2) the contingent (i.e. neither necessary or eternal) rationality or
intelligibility of the universe. This is a consequence of God’s creation ex
nihilo (out of nothing), which included both space and time.
3) The freedom of the universe. A freedom which is contingent provides
release from the ‘tyranny of determinism’. This freedom is not the
product of randomness or chance, but is the freedom ‘of the God of
infinite love and truth upon which it rests and by which it is maintained’
(pp. 58-59).
Similar points have been stressed by the process theologian A. N.
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

Whitehead (Science and the Modern World, 1953), who shows the essential
presuppositions for Western science of order, intelligibility, cause and
effect (rooted in a created beginning) to have been elements made
available to the West through the historic Christian faith.

The physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, while not a Christian, said that

Christianity was needed to give birth to modern science [‘On Science and
Culture’, Encounter, October 1962].

The Reformers’ concept of creation and their repudiation of the

mediaeval world-view, which the church largely adopted from classical
antiquity, were key factors.

The co-mingling of Reformed thought with the “new science” of the

middle Renaissance proved to be a fertile combination for the
development of modern science.

It was the rule rather than the exception, historically, that the “founding
fathers” of science had Christian commitments.

E.g. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Copernicus (1475-1543), Galileo (1564-

1642), Kepler (1571-1630), Newton (1642-1727), Faraday (1791-1867),
Maxwell (1831-1879).

The exact degree and nature of the influence of Christian theology on

the rise of modern science continues to be debated (e.g. subsequent
scholarship has shown that a far more nuanced account than that by
Hooykaas is required). Recent expositions include:

C. A. Russell, Crosscurrents: Interactions between Science and Faith (Leicester:

IVP, 1985), 54-79.

H. P. Nebelsick, Renaissance and Reformation and the Rise of Science

(Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1992).

C. Kaiser, Creation and the History of Science (London: Marshall Pickering,

> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP


It might be more accurate to say that science owes its rational, truth-
seeking character to philosophy, which is the proper domain for
discussion of the necessary presuppositions of science, but the main
features of Christian theology are consistent with such presuppositions.
Once science was well-established, its own success was sufficient
justification for many (atheistic or agnostic) scientists, who maintained
the assumptions of orderliness and intelligibility without the need for
religious legitimation.

Nevertheless, ‘none of this changes the fact that science makes sense
only in a certain kind of world - the kind that was in fact first envisioned
by Christian theism’ [M. Peterson et al., ‘Religion and Science’, in Reason
and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (OUP, 1991).
p. 214].


The development of modern science was given a dualistic, and
eventually disruptive, bias by Descartes’ bifurcation of reality into
subjectivity and objectivity, and his subjectivisation of reality to the
concepts of mind.

This bifurcation was systematised by Kant’s idealistic scheme in which

the mind is creative of the very order and phenomena of reality.

• Kant posited the discontinuity between the realm of nature and the
realm of freedom.
•The ‘nature pole’ (causality/determinism, science, history) is
characterised by the scientific, theoretical, subject-object relationship.
• The ‘freedom pole’ (faith, religion, ethics, aesthetics) transcends that
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

These two poles simultaneously presuppose and exclude each other.

Things in themselves (noumena) can never be perceived or known; only
those things in our experience that appear within the grid of categories
of the experiencing mind (phenomena).

This Kantian revolution succeeded in smashing the dominant influence of

traditional philosophy, theology, hermeneutics and Biblical
interpretation that had held sway for centuries and replaced the
authority of Scripture with the autonomy of the human mind.

Science began its rise to eventual prominence in Western thought by

concentrating on the physical world and focussing on the ability of the
human mind to fathom and control its structures of power.
This dualistic framework has resulted in a profound dichotomy between
“fact” and “value”; practice and theory; the physical and the mental;
freedom and authority; the “hard” realities of science and technology
and the “soft” realities of literature, music and religion (“faith”).

The theology-science debate has been grievously affected by the history

of Western theology over the past two centuries. The “conflict”
metaphor is still prevalent in popular culture (despite its mythical
character and inadequacy as a fully satisfactory historical model).

Lesslie Newbigin describes the history of the debate in terms of

surrender by theology and retreat from the field of engagement.
Theology has increasingly withdrawn from the public sphere and opted
for the areas of ethics, morality and private/personal belief - leaving the
realm of creation (‘nature’) to science alone. Newbigin has questioned
theology’s acceptance of its own marginalisation.

The enormous successes of science have been achieved by its self-
restriction to the expertise of its own area - but there are new apologists
who abandon this humility, and claim not only that science describes its
own area remarkably well, but also that its own area is the only one
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

worth talking about, or which can actually be talked about at all -

scientism or scientistic rationalism (typified by e.g. biologist R. Dawkins,
astronomer C. Sagan and chemist P. Atkins).

Critics of scientism rightly argue that it extrapolates particular scientific

concepts into a comprehensive naturalistic philosophy. It ‘makes a
metaphysics out of a method’; it is a cultural myth that is patently false.
It is a self-refuting philosophical claim, and fails to understand
adequately the limits of science (presuppositions which underlie it,
cognitive issues outside it and limits inherent within it).

