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In the first of a two-part blog, Operation Noah’s Chair, Rev Darrell D. Hannah, considers the Bible and its relationship with science.
Operation Noah’s concise theological statement Climate Change and the Purposes of God (CCPG) likens climate scientists to Israel’s prophets who spoke uncomfortable and disturbing truths which the Old Testament kingdoms of Israel and Judah did not welcome. The framers of CCPG and the rest of us at ON manifestly place a high premium on science. After all, our strapline is: Faith-motivated. Science-informed. Hope-inspired. There are, however, some Christians who remain deeply suspicious of science. For them, modern science is the implacable enemy of faith. Especially in the United States – but not just there – one encounters the idea among certain Christians that beginning with the theory of evolution modern science made a decisively wrong turn in direction. Such Christians not only reject human and animal evolution, but the consensus among geologists concerning the age of the earth, the consensus among geneticists concerning the age and shared ancestry of humans and much else besides (Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory).
It is not surprising that among such Christians, concern for the environment tends to be negligible at best. Having dismissed the evidence for evolution as error inspired by Satan, there is little reason to pay attention to the scientific consensus for the current climate crisis.
While I am not a scientist and not competent to comment on any scientific consensus or theory, I have no doubt that the root of the problem lies not so much with science but with the view of the Bible embraced by such Christians. Wishing to take the Bible seriously and to stand with it – even if that means standing against the rest of the world – when modern science and the Bible are presented as being in opposition, they naturally choose the Bible: science must be wrong.
Having dedicated most of my adult life to the study of the Bible, I am convinced such Christians do not take the Bible too seriously. Rather, they do not take it seriously enough. For example, Christians who dismiss evolution and climate change tend to read all the different books of the Bible in the same way. A moment’s reflection will show how mistaken an approach this is. We don’t read a book of history the same way we read a collection of poetry; we read a Mills & Boon novel with different presuppositions and expectations than a biography of a major historical figure or even a science fiction novel. In the same way, to read the Psalms just as one reads the historical books of Samuel and Kings would not reflect a serious engagement with the Bible, but instead a superficial approach. Or to read the Gospels or the apocalyptic books, Daniel and Revelation, with the same expectations that one reads the erotic poem that is the Song of Songs (or Solomon), would only lead to serious misunderstanding.
When paying attention to the clues in the text of the different books of the Bible, and even to different portions within those books, it becomes clear that the Bible contains a number of different genres. Nowhere among the various writings that make up the Bible do we encounter a work of ancient science – to say nothing of modern science! More importantly, if we give careful attention of the text of Genesis, it is clear that its first eleven chapters differ in genre from the rest of the book. While in Genesis 12–50 we may be dealing with a kind of family history, in Genesis 1–11 we are dealing with something more like saga or myth (understanding the term ‘myth’ not as a lie, but as a story by which the ancients made sense of and interpreted their world). To read the creation story or the account of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden as scientific or historical accounts is to ignore clues the text of Genesis gives as to how they should be read.
Darrell is the rector of All Saints parish church, Ascot Heath. An American, Darrell moved to the UK in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, in Christian Origins, and has lived here ever since. He moved into full-time parish ministry, in 2008, after academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford.
Want to learn more? Tenants of the King is a Bible-based, Jesus-centred small group study resource from Operation Noah. It is designed to help you and your church consider what the Bible has to say about today’s climate crisis.