I live on the other side of Copernicus and Galileo; I can no longer conceive of God as sort of above the sky, looking down and keeping record books. I live on the other side of Isaac Newton; I can no longer conceive of things that I do not understand as simply being supernatural invasions of the theistic God to do a miracle. I live on the other side of Charles Darwin and I can no longer see human light as having been created perfect and falling into sin, I see us rather emerging into higher and higher levels of consciousness and higher and higher levels of complication. I live on the other side of Sigmund Freud, and I can no longer use the kind of parent language of the past without being self-conscious about the passive dependency that that encourages. And I live on the other side of Albert Einstein, and I know what relativity means in all of life, and so I can no longer claim that I possess objective and revealed truth and it's infallible, or it's inherent, those become claims out of the past that are no longer relevant for 21st century people.
Spong is a pseudo-sophisticate who clearly doesn't know what he's talking about. But his position isn't that different from John Walton or Peter Enns regarding the obsolescent science of Scripture.
Now there are doubtless things we understand about the natural world that ancient people did not and could not. Mind you, what traditional Christian theologian ever thought that Gen 1-3 was based on what people back then could know apart from revelation?
There is, however, another aspect to this question. Scientific progress often proceeds by flights of the imagination. Take Maxwell's Demon. The technology is not available at the time to perform these experiments. It's often scientific imagination that's driving technological advances, rather than vice versa.
Recently I was sitting at a park bench. I noticed a hornet about a yard in front of me climbing up, down, and around a concrete block. Finally, it made the mistake of walking towards me. A fatal miscalculation. As I was watching the wasp, it also reminded me of times I've seen spiders and houseflies climb a wall, then walk across the ceiling.
It made me think about the degree to which our human sense of up and down is conditioned by our sense of gravity. Because insects are virtually weightless, an insect an walk vertically as easily as horizontally. Can walk upside down as easily as right-side up. It takes no more effort for an insect to walk up and down a tree trunk or under a branch than walking on the ground. The pull of gravity is negligible.
In that respect, an insect has a cubical perception of the world. Every surface is equivalent to ground level. A four-dimensional experience, where up, down, upside-down and right-side up range along a common continuum.
Yet the world doesn't look the same from each orientation. In each case the view will be different.
Of course, insects lack the intelligence to appreciate difference. They don't have a viewpoint.
But suppose an insect had human intelligence, or suppose a human had insect mobility. It would resemble that scene from Inception where the cityscape curls around like a cylinder.
What would be "up"? What would be "down"? What would be the frame of reference?
Notice, though, that my little thought-experiment doesn't depend on modern astronomy or modern technology. It begins with me observing an insect. Mentally detaching myself from my natural viewpoint and projecting myself into the situation of an insect.
I'm certainly not the smartest man who ever lived. Surely there have been men centuries before me, millennia before me, who could practice the same detachment, assume a different viewpoint. Turn things around in their mind.
That's an engine of science. It doesn't require modern physics or modern technology. Rather, it's those leaps of the imagination which give rise to modern physics and modern science in the first place.