‘Scientism has pretensions to a mode of inquiry that tries to deny its own
hermeneutical character and mask its own historicity so that it might claim
ahistorical certainty.’ (David Tracy)

Breakdown of the Enlightenment project

Over the past 40 years, developments in the philosophy of science have
demolished the view that it is objective and value-free whereas “faith” is
subjective and value-laden. (Thomas Kuhn; Michael Polanyi)
‘Former claims for a value-free technology and a history-free science have
collapsed. The hermeneutical character of science has now been strongly
affirmed. Even in science, we must interpret in order to understand.’ (Tracy)

‘Even mathematics requires an act of commitment as to its ultimate consistency.

. . . Because we can only approach reality from some initial point of view,
experience and interpretation are inevitably intertwined. We cannot escape from
the hermeneutic circle . . . the “intellectual bootstrap”.’ (Polkinghorne)

Objectivity and subjectivity are not opponents: they depend on each


Such developments have also contributed to the emergence of a
“postmodern” mind-set, or condition, which, while not denying
rationality completely, no longer perceives any knowledge to be certain
or objective.
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

For postmodernity, scientists no longer articulate their findings as

objective truth, but as a set of research traditions whose “truthfulness”
does not extend beyond the scholarly community who share the same
interpretive scheme. The general result is thorough-going
epistemological relativism.

This raises basic questions concerning the relation between truth and
cultural context, interpretation and meaning.


Francis Bacon (1561-1626) can be called the midwife of modern scientific
method: his ideas continue to form the basis of what many think of as
the method of science. In Bacon’s view, any properly established science
must begin from, and be controlled by, observations untainted by
presuppositions or prejudices. Then, by the logical process of induction,
correct generalisation and explanatory principles begin to emerge from
the organised data. The method seeks to guarantee objectivity,
empiricality and rigorous rationality.

Inductivism is the major school of philosophy that has dominated the

philosophy of science in the past.
This view of science has long been discarded by philosophers of science:
the death-blow is the recognition that observation is not neutral.
Observation is theory-dependent, and governed by any pre-existing

Closely related to inductivism is deductivism. Instead of moving from the
specific (events) to the general (laws, theories), deductivism starts with a
law or theory and deduces another event. If the event does not occur,
then the law or theory may require modification.

Both inductivism and deductivism assume the neutrality or autonomy of

science. They assume there is a universal scientific method.
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

Recent developments in the philosophy of science have undermined

these assumptions, and have placed more emphasis on the social context
of science.
Some have even denied the existence of any method that could be called

These developments are particularly associated with Karl Popper,

Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Michael Polanyi.

One of Popper’s concerns was to demarcate science from pseudo-science.
He rejected the positivist idea that verification was decisive. For Popper,
scientific theories could not be proved, they could only be falsified.

Science could not represent a body of objective truths, it was merely

statements, laws and theories that had so far not been proved.

Popper advocated hypothetico-deductivism. Deductions are made on the

basis of an hypothesis: if the deductions can be shown to be false, then
the hypothesis must be modified or rejected. (This approach was
developed and modified by Imre Lakatos.)

Kuhn’s major work is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962, 1970).
Kuhn rejects the popular view of the development of science as
‘development-by-accumulation’ (p. 2), a view popularized in standard
histories of science. He introduced the concept of paradigm shift to
explain how he saw the development of science.
For Kuhn, there are three phases in the development of science: normal
science, crisis and revolutionary science.

‘Normal science’ is what most scientists do [‘puzzle-solving’ (p. 30)]. It

articulates the dominant paradigm.
Occasionally in the history of science, crises occur where the dominant
paradigm cannot explain certain phenomena. At this point, several
competing theories vie for dominance. This is the revolutionary phase.
Eventually, one of these competing theories becomes more widely
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

accepted than the others, and consequently takes over as the dominant
paradigm. ‘Revolutionary science’ becomes (new) ‘normal science’.

Kuhn rightly places much emphasis on paradigms. This emphasis serves

to show that science is value- or theory-laden. Paradigms shape all our
thinking; they are social in nature, communally held and communally
determined by the scientific community.

Science is condemned to ‘perpetual revolution’. Kuhn’s view leads to
relativism: “truth” is determined by the dominant paradigm. Kuhn
overemphasizes the social dimension, and consequently distorts reality
and reduces science to this dimension.

Lakatos claims that for Kuhn, ‘scientific change is a kind of religious


Feyerabend has maintained that there is no such thing as the scientific
method. ‘Anything goes’! This is an anarchistic view of the scientific

One of the strengths of Feyerabend is that he debunks the superiority of

science over other realms of knowledge. We cannot reject other types of
knowledge because they do not conform to the ‘scientific method’ - a
method that for Feyerabend does not exist.


