Science, theology and What does the Bible really say?
The other day I came across an article referring to a paper in the prestigious American publication the New England Journal of Medicine which argued that putting a baby’s sex on a birth certificate was a practice that should cease on the grounds that ‘sex designations on birth certificates offer no clinical utility, and they can be harmful for intersex and transgender people.’(1)
The author of the article is a biologist, and the point of his article was to highlight the fact that the claim made in the paper was, from a biological and medical perspective, completely false. He pointed out that an ‘An individual human being’s sex is determined by their primary sex organs, and an individual’s sex is accurately recorded over 99.98 percent of the time using genitals as a proxy for underlying gonad type.’ Furthermore, knowing the sex of a child from birth is clinically important because we need to know people’s sex if we are to offer them effective medical treatment. He quotes a 2001 consensus report on the connection between biological sex and human health which concluded:
‘Being male or female is an important basic human variable that affects health and illness throughout the life span. Differences in health and illness are influenced by individual genetic and physiological constitutions, as well as by an individual’s interaction with environmental and experiential factors. The incidence and severity of diseases vary between the sexes and may be related to differences in exposures, routes of entry and the processing of a foreign agent, and cellular responses. Although in many cases these sex differences can be traced to the direct or indirect effects of hormones associated with reproduction, differences cannot be solely attributed to hormones. Therefore, sex should be considered when designing and analysing studies in all areas and at all levels of biomedical and health-related research.’
The reason I mention this article is because it illustrates that there are two basic types of scientific writing. The first type is writing which is designed to explain what we know, as in the case of the 2001 report explaining that being male or female makes a difference to people’s health and illness. The second type of writing is designed to expose and counter error as in the article to which I am referring criticising the erroneous nature of the claim made by the authors of the paper in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Although frequently not recognised as such, theology is a science in the sense that, like the natural sciences, it is a disciplined form of human intellectual enquiry focusing on a particular field of study, in the case of theology God and his activity. As with the other sciences, there are two basic types of theological writing. There is the type which seeks to explain what we know about God and his activity (Augustine’s work On the Trinity being a good example of this type) and there is the type which seeks to expose and counter error (Athanasius’ Orations against the Arians being a good example of this type).
What is true of theological work in general is also true of theological work on the topic of human sexuality. Here also there are two basic types of writing. There is writing that seeks to explains what we know about God’s creation of his human creatures as male and female and how he wants them to live as male and female, and there is writing that seeks to expose and counter error on both these points.
As a theologian working on the topic of human sexuality, I have produced examples of both these types of writing.
My book A Basic Christian Primer on Sex, Marriage & Family Life, which was published by Latimer Trust last year, is an example of the first type. It seeks to explain what the results of theological study have to tell us about sex, marriage and family life. My new book What does the Bible really say?, also published by Latimer Trust, is an example of the second type. (This books will be released on Tuesday 19th January)
In 2019 a series of ten articles by various authors was published on the liberal Anglican website ViaMedia.News under the collective title ‘Does the Bible Really Say….?’ The purpose of this series was to challenge the belief that the Bible rules out acceptance of same-sex sexual relationships and same-sex marriage. These articles argue, for instance, that the Bible does not support a ‘complementarian understanding of creation’ in which humans are ‘made and meant to be male and female, that the Bible gives us not one but several different patterns of marriage, and that God created some people to be gay or lesbian and therefore regards same-sex sexual relationships as wholesome.
In response to these articles, I published a series of counter articles on my blog Reflections of an Anglican theologian in which I argued, for example, that the Bible does teach that God made and meant people to be male and female, that there id only one type of marriage in the Bible approved by God and that neither the Bible, nor our knowledge of human biology support the idea that Gods created human beings to be Gay or Lesbian or that he regards same-sex relationships as wholesome.
My counter articles were found to be helpful by those who read them and so I have collected them together into a book in order to make them available in a more permanent form. My hope and prayer is that in this new format they will be helpful to Christians who are confused by the arguments put forward by those in the church who support same-sex sexual relationships, and that they will also be helpful to ministers and others who have a pastoral responsibility to help those who are thus confused.