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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Science and Scripture

Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions: To 1700 (Brill's Series in Church History) by Scott H. Mandelbrote and Jitse M. Van Der Meer (Brill Academic)

Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions: 1700-present (Brill's Series in Church History) by Scott H. Mandelbrote and Jitse M. Van Der Meer (Brill Academic) 

The four companion volumes of Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions contribute to a contextual evaluation of the mutual influences between scriptural exegesis and hermeneutics on the one hand and practices or techniques of interpretation in natural philosophy and the natural sciences on the other. We seek to raise the low profile this theme has had both in the history of science and in the history of biblical interpretation. Furthermore, questions about the interpretation of scripture continue to be provoked by current theological reflection on scientific theories. We also seek to provide a historical context for renewed reflection on the role of the hermeneutics of scripture in the development of theological doctrines that interact with the natural sciences.

Contributors are Peter Barker, Paul M. Blowers, James J. Bono, Pamela Bright, William E. Carroll, Kathleen M. Crowther, Maurice A. Finocchiaro, Carlos Fraenkel, Miguel A. Granada, Peter Harrison, Kenneth J. Howell, Eric Jorink, Kerry V. Magruder, Scott Mandelbrote, Charlotte Methuen, Robert G. Morrison, Richard J. Oosterhoff, Volker R. Remmert, T.M. Rudaysky, Stephen D. Snobelen, Jitse M. van der Meer, and Rienk H. Vermij.

Excerpt: One of the most important factors influencing the reception of all ideas in the cultures of Europe and the Middle East has been the intellectual context of the religions of the book, and within that, of the framework provided by the understanding and interpretation of privileged religious texts (the Tanakh, the Christian Bible, the Qur'an). Surprisingly, while the history of the interpretation of Scripture is currently undergoing a revival, historians of exegesis have so far overlooked its interaction with another major cultural force, namely natural philosophy and the natural sciences. Further, historians of science have only recently begun to notice the importance of the interaction between the subjects of their discipline and those of the history of exegesis. The rationale for these two edited volumes is to contribute to filling these gaps.


The goal of this project is to explore how the development of different styles of interpretation found in reading scripture (the Tanakh, the Christian Bible, the Qur'an) and nature, helped to transform ideas of both the written word and the created world over several centuries, and how this engagement was affected by the larger cultural context. The approach is historical. The period of interest covers the last two millennia up to the present.


Our focus is not on theology and science, but on specific strategies of interpretation and on hermeneutical principles that shape knowledge of God and nature in interaction with contextual influences. The goal is to describe what happened in the dialogue between the interpretation of natural phenomena and the interpretation of scripture and to explain why it happened. The notion of interpretation of nature is taken in its context. Thus this notion is not restricted to the interpretation of nature in the theories and models of contemporary science, nor to the interpretation of nature as understood in the so-called hermeneutical philosophy of science, but it also includes, for instance, the interpreta­tion of nature as part of the interpretation of scripture in the Middle Ages. It is an historical, rather than a philosophical or (in contemporary terms) a scientific concept.

Complexity of the Topic and Focus of the Workshop

The complexity of the topic has forced us to limit the scope of this project. The theme of interpretation links history of science with the specific histories of a range of other fields associated with the interpretation of scripture such as studies in cultural history, literary history, history of philosophy, linguistics, semiotics, religion, theology, and philosophy. Each dimension deserves attention in its own right and all need to be considered together in the complexity of their interaction in order to clarify the mutual engagement of the interpretation of the Bible and of nature. For various obvious reasons this cannot be done. But the observation draws attention to the engagement or lack thereof between the fields that constitute the background for interactions between his­tory of science and history of text interpretation. Given the multiple dimensions of our theme, the absence of contributions by theologians, philosophers of science, philosophers of religion, literary historians, and others needs explanation. The decision to invite only historians of exegesis and historians of science reflects our attempt to manage the complexity of the engagement. Our first priority was depth of descrip­tion. We simply want to know what happened and why. The difference is not unlike that between history of philosophy and philosophy. We want to contribute a history of interpretation of nature and scripture in all its aspects such as theology, linguistics, and philosophy without engaging in research in these auxiliary disciplines.

