Tuesday, September 11, 2012

God's two books is a helpful metaphor

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was arguably the founder of modern science because he introduced and systematised the rationale for the use of experiment and induction. He was also a Christian and introduced the notion of God's Two Books as a metaphor/model for understanding the relationship between science and the Bible.

In his book Advancement of Learning Bacon said:
God has, in fact, written two books, not just one.  Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture.  But he has written a second book called creation. 
One book is the Bible: The Book of God's Words.
The other book is Nature: The Book of God's Works.

Although old and imperfect (like all metaphors) I think this is still a helpful starting point for thinking about the relationship of science and Christianity. Why?

It highlights that both books have the same perfect Author.
A book is a representation of a reality, not the reality itself.
Different books can have different genres, purposes, and messages.
Reading and understanding books can be hard work.
Different people can read the same book and interpret it differently.
Fallible readers can misinterpret what the author is trying to say.
If two books by the same perfect author appear to be inconsistent with one another, the problem may be with the interpreter not the author.

A few more things:

In the Preface [or the fly-leaf?] to The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin quoted Bacon:
To conclude therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endevour an endless progress or proficience in both.
Michael Poole's wonderful introductory book User's guide to science and Belief devotes the first chapter to the metaphor. He points out that the two Books metaphor was popular with Galileo and Faraday.

George Murphy has a helpful article Reading God's Two Books that discusses some limitations of and reservations about the metaphor.

John Stott gave a short sermon The Subjects of Our Study and Our Witness which begins with the metaphor.

Update (19 October, 2014): I have been listening to the wonderful lectures on Science and Religion by Lawrence Principe. He says Augustine introduced the idea of God's two books.

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