I went every Sunday. My parents then moved to England and I began to lose my Welsh, but I was still obliged to go to a Welsh-speaking chapel. Looking back, it was really rather like the earlier days of the Catholic Church, where the congregation was told something that they couldn’t understand because it was in Latin but they knew was supposed to be good. In some ways that experience immunised me.
It’s foolish to imagine that you can use science to talk about things that are outside science; things like the notion of an afterlife, or the existence of God. My book [The Serpent’s Promise: The Bible Retold as Science] is not about religion or theology, it’s about science. For example, in the book I don’t talk at all about the resurrection because I do not see any scientific parallel that I could draw. But the Bible as science is a separate issue.
The Bible, of course, is many things. It’s a work of art; it’s a work of history; it’s a work, particularly in the Old Testament, that helps regulate a particular society. And the argument is whether there is a scientific explanation for the biggest mystery of all, which is: why are we so nice to each other? It’s very hard to know why a very ordinary primate ? biologically we’re very similar to our relatives ? can live in groups of millions, without (generally speaking) murdering one anthoer. None of our close relatives can live in groups of more than about 20 without splitting or bloodshed. Maybe religion has done something to allow that.
For me, and 100 million American believers, Genesis is the scientific account of creation of its day. Parts of the Bible are an attempt to make sense of the world around it. Many of the questions that were asked by the [Old] Testament writers are trying to do that. Where does the universe come from? What is the nature of man and woman? Do we have an inborn fate or can we change that by our own volition? All of these are questions about the physical world. What I’ve tried to do is to ask those questions as if they were being asked today and to provide you with one scientist’s view of today’s answers. I’m absolutely certain that some of the things I say in my book are wrong, but we don’t yet know that they’re wrong. One of things I’ve been quite astonished by in the reviews is the intense peevishness which reviewers have taken for daring to suggest that the Bible somehow has an element of scientific enquiry in it. Curiosity is central to the human experience. It’s perfectly understandable that we come up with explanations for the world around us.
It may well be that I am faith blind - I'm tone deaf to it.
I always think of science as the refuge for the mediocre. My research has not transformed the world of biology; however, it has added a small grain to our mountain of knowledge. To me, that’s more than the entire efforts of theology for the last 2,000 years. Somebody else cleverer than me can move on and take my research further. The discussions of theology and the philosophy of science don’t move on, they look back, and I like to look forward. Science is interested in science, and not in ultimate causes. To ask what came before the Big Bang is like asking what’s north of the North Pole.
Science is the art of the sceptic; it’s for pessimists. Though of course you’re looking to destroy someone else’s ideas, not your own. It may well be that I am simply, like the majority of scientists, faith blind ? I’m tone deaf to it. It could be a failure of understanding on my part, and I’m very happy to accept that.
Steve Jones is emeritus professor of genetics and evolution at University College London, a regular columnist for The Daily Telegraph and author of The Serpent’s Promise: The Bible Retold as Science (Little, Brown). He was speaking to Justin Brierley. Listen to Steve debate the Bible and science with Christian scientist Russell Stannard on Unbelievable? on Premier Christian Radio