When you read materials from Reasons To Believe or The BioLogos Foundation (two ministries dedicated to showing that Christianity and science are not in conflict), you will frequently notice that both of them put a heavy emphasis on "God's Two Books". Both Reasons To Believe apologists and BioLogos staff members hold to a "Two Books" paradigm in regards to God's revelation to us. I agree wholeheartedly with this view. But just what are the "Two Books" of God?
The "Two Books" these two organizations talk about are the book of scripture and the "book" of nature. The Bible and the natural world. God inspired all of the content of scripture from Genesis to Revelation (2 Timothy 3:16), and God also created the universe (Genesis 1:1). God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2). God also is perfect, being a Maximally Great Being, and given that He's perfect, He cannot make mistakes. Given that both The Bible and the natural world come from the God, they cannot conflict. They will always be in harmony.
Now, you may be wondering "If that's true, then why is the perception so widespread that The Bible and science are at war?" That's a good question. If the two really can't conflict, then why do so many people think that they do? It's important to keep the distinction between The Bible and theology, and the natural world and science. The Bible and the universe will never conflict, however theology and science can.
"What is the difference between The Bible and the universe, and theology and science?" you might ask? Theology is the interpretation of The Bible, and science is the interpretation of nature. Both theology and science are human attempts at understanding and explaining the data contained in each of God's two books. Now, while the books themselves cannot contradict one another because both are infallible and inerrant, we are human beings and as such we are not infallible. We can make mistakes. We can misread the data that we're examining. Therefore, any perceived conflict between the book of scripture and the book of nature shouldn't lead us to the conclusion that one or the other book is wrong, but rather that we misinterpreted one of them. We either didn't understand the text of The Bible, or the scientists made a mistake in interpreting the scientific data.
What should we do when we run into an apparent conflict?
See If We've Understood The Bible Correctly
Genesis 1-11 is perhaps the most hotly disputed and criticized section in The Bible primarily because it seems to contradict most of what we know from science about the age of the universe. When atheists attack The Bible, they'll most often go after the creation narrative and the flood story in The Bible. Christians respond to these attacks in different ways. Young Earth Creationists argue that scientists are wrong in saying that the universe is 14 billion years old and that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. They will argue that The Bible teaches that everything was made in 6 consecutive 24 hour days around 6,000 years ago. Old Earth Creationists hold a variety of different interpretations of Genesis, all of which are compatible with a universe billions of years old. For example, some argue that the word Hebrew word for "Day" in Genesis (Yom) has multiple literal definitions, one of which is a 24 hour day, the 12 hour period of sunlight, and a long period of time. So the word translated as "day" could just as well have been translated as "epoch". The "days" are actually individual epochs of time. In addition to this, day-age advocates will point to clues in the text itself that point to the days being longer time periods such as the fact that on Day 3, The Bible says "Then God said, 'Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth'; and it was so. And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good." - (Genesis 1:11-12, emphasis mine), and the large number of activities that occured on Day 6. In the case of Day 3, Day-Age advocates will argue that if "The Earth" is bringing forth the vegetation, then this cannot be a 24 hour day because the trees are being brought forth via natural processes, and we all know that it takes much longer than a 24 hour period for trees to go from seeds to fully grown trees. That it's nature gradually producing the trees rather than God poofing the trees into existence via a miracle is evident from the phrases "Let the earth sprout vegetation" and "the earth brought forth vegetation". As for Day 6, day-age advocates will argue that so much activity took place on Day 6, that they all cannot possibly be squeezed into a 24 hour period. The Day-Age view is supported by scripture. It seems to me that if one takes the view that Genesis 1 is an account of natural history put in chronological order, then he should hold to the day-age view rather than the calendar day view.