Michael Polanyi (1891-1976): Hungarian-born scientist-turned-
Science, Faith and Society (1946)
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958)
The Tacit Dimension (1966)

Polanyi claims that knowledge has a ‘tacit dimension’: it is personal in

> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

nature. Polanyi’s work is difficult. [It has influenced much of Lesslie

Newbigin’s thought and ‘Gospel and culture’ programme.]

‘We know more than we can tell’ (TD, p.4) perhaps best describes
Polanyi’s thesis. Polanyi expounds what he describes as a ‘post-critical
philosophy’ in the spirit of Augustine:

We must now recognize belief once more as the source of all

knowledge. Tacit assent and intellectual passions, the sharing of an
idiom and of a cultural heritage, affiliation to a like-minded
community: such are the impulses which shape our vision of the
nature of things on which we rely for our mastery of things. No
intelligence, however critical or original, can operate outside such a
fiduciary framework. (PK, p. 266)

Several factors are integral to knowledge for Polanyi, including passion, a

tacit dimension, a network of beliefs, and commitment. These factors are
interconnected. Commitment can be seen as a network of beliefs and
this network has a tacit dimension.

a) Passion
The positivists denied any personal, subjective aspect to science. Popper
acknowledged it but marginalized it. Polanyi makes it fundamental to

. . . scientific passions are no mere psychological by-product, but have a

logical function which contributes an indispensable element to science.
(PK, p. 134)

The personal participation of the knower in the knowledge he believes

himself to possess takes place within a flow of passion. We recognize
intellectual beauty as a guide to discovery and as a mark of truth. (PK, p.

b) The tacit dimension

Riding a bike, recognizing a face in a crowd, swimming, the mastery of
tools are all complex skills. Yet we are not always able to articulate or
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

analyze what we know.

Knowledge of these skills - or anything - involves two parts, one implicit

(subsidiary or proximal), one explicit (focal or distal). These aspects are
mutually exclusive and irreducible. The subsidiary is what we know, but
we are not always aware that we know. This important aspect of
knowing makes all knowledge personal.

. . . into every act of knowing there enters a passionate contribution of

the person knowing what is being known, . . . this coefficient is no mere
imperfection but a vital component of his knowledge. (PK, p. viii)

This undermines the whole idea of objectivity and neutrality in science. It

destroys the whole positivist programme.

c) A network of beliefs
Knowledge also functions within a network of beliefs. This network acts
as a vision of reality which filters sense-data before they become
observations. The vision of reality provides a framework of ultimate
beliefs for knowledge. These beliefs are accepted a-critically on the basis
of commitment: they are irrefutable and unprovable.

Polanyi has shown that faith, not doubt (cf. Popper), is a vital aspect of
the scientific enterprise, which relies on a tacit framework of beliefs.

Among these beliefs is ‘the belief that there is something there to be

understood’ (SFS, p. 30).

d) Commitment
This has two poles: a personal and an external, universal pole. The latter
pole prevents Polanyi’s epistemology from slipping into subjectivism (PK,
p. 65). Knowledge cannot be divorced from personal commitment.

Science is a system of beliefs to which we are committed. Such a system

cannot be accounted for either from experience as seen within a
different system, or by reason without any experience. Yet this does not
signify that we are free to take it or leave it, but simply reflects the fact
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

that it is a system of beliefs to which we are committed and which

cannot be represented in non-committal terms. (PK, p. 171)

Along with Kuhn, Polanyi sees a vital role for the scientific community in
the scientific enterprise. Science progresses through faith in the accepted
views, which are determined by the scientific community.

• Science and faith are thus not two independent realms, but are both
aspects of the same reality. Faith shapes and informs science; the
personal is not divorced from science.

• In this way, Polanyi overcomes the drastic Enlightenment bifurcation

between faith and reason, which has given rise to the ‘massive modern
absurdity’ (PK, p. 9) - the limitation of knowledge entirely to what can be
tested by reference to observations or logically deduced from them. The
failure of the Enlightenment project to find a particular kind of certainty
need not imply failure to discover any truth at all.


Conception of science
What we believe about the integration of science and religion will be
influenced by how we view science. We can identify 3 major

i) “Traditional” (objectivistic/positivistic/rationalistic)

• science is empirical, objective, rational

• data are public, neutral and observer-independent
• philosophical or religious principles do not influence theory
• theory adjudication is governed by logic

-> little opportunity for influence from religion/theology/Scripture

ii) Strong “Kuhnian” approach (relativistic)

> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

• paradigm-related considerations, as well as empirical data,

influence theory adjudication
• data are not neutral, but influenced or constituted by the
paradigm in question
• rigorous adjudication between theories/paradigms (by the use of
logic) is impossible (paradigms are “incommensurable”)

- science can be influenced by a variety of beliefs or values, including


iii) “Contemporary” approach

• observation-based data are vitally important, but connection to

theory is flexible/variable
• data need not be the only determinant of theory choice
• data are coloured by background principles, as is theory choice,
but the influences are not arbitrary, and do not lead to relativism
or incommensurability
• there are rational constraints on theorizing/theory choice, but
these are not rigid or rule-bound

- religious/theological/Biblical influence internal to science is neither

prohibited nor guaranteed, but there is room for influence
(depending on specific details)

This internal influence on the workings of science may be minimal,

partial or strong.

