Science and the Bible, Part 1

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Science and the Bible, Part 1

By Steven R, Kaufman, MD, Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

There are many ways in which the findings of scientific research have seemed to contradict the Bible. For example, there are passages that indicate that the sun orbits the earth (Joshua 10:13; Ecclesiastes 1:5), and the Church put Galileo at house arrest and burned Bruno at the stake for arguing otherwise. Likewise, there is overwhelming evidence from a range of scientific disciplines that the earth is far older than the roughly 7000 years indicated by a literal reading of the Bible. Is it possible to reconcile science and religion?

Everyone recognizes that there are parts of the Bible that should not be taken literally. All Christians agree that some of the biblical descriptions should be regarded as metaphors. As John Dominic Crossan has said, “Jesus may be the Lamb of God, but that doesn’t mean that Mary had a Little Lamb.” However, it is often unclear when the Biblical text is meant to describe historical facts and when it is meant to convey messages using metaphor. Differences of opinion as to what is historical and what is metaphorical have accounted for greatly different interpretations of the Bible among faithful Christians. I’ve heard it said, tongue in cheek, that liberal Christians take the Song of Solomon literally and the story of Jonah metaphorically, and for conservative Christians it’s the other way around.

Though I think it is fair to say that all Christians revere the Bible, many Christians have been troubled by certain stories, particularly stories in which God seems to approve of violence and destructiveness. Consequently, many Christians have wondered whether the Bible is completely true, or whether the hand of humanity has played a role in its construction. In my opinion, the Bible isn’t false, but I don’t think it is completely true. My reasoning is based on the observation that no story is completely true. Every story must omit details that, if the story is well told, are relatively less important. For example, consider the story of the Good Samaritan who cared for a man who was badly injured by robbers. We are told nothing about the Good Samaritan’s personality, which might have strongly influenced his decision to help the man.

Likewise, we don’t know what his past interactions with Jews, positive and negative, had been. We also don’t know all the motives of the priest and the Levite who choose not to assist the injured man. These facts are evidently not essential to the main message of the story, but they are essential if we want to understand fully the motives of those who did or did not help the man. As we try to discern the meaning of this story for us as readers, the text does not provide all the details we might want, including the following: Who besides the lawyer was present? Was the attitude of listeners one of interest, skepticism, or something else? What was the tone of the lawyer’s voice and what was his facial expression? What was Jesus’ tone and facial expression? Did the people in the crowd regard Jesus as having greater or lesser stature than the lawyer? Complete answers to these questions would offer further insight into what the story meant for those present and, presumably, for us today.

If no story is completely true, then those seeking greater insight and understanding must seek other sources that complement the story. Sometimes, we can search elsewhere in the Bible for complementary information, but the Bible as a finite text cannot cover everything. Indeed, we have libraries with millions of volumes that attempt, but have not fully succeeded, to describe who we are as human beings and what is the nature of the world in which we live. Here is where the social and physical sciences can assist in our understanding and appreciation of the biblical stories. Indeed, the biblical stories would make no sense to us without some understanding of psychology (whether studied formally or intuited by our interpersonal relationships) and our knowledge of the physical world. In what ways are the sciences true, and what are their limitations? What are the implications for scientific insights for animal issues and vegan and vegetarian issues? These questions are further explored in Part 2.