I myself have been a day-age advocate for a long time. Although here lately, I find myself leaning towards The Framework Hypothesis. Unlike the 24 Hour Day view of YEC and the Day-Age view of OEC, The Framework Hypothesis is a non-concordist interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Concordism is the view that scripture, when it talks about the natural world, it gives an accurate description of the natural world. With regard to Genesis 1, concordism would say that when you look at the scientific reconstruction of natural history with the creation account in The Bible, the two will be identical. For example, the order of animals created will be the same order found in the fossil record. Both the Callendar Day-View and the Day-Age view hold that there is scientific content in The Bible, so science will give a similar picture of natural history. Non-Concordism holds that God did not intend to teach us any science in The Bible, and that Genesis 1 especially was not meant to give us account of natural history. There are different non-concordist interpretations, but the one I'm leaning towards is the Framework Hypothesis.
The Framework Hypothesis says that Genesis isn't a chronological, literal account of natural history. Instead it is a highly poetical account of scripture which has the events of creation arranged topically rather than chronologically. To put it another way, The Framework Hypothesis says that the events are arranged according to theme rather than the actual order God created them in.
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This isn't entirely foreign to scripture. Most New Testament scholars both conservative and liberal will admit that the events of Jesus' ministry in the gospels are not arranged in chronological order, but according to theme. The only exception is Luke, because he says outright that his intention was to tell the events in chronological order (see Luke 1:3). I recently asked myself "If God arranged the events of Jesus' ministry in the gospels thematically instead of chronologically, couldn't He have also done that with the events in Genesis 1?" I think the answer to this question is yes.
Although there are other interpretations of Genesis, but space doesn't permit even a cursory examination of them here. For interested readers, I recommend checking out William Lane Craig's section on "Creation and Evolution" in his Defenders series. He gives an examination of most of the common views of Genesis today.
We as Christians need to be flexible with our interpretation of Genesis and other passages about creation. Many Young Earth Creationists are so dogmatic about their interpretation of Genesis that they consider anyone who disagrees with them to be compromisers, man pleasers, people who "believe man's word over God's Word", or worse, heretics! They don't seem to understand that Old Earth Creationists and Evolutionary Creationists both believe that The Bible is God's holy, inspired, inerrant Word, it's just that they disagree with them on the best interpretation of Genesis 1-2.
There’s a difference between accepting what The Bible says and accepting a particular interpretation of what The Bible says. For example, if we met a man who had an inability to lie and he said to us “It’s raining cats and dogs”. We could both accept that what this man says is absolutely true. We both accept what he says as true. However, what does this man mean by “It’s raining cats and dogs”? Does he mean that canines and felines are literally dropping out of the sky or merely using that as a metaphor to mean that “it’s raining really, really hard”? If you took the literal view and I took the metaphorical view, it would be illegitimate for you to point the finger at me and accuse me of not taking what the man said seriously. The issue is not whether we believe what the man said, the issue is in figuring out what the man means.
See If The Science Is Correct
We should be willing to adjust our interpretation of scripture if it conflicts with science, but maybe our interpretation isn't wrong. Maybe the science is wrong. If something science appears to be saying is truly contradictory to scripture, then we may need to question whether the data has been properly interpreted. Science can be wrong, just as theology can be wrong. We need to carefully examine the evidence and the arguments to see if scientists have really got it right. However, if the evidence is overwhelming enough, it may be safe to conclude that science is right, and we need to revisit scripture to see where we went wrong. We shouldn't blindly accept something just because it comes out of a scientist's mouth. However, we shouldn't be quick to dismiss what he says just because it conflicts with the interpretation of Genesis we currently hold. We should carefully investigate the scientific evidence.
Be Willing To Carefully Consider Which Area We Got It Wrong In
We should carefully examine our interpretation of both the record of scripture and the record of nature. For example, if we were absolutely convinced that The Bible taught young earth creationism, we would have to reconsider science. If we were convinced that the scientific evidence was overwhelming and conclusively established that the universe is ancient, then we would have to re-examine scripture. If we were absolutely convinced that evolution is incompatible with The Bible's teaching on creation, we would have to re-examine the scientific evidence. However, if evolution were proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be true, we would have to re-examine scripture and see if we misinterpreted it.
God's Word and God's World will never conflict. Of that, we can be certain. Conflict can only lie at the area of human interpretation. If we see conflict, that means we went wrong in interpreting one of God's revelations.