Science as a faith activity

• Science is a human activity
• Scientific work is inevitably shaped by the scientist’s world-view
• A world-view rests on ultimate questions, such as ‘What is reality?’,
‘What does it mean to be human?’
• Answers are the product of faith, shaped by religious commitments
• Scientific activity is inherently ‘religious’
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

• Its religious nature is shown in the beliefs necessary for it:

1) Belief in a material world

2) Belief that the world is orderly
3) Belief that understanding the world is a valuable exercise
4) Belief that the world and its order can actually be known
5) Belief in the general trustworthiness of other scientific research

The conversation between science and Christian theology

In general, five principal concerns have characterized the conversation

between science and Christian theology over the past thirty years:

• a new awareness of the interpretative dimension of science (a rejection

of reductionism and positivism)

• the presentation by the sciences of an evolutionary universe, which is

seen by many to be compatible with the Christian theological doctrine of

• a revival of a ‘new theology of nature’, or a cautiously revised form of

natural theology

• the realization that science and theology share in a mutual quest for

• an ongoing reflection on how physical processes might be sufficiently

‘open’ to accommodate the (free) acts of human and divine agents



• Religion and science make rival statements about the same domain
• Both cannot be true
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

e.g. scientific materialism (Dawkins, Sagan, Atkins)

Biblical literalism, “fundamentalism”


• compartmentalisation
• separate domains; differing languages and functions

e.g. existentialist theologians (Bultmann)

Protestant neo-orthodoxy (Barth)
language games (Wittgenstein)


• presuppositions and limit questions

• methodological and conceptual parallels

• natural theology
e.g. Aquinas; Paley; Swinburne; anthropic principle

• theology of nature
reformulation of traditional doctrines in the light of current
e.g. Peacocke; feminists (McFague, Ruether); Moltmann

• systematic synthesis
e.g. process theology/philosophy (Whitehead, Hartshorne)


• God, through Christ, is the source and sustainer of all things
• Science has its roots in God
• Command to humanity, as image-bearers of God, is to subdue and rule
the creation
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

- not domination, but gardener/garden, shepherd/sheep

- injunction to develop and fill the creation, to continue God’s creative
• Science is part of our calling to care for and open up God’s good
creation, to develop culture
- Adam’s naming of the animals can perhaps be seen in this context as
one of the first scientific tasks (observation and classification)
• Science is a God-given cultural activity which is to be undertaken in
dependence on Him
• Science is not an autonomous activity

• Humanity is fallen: sinful and subject to death
• No area of life is untainted by sin
• All relationships are broken
God-humanity, humanity-earth, humanity-humanity, male-female
humanity-animals, animals-animals
• Aspects of God’s creation are given distorted roles
• Claims are made for the omnicompetence of science
- the only way to reliable knowledge (e.g. Bertrand Russell, Richard
- salvation comes through science
• Claims are made that science is the scapegoat for many of the world’s
- “ecological crisis” blamed on science and Christianity [Lynn White, Jr.
- Hiroshima, Bhopal, Chernobyl
• Science is both deified and demonized

• Redemption affects every area of life
• Redemption potentially ‘undoes’ the fall
• Science can be restored to its proper place and role
• Redeemed humanity can now transform and redirect the scientific
enterprise responsibly under God

> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

Within this Biblical framework, there is no fundamental problem of


• There is a unity between the infinite-personal God (who made the

universe), humankind (whom He made to live in that universe), and the
Bible (which He has given to tell us about that universe and its

• There is correlation between the known and the knower, the subject
and the object. There is an epistemological Guarantor. God is there: He
has spoken about Himself, history and the cosmos - not exhaustively,
but truly. There is unity between ‘mechanics and meaning’.

Common grace
Whether, and to what extent, scientific research as practised within the
general (predominantly secular) academy is subject to naturalistic bias or
distortion, and whether any such bias is easily separable, are important

Here the degree of optimism (bias is present but may be fairly readily
identified and separated out) or pessimism (bias is deep and pervasive)
will be influenced by the implicit or explicit understanding and
application of common grace and its limitations.

Optimism may well reflect a fundamentally Thomist approach (simply:

the will is fallen, the intellect is not), pessimism a Kuyperian approach
(God’s grace is needed to deliver scholarship from its God-less, or anti-
God, condition).
Clearly, some subjects within the sciences are more susceptible than
others to the risk of suppression or distortion under the influence of a
priori religious and philosophical commitments.

Christian scientists also have their own preferences or, unfortunately,


A forgotten perspective?
Another Biblical tradition needs to be remembered - the “anti-wisdom”
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

of the Book of Ecclesiastes, with its perspective from within the post-
Genesis 3, fallen, condition of the created order.

Verse 11:5 is particularly striking in this context: ‘As you do not know the
path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you
cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things’ (NIV).

