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Where Science and Religion Meet

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 03:37 AM

Where Science and Religion Meet

(This and following articles are digests of five talks given in the Midland Institute, Birmingham, on Thursdays during June and July, 1964.)

[The subject and matter still relevant almost 50 years on - Librarian]

1—What Does the Plain Man Do?

A Disclaimer

I do not like such subjects as this. I do not like them because I think they are of little profit to most of us. I do not like them because they bring perplexity to many minds which could be much better employed. I do not like them because I know I have not the competence to deal adequately with the complex scientific questions involved. All this I said to those who invited me to give the series.

And in spite of this I accepted the invitation. This is briefly why I did so, and I think the reason why the invitation was given was the same:

The Brotherhood stands in considerable peril. Religious instruction in schools and colleges takes an evolutionary and liberal attitude to the Scriptures for granted—in most cases, at all events. Children know what their teachers tell them, and parents—again, in most cases—do not know the answers. Our Bible reading, and therefore our Bible knowledge, has declined alarmingly. As a community, in addition to lacking the scientific knowledge to meet the unbeliever on his ground, we are in a fair way to lack the scriptural knowledge to meet him confidently on our own.

Something had to be done about this, and those who decided on this series were right to try to do it.

The Situation

Before the Second World War, the mind of the Brotherhood as a whole could have been summed up in simple answers to direct questions, thus:

a. Do Christadelphians accept the theory of evolution? — No.

b. Do Christadelphians accept the Genesis record as good science and sober history? — Yes.

c. Do Christadelphians accept that Moses wrote the “Books of Moses” under divine inspiration? — Yes.

d. Do Christadelphians believe that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke truly and with authority on all matters with which he deals? — Yes.

e. Do Christadelphians believe that a New Testament pronouncement is final on matters of Old Testament fact? — Yes.

Now, 25 years later, most of us would still say the same. Acknowledging, as we always have done, some liberty of interpretation on non-fundamental issues, we should still give substantially the same answers. But we might not be so well equipped to defend them. And in so far as this is concerned with our scriptural sloth, this is our grievous fault.

But other voices are heard, in whispers sometimes, in the printed word sometimes. Is it certain that the Genesis record denies the evolutionary theory? If it does, must we continue to accept it as good science and sober history, or must we accept the science of the scientists and give up the historicity? Are we sure that “the critics” are wrong about the Books of Moses? And does it matter if they are right? Did the Lord Jesus always speak with knowledge, and does it matter if his information on history and the like may have been faulty? Was Paul necessarily right in what he wrote about the Old Testament, and does it matter if he were not?

This last paragraph was not a quotation. Not all these questions are asked at once, perhaps. But they are all in the air. This is part of the atmosphere in which those who are touched by such matters at all are living.

Those who are not living in such an atmosphere may be perplexed by even hearing such questions mentioned. I am sorry. If it were possible to ignore them, many of us would be only too happy to do so. But it is not.

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 03:38 AM

The Christadelphian Position

This has been defined in our Statements of Faith. According to these, we are to regard the Bible as without error in all its parts, except such errors as translation and transmission have introduced. And we are to reject the view that the Book is only partially the result of inspiration. We are also assured that Jesus was granted the Spirit without measure, an additional reason for treating his words with peculiar respect. We are told that Adam, the first man, was created very good and placed under law. His disobedience of that law has involved all our race in its consequences.

Now such statements do not prove that we are right. They do intimate, though, that Christadelphians regard them as rightly defining Bible doctrine. However highly we may in theory praise impartiality, in practice we have to realize that if an impartial approach were to lead us to reject these propositions, we should have to conclude that Christadelphians are wrong. And that would involve serious decisions for any who reached that conclusion.

This must not, of course, make us resist truth where we find it. But it should at least preserve us from irresponsibility in what we say or write.

What does the Plain Man do?

It is no use asking the plain brother or sister (including myself) to become a scientific expert in order to decide the questions involved. We cannot do it, and most of us would not if we could. If our faith depended on settling expertly the scientific issues, most of us would have to bid our faith goodbye.

Now some plain men settle the issue for themselves by casting around for a scientist who agrees with our position, and pinning their faith on him. Most plain men outside the conservative churches (and the temptation is felt within) rest content with what “science” as a whole is supposed to say, and adjust their attitude to the Scriptures—if they have one—to match. And neither attitude is strictly speaking intelligent: it is quite right to point out divisions in the scientists’ camp, but it is not self-evident that the majority must be wrong. It is proper to take note of what scientists as a whole may think, but in any science-versus-Bible type of discussion, the Bible side must not be condemned unheard.

And this, I think, is where the Christadelphian plain man receives his cue. Without, as yet, bothering about scientific majorities and minorities, he looks to his own defences. He gets his Bible down from the shelf, dusts it if necessary and resolves never to allow it to go dusty again, and asks it the question: “Do you have in your pages the evidence that, whatever the scientists may say, you are right and can be trusted?” And this is what we mean to do for the remainder of this essay. The impatient scientolater may think this a long way round, but he must be patient. It is our faith we are defending, and we have the right to choose our own defence.

