Does Science Render the Bible Untrue?

Stephen Hawking’s new book A Grand Design allegedly debunking God (I haven’t read it, but I bet the evidence against God is scanty) has re-energized debates among Christians and non-believers about the relationship between faith and science, between scripture and evidence. In the wake of people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and other notable evangelical atheists who want to convert Christians to science, Christians are in danger of forcing the choice between two extreme options–rejection of the truth of scripture in favor of science, or rejection of science in favor of a literal reading of scripture. Yet, Christian tradition provides us with a middle ground which allows us to see the Bible as the true word of God without interpreting every word in a strict, literal manner.

We are accustomed to thinking that the debate about the creation account in Genesis being a relatively modern debate between young earth creationists and those who accept evolution. In actuality, the early church was also perplexed as to how they were supposed to interpret the story recounting how God created in six days. The Antiochian school, to which John Chrysostom belonged, argued that the story should be interpreted literally as meaning that God actually created in six days. The Alexandrian school, characterized by figures like Origen and Jerome, argued that this story was an allegory, not a historical account of what happened. The Alexandrian school would eventually become the dominant model for scriptural interpretation in the Christian tradition, and St. Augustine would eventually write a treatise on the allegorical meaning of Genesis.

By the middle ages, it was well accepted that Christians should not stop at a literal account of scripture, but should probe for a deeper spiritual meaning. The study of scripture in the first university’s was guided by the quadriga, the four-fold sense of Scripture (See Aquinas’ Summa Ia, Q.1, art. 10). According to the quadriga (which is simply the Latin expression for a carriage drawn by four horses), scripture can be divided into two general senses: (1) the literal or historical which aims at getting at what is actually being said, and (2) the spiritual sense which aims at getting at how God is speaking in the text. The spiritual sense is divided into three more specific senses:

1. allegorical: the most important spiritual sense which examines how the passage in question points to or symbolizes Christ
2: moral or tropological: the way in which the scripture is providing guidance for Christian living
3. anagogical: the way in which the passage is pointing to the eschaton or the way in which the passage shed light on eternal life.

We can apply the quadriga to Genesis 22, recounting the disturbing story of Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac. According to the quradriga-method, we would want to start at the literal meaning of the story, that is, what is plainly being described. The literal meaning of the story is that Abraham hears the voice of God commanding him to sacrifice the son he loves, and he obeys. God, in God’s mercy, sends and angel to stop Abraham the moment before he draws Isaac’s blood. A ram in the thicket provides the flesh for sacrifice instead.

Although the literal meaning of the story is important, according to the quadriga, it would be dangerous to stop at the literal meaning. Rather, the spiritual sense of the passage must be pursued if the full truth of its meaning is to be discovered. Thus, we must ask what the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses of the passage might be.

Allegorically, we might say that Isaac represents Christ, and Abraham represents God who sacrificed his only son. We might go even deeper and say that both Isaac and the ram represent Christ, the latter representing the man Jesus who actually was sacrificed and shed his blood on the cross, and Isaac representing the risen Christ who did not die. As Origen notes in his commentary on Genesis and Exodus, the allegorical lesson is that “Abraham offered to God his mortal so, who did not die, and God gave up his immortal Son who died for all of us.”

Morally, we might say that this passage teaches Christians to trust in God’s mercy,and to offer our lives up as a living sacrifice to God, in faith and hope that God will bring us to fullness of life. Anagogically, we might say that the passage points to the beatific vision where we will gaze at the “Lamb who was slain,” at Revelation 13:8 relates.

The important point is that the truth of this passage cannot be reached by stopping at the literal meaning. We might say the same about the creation story. If we stop at the literal meaning that God created in six days, we are doing an injustice to the truth of the text. We must delve deeper to understand the spiritual truth underneath the text. Perhaps we might say that the words God speaks in creating (“Let there be . . . “) allegorically represent the Word which was made flesh (John 1). We might say the six days allegorically represent salvation history in which God worked over time to call a people to Godself, ultimately culminating in the creation of the Man who is the epitome of creation, all of which is subject to Him. We might say that the moral or tropological meaning of the six-day creation account is that God, in Christ, has subjected all things under us, and that we are to thus govern creation accordingly. Anagogically, we might say that this passage points to the rest that we too will share in “on the seventh day” when we join God the Creator in eternal life.

In John 4:24, Jesus says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” It is odd that Christians have thought they must stop at the literal meaning of the text in order to remain faithful to scripture. God is spirit, so surely God has placed a spiritual meaning in the “flesh” of the words. If we recover the quadriga, we find that the scientific “evidence” of people like Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Hawkings is no more a threat to our belief in the truth of Scripture than their arguments against God are a threat to our faith.

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1 comment so far

  1. unknown on

    Abraham – is me today, whom must have unfailing faith by sacrificing what is most important to myself – that which is brought forth born out of myself!)

    Ram – AFTER I HAVE proven failing Faith, God MAKES IT POSSIBLE by his Grace, for me to sacrifice successfully my “stubbornness, head thumping against his will”
    (GAL 2:20 I live yet not)

    More Beautiful examples of the Spirit of God:

    GEN 1 – Earth void, darkness, without form, –
    Evening and morning (no enlightment, FIRST darkness THEN light!), Spiritual Beginning!

    1COR 10:28+29 for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof CONCIENCE, I say,

    Gen 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when THEY (personification!) were created.

    Isa 11:9 ..the EARTH shall be FULL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF of the LORD, se also Joe 2:21, Job 12:8, PSLM96:1, Isa 11:1, MIG1:2, Isa 17″13, 1COR 14:14, Rev 12:16,

    GEN 32:24+28 (powered with God and men, till break of day ect). Pondered, wrestled, until day breaks!

    MAL 2:15 Did he not make ONE? yet he had residue of spirit!
    (One Man – Christ we are now part of his body!)ect, ect…

    There is no time and space with god – only Here,Today & NOW: 2COR 6:2, Gal 4:10-11, Heb 7:26+27, HEB 11:26, Heb 3:7 +8, Heb 4:7, Heb 11:23-26, Ecc 3:14, 15, Deu 11:13

    Can you now see how beautiful Mat 14:25-32 is? WOW!!

    .


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