Response from One of Jerry Coyne’s Fleas
In discussing Kent Spark’s recent post, the noted atheist and evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne has referred to BioLogos as a flea that needs to be scratched. Coyne writes that by showing that Augustine and Calvin did not view Scripture as a sourcebook for information about nature, Sparks was setting up some straw men that do not represent Christianity as a whole.
Except for a few dissenters like Augustine and Calvin, the bulk of Christian theology up to the rise of science in the sixteenth century involved seeing the Bible literally—in its entirety.
It is true that throughout history many Christians have looked to the Bible as a source of knowledge about the natural world—not just the supernatural. However many of the historical leaders in Christianity—those who defined the faith best through the centuries—have long called for something richer than simple face value.
Although many Christians are not aware of it, (and clearly this includes certain non-Christians, like Coyne himself) the Christian and Jewish traditions, going back to around the time of Christ and earlier, understood that a literal reading of Genesis either undersells or even misunderstands its theology. One need only mention figures like the Jewish interpreter Philo or Origen and other early Church Fathers and the point becomes self-evident. Despite our desire to find easy answers to our questions, many leading past thinkers have long known there is a much deeper message in Scripture.
Coyne, himself a fundamentalist of sorts, does not seem to appreciate the theological flexibility of Christianity (and Judaism) as seen in its own Scripture. The entire New Testament is, if anything, one large hermeneutical rethinking of the meaning of the Old Testament in light of the Christ event. To say the least, the first Christians were hardly constricted to a literal reading of the Old Testament. New circumstances called for new articulations. The same phenomenon is seen within the Hebrew Bible, where the writer of Chronicles does nothing less than recast Israel's entire history in light of the author's experience of exile and return from Babylon.
The message of Scripture reflects the cultures in which it is written, yet we also believe it transcends those cultures. There is a delicate balance but our best thinkers have always understood this. At BioLogos we, and the many others like us, are simply responding to new knowledge in the way that the Judeo-Christian tradition has long been known to do.