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 03:39 AM

The Authority of Jesus

Jesus rose from the dead. This is Bible teaching, and it is also historical fact. Unbelievers have been converted by considering the evidence for it. I have myself experienced such a case, and there is a Bible-loving Christadelphian in our community now who owes his faith, to my knowledge, to a fair examination of the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus.

That examination has been given elsewhere. We all ought to know about it. Every speaking brother should have it at his finger-tips. But on this occasion we shall take it for granted.1

Jesus rose, and showed himself alive by many infallible proofs. Then what does this prove? Peter says it proves that Jesus was “a man approved of God”, now demonstrated to be “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:22–36). Paul says that by it Jesus is shown to be “the Son of God, with power, according to the spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4). For us, it removes for ever any fear we might have had of those who deny miracles, for this one cannot be denied. And the demonstration of this one miracle established another of the past—for in showing him to be the Son of God it validates the Virgin Birth—and promises another of the future, for “God hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Already our confidence grows. This is something that neither scientist nor critic can touch.

But if God raised Jesus, He vindicated His claims. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). He did indeed, with respect to his paternity, “proceed forth and come from God” (John 8:42). His wisdom, which could not be explained by assuming him to be the carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55), is explained by his true sonship. And this wisdom demands our particular attention to his words, with whatever topic he may be dealing, and especially, in our present context, when he deals with the Genesis record and the Old Testament in general.

There have long been, outside our community, those who would distinguish between the authority of the words of the Lord when he spoke on matters affecting salvation and the claims of God upon us, and the fallibility with which he may have spoken, as a man, on things which other men learn by the application of their faculties. His infallibility, on such a view, is rather like that which Catholics claim for the Pope: when speaking ex cathedra for the guidance of the Church on matters of faith and morals his edict is to be trusted; on other matters, perhaps not. Until recently we seemed to be unanimous in rejecting this view, but of late the whispered (and written) questions have been heard.

Is it in fact possible, in faithfulness to the risen Lord, to hold any such view of his limitations? To begin with, we may make this general point: if God raised him, and so established him to be His own Son, then God would certainly ensure that the knowledge of His work in Jesus would also be reliably preserved. Those who never met Jesus in the flesh must be able to discover in the records of his life, preaching and works, death and resurrection, reliably, what they need to know in order to be saved. The Lord’s promise to his apostles that the Spirit would guide them into all truth, and bring his words to their remembrance (John 14:26; for the fulfilment of which see, for example, 1 Corinthians 2:13; 11:23; 15:3; Ephesians 3:5), shows that precisely such a plan was in fact made. This is something like an a priori guarantee that the records, as such, are to be trusted to give us sound and trustworthy information about the Lord’s life and teaching.

In fact, the New Testament, by this word, is vested in advance with the authority which compels us to listen to it when it speaks to us about the Old, and tells us that this was “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Turning to the Gospels, then, we note that the Lord’s teaching is never tentative. He never distinguishes between things of which he is sure, things he regards as probable, and things of which he is doubtful. All that he says is said with total assurance, and it is recorded, “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:29). The scribes interpreted the Scriptures in accordance with the traditions of the elders; the Lord said simply: “I say unto you.” He had sources of information of the things of God which transcended the Scriptures, which makes his absolute confirmation of, and subjection to, their meaning all the more impressive.

When he said, therefore, “Moses wrote of me” (John 5:45), he knew from above that it was about him that Moses wrote, and that it was Moses indeed who wrote it. When he told the people, opposing the Pharisees, that God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was not the God of the dead but of the living (Luke 20:37–8), he knew, from God, about the reason for the title, but he confirmed the Burning Bush episode in which Moses received the knowledge of the name. His respect for the Scriptures was as boundless as his confidence in his own words: “The Scripture cannot be broken”; “Not one jot or tittle shall pass from the Law till all be fulfilled”; “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (John 10:35; Matthew 5:18; 24:35). Of his own freewill he made himself the servant of the Scriptures, “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled”.
1 See Who Moved the Stone?, by Frank Morison (Faber paperback); The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, by James Orr (out of print); and, if I may, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and three chapters in Believing the Bible (available from The Christadelphian).

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 03:41 AM

The Lord and the Genesis Record

In setting out his teaching on the permanence of marriage, the Lord answers his critics in terms of Genesis 1 and 2 (Matthew 19:1–8, etc.). God made them in the beginning male and female (Genesis 1), and said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife” (Genesis 2). Both the “creation records” are included in one statement, and made the basis of the true teaching on marriage. It is impossible to drive a wedge between the teaching and the history on which it is based. If such an Adam and Eve had not existed, and such a divine blessing had not been pronounced, then such a conclusion as to the sanctity of the marriage state could not validly have been drawn. Jesus must be right in his estimate of the history, or he is unreliable in his estimate of the morals.