The theme of interpretation also links history of science with main­stream history in a variety of ways. First, the development of a sense of history itself has shaped the history of interpretative practices. One might consider the typological interpretation of religious texts, which presupposes a linear conception of history in which past events or persons can be types of what transpires in the future. Without such a dynamic view of history one would expect the dominant styles of interpretation to focus on the moral and spiritual senses of scripture and nature. A second link with general history lies in the movement of European Christianity from a medieval culture of images to an early modern culture of words. Peter Harrison has suggested that Protestant interpreters of the Bible focussed on the literal sense of Scripture to such an extent that this undermined the symbolic meaning of things, events and persons not only in Scripture but also in nature and on the large scale of European culture.' The interpretation of both Scripture and nature is also embedded in general history because the rise of a new phase in historical awareness in the nineteenth century included the history of religion and its religious books as well as the history of nature. This new stage of historical awareness underlies much of the subsequent entanglements of the interpretation of Scripture and nature, as has been shown by Jim Moore in The Post-Darwinian Controversies (1979), or, at least, so it seems according to the received view. Finally, mainstream history enters the picture because social, political, and economic contexts have always been recognized as essential to the interpretation of texts. To take one example of the entanglement of such contexts, the curse placed on Ham, one of the three sons of Noah in the flood narrative, has served to justify various forms of racism, from the Hebrew occupation of Canaan to early modern European conquests in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. In postbiblical times, this justification has focussed on a supposed link between the recipients of the curse and dark skin color. It has been deployed to provide religious and, through the development of the category of race, scientific support for the enslavement of black Africans by Europeans or, more recently, in South Africa, for the institution and development of Apartheid.' In eighteenth-century British interpretations of India, by contrast, bibli­cal ethnography combined with a Newtonian chronology, which was based on the application of astronomical data to the interpretation of Scripture, to rescue a vision of ancient wisdom, embodied in Sanskrit texts and believed to have been transmitted through the descendants of Ham, from Egypt to Iran to the Hindus.3 The better-known aspect of the story of Noah, namely the deluge and its interpretation in scientific creationism is interwoven with recent social and religious history of the USA.

Finally, taking the historical approach still leaves us with the consid­erable challenge of encouraging meaningful communication between historians of science and historians of biblical interpretation. We identify two potential obstacles to a fruitful exchange.

The question is how biblical interpretation and the interpretation of nature have influenced each other, and how this engagement was affected by the larger cultural context. Restated, our aim is to contribute to a description and evaluation of the mutual influences between scriptural exegesis and hermeneutics on the one hand and practices or techniques of interpretation in natural philosophy and the natural sciences on the other.


The primary rationale for this project is that this theme has had such a low profile both in the history of science and in the history of biblical interpretation. This is surprising given the fundamental role of religious texts in Christian, Islamic, and Judaic cultures. Moreover, for the last two decades, in which studies of science and religion have burgeoned in each of the traditions of the Book, the focus normally has been on the relationship of theology and science.' Relatively little attention has been paid to questions of biblical interpretation, perhaps because this was seen as subjective and prone to interminable disagreements. Such an interpretation appears to be strengthened by consideration of the most influential attempt to argue both for the importance of the Bible in shaping a modern scientific view of the world and for the role of a particular kind of biblical exegesis in the later development of scientific ideas. Reijer Hooykaas's Religion and the Rise of Modern Science claimed that both a biblical conception of the role of God in nature and a specifically Calvinist or Puritan attitude to biblical interpreta­tion had played a formative role in the creation of modern science. Neither Hooykaas's rather jaundiced view of Greek science and its legacy in the Arabic world and the medieval West, nor his partisan dismissal of Catholic and Lutheran natural philosophy, has stood up well to the passage of time." Yet theology would be empty without the interpretation of religious texts: their meaning in the relationship between science and religion requires further elucidation. Moreover, as we have seen, it is now acknowledged that natural philosophy and the natural sciences would not exist without the interpretation of perceptions, concepts and theories, whose hermeneutical implications may have resonance with those of exegesis. The interpretative nature of the natural sciences levels the playing field between interpretation of scripture and interpretation of nature. History of science is incom­plete without considering the influence, methods, and styles of biblical interpretation. This project focuses on these two interpretive endeavors because they have been neglected.

There are two secondary reasons that moved us to undertake this project. Until very recently the history of the two interpretative endeavors could be compared with two parallel lines they contain two different sets of points and never intersect. Thus a secondary rationale for this work is to encourage engagement between these disciplines.

