What is the view of the relationship between religion and
by Kendra Hotz
the history of Christianity, there have been questions about the
relationship between what can be learned through the use of reason
and what is taught in scripture, and these questions remain largely
open. Christians differ significantly in
how they understand the relationship between faith and science.
with the advent of evolutionary biology, Christians have had to
rethink what their faith teaches regarding the creation of humankind.
Did God create human beings, in their current form, in a special
act? Or did humanity arise out of a gradual process that also shaped
other species? Contributions from disciplines such as geology and
physics, which reveal a very ancient beginning for the earth and
the cosmos as a whole, have also caused Christians to revisit their
views of how science and faith interesect. Should
Genesis 1, with its presentation of a six-day creation be interpreted
literally, or does it present theological truths in metaphorical
Christians may assume that the tradition interpreted Genesis 1 literally,
and that only in recent times have new interpretations been advanced,
but such was not always or consistently the case. In his commentary
on the book of Genesis, for instance, John Calvin, a sixteenth-century
Protestant Reformer, expressed a view common among Christians of
his and earlier times that the creation accounts contained in that
book should not be mistaken for literal or scientific accounts of
how things came to be. Instead, Genesis contains a theological account
of the relationship between God and the creation.
chided those who asked of Genesis, whose author he took to be Moses,
questions it was not prepared to answer, saying,
as it became a theologian, he has respect to us rather than
to the stars…. Moses wrote in a popular style things which,
without instruction, all ordinary persons endued with common
sense are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with
great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.1
and theologians like him argue that scripture teaches what is necessary
for salvation, reveals the nature of God, and guides believers toward
righteousness. Its intent is not to present objective historical,
geographical, or scientific facts. These things can be discerned
through the use of reason and by observing the natural order. Ultimately,
such Christians expect that what is revealed through reason and
what is revealed in scripture will not conflict, but during the
process of discovery, it may remain unclear how these two sources
of truth correspond.
Christian theologians will go so far as to claim that what is discovered
through science may properly shape and correct theological claims.2
Theological claims about the extent of human free will may be qualified
by insights from psychology and sociology. Claims about natural
evil—evil that is not directly caused by human sinfulness—will
be informed by insights from the natural sciences.
sharp contrast to this tradition of accepting scientific accounts
of creation that differ from a literal interpretation of Genesis,
some evangelical Christians, especially
in America, find faith and science, especially evolutionary biology,
to be in irreconcilable conflict. These Christians
would argue that Genesis teaches that God created everything in
six days, approximately 6000 years ago, and that humankind began
with two individuals, Adam and Eve, whom God created at that time.
idea that humanity evolved from other life forms, they would insist,
compromises the fundamental theological affirmation that humanity
was created in the image of God. They would also argue that science,
freed from an atheistic bias, would not conflict with these claims.
Evolutionary claims, they argue, are unsupported by the evidence,
and careful observation of the natural order indicates that it is
too complex and well-ordered to have come into existence without
an intelligent designer.
1. John Calvin, “Commentary on Genesis,” Volume 1, Chapter
1, verse 16. The text is available on the Christian
Classics Ethereal Library.
2. See, for example, James Gustafson, An Examined Faith: The
Grace of Self Doubt. (Augusburg Fortress Press, 2003).
©2006 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.