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Friday, November 27, 2009

Concordism, a barrier to Christian acceptance of science

Steve Martin writes an important blog, entitled "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution." A recent post, by guest writer Jordan Mallon, strikes me as particularly important.

In this post, Mallon considers the idea of what he calls concordism, namely that "God revealed to the authors of Scripture scientific facts about the universe that could not otherwise have been known to them at the time." Mallon does not believe this, although he says it is an unexamined presupposition of many conservative Christians. Instead, he believes that the writers of the Bible were limited to their own knowledge, the scientific knowledge of the time, when writing. Why does Mallon think this? His main evidence is the question of geocentrism, the idea that the earth is the center of the universe. This was the common belief for centuries, perhaps millenia, until the 16th century. One reason that it was believed, beside the fact that the earth does appear to be fixed, and other things, such as the sun and moon, revolving around it, is scripture. Mallon lists 11 passages, all from the Old Testament, that appear to have been written by persons who believed in geocentrism.

Perhaps the most frequently discussed of those passages is one from Joshua, wherein Joshua is said to have commanded the sun and moon to stand still. I don't know what happened then. Whatever it was, it was a miracle. As the link in the first sentence of this paragraph will show, no less than Answers in Genesis, an organization that is often accused of taking the Bible too literally, does not believe that this passage teaches geocentrism. (I have posted here on the unfortunate false rumor that NASA has proved the story in Joshua is true. The fact that NASA hasn't proved it doesn't mean that it didn't happen.) Mallon's point, of course, is that the ancient writers did not write as if they had been given special scientific knowledge. As he says, "we now appreciate that God sometimes accommodates His message to the limitations of human understanding." He calls this accomodation.

Mallon draws a conclusion, namely that the first part of Genesis may also be coming to us through the filter of the scientific knowledge of the writer, and the the knowledge available to the hearers or listeners that Genesis was first presented to, and, therefore, a belief in speciation by natural selection, and perhaps even the origin of larger groups of organisms by this mechanism, may not really conflict with scripture at all.

The post by Mallon covers two other topics, almost as important. I suggest that you read his post. Thanks for reading this one.

See my next post, for a concrete Biblical example.


George said...

Fascinating reading. Thank you so much for your summary and for providing this link.

I was also interested in the post (the latest one as I write) where the writer was commenting on her frustration over the unwillingness of the college faculty to address issues that represent the interface between faith and science. I am fortunate to have had at least a little exposure to both sides (thanks to you, Dr. L.). From my perspective, those who received most of their training from the theological direction (pastors), feel unqualified to speak on the scientific aspects of intelligent creation because they received very little background instruction on the topic. Perhaps this should make us wonder if there ought to be some required training in this area for ministerial students for just such a reason. I know this is a little off topic, but your link pointed me to this topic.

Thanks again, Dr. L.

Martin LaBar said...

I agree 100%, or more, but I don't make up the curriculum.

Thanks, George.

Steve Matheson said...

Hello Martin, just a quick correction. The excellent blog to which you refer is written/edited by Steve Martin.

Martin LaBar said...


Thanks, Steve Matheson.

Jordan said...

Thanks for linking to my article, Martin, and for the fair review. I'm glad that you liked it.

Martin LaBar said...

You are welcome, Jordan.