Further, questions for the interpretation of Scripture continue to be raised by current theological reflection on scientific theories. For instance, reflection on cosmological theories raises questions of inter­pretation of biblical passages associated with the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. If the mind emerges from the body how does one interpret biblical texts that imply a nonbodily existence after death? If the universe has an end, how does one interpret eschatological passages? If our everyday macroscopic reality emerges from a quantum world, and were theological attempts to locate divine action in quantum phenomena to prove warranted, how might one interpret Scripture on such issues as divine providence and prayer? Each of these questions makes clear the necessity of renewed reflection on the role of the hermeneutics of Scripture in the development of theological doctrines that interact with the natural sciences.


We have chosen for a format that surveys the questions rather than one that claims to offer complete solutions. Such a format was dictated by the current embryonic state of this interdisciplinary field of studies. It is too early to aim for solutions when we are scratching the surface of very complex interactions that involve many disciplines in addition to the two we have focused on. These considerations made an historical approach the natural one. Within this approach we have accommodated case studies in order to create the depth necessary for identifying what the important questions might be. While this strategy excludes a the­matic approach, the development of broad themes may be found in the introductions and responses to sections that were designed to facilitate interaction between historians of science and historians of exegesis, and in the correspondences that emerge between chapters.

We include material that refers to developments across much of the last two millennia, that is the period in which the three contemporary religions of the book have emerged. Within this time frame we have largely concentrated on interactions that have occurred in the last five hundred years or so, partly because this represents the period of devel­opment of increasingly modern forms of scientific understanding. Our long timescales may make it possible to correlate or contrast developments in the history of the interpretation of nature and the history of the interpretation of scripture. Both histories will be read in parallel without focussing exclusively on the priority of one or the other. In this way we hope not only to make room for mutuality in the engagement of the two interpretive endeavors, but also to discover what factors in the cultural context have acted to shape them both.


The two volumes follow a roughly chronological order for two reasons. Firstly, this allows different phases in the development of interpretive strategies to be seen more coherently within their historical context. In a thematic approach contextual information would have had to be repeated in the treatment of each theme. Secondly, most scholars specialize in the movements and individuals of a specific period. It would have been counterproductive to ask contributors to stretch beyond their expertise for the sake of sticking to a theme.

Sectional Introductions and Responses also serve to encourage meaningful communication between members of two disciplines who had not talked much before: historians of science and historians of scripture interpretation. Historians of scripture interpretation and church historians have contributed Introductions and Responses for Parts composed primarily of history of science and vice versa. These have been written at a level aimed to be of benefit across disciplinary boundaries. Given the Parts introductions this general introduction does not enter into the substance of the project.

The first volume covers early Christianity up to the seventeenth century with a separate Part offering case studies on the Copernican debates. Further, there are chapters featuring the church fathers, the role of Renaissance theories of language, the contribution of Scripture interpretation by the Protestant reformers to the development of modem science, and the influence of religious perspectives on scripture inter­pretation in its engagement of the interpretation of nature including Eastern Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Special topics include 'Mosaic philosophy,' Isaac Newton and 'Theories of the Earth.

Volume two spans the eighteenth to the twentieth century with a separate Part on theories of biological evolution treated geographically. In addition to biology its disciplinary scope includes physics, geology, and ethnology. Religious perspectives include Christianity with a special chapter on Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Islam and Judaism. Special topics include the problem of evil, creationist hermeneutics, the par­ticular relationship between biblical hermeneutics and scientific practice in the reformed communities of the Netherlands, 'scientific exegesis' of the Qur'an from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, and a comparison of Hebrew and Christian practices of interpreting nature and scripture in response to the religious crisis of modernity in Judaism and Christianity. The topic often referred to as: "Body, soul, and spirit" which initially represented anthropology in the project is so large that it deserves separate treatment and was excluded.

