Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Philosophy of Science, Part 1: Compartmentalism

In general, Christians use three different philosophic approaches to understand the relationship between science and Scripture. I plan to do a short series of posts here summarizing them. These are important to know because they influence how the content in science textbooks is presented.

The first one is called compartmentalism. People who hold this view consider science and religion to be two legitimate realms of knowledge, but they think that these realms are best kept separate, with science rooted in facts and religion grounded in faith. Here is a little graphic depiction of what I mean:

Keeping these realms of knowledge separate eliminates any pressing need to figure out how the details in the Bible fit with the record of nature. Compartmentalism is often favored by Christians who believe in theistic evolution—the idea that God directed natural-process evolution to give rise to the wide variety of species that have inhabited Earth at one time or another.

It's no surprise, then, that some theistic evolutionists do not believe the early chapters of Genesis contain a historical account of God's creation miracles. Instead, they tend to characterize Genesis 1 and 2 as reflecting the format of other ancient Near Eastern creation myths. Other theistic evolutionists hold to an interpretation called the framework interpretation, which focuses on the literary features of the text.

Their beliefs about whether or not God intervened at certain key points in the history of life vary. Some believe that God intervened only at the creation of the universe, while others say He intervened at the beginning of the universe as well as the formation of the first life-forms. or the creation of Adam and Eve, while others do not. They also differ on the historical nature of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. Some theistic evolutionists hold to a more literal understanding of those events, while others consider them in a more mythological fashion.

Prominent Christians who hold to a theistic evolution point of view would include Dr. Francis Collins, author of the Language of God, and British paleontologist Simon Conway Morris.

Christians who hold to a compartmentalist approach to science don't see any real need to use special science textbooks. Because they accept natural-process evolution, they just use mainstream science books.


Sara said...

Is framework only followed by theistic evolutionists? Or do OECs also accept this idea?

Child of God said...

Framework is a form of old-earth creationism. Basically, I think there are four basic old-earth approaches to interpreting Genesis 1:
- gap theory
- day-age ("days" are sequential, long periods of time)
- framework
- analogical day

Some theistic evolutionists also use the framework approach as a way of making sense of Genesis 1 without involving the scientific record. The two can be kept separate while still being faithful to most.