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May 26, 2009

BioLogos: Integrating Faith and Science

Tothesource alerts readers to Francis Collins's new organization, BioLogos, where he makes an effort to integrate science and religion.   

Of course, not everyone is happy with Collins's new venture. Evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coynes is protesting that anyone who has religious beliefs should be barred from influencing scientists or from working in the science fields. Coynes rants, "By seeking union with religious people, and emphasizing that there is no genuine conflict between faith and science, they are making accommodationism not just a tactical position, but a philosophical one…By consorting with scientists and philosophers who incorporate supernaturalism into their view of evolution, they erode the naturalism that underpins modern evolutionary theory."  

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Marvin Camp

I am a chemist. I remember learning that in science we observe, hypothesize, test, revise, retest, etc. to develop a theory to explain what we have learned. The more times our theory is congruent with reality in testing the more FAITH we can have in its validity.
Faith is integral to all science. The scientist who refuses to accept authority would not read journals where he must put faith in the work and word of others.
Coyne decries the influence of religious people as undermining naturalism. The naturalism he wishes to defend is an authority that he accepts by faith.
I think that he would be surprised to learn that he is working by faith. The object of his focus is only rationally acceptable because God has made a universe that is consistent with the rationality he put into our mental capacity.
I recognize that I work on the basis of that faith in a consistent, orderly, rational world. I believe I worship a rational God.


I totally agree with you that it takes faith to believe science. There are so many books and articles that refute Darwin's eveolution theory but they are banned from the main stream education system, WHY? Aren't we going to miss out on discoveries if we don't observe, hypothesize, test, revise, retest, etc. to develop a theory to explain what we have learned

Benjamen R. Meyer

Evolution has a strong force trying to protect, despite a lot breaking it apart, and the FAITH required to sustain it. But it is protected because it is the only way for people to say that the world may exist without a God (or god) of any kind.

Truly there is only one way to integrate Faith and Science. Yes, to do science as science (observe, hypothesize, test, revise, retest, etc.), but when science comes to a conclusion contrary to what God says, then we must question the assumptions behind the hypothesis to figure out why the two differ - and there are many assumptions in modern science that go contrary to God, and quite purposefully by the originator of the assumption.

That said, there are also assumptions we as Christians make that may not be true either. The biggest example is the timeline between Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. In all honesty, billions of years could have passed there alone and the text would still be 100% true. (And, FYI, it is because of that that we can only surmise that the age given for Adam in the genealogies is at best from the fall. It is possible it could be from his creation, but given the gaps of time it would only be an assumption for it to be so.)

In other words, we need to be 100% transparent about all the assumptions made and how congruous those are with what God tells us. AND it goes both ways.

However, until Christ returns, there will be no end to this kind of discussion as Satan and the World want to eliminate God's position from any teaching as much as possible and only Christ's return will truly solve it. That doesn't mean it isn't a battle worth fighting - it is - as the battle is still for every soul that is and is yet to come, and for their salvation through Christ.

jason taylor

My word Ben, you sound almost like me. But yes taking Genesis as a scientific text is a mistake. It is a tale. Which does not mean it is untrue, only that it is imprecise.

A comparison would be between the battle of Salimis as Herodatus told it and the same battle as John Keegan would.

Ben W

Marvin, I agree with you.. but isn't there some difference between faith in other scientists' work and faith in God? Both are based in belief, but one of them you could test given enough time, the other not so much.

And your comments get to the bottom of my problems with philosophical naturalism.. as it is of course also based on faith about the extra-natural but claims not to be.

I'm sure Coyne (or PZ Myers, Dawkins, etc.) have a rebuttal on this somewhere, but I can't find it at the moment.

Jason Taylor

Not really. "One of them you can test given enough time" can in practice mean only, "one of them you could test given that you had a lifespan of millenia, superhuman memory, and unlimited access." None of this is the case for anyone.

Ben W

Yes, Jason, that is what I meant. "Given enough time" - it would indeed take at least millenia in order to redo the work of thousands or millions of scientists.

But at the least, you have your choice - read through the scientific literature, find what you think is wrong, and go test it. Sure, some of it might require advanced equipment, but most of the experiments done before the middle of this century you could reproduce in your garage.

~Ben, who always wanted to build a cyclotron

Benjamen R. Meyer


I certainly don't agree that any part of Genesis is just a tale. It's not.

The question is simply this: Do you (any one) trust God or do you not?

If you trust God, then there is no need to try to rewrite (or write-off) anything in the Bible as a just a tale. Just take Him at His word.

If not, you have far greater things to consider before addressing the issue as true Faith in Christ means taking God and His Word at face value, and not how you want it to sound instead.