The Topic in Broader Perspective

The current surge of interest, led by the work of Harrison and Howell, in the history of biblical interpretation in relation to understandings of nature raises the question of how significant interpretations of nature have been for exegesis." Have the natural sciences ever generated problems for biblical interpretation that had not already arisen in other contexts? As Howell and others have shown, when facing questions raised by new developments in natural knowledge, Galileo could rely on established Augustinian strategies for the interpretation of Scripture. Indeed, the ubiquity of the practice of accommodation, by no means always drawing on the Galilean example, in cosmological debate of the early modern period is very striking. Writers from all parts of the wide confessional spectrum of early modern Europe, who were committed to realist versions of Copernicanism, were encouraged to deploy some version or other of an argument from accommodation, based on a relatively discrete range of patristic authorities. The setting for this was in part the hostile attitude of ecclesiastical and educational authorities in environments as diverse as Catholic Italy or Calvinist Holland to the challenge that realist Copernicanism appeared to pose to publicly sanctioned methods of reading Scripture. The appeal to the practice of the fathers was as persuasive in the context of Protestant exegesis as it appeared to be for Roman Catholics, for whom the example of patristic interpretation was endorsed by the authority of the Council of Trent." Lutheran writers, who were committed to the principle that the Bible and nature provided compatible visions of divine providence, were perhaps most resistant to, although not immune from, this tendency, just as they were most innovative in developing hypothetical readings of Copernicus.' Before getting too carried away with this example, however, it is worth remembering that the entire debate over the reception of heliocentrism must be set within the context of the ongoing refinement of Aristotelian natural philosophy, in which, for many writers, Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed alike, a proper conception of divine or scriptural physics seemed most compatible with some version of the scholastic interpretation of nature. Viewed in this light, the tendency to practice accommodation may have derived as much from scholastic techniques of reasoning and interpretation, which came increasingly to privilege the literal sense of Scripture, as it did from the need of a few self-conscious innovators in natural philosophy to find patristic justifications for facts that appeared inconvenient to the witness of the Bible. To determine which source was uppermost at a particular historical moment or even for a given historical actor remains a challenge."

From the perspective of the history of the interpretation of sacred texts and of hermeneutics, questions about the interpretation of nature within the Islamic tradition appear at times to have been important primarily for the purpose of a better understanding of scripture. The resulting primacy of the sacred text has of course also been a theme of much Christian discussion of nature, and has similarly underpinned much Jewish thinking about nature. To some extent, the greater stabil­ity of religious authority in postmedieval Islamic and Jewish thought gave greater consistency to this hierarchy in hermeneutics outside post-Reformation Christianity. It would be a mistake, however, to put too much stress on this apparent difference. In both the postmedieval Sephardic and Ashkenazic worlds, for example, there were individuals who combined curiosity about innovations in natural knowledge with hypothetical solutions to the apparent contradictions between such innovations and traditional teachings, based on sacred texts. Equally, there were developments within Jewish philosophies of nature, particu­larly as a result of the application and refinement of Kabbalah, which generated controversy about the status of Aristotelian physics and its compatibility with authoritative readings of sacred texts.

Knowledge of nature has sometimes constituted readings of scripture, but this role has been modest compared to, for instance, the influence of interpretations of history on scripture interpretation. The popular misunderstanding that higher biblical criticism originates in the natural sciences fails to acknowledge its primary origin in the rise of historical awareness and the development of historical research. This observa­tion about the centrality of history may be as true when one examines authors who have recently been credited with the invention of a criti­cal method in exegesis, such as Thomas Hobbes, Isaac La Peyrère, Richard Simon, or Baruch Spinoza, as it is when considering writers in the nineteenth century.

Interpretations of nature for the sake of knowing God have sometimes motivated a closer look at Scripture. In the letter of Paul to the Roman Christians, the apostle asserts that the Divinity and power of God can be known from nature. But the limited knowledge of the divine attributes possible in this way implies an invitation to explore other attributes of God in Scripture, or even through means of the spirit or of practical piety. This was recognized by William Whewell in the early nineteenth century, as it had been by the seventeenth-century founders of the natural theological tradition in which he operated, John Wilkins and John Ray."

Less modest has been the regulative role interpretations of nature have fulfilled whenever scripture interpretation has been constrained by theologies which themselves accommodated new interpretations of nature. Examples are Aristotelian and evolutionary interpretations of Scripture. Both Aristotelian theology and process theology contain interpretations of nature that regulate the interpretation of Scripture. For authors working within the Aristotelian tradition, particularly as modified by the influence of Aquinas, assumptions about the nature of God as creator and first mover were intrinsic to any attempt to make sense of the natural world. The resulting concentration on topics such as divine foreknowledge had direct consequences also in the realm of exegesis and, indeed, on the practical interpretation of the meaning of the Christian religion, in terms of the pastoral process of confession and the forgiveness of sins. As Rivka Feldhay has shown, differences