‘Humanity’s rebellion makes human beings experience the present

cosmos as a locus of disorder . . . Ecclesiastes is thus the frontier-guard
who leads wisdom back to an awareness of the limitations of her
empirical approach - or is himself a danger signal on a dangerous road.
Whatever of the ways of God can be perceived in his world, something
beyond the witness of nature, reason, or everyday experience is needed
if one is to perceive creation’s deepest mystery or the creator’s identity.’

[J. Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament
(Eerdmans, 1987), pp. 223, 225.]


The Bible and science

There are two basic possibilities, giving rise to a number of positions.

1) Scripture has no internal scientific relevance

Three positions come under this heading:

a) Liberals or modernists have taken Scripture to be purely human

records - of the events in which God reveals Himself, or of human
efforts to find God. In either case, Scripture would not be
authoritative, and if it contained anything even purportedly scientific,
there would be no particular scientific reason to pay attention to it.

b) Scripture contains statements which would, if true, have scientific

relevance, but these reflect the beliefs of the human authors - which
God did not intend to teach us. God’s message in Scripture is
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

wrapped in ways which include the beliefs of the culture and the
context in which the message was given, but we are required to
conform our thinking only to the core of the message, not its cultural
wrappings. [“Accommodation”.]

c) Passages which look relevant are purely poetic (or some other kind of
non-indicative, non-referential language) and in reality only assert
“spiritual” truths (e.g. who created and why, rather than how He
created and what [in any detail]). Any appearance of scientifically
relevant material is only appearance. Scripture must be read

These three cases for separation rest on hermeneutical arguments.

2) Scripture contains extractable scientifically relevant information

Three positions:

a) strict literalism : the Bible is the “correct textbook” for science.

b) the information is given in a literal but non-specific form (some terms

may be ambiguous rather than poetic or metaphorical).

c) the information is given indirectly or metaphorically (in “ordinary


Again, the basic issue is hermeneutical.

Any of these three approaches (but particularly the first) could in
principle give rise to differences between “Christian” and “non-
Christian” science.

• From an evangelical perspective, we can comment that

1) there are elements of truth in all these positions, except 1) a)

2) each must be understood and articulated in the context of a
doctrine of Scripture and legitimate hermeneutical principles
3) no one position applies to Scripture generally, in all cases
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

• Some (evangelical) Christians argue that whether or not there is

scientifically relevant information in Scripture, one should not appeal
to Scripture in the scientific context. This methodological naturalism is
usually justified epistemologically [through a definition of “authentic
science”] or pragmatically [the history of science has included the
discovery of which epistemological values are the most effective;
historically, the church has made bad mistakes in the use of Scripture
(e.g. Galileo; 19th-century flood geologists)]. However, some
commentators feel that this terminology is problematic and should be

Science and Biblical interpretation

• In concordist approaches, coherence between the Bible and science is
sought - but the Bible is distorted to “agree” with the latest scientific


‘[A]s is frequently the case, strenuous attempts are made to give such a
turn to the Biblical phrases as to render them compatible with what
science is believed to require, and not only this, some proceed to the
assertion that the Scriptural statements compel acceptance of the
findings of science.
‘Attempts of this kind make for poor and forced exegesis. Scripture
has a right to be exegeted independently from within; and only after its
natural meaning has been thus ascertained, can we properly raise the
question of agreement or disagreement between Scripture and science.’

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 36-


• Thus, it might initially appear that in “allowing the text to speak on its
own terms”, interpretation must cling solely to the text and its context.
Some approaches to Scripture will, therefore, deny any role for science.

• However, allowing the text to speak on its own terms involves, and
demands, the (scientific) study of the archaeology, culture, history and
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

geography of the Ancient Near East in Biblical times, and the use of
linguistics and logic.

To ignore such interpretative tools is actually not to allow the text to

speak on its own terms, but to fall into a positivistic, overly-literalistic,
“naïve empiricism in a hermeneutical vacuum”.

Science clearly has a role to play in legitimate hermeneutics.

• Furthermore, some genuine scientific discoveries may imply the need for
revised understanding of the content of specific Scriptural texts.


• Within an evangelical context, ‘complementarity’ continues to be

emphasised as an appropriate model for the interaction of science and
theology or Biblical interpretation.

• The complementarity approach (though not the term itself) may be

dated back to Francis Bacon, who used the metaphor of the “two books”:
nature (or better, the created order) and Scripture. Since the books of
creation and Scripture both come from the same Author, they cannot be
in conflict. However, since each has a different purpose it is idle to mix
“philosophy” (science) and divinity, and to seek scientific data in the
pages of Scripture. Where Biblical and scientific evidence appear to clash,
it is therefore necessary to recognise the complementarity of their modes
of explanation.

• This basic approach has continued to the present, and is associated

with scientists such as Donald MacKay, R. J. Berry (UK), Richard Bube,
Howard Van Till (USA) and others.