Though outside the record of the Creation, other aspects of the Genesis story also receive the Lord’s confirmation, including the assassination of Abel (Matthew 23:35), the historicity of the Flood (Luke 17:26–27), of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:28–32), and of the life of Abraham in general. In all these cases, his confirmation of the record is bound up with the lesson which he draws from it, and the one would fall without the other.

The Apostles and the Genesis Record

The evidence is more specific here. As the apostles settle down to write for us the meaning of the work of the Lord, they draw in the historical basis and interpret it for us; and so, when Paul says that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12), it is impossible to understand this without the assurance that Paul was satisfied of the existence and the uniqueness of that “one man” to whom he refers. When he adds, “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead” and “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21–22), he bases the work of the Lord Jesus in overcoming sin and death, on the fact that sin and death are owed by all of us to our descent from this Adam. Adam and Christ are equally real to Paul: the one man is from the earth, earthy (a very evident quotation of Genesis 2), while the second is “the Lord from heaven”.

Paul seems, in fact, to have indicated something of the kind in his address to the Athenians, saying that “God hath made of one all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:24–26). For this, too, has the Genesis record as its basis.

In two allusions to the Fall, Paul also establishes his confidence in the record of Genesis 3 as historical. He presses the detail that it was the woman who was deceived before Adam also sinned, and the priority of Adam’s creation to that of his wife (1 Timothy 2:13–14), and the use of the word “deceived”, or “beguiled” (R.V.) strongly suggests that an external deceiver or beguiler was at work to bring this about. This is placed beyond reasonable doubt in the second allusion (2 Corinthians 11:3), where he expressly says that “the serpent beguiled Eve by his subtilty” (Genesis 3:1, 4–6), expressing the fear that influences external to the Corinthians might bring about their fall from the grace newly received in Christ, in the same way as the serpent had brought about the downfall of Eve.

Now these are the declarations of a man led into truth by the Spirit of God. They are from one who said, “The things which I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord”. They involve fundamental reasoning about basic doctrine, or sound foundation for proper behaviour. And, like the authoritative pronouncements of the Lord himself, they receive their authority from the historical fact of the Lord’s resurrection.

In such authority we do not trust in vain. Differences of interpretation in the accepted records there may yet, on unessential matters, remain; perplexities in the face of the opinions of scientists there will doubtless be. But in accepting the records we are not on the defensive. The plain man may be happy to continue in his acceptance of the Scriptural account, and, whatever uncertainties may arise when we bring the scientific outlook into the discussion, he may constantly rest his confidence in this, and know that the foundation of God standeth sure.

Alfred Norris.2

2 Vol. 101: The Christadelphian: Volume 101. 2001 (electronic ed.) (436–439). Birmingham: Christadelphian Magazine & Publishing Association.

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#5 David Brown

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 08:39 PM

I do hope that the late author, were he still alive, would have a grace to accept that the overwhelming evidence of the last 50 years, most especially the evidence of the genome, shows his views to have been mistaken.

#6 Mark Taunton

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 09:52 PM

If anything, the evidence from the genome, especially the more recent, goes overwhelmingly in favour of astounding and wonderful design by an all-knowing and all-wise creator, just as the late author believed.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 22 October 2012 - 09:55 PM.

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#7 Mark Taunton

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 07:41 AM

Moreover, nothing discovered in the last 50 years has done anything to alter the words of the scriptures that Alfred Norris quoted, which formed his foundation for understanding the creation record. The scriptures are the foundation we can all rely on totally, just as he shows Jesus and the apostles did. We can rely on them, precisely because unlike the words of men who purport to understand the world, yet whose explanations change over time, they come from God who as creator of the world truly does understand it and his purpose in making it, and they do not change. Just like their author, the words of scripture do not change because they are true, always have been, and always will be.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 23 October 2012 - 07:56 AM.

#8 violin



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Posted 23 October 2012 - 03:18 PM

The words of scripture may not have changed , but in bible interpretation as in science we can if not careful put too much weight on "the words of men who purport to understand the word, yet whose explanations change over time". Bro Alfred, like all of us, was interpreting the words of scripture (as translated into our language by other men) : there have been many discoveries in other areas too in the last fifty years which illuminate the culture and context of the original writings and should lead the honest disciple to re-examine the interpretations of previous generations.

Edited by violin, 23 October 2012 - 03:19 PM.

#9 nsr


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Posted 23 October 2012 - 03:51 PM

And in another fifty years will our interpretations need to be re-examined as well? Can we trust anything we believe the Bible says?

Where does the Bible say anything about man's understanding of God's word needing to be re-examined in this way?
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect..." (Heb 12:22-23)

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