between Catholic teaching orders, such as the Dominicans or the Jesuits, over the nature of their scholastic inheritance were intimately bound up with quarrels about attitudes to biblical interpretation, prac­tical divinity, and even new developments in natural knowledge. Likewise, an evolutionary perspective has transformed the traditional Augustinian interpretation of the story of the Fall into sin in the book of Genesis. As Ashley describes, whereas authors in the Augustinian tradition take original sin as a product of the human will, authors in the tradition of evolutionary and process theology take it as a cosmic force. The primary implication for exegesis has been that the story of the Fall was transformed from a historical episode involving human will and responsibility to a mythical expression of the universal human experience of evil both natural and moral. A God who pays the price of natural evil for the sake of creating a cosmos through evolutionary change replaces an act of human rebellion. As Ashley points out it is hard to see how one "can avoid either making God responsible for evil or positing a Manichean dualism. Other exegetical implications can be seen, for instance, in contemporary discussions about 'open theism' that have emerged from the notion that God is not all-powerful.

A further question concerns the roles that readings of nature have played in the interpretation of scripture and in the practice of the religious life of the peoples of the book. Valuable as they are, many of the studies in these volumes, in common with other recent publications, focus on theologians, natural philosophers, natural historians, physicians and scientists. But the map of experience in these fields must also include people from many other walks of life, ordinary readers and interpreters whose understandings of sacred texts and of nature may turn out to be anything but ordinary." A full measure of the significance of our topic will require these blank areas to be filled.

Regional Studies

In one area it has proved easier to address questions of local dif­ferences and similarities—that of biological evolution and Scripture interpretation. This section confirms the need for regional studies, but also reveals their limitations. In the seventeenth century, writers from the Dutch Republic stand out for their extraordinary influence on a Europe-wide scale, a product as much of the Republic's importance in the European publishing trade, perhaps, as of any other factor. For instance, the Dutch theologian Voetius was respected for his challenge to Cartesianism among both Calvinists and Lutherans across Europe (Vermij, these volumes). Yet his influence was paralleled by the emer­gence of a radical biblical criticism in the Dutch Republic during the seventeenth century, which itself drew on materialist interpretations of nature that owed much to the reading of Descartes. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Dutch example again appears unique, but it is now marked out by the extraordinary insensitivity of theologians to overtures from scientists who asked for help in questions about Scripture interpretation (Visser, in these volumes), as well as by the way in which neo-Calvinists faced the challenge of higher biblical criticism (Harinck, de Knijff, these volumes).' On the other hand, few regional differences show in the way in which Christian theologians and scientists insisted on attributing meaning to an evolving world as seen through Darwinian eyes. In Germany, as well as in the Netherlands and the USA, the response occurred at the level of metaphysics rather than that of textual interpretation. Kleeberg, Visser, and England describe how the matter that was insisted on was divine guidance of the evolutionary process toward a goal. Even compared with the Copernican debates, this is a sea change that needs further analysis.

Galileo's Shadow

An enduring legacy of the Galileo myth is the popular perception that the church has attempted to impose interpretations of Scripture on the study of nature, that this has inhibited the progress of science, and that science has won this battle. Nelson (these volumes) draws attention to Josiah Nott (1804-1873) for attempting to include ethnology with astronomy and geology in this mythology, stating that:

Astronomy and geology, so long kept down by bigotry and ignorance, have triumphed, and the day is at hand when the natural history of man will burst the trammels which have so long held it captive. The unity of the races can only be deduced from forced constructions of the Old and New Testaments, and persistence in this error is calculated to subvert and not to uphold our religion.

This stereotype is informed by undue focus on Galileo's reading of Joshua in his letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of 1615 and its role in Galileo's initial debate with Bellarmine, which established the parameters for interpretation that Galileo subsequently broke. It has been repeatedly exposed, in studies which have highlighted the rhetori­cal nature of Galileo's use of exegesis; the variety of opinion within the church; the importance of the style and force of Galileo's advocacy of realist Copernicanism in provoking the trial of 1633, and the continu­ing role of Augustinian patterns of thinking in Galileo's natural theol­ogy." Studies such as ours show that in fact during any particular era interpretations of nature that were common have been read into the meaning of Scripture. Apparent conflicts between scripture and sci­ence, therefore, have to be reassessed as struggles between competing interpretations of nature in which readings of scripture have become implicated. The essays in these volumes also show that when nature is read in terms of scripture the results have not always been negative for knowledge and understanding. There are instances of the interpretation of Scripture that have stimulated natural knowledge, as it was understood at a particular time." Bono describes how speculations about the cognitive powers of Adam in the Book of Genesis stimu­lated attempts to recapture this privileged knowledge by reforming the study of nature. Crowther offers two case studies on Mosaic physics. Magruder shows how a scriptural idiom was incorporated in Burnet's theory of the Earth. The idiom of original chaos, paradise, flood, and final conflagration helped shape a discourse about the history of the Earth which featured in scientific writing for over a century. Nelson describes the role of the creation of Adam and Eve in nineteenth-century American monogenetic and polygenetic theories of ethnology. Finally, Harrison argues that modern natural science began once the medieval symbolic order of nature collapsed when it was rejected by Protestant reformers for reasons of biblical interpretation. Van der Meer and Oosterhoff question the rejection of nature symbolism as well as the role of Protestantism.

