When a scientist interprets Scripture
Right about the time I entered grad school, I discovered that simultaneously being a physicist and a literalist Christian was difficult. A religion that relied on revelation by faith, and a discipline that relied on investigation and logic made strange bed-fellows. I was outspoken in my Christian beliefs before entering grad-school and intent on becoming a physicist, but science had forced me into silence. I had to keep my Christian convictions held to Sunday morning, and I completely separated my beliefs from daily life. I discovered for myself that religion and science simply do not mix. This was over 10 years ago, but it was probably the beginning of my gradual slide away from being “on fire” for Jesus.
One of the first things I began to do was to allegorize the Bible, or read into it things that were not there to make it fit my scientific worldview. I think most educated Christians today do this, and for the same reasons. We now understand that the universe is ~13.7 billion years old. How does the educated Christian square this with the literalist Biblical reading of 6000 years? When Genesis says “day”, what it really means is a “long age”? God provided a spark to initiate life, and guided the process of evolution by natural selection? Posit a long gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2? Genesis says, “and the Earth was without form and void”, but it really says, “*but* the earth *became* without form and void”?
Uh yeah, that’s the ticket! A day is a long age. Now let’s just sweep that nasty problem under the rug and not deal with it anymore.
I once brought an unbelieving friend to church the night our pastor was going over Genesis chapter 5. She burst out laughing when our Pastor described the Patriarchs as living in excess of 900 years. I mean she laughed LOUDLY. Boy was that embarrassing. I don’t mean I was embarrassed for her, rather I was embarrassed for our pastor having to explain this stuff to an obvious skeptic who found the whole thing hilarious. The pastor looked in our direction and said, “and for those of you who may think these long lives sound strange, please check out our library. We have books that show how ancient peoples actually had extended lives”. To which she started laughing again – LOUDLY. After the service, which was like a Comedy Club show to her, she asked me if I really believed ‘that stuff’. I said yeah, but maybe the long lives not so literally – totally unconvincing. The fact that I had to believe this kind of stuff to keep my Christian faith legitimate was pretty embarrassing to me. So much for witnessing to her!
Did Methuselah really live to 969 years? Or did year mean something else? If ‘day’ can mean ‘age’ in Gen 1, can ‘year’ mean …er…‘month’ in Gen 6? Or something? Anything? Maybe Methuselah was a prominent tribe of people who flourished for 969 years? Sure, yeah that sounds good. But how can a tribe begat sons and daughters? Was the entire tribe of Enoch caught up to God? A literal reading of Gen 6 makes the most sense from a literary standpoint, but … but it just *must* mean something else!
I have not even started on the biggest headaches for the modern educated Christian, namely the Adam and Eve story, the origin of languages in the Tower of Babel story, the flood of Noah, or pretty much anything else in Genesis 1 through 11. I swear, I think I can write a book on this subject, and I think someday I just might do that. Because unless you are a member of ICR or hang around the Answers in Genesis crowd, the modern educated Christian must compromise his or her beliefs in a literal Bible to have any credibility within our current scientific understandings. As a scientist, I had to do it for years, and frankly I think it is a cheap cop-out. But it is an understandable cop-out. A Christian Scientist must compromise his or her views either toward the scientific discipline or biblical literalism. Which side usually wins?