• Thus, in general, complementarity holds that science and theology (or

religion, or Biblical interpretation) are concerned with the same subjects,
but deal with them in different, independent categories of description and
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

• Ratzsch has identified two forms of complementarity:

a) strict
both science and theology can be complete on their respective
levels - there is no common ground on which they can come into

b) limited
accepts the basic idea that at least some phenomena can be
approached from both a scientific and a
religious/theological/Biblical perspective, but rejects the strict view
that each perspective is in any important sense complete. Thus, for
example, the ‘limited’ view could apply to the issue of the
fundamental presuppositions of science (for example, the orderly
nature of the external world and its knowability). These are
accounted for by appeal to the theological realm: beyond these
boundaries and foundations, the two perspectives are
[Philosophy of Science (IVP, 1986), 133-134, 139-141.]

• MacKay’s approach, for example, is illustrated by the following


As a scientist, I have the job of helping to build in scientific

language - at the scientific level - as complete a description of the
pattern of physical events as I can, regarding no accessible events
as exempt from examination. As a Christian, I find that the very
same pattern of events can bear an additional and vital
significance as part of the activity of God himself. [The Clockwork
Image (London: IVP, 1974), 38.]

Explanations in terms of scientific laws and in terms of divine

activity are thus not rival answers to the same question: yet they
are not talking about different things. They are (or at any rate
purport to be) complementary accounts of different aspects of the
same happening, which in its full nature cannot be adequately
described by either alone.
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

[in Berry, R. J. (ed.) Real Science, Real Faith (Eastbourne: Monarch

,1991), 205. Cf. The Clockwork Image, 91-93.]
• MacKay has given a precise definition:
Two (or more) descriptions may be called logically complementary
1) they have a common reference;
2) each is in principle exhaustive (in the sense that none of the
entities or events comprising the common reference need be left
unaccounted for), yet
3) they make different assertions, because
4) the logical preconditions of definition and/or of use (i.e. context) of
concepts or relationships in each case are mutually exclusive, so that
significant aspects referred to in one are necessarily omitted from
the other.
These four conditions are designed to ensure respectively that if two
statements (or “descriptions”) are complementary, they are not about
different things, nor is either necessarily incomplete in itself, nor are
they synonymous, nor are they (necessarily) contradictory.

• Berry gives an illustration and introduces a further feature:

It is possible to describe a painting entirely in terms of the

distribution of chemicals that make it up, or entirely in terms of
the design of the artist. Both descriptions refer to the same object
and both are wholly true, but either by itself is incomplete as an
explanation of the painting. It is possible to think of God’s action
in the world in the same way: knowing how something comes to
pass does not mean that we know why it does. In general terms,
the scientist is concerned with answering ‘how’ questions, while
the Bible and revelation are concerned with ‘why’ questions.
Indeed, science cannot deal with ‘why’ questions: they are
unapproachable by its methodology. This does not mean that they
are improper; but we cannot expect to find answers to them from
[R. J. Berry, in Berry (ed.), Real Science, Real Faith, 9.]

• Bube comments:
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

To be able to give a description in the scientific categories by no

means makes unnecessary, invalid or meaningless a
complementary description of the same event in theological
categories. The opposite is also true; having a theological
description does not rule out the significance of a scientific
description of the same event or phenomenon.
[‘The relationship between scientific and theological descriptions’,
Science and Faith (RSCF Newsletter No. 10) (Nov 1988), 26.]

• Examples:
a psychological account of conversion differs from a theological
account: these are different levels of explanation with their own

the coming of rain can be described both in terms of physical

processes and in terms of the activity of God providing support for
the growth of crops; in theistic evolution, “God is in charge . . .
evolution is the way he chose to carry out his creation.”

• Complementarian models usually assume that scientific descriptions

can only consist of “natural” causes: God cannot be part of such
descriptions. [Methodological naturalism.] This does not, of course, imply
that every event or phenomenon must be explainable in terms of
“natural” causes, only that “scientific” explanations must be of a certain
kind, and that there are real events which cannot be explained in this

1) Historical
Historically, MacKay’s particular implementation of complementarity was
extremely helpful in the context of liberal manipulation of Biblical
teaching which sought coherence with the latest scientific fashion, and
in the context of evangelical (fundamentalist) “God-of-the-gaps” or
“Biblical literalism” approaches. It enabled the maintenance of a strong
Biblical position while giving due weight to whatever seemed
reasonably well established in science.
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

Though helpful, adoption of complementarity as the model for

integration can flatten the issues into the one dimension defined by
these extremes, and can be implemented in a simplistic manner. [It is
worth noting that, as early as 1953, MacKay warned that
complementarity was open to abuse or misunderstanding.]

2) The “How?/”Why?” distinction

The complementarity approach has undeniable value in particular
contexts. The “how?”/”why?” questions are particularly helpful for
thinking about the relationship between scientific law and God’s

MacKay rightly states that

The essential point made in the Bible, and in a sense, I think, the
key to the whole problem of the relation of science to Christian
faith, is that God, and God’s activity, come in not only as extras
here and there, but everywhere. If God is active in any part of the
physical world, he is in all. If the divine activity means anything
then all the events of what we call the physical world are
dependent on that activity. [The Clockwork Image, 57.]
However, the boundary between proximate questions (“how?”) and
ultimate questions (“why?”) may not be easy to define.