Faith in someone means trusting them, and trusting them means taking what they say, how they say it, for what it is without trying to mold it into what fits our needs - for that is not what they said at all. This is just as true - if not more true - for our relationship with God.

Jason Taylor

No tale worth anything is "just" a tale, Ben. Words like "just" and "only" are deadly. But in this case I was not saying it was fictional but I was refering to the fact that the literary formulation was the sort of thing that would be for a bard, or villiage yarnspinner to tell and not a scientist. Unless as it happens he was also a yarnspinner.

Tale-telling is part of the nature of man. It is only natural that God should use it to connect with man. Just as used family loyalty when calling himself Father, love when comparing himself to a Husband, feudal loyalty when calling himself King, and even esprit de corps when calling himself Lord of Hosts. I do not say by saying Genesis is a tale that it is untrue, only that it is not meant to be precise. Precision while telling one element of the truth, loses others and so is useful in it's place. Churchill's speeches were not staff reports and staff reports were not recitals of Churchill's speeches but that fact does not necessarily make either untrue.

Ben W

Benjamin, I believe that there is always a need to carefully interpret the Bible - otherwise we would be forced to accept that the Earth has corners, that grasshoppers have four legs, that there is a literally solid "firmament" separating the Earth and the heavens, and that rabbits and badgers chew their cud like cattle (Rev 7:1, Lev. 11:21-22, Gen. 1:6-8, Lev 11:5-6).

For me, trust also means that God wouldn't try to deceive us about the age of the Earth, or how He created life.. and yet there are many ways in which the Earth looks old and animals appear to have evolved. Combining this with an in-depth study of the framework and wording of Genesis, and it's quite reasonable to believe that Genesis 1 describes the theology of creation, not the science.

Kim Moreland

Here's a little early information: William Dembski has a forthcoming book "The End of Christianity." I'm not going to say much here because I'd like to write a review, however, it's quite good and answers a few questions.

Jason Taylor

My word, now there's two Bens? I didn't catch that.

Ben W

Three, actually, counting Ady.


We'll call Mr. Meyer, the believer, "Big Ben".

Benjamen R. Meyer


While I mostly agree - I think you still missed the point.

True, what is told to us may be told in terms we understand; but only to communicate to us.

Evolutionists and (many, if not most) Theo-Evolutionists would push that the Creation story in Genesis is purely fictional - it's provides a base for the rest of the book, and nothing more. Some will argue there is more there, but then they always have to explain away the discrepancies.

Instead of trying to explain away what God has said we need to take Him at His word. He may be putting it in terms we can understand, but He isn't lying to us about what He did (how, order, etc.) either.

Ben W

Ben, I'm honestly curious, as these issues were what led me away from a literal interpretation: How *do* you deal with those other verses? The ones that say that grasshoppers have 4 legs, that the Earth has 4 corners (which was actually believed, not just a euphemism like it is today), and that badgers and rabbits chew the cud?

Benjamen R. Meyer

Ben W,

Please be more specific in what you mean by "other verses". It is hard to say exactly how something should be viewed without looking at the whole context in which it lives - including whether it is literal, figurative, historical, etc.

With respect to the "4 corners of the Earth" - I think it is more likely that it was a euphenism throughout more of history than most present-day historians may think. I say this primarily because there is a lot of dis-information in present day history with respect to how previous civilizations thought. I think this is primarily due to the influence of Evolutionary thought and the "modern" thought that everything has to be improving, and therefore we are getting smarter. However, that seems to be quite contrary to the evidence around us:

1) We have yet to figure out how various monuments (the pyramids, Stone Henge, etc.) were built.
2) We have biblical evidence of a very smart populus circa the Tower of Babel; thus likely a very smart populace before that.

Given the above, it is highly likely that we are getting stupider throughout history. Sure we've made a lot of 'scientific' progress in the last couple hundred years, and created certain kinds of technology (computers, etc.) that were seemingly not possible at one point. However, perhaps those civilizations knew something about the destructiveness (evironmentally, etc.) that we do not.

The problem is there is a lot to the 'unknown' of older civilizations all the way back to creation, and it is foolish of us today to suppose we can predict what they knew or didn't know based on a limited, small set of information.

With respect to the animal references, I think you are meaning the Jewish laws (e.g. Leviticus 11). However, even here you have to be very careful. The text itself does not necessarily specify any animal we actually know of. FOr example, Lev 11:5 NIV speaks of the 'coney' and the foot notes suggest it is the 'hyrax or rock badger'. However, those notes are someone's opinion of what animal the word is referring to - someone's attempt to decode the word. It may be right, it might not be, and we need to be very careful of how to we take those kinds of notes. While the 'rock badger or hyrax' may not chew its cud, the coney may very well have and it is simply our inability to identify the right animal that is causing the misunderstanding. The coney may very well have gone extinct long before it was tried to be identified by a translator.

