Evolution and the Bible: The Hermeneutical Question

Relegere 2:37-63 (2012)
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Theistic evolutionists often suggest that one can reconcile evolutionary theory with biblical teaching. But in fact Christians have accepted Darwinian theory only after reinterpreting the opening chapters of Genesis. Is such a reinterpretation justified? Within Western Christian thought, there exists a hermeneutical tradition that dates back to St Augustine and which offers guidelines regarding apparent conflicts between biblical teaching and natural philosophy (or “science”). These state that the literal meaning of the text may be abandoned only if the natural-philosophical conclusions are established beyond doubt. But no large-scale scientific theory, such as Darwin’s, can claim this degree of certainty. It follows that to justify their reinterpretation of Genesis 1–3, Christians must either argue that the literal sense of the biblical text can be maintained or accept that the Augustinian view of biblical authority is untenable. Three alternative views are discussed: a first that attempts to limit the scope of biblical authority, a second that distinguishes between the Bible and the Word of God, and a third that abandons the idea that religious faith offers certain knowledge. While the third view seems the most defensible, it comes at a cost: the recognition that, as John Locke put it, “reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.”



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Gregory W. Dawes
University of Otago

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