The claim that passages from sacred texts are compatible with the development of the natural sciences has sometimes been used for popular apologetic purposes in both Christianity and Islam. Attempts to bolster the authority of the Bible and the Qur'an with the reputation of the natural sciences are present in the interpretations of nineteenth-century Protestant biblical geologists as well as nineteenth-century Muslim reforming theologians. It is important, however, to recognize that the constructive working together of interpretations of sacred texts and of natural knowledge is not a unique example of the way in which authoritative texts may drive understandings of nature. The sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions do not have the unique role in this respect that has sometimes been assigned to them by scientific materialists and others. Other examples of a process in which hermeneutical authority has shaped the interpretation of nature range from the influence of schools in ancient Greek and Chinese science to the role of the writings of Aristotle in early modern theories of nature, to the role of canonical texts in modern-day psychoanalysis."

Hermeneutical Circle

The relationship between the two interpretative endeavors that we are considering is essentially circular. The apparent meaning of scripture passages is shaped by interpretations of nature in all three religions of the book. This is a natural consequence of attempts to use contempo­rary natural knowledge to understand references to nature in scripture. Aristotelian readings of scripture were offered in Judaism (Maimonides), in Christianity (Aquinas) and Islam (Ibn Sina). In each case, alternative readings of nature and of scripture existed within the interpretative community, leading to controversy both over the relevance of such readings and over the piety of those who offered them. Thus descrip­tion of the influence of scripture interpretation on the interpretation of nature must consider the possibility that this influence is in fact a return to its original source—natural knowledge interpreting itself in terms of itself. This means further that philosophies of nature have played a mediating role in the engagement of scripture interpretation and interpretation of nature.

By contrast, things, events and processes in nature may receive religious meaning originating from interpretations of scripture. The most startling example of this remains the use of fossilized remains as material evidence in debates about the status and interpretation of the Bible in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. There are however many other examples, from the reading of celestial signs as portents to the categorization of certain forms of generation or of species differentiation according to norms derived from sacred texts.

Contextualized Reading of Scripture

In these volumes one encounters a variety of reasons or purposes for reading scripture that are associated with specific ways of reading the sacred text. For instance, the contemplative reading or lectio diving is a kind of reading aiming at encouraging a way of life marked by specific kinds of action. It was dominant in medieval communities of philosopher-theologians where contemplation was an ideal of life and a symbolic world view provided the means to achieve it. Contemplative reading does not exclude other ways of reading such as cognitive read­ing, but it places reading for knowledge acquisition in the perspective of a means to an end whose primary characteristic is not cognitive. It offers a perspective that is both broader and deeper than the slogan that the Bible is not a textbook for science. Following the Protestant Reformation and the decline of the symbolic world view, the geography of reading styles for Scripture became more complex. Some commu­nities emphasized the reading of Scripture for intellectual knowledge while others, often out of reaction, continued contemplative styles of reading or developed new experiential styles. We need to know more about how ways of reading Scripture are shaped by influences both internal and external to Scripture and how they affected engagement with the interpretation of nature.

This also raises the ancient question of how legitimate and illegitimate ways of reading can be distinguished. The Genesis narrative of the Fall is one example of a text from which too much has been asked. Ashley (these volumes) describes how the Scripture narrative has been used either to explain the origin of evil or to excuse God. The majority of those who now look for theological causes of evil find them in contem­porary accounts of evolutionary psychology in which evil inheres in the creation. This they combine with some form of mythical conception of the Scripture text. The doctrine of the Fall changes to include the old Gnostic view of Creation as inherently evil. This makes God the Creator responsible for natural evil so that a justification of God in the face of evil becomes impossible. Moreover, for such a justification to be convincing it must be rooted in real causes rather than myth. Ashley concludes that finding the hermeneutical tools to chasten reason's ambitions as manifest in explanations of human origins and the human condition is crucial for a continuing and fruitful interrelation of the two books on the question of human evil. A text should not be made to reveal more than it can. A similar concern for the limits of interpretation underpinned many earlier attempts to make sense of Scripture in the light of natural knowledge, not least among those interested in the argument for the accommodation of the text to human understanding. The difficulty has been to limit the scope of the text in the absence of firm doctrinal positions deriving from sources of author­ity outside Scripture. This may provide at least a partial explanation for the continuing appeal of naively literalist readings of Scripture to radical sectarian movements, beyond the mainstream of interpretation in Christian, and, to some extent, Jewish and Islamic theology.