As particle physics and cosmology arrive at the boundary questions of

existence, it appears that the distinction between the questions “how?”
and “why?” has become unsustainable.

The distinction seems somewhat artificial in any case: in scientific

research, we can ask “how does this system behave?”, and having
investigated this by experiment, we then ask “why does it behave in this

3) Exegesis
The “how?”/”why?” distinction does not really seem appropriate
exegetically when dealing with Biblical narratives (accounts of miracles,
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

for example), where both “how?” and “why?” questions are relevant
(rather than “why?” questions alone).

Clearly the Bible does not answer “how?” questions if these involve
description in scientific terms [for example, the hydrodynamics of the
parting of the Red Sea, or the processes involved in the transformation
of water into wine (assuming that such descriptions are possible in
principle - which may or may not be the case)]: but asking the “how?”
questions with respect to historical description of events is necessary if
we are ever to conclude that God’s power is displayed in the miracles.
The answer to “why?” questions concerns theological interpretation of the
events (for example, the Christological meaning of the transformation of
water into wine).

In general, false dichotomies such as “the Bible is theology not history”

or “the Bible is literature not history” must be avoided. The crucial
question is what truth claims are implied by each narrative with its
broader context. The literary, historical and theological impulses of the
Bible are interrelated. Truth claims which emerge from this interrelation
may be of scientific relevance.

Ontologically, therefore, it is hard to take the Bible on its own terms, in

grammatico-historical exegesis, without understanding some of its
statements to be an account of what the world is like and how God
brought things about.
Exponents of the “how?”/”why?” distinction will claim that this
distinction is not arbitrarily imposed, but arises from their reading of
Scripture itself. The question may then be asked: what has influenced
their reading of Scripture, knowingly or unwittingly?
4) Compartmentalisation/dualistic tendency
Cameron comments that ‘although it has been promoted by evangelical
writers’, complementarity ‘has a great deal in common with the
existential approach of liberal thinkers’. [Evolution and the Authority of the
Bible (Exeter: Paternoster, 1983), 101.]

Recall the ‘how?’/‘why?’ distinction used in the ‘two-language’ approach

to relating science and religion [Gilkey], and the approaches of Barth and
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP


If taken as an entire model, it can tend towards compartmentalisation or

dualism (“science and faith”). The concept appears to be slippery and
unstable with regard to what it may or may not mean or imply for
different expositors. [Recall the quotation with MacKay’s division
between ‘scientist’ and ‘Christian’ - falling into a dualistic articulation.]

There can be a tendency to ‘baptise’ mainstream scientific scenarios, e.g.

biological macro-evolution, by accepting them as essentially truthful and
ascribing them ultimately to the creative activity of God; and possibly a
failure to discern fully the patterns of ideological allegiances which
characterise contemporary culture. [How closely are dominant scientific
scenarios, e.g. macro-evolution, wedded to naturalistic metaphysics?]

Sometimes the impression is given that all that is involved is the addition
of partial models to each other.

Clearly, there are serious difficulties with strict complementarity. Science

cannot give complete explanations in terms of its characteristic concepts,
because of its extra-scientific presuppositions, and physical conditions in
nature which are not completely accounted for scientifically.

5) Logical analysis
From a logical analysis of MacKay’s definition, William Austin concluded
1) the complementarity of two statements does not imply that
there can be no conflict between them; 2) not all apparently-
conflicting scientific and religious assertions are complementary; 3)
in many cases it is difficult to tell whether a given pair of
assertions are complementary or not. [The Relevance of Natural
Science to Theology, 73-74.]

It is actually difficult to decide whether MacKay advocated strict or

limited complementarity.

6) The parties involved

> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

There is a need for clarity in identifying the parties involved in the

relationship under scrutiny, and the character of that relationship.

A number of different, related, pairings may be identified, for example:

• the created order - the Biblical text;
• the contents of particular scientific disciplines - the contents of Biblical
teaching, or Biblically-derived theology;
• philosophy of science - Biblical hermeneutics;
• philosophy of science - theological method;
• the character of scientific practice and belief - the character of religious
faith; etc.

Clearly, such pairings differ in character to a greater or lesser extent, and

the elements of a given pair may or may not be “complementary” in
some sense.

Indeed, there are clear parallels between modern philosophy of science

and Biblical interpretation or theological method, arising from the fact
that both are understood to be “hermeneutical” (role of presuppositions;
critical-realist epistemology; use of models and analogies; research
communities which adopt particular paradigms; paradigm shifts; etc.).

7) Final comments
• Polkinghorne comments that

possibly MacKay exaggerates the value of having a name for what

is often a perplexity. Complementarity is not by itself an instantly
explanatory concept. It is simply suggestive of a search for
understanding which seeks to take an even-handed view of two
accounts of what is going on. [Reason and Reality, 27.]

