Saturday, January 29, 2011

Concordism's Challenge

The Interaction Between Science and Christianity is a subject of interest to many in our modern culture. The topic is more complex than commonly realized. When I inform people of my background in science education and my current interest in this interaction, many initially express enthusiasm. When they later discover the scope of the science/faith connection, many defer. Science is a discipline many find baffling. This deflects them from a serious investigation of the issues.

One topic many people find fascinating is concordism. Randy Isaac, executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), a diverse group of Christians engaged in science professions, has posted a fair description of the term. Isaac says concordism is “a fancy term for identifying scientific fact or theory with a particular phrase or passage in the Bible.” He describes the emotional reaction some may experience when a scientific observation is thought to correspond with Scripture. “See? The Bible is right after all,” they may say.

Concordism is a spectrum of views, according to Isaac. On one end of the spectrum is the position “that any allusion to natural history in the Bible must correspond to actual physical events.” This is described as “a high degree of concordism.” On the other end of the spectrum we find people who hold “that the Bible does not intend to teach us about natural history and is only using the language of nature and natural history to aid our understanding of the spiritual truths,” a position possessing “a minimal degree of concordism.” There is some validity in each of these spectral extremes as well as qualified intermediate positions.

We may fall into the familiar trap of being defined by only one term with respect to our important belief frameworks. The general correspondence between the event sequence in Genesis 1 and the sequence of earth’s geological history seems easy for me to understand. I am a creationist who embraces the 13.7 billion year distant Big Bang concept as God’s initial creative act bringing the time, space, matter, and energy dimensions of this universe immediately into existence. The sudden appearance of bio-chemically complex life nearly four billion years ago, the Cambrian explosion of diverse multicellular life, and the physical creation of modern man several tens of thousands of years ago (the socio-cultural “big bang”) are several events which also seem to have the hallmarks of creation events described in Genesis. By this standard my creationist beliefs possess “a high degree of concordism.”

Bible passages penned by various authors refer to the stretching out of the heavens. Those passages could have reference to present scientific knowledge of a continually expanding universe. They could also refer metaphorically to the actions of the Creator, inspiring in us a feeling of worship and devotion. These scriptures are fascinating. Let the reader decide where these views fall within the spectrum of concordist beliefs.

The term concordism should not, therefore, define someone as an adherent of a rigid set of beliefs at one end of a belief spectrum. Rather, the term implies that scripture is held in high regard by the concordist and that scripture provides insights across a wide range of human beliefs and experience. Above all, whether Scripture refers to creation events or deep spiritual truths, we must humbly ask God to reveal what He intends for us to understand.