Contextualized Reading of Nature

Given that the natural sciences are a hermeneutical enterprise, does this help clarify the description and analysis of their engagements with scripture interpretation? Changing assumptions about the way in which nature should be interpreted and about the range of meanings of natural phenomena may indeed have been paralleled by develop­ments in biblical hermeneutics, in so far as a shift took place from a medieval symbolic to an early modern literal world view.' Similarly, the hegemony of a literalist hermeneutic in some areas of the sciences may explain the popularity of certain disciplines, both for education and as a career, among those who hold to extreme literalist interpretations of Scripture in the modern world." By contrast, a decisive factor for many who came to accept the findings of higher criticism in the early twentieth century was commitment to the principles of scientific induc­tion, understood in terms of the prevailing model in the contemporary natural sciences. New findings about Scripture had to be accepted because they had their origin in an approach to evidence that had been validated by the successes of the natural sciences." It may be surprising that the epistemological claims that have characterized the growth of relativity theory and quantum physics in the twentieth century have proved to be comparatively conducive to a particular form of Christian apologetics, which has sought to find philosophical evidence for the existence of God as an argument against atheism. Nevertheless, the difficulty in engaging with Scripture that is manifest in that apologetic may itself be a consequence of such an epistemology, in which much of the particularity of religious experience appears to be sacrificed." It is an irony that the latest form of natural theology thus appears to be bound up with an existentialist or kerygmatic reading of the Bible that no longer commands assent among most theologians."

One implication of the hermeneutical character of science is that readings of scripture in terms of nature need to be subjected to suspi­cion directed at the large-scale interpretative frameworks that inform some specific interpretation of nature and that may thus insert them­selves into the interpretation of scripture. An alternative response to this problem has been a complete separation of the two interpretative endeavors. For instance, as Nelson (these volumes) observes, Agassiz "wanted science liberated from religious scrutiny because he believed that that scrutiny would impose restrictions on science, restrictions that may well be human constructions rather than biblical doctrines."

Methodological Issues

One conclusion that we may draw is that theology and science or reli­gion and science are inadequate as categories of description not only because they are too general, but also because interpretations of scrip­ture as well as interpretations of nature remain as additional categories of description, which are otherwise being taken for granted.

There is a need for more in-depth case studies. Natural philosophers who refer to religious texts do so usually without giving a full explana­tion of their exegetical strategies and hermeneutical principles. The religious text is used, but there is little interest in justifying this use. For instance, it was difficult to find practicing scientists who called themselves Christian, and who had considered questions about the engagement of Scripture and science, while reflecting on their interpretative principles (see England, vol. 2, ch. 6). This may limit the number of case studies that prove to be possible.

Principle of Accommodation

A further conclusion that we may draw with confidence is that the meaning of the principle of accommodation has changed over time. For instance, in Augustine, God's condescension to humanity is manifest in commonsense language used to describe natural phenomena. This linguistic principle is the one in use during the Copernican debates. For Eichhorn, by contrast, God accommodated his meaning to the psychological or spiritual level of maturity of his audience, an idea applied by among others the Baptist Rev. George Dana Boardman (1828-1903) in the American debates about race. "To understand the Genesis account, the reader must identify with the point of view of the ancient Hebrew, which Boardman described as `childlike."' (Nelson, these volumes.) The difference between the linguistic and the psycho­logical forms of the principle lies in the reason being given for divine accommodation: human ability to understand God in the case of the linguistic principle; the stage of individual personal development in the psychological principle. This development of the principle of accom­modation means that its use in the resolution of debate or conflict must depend on the historical context.