• For Ratzsch, the essential problem with a limited complementarity

approach is that the areas into which it would not extend are the very
areas most subject to controversy (for example, origins, miracles, human
self-consciousness). [Philosophy of Science, 139-141.]

• Russell identifies an additional deficiency in concluding that

> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

For all its merits the ‘complementarity’ model by itself fails in a

number of respects, particularly by ignoring the considerable
network of relationships between science and theology disclosed
by recent historical scholarship. A model which takes these into
account may be termed symbiosis. This recognises that, historically,
scientific and theological thinking have owed much to one another
and that their growth has been mutually promoted. [‘Science and
theology’, New Dictionary of Theology (IVP), 625-626.]

• Thus, complementarity can, and should, be incorporated into a total

picture of the interaction between science and theology/Biblical
interpretation. However, in the light of the analyses and difficulties
indicated, it should not be given undue emphasis.


The opening chapters of Genesis have been described as the locus

classicus of the interaction between science and Scripture.
[J. Polkinghorne, Reason and Reality (London: SPCK, 1991), 71].

The evangelical community has also been described as ‘mired in a

swamp’ in its struggle to understand the creation texts.
[C. H. Pinnock, ‘Climbing out of a Swamp: The Evangelical Struggle to
Understand the Creation Texts’, Interpretation 43 (1989), 143-155].

A whole spectrum of options now exists for evangelical believers in

creation, but two different fundamental positions may be identified:

•Evangelical evolutionists
These accept the infallible authority of Scripture, but believe that there is
no contradiction between this acceptance and belief in the modern
scientific consensus concerning human (and cosmological) origins. They
consider that it is not necessary to interpret Scripture in a manner which
would call evolution into question, believing that Genesis does not teach
“science” but focuses on the Creator and the fact that he has created.
The narrative addresses “Why?” questions, not the “How?” questions of
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

the scientist.

This is essentially a “complementarity” position.

•Evangelical creationists
These find themselves compelled by a more literal interpretation of
statements in Genesis (and New Testament use of Genesis) to disagree
(sometimes radically) with the prevailing scientific consensus,
maintaining that they are faithful to the original intentions of the
author, whereas evolutionists have overridden these.
Understanding of scientific data is required which is faithful to this
Biblical view.

For some creationists, theories of cosmological and biological macro-

evolution are seen as a necessary element in secular humankind’s self-
understanding, bound up with rebellion against their Creator.

Issues and questions

We may identify a number of interrelated questions and issues:

1) Exegesis of the Hebrew literature of Genesis 1-11 in a way that does
justice to theology and historicity

2) Exegesis of other Scriptural passages which use, or allude to, Genesis

3) How the overall doctrine of Scripture (authority; infallibility) is


4) How the historical Jesus of the gospels (who quotes Genesis) is

understood (Christology)

5) How the Biblically-derived doctrine of common grace is understood,

particularly when applied to the achievements, and evolutionary
theories, of modern science

6) To what extent are evolutionary scientific theories valid? Do

alternative, detailed and testable models account equally well for
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

empirical data?

7) Given responses to 1) to 6), how should we try to relate exegesis to

scientific models?

8) What is the general framework of implicit or explicit technical

assumptions, ideological commitments and overall epistemology
which form the context for (or determine?) answers to the specific

These issues all intertwine within the hermeneutical spiral, and involve
Biblical exegesis, science, doctrine (Scripture; God) and philosophy.

Disagreements over the historicity of early Genesis should be seen in this

rather complex context.


• The theistic evolutionary position (e.g. senior members of Christians in

Science) may be characterised as one which:

a) adopts a form of ‘literary’ approach to Genesis which sidesteps any

historical implications (Ancient Near Eastern polemics and theology

b) accepts evolutionary theories of origins;

c) relates a) and b) using a “complementarity” approach

d) perhaps adopts a view of Scriptural infallibility which does not

necessarily apply to incidental scientific, geographical or historical

e) argues that New Testament use of Genesis can be understood

adequately with a historical Fall of Adam which brought the entry of
spiritual death only

f) is optimistic that any naturalistic bias and distortion in the various

sciences, as practised in the general academy, can be fairly readily
recognised and separated out from the healthy, “genuinely scientific”
> Religion, Theology, The Bible and Science
by Dr Phil Duce, Theological Books Editor, IVP

• In contrast, what might be called the ‘minority report’ (e.g. the Biblical
Creation Society) argues for:

a) ANE polemics, theology and history/special creation (but not

“science”) in Genesis, on the basis of both Old Testament and New
Testament exegesis

b) inadequacy in biological macro-evolutionary theory

c) special creation, distinction between creation and providence, a

historical Fall bringing physical and spiritual death of Adam and

d) (much) more hesitancy over whether naturalistic bias in the sciences is

as easily identifiable and separable as might be claimed (and asks
what should characterise “authentic science”)

e) proper integration between Biblical and empirical scientific data or

other historical data

- and stresses that none of these responses need imply

“fundamentalism” or an anti-science attitude.

© Philip Duce 2002