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5th April
written by Jeffrey Long

This is the introduction to a series of articles I’m working on to help people understand the intersection of science and faith.

On September 24th, 2012, Newsweek Magazine ran the headline: “Let there be wife, Jesus’s wife.” The story involved the discovery of a papyprus fragment dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’s wife,” which included the words: “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…'” Newsweek and other newsmagazines sensationalized the story and reinforced the fanciful notion, popularized in the book “The Davinci Code,” that perhaps Jesus of Nazareth took Mary Magdalene as a wife.

Two years prior, new discoveries in genomic research challenged another Biblical teaching: that humankind originated from an original pair, the biblical Adam and Eve. Christianity Today reported:

According to a consensus drawn from three independent avenues of research, the history of human ancestry involved a population “bottleneck” around 150,000 years ago—and from this tiny group of hominids came everyone living today. …the size of the group was far larger than a lonely couple: it consisted of several thousand individuals at minimum – The Search for the Historical Adam | Christianity Today 1/16/15

While some could dismiss this as a secular attack on faith, many Christian scientists concede that the research is valid. A BioLogos paper co-authored by Dennis Venema, biology chairman at Trinity Western University, and Point Loma Nazarene University biologist Darrel Falk declare flatly: The human population, “was definitely never as small as two … The data are absolutely clear on that.”

These two stories highlight a huge problem for Christianity. What should we make of scientific discoveries that create complications for the Bible?

The historic Christian position on the Bible holds that the book originated from the hand of God himself and could be trusted as a perfect, without historical or scientific flaw. Since the 1500’s, the Bible’s impeccable pedigree has needed constant adjustment to accomodate new scientific discoveries. At first this happened in astronomy, threatening the earth’s status as the center of the heavenlies. Then biology asserted that humankind originated from the slow and steady progress of evolution, rather than a single moment of creation. Today, the traditional approach to the Bible as unfailing revelations of the-very-words-of-god is challenged by scientific advances in DNA research, and cosmology, and historically by archeaology, linguistic and textual studies.

These discoveries threaten many people’s biblically informed Christian beliefs. Skeptics use research as ammunition to dismiss Christianity. And the media misuse new discoveries, such as the Jesus’ wife fragment, to cynically grab headlines that lend legitamacy to conjecture.

The kneejerk reaction has always been to reject anything that contradicts the traditional understanding of the Bible. Research is blamed as a godless attack on true faith. And individuals who wrestle with these problems are accused of lacking faith. This is typified by the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham at the Institute for Creation Research.

Unfortunately, this unwillinginess to engage modern science has resulted in an exodus from Christianity. Many people now believe that to be a Christian, you need to check your head at the door, or at least keep it down to avoid detection. And others simply walk away.

What’s a Christian to do in the face of this?

I believe we need a new literacy. Rather than be afraid of the sciences, we need to learn how to understand and engage them. This doesn’t require a degree in biology or astronomy. It requires a scientific literacy that can put new research in context. We also need tools to tell fact from fiction. So we aren’t misled by claims made in the media. Above all, we need to explore how the interaction between the sciences and the Bible impact how we live faithfully in the modern world.

This series is written for Christians wrestling with these modern issues. Each article will explore one topic and explain how it relates to our understanding of the Bible. It will then propose questions and possibilities about how these new realities inform our faith and how to live faithfully. It is my hope that we can not only learn how to engage our faith in the modern world, but also discover how to build bridges between believers and people who have been disenfranchised from Christianity as a result of these conflicts.