In 31 pages we are taken on a whirlwind tour of cosmology and Scripture. The breathless tour takes in a brief history of cosmology from Aristotle to
He raises the important question: When we read Genesis should we read it metaphorically or literally? The issue of hermeneutics is unavoidable. Two interpretation of Genesis are considered the cosmological approach which takes Genesis at face value and the theological which takes the text to be revealed by God but reads it metaphorically.
Augustine’s view of creation is that God created everything in one instantaneous act; the six day structure is a topically ordered revelation to angels. Thus his view, according to Dowe, is theological. He summaries Augustine’s view as “... accept Scripture over against science, if that science has not been proved conclusively. But if the science has been proved, we must show that Scripture is not opposed to it by reading that Scripture metaphorically rather than literally.” This Dowe dubs the ‘relevance principle’. This approach raises the question, whose science? And when is science ever beyond doubt?
Dowe next turns to Calvin’s hermeneutics. Calvin’s approach is one of accommodation. For Calvin the scriptures are written in accommodation to the common people so that they may be understood by all; hence, we have a ‘deaf’ adder (Ps. 58:4). This approach Dowe calls the ‘neutrality principle’; Scripture is concerned with spirituality and salvation rather than cosmology. I like Calvin’s accommodation approach. This view of accommodation has been developed by Paul Seeley – I’ll blog on his approach another time. Though I don’t like the term ‘neutrality principle’, and Dowe’s description of it sounds rather dualistic.
Both [Calvin and Augustine] agree that Aristotelian cosmology is true and that scripture should not be taken literally as denying what is proven by Aristotelian cosmology. But Augustine maintains that the Bible can teach the learned about cosmology and metaphysics, whereas Calvin claims that the Bible does not teach us about cosmology. Calvin holds that the whole message of scripture is accessible to all people, a view that is not shared by Augustine. (p. 29)
1543 saw the beginning of a paradigm shift in cosmology – the year Copernicus’ On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres. Galileo’s Starry Messenger was published in 1610 it purported to show that the heavens are imperfect: the Aristotelian worldview was being challenged. In 1615 Galileo wrote to the Grand Duchess, in it Galileo adopts the ‘neutrality principle’. The ‘neutrality principle seems to fit Galileo more so than Calvin; see for example this quote.
Dowe concludes that Galileo had an assumption of unity between the God of scripture and the God of nature, this led him to a harmony view of properly proved science and correctly interpreted Scripture. The neutrality principle guarantees harmony as scripture is insulated from scientific advances; it holds to an independence model of science and religion. The relevance principle leads to an interactionist view. Dowe concludes:
On either approach – the interactionist, piecemeal relevance principle, or the independence/ global neutrality principle – harmony is ultimately guaranteed by the premise of unity. This premise was never questioned in the sixteenth century.