God is both the author of creation and the author of Scripture. For Christians, God’s Word is the lens through which we see his world. Likewise, the way we see God’s world through science can affect how we understand his Word. Both Scripture and science are based on truth.
When God’s creation and God’s Word don’t align, something is wrong—and it’s probably not God. (Click to tweet.) Dr. Bruce Riley Ashford says, “there will sometimes be disagreement between theologians and scientists, but there will never be disagreement between God’s two books (Scripture and nature).”
According to Ashford, “Scripture does make statements that can be investigated and either affirmed or denied by scientists.” However, the Bible often explains things conceptually—it was written in such a way that the world could be understood regardless of how well you understand human anatomy, the cosmos, or the nature that surrounds you every day. As Ashford puts it, “[the Bible] does not use technical or scientific language and it does not give scientific theories. Instead, it uses language that would be accessible to persons who are observing the world from an ordinary human standpoint.”
When what we can observe about the world changes, sometimes our interpretation of Scripture has to change, too. In Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians, Ashford shows how historically, our interpretations of Scripture have changed with major scientific discoveries—while the Word and the world have remained the same.
“. . . centuries ago many theologians thought that the Earth was square, based on biblical texts referring to the ‘corners’ of the Earth. However, scientists have demonstrated beyond doubt that the world is not square, and theologians now realize that the biblical authors used ‘corners of the Earth’ language metaphorically.”
The Earth was a sphere the whole time, and Scripture was true the whole time—we just didn’t understand the relationship between the two.
Ashford suggests that either group (scientists or theologians) can make mistakes, and both groups should be open to correction. “Any disagreement we find should be located in human interpretive error, rather than in any real conflict between God’s two books.”
When we recognize God’s creation and God’s Word as true, our knowledge about the one can inform our understanding of the other. Or as Ashford says, “Christian theology and natural science are mutually beneficial dialogue partners.”
Learn more about intersections of theology and culture with Dr. Ashford’s book, Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians.