Moving beyond a conflict model
Hey it’s science and religion Friday! NPR ain’t got nuthin’ on me (and if I continue to write like that, they never will, nor care to)
Anyway, most of my posts in this category thus far have been discussing the relationship between science and religion, though really science and Christianity, from the perspective of conflict. That is, I have been attempted to demonstrate that, despite the claims of many, primarily the so-called “new atheists”, there is no genuine conflict between honest scientific inquiry and Christian faith.
Since at least the time of Origen, there has been an idea that there are two ways of understanding God, from the natural world and from the revelation found in Scripture (arguably this has roots in Paul’s opening of Romans, or even earlier with some of the psalms). However Augustine was the first to use the term “The book of nature” to refer to knowledge that comes about through observing the natural world, which is often set alongside the “book of Scripture.” This is, at least in Augustine, affirming of the validity of such knowledge, even in a fallen world.
The terminology (of two books of knowledge) has been used by Christians for centuries since then, including Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin (though most in the Dortian Calvinist tradition seem to find the metaphor too strained to be of use), and others. One of the primary arguments is that both books have the same author, God, who has not changed his mind or opinion since writing them. Therefore, if there is an apparent conflict between the two, it is not the case that one is right and the other wrong, rather it is our interpretation of one or the other that is right or wrong. There is no conflict between the book of nature and the book of scripture, thus we should attempt to adjust our interpretation of one or the other (or both) in an effort to arrive at true meaning.
One of the more well-known examples of this was by the German (pre-reformation) theologian, Konrad von Megenberg, who spent considerable time detailing what he considered to be the book of nature in an important precursor to scientific literature. His book, entitled The Book of Nature, was profoundly influential, having been reprinted multiple times before the arrival of the Guttenberg printing press. My point, though, with all of this is that theologians have never seen a conflict between the two. Perhaps its time we move beyond models of conflict and start talking about something else entirely. What do you think? Can we move past a conflict between the two?