Translation is a difficult task, and is only made more difficult when animals or plants that are referenced become extinct. Some translators try to identify them, or try to give some reference to what they may have been like. Of course, when you try to translate notes of someone that way you then suffer the problem again. It would not surprise me if a translator a long time ago wrote notes like "a coney is like a hyrax or rock badger" and then their notes suffered degradation and a later translator got it "a coney is a hyrax or rock badger" - a single character or character mark (e.g. ascent grave) could make that much of a difference.

So it comes back to simply trusting God that the creature he mentions (e.g. the coney) is exactly as He described, and realize that it is the translators that got it wrong even despite their best attempts at translating - they are after all humans and prone to error.

Then there is the agenda of some translators. Most translators try to translate to in a way that is not very literal, but gets the point across - mostly to try to capture the full essence of what is being said. However, this too has its problems and information is lost. I typically like to look at the New Testament in NIV alongside the original Greek, and often I'll see how a grammatical structure in the Greek captures something that is just not present in the English. Sometimes there is no possible way to say it in English. The same applies to the NASB, KJV, etc. And I imagine the same holds just as true for the Old Testament with its original Hebrew.

So, don't try to write off what God said simply because a translator got it wrong - it happens, and it is easy to do. Instead, trust God above all.

Ben W

Thanks for your reply, Ben.

On the "four corners" problem, your thoughts are basically this, yes?:

Historians were wrong about how smart/advanced civilizations were, because the Bible says they were more advanced than we have evidence for. Therefore, historians are likely wrong about other things, such as whether the Hebrew people believed the Earth was flat. So, it was just a euphemism, not to be taken literally. But isn't it a literal translation of Genesis that you're arguing for?

Your idea on hyrax/coney/rock badger is interesting, but is there any way to test it? Do you know of any small, extinct, cud-chewing animals that live among rocks that we could maybe pick as a better translation?

Benjamen R. Meyer

Ben W,

Per your first question about Historians - it's not simply even a matter of what the Bible says. The evidence plain contradicts them (e.g. the pyramids, stone henge, etc.). There's a lot of evidence out there that scientists and historians ignore or write off in order to support their desired conclusions.

Further, there is a lot about culture that historians and scientists assume - assumptions they don't state either. One of these assumptions it that people are growing in intelligence, despite evidence to the contrary - they'd rather believe aliens did it.

Per the coney - if I'm right about it, then the proof is that there is no evidence. In other words, we will never be able to find out everything about the past. There have been animals and plants that have gone extinct to which there will be no record that is scientifically visible.

It's not a fault of the Bible, nor of science - just the evidence at hand, or at least our understanding of it. For example, there are a lot of things scientists and historians (as a result) claim about fossil records - what animals ate, etc. Things that are not necessarily true, and (interestingly enough) there is a lot of evidence coming out against as more gets unearthed. Sadly, not everything is discoverable.

For example, (I forget off hand which one but) there have been several dinosaurs they thought were carnivorous based on teeth - but recently (e.g. in the last decade) they found fecal specimens from those same dinos that show they were not. Interestingly enough, both scientists as a whole and the media have, for the most part, kept quite about it - reporting it just enough but then ignoring it while prancing around their favorite evidence (they may now be called into question) that supports their preferred/desired theory, which may no longer be supportable. This is also partially due to how specialized scientists have become - looking at such a small picture they fail to see the bigger picture that contradicts their small picture.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all FOR science. But I'm also equally wary of their assumptions and conclusions - especially when the conclusions require the assumptions (most of the time) and the assumptions have alternatives that would highly change the result.

Jason Taylor

If by "historians are wrong" you mean "historians have no proof that pre-literate humans were savages", that is quite true. There is no proof.

As for Flat-Earth, that is an old trope that a well-read historian knows is untrue. Scholars have long known the world was round. Commoners were usually to busy to answer. As for whether Ancient Hebrews were Flat-Earthers it is impossible to tell and I suspect they just didn't think about it. Even upper class people would likly not have thought much about such things as until the Greeks came, astronomy was likly a trade-secret of idolatrous priestcraft. Navigation which was an application of astronomy would be more commonly dispersed, but the Ancient Hebrews don't seem to have been a trading people until the First Exile. Though there would have been a few Hebrew ship captains and perhaps even more caravan captains and guides who knew something about such things. Even then it is not clear how much they knew.

Be that as it may, there is no way to conclude from verses like "four corners of the Earth" whether or not Hebrews were flat-Earthers. Making a fuss about Four corners is being more literal then most literalists, who as it happens also do not believe that their Father in Heaven is their biological father. To this day we retain similar expressions and most of us did in fact go to grade school.

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