The development of the principle of accommodation also raises the question of the standards for and limitations of accommodation (see Barker, these volumes). In order to identify a text in Scripture as hav­ing been accommodated to its audience, the interpreter must make assumptions about what might count as unaccommodated knowledge. For Augustine, and even for Eichhorn, accommodation with regard to the physical world or the anthropological development of Israel did not presume accommodation with reference to the fact of the essentials of salvation history. Yet, to those theologians, particularly in the twentieth century, for whom reliance on miracle had become epistemologically unacceptable, this has been precisely where accommodation has had to start (see de Knijfl these volumes). When applied to the engagement of the two interpretative endeavors, the standard has often been the contemporary state of scientific knowledge. Objections such as those posed by Voetius have been directed precisely against locating the standard for accommodation outside of Scripture. For instance, Voetius in the seventeenth century and Samuel Davies Baldwin and Buckner H. Payne (1799-1883) in the nineteenth century severely limited the scope of divine accommodation in the Bible. They found in Scripture an explicit and detailed mandate Voetius for an earth-centered cos­mos and biological unity of the human race in Adam and Eve (Vermij, Jorink, these volumes). Baldwin and Payne for the separation of the races and subordination of non-whites (Nelson, these volumes). From a methodological perspective, the problem has not only been that the standard provided by science has changed over time, but also that there may have been a loss of confidence in this standard.

The discussion of the role of standards for and of the limits of accom­modation in Christian and Jewish exegesis provides an opportunity to ask whether and if so why accommodation seems to be absent in Islamic exegesis. For in Islamic exegesis nonliteral interpretation is accepted only if it can be argued to have originated with the divine author, not if it originates with the interpreter.46 While much medieval Islamic scholarship was content to stress the separation of scientific and religious knowledge, many contemporary Islamic interpreters appear to wish to argue that the sacred text predicted or had foreknowledge of modern scientific discoveries. The idea that Scripture only reveals its true meaning gradually to interpreters, which is also a feature of exegesis in the other Abrahamic traditions, may be seen as the comple­ment to the practice of accommodation.

Philosophical Religion and Natural Theology

Fraenkel describes how 'philosophical religion,' that is the interpreta­tion of the historical forms of a religion such as Judaism or Islam in philosophical terms, has shaped views of the mutual engagement of literal and allegorical interpretation of scripture. He shows that repre­sentatives of philosophical religion, Plato prominent among them, argue that no one is born a philosopher. To reach perfection, most human beings require guidance from an imitation of philosophy designed for that purpose by philosophers such as Moses, Christ, and Muhammad. This imitation is found in the literal content of scriptures like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur'an. As an imitation of philosophy, religion translates the philosopher's knowledge and way of life into a program that prepares those who are not yet phi­losophers for the philosophical life. The truth of the religious sources in turn is secured through the notion of their allegorical content. This means that the doctrines imitated by the literal content of scripture are the doctrines demonstrated in philosophy, and that the latter can be obtained through an allegorical interpretation of scripture. The relationship between the study of nature, culminating in knowledge of God, and religious sources like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testa­ment, or the Qur'an is thus twofold: taken literally these sources serve to either prepare for a life devoted to scientific study or to replace it. Students who succeed in becoming philosophers in turn gain access to the allegorical content of the sources in question which coincides with the objects of their studies. They can thus move up from a literal to an allegorical understanding of the texts. These positions have some­thing in common with the approach taken by early modern natural theologians, for whom observation of nature demonstrated the necessity of belief in a God and provided knowledge of the essential teachings that he had otherwise revealed in Scripture. Study of the sacred text put flesh onto the bones of those teachings and provided a surer, but not necessarily a better, path to salvation. This form of natural theology, moreover, actively sought to bridge the gap between Christian and pagan religiosity and to acknowledge the possible contribution of Islamic and Jewish traditions of nature and of natural law in bearing witness to one Abrahamic God."

The complexity of philosophical and natural theologies provides one strand of the argument that we have sought to set out with regard to the interaction of the hermeneutics of scripture with those of nature. Many other strands are represented in the chapters that follow, and an attempt is made to keep an eye on all three traditions of the religions of the book. Inevitably, not all the essays that we have commissioned succeed in singing from the same hymn sheet: a plurality of views is in the nature of this topic. This may also be a reflection on the early stage of research in this area: many of our essays must be seen as initial attempts at answers rather than definitive conclusions. Nevertheless, we hope that these volumes may act as a spur to further research and that they will already go some way to revising existing assumptions about the relationship between the hermeneutics of scripture and the paths of  interpretation in natural knowledge.


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