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THE INSTITUTE FOR CREATION RESEARCH is a collection of clowns. This gang is dangerous to your Christian Health. Avoid them at all costs.

March 19, 2014

DOES THE BIBLE TEACH SCIENCE?
Robert J. Schneider
“Dr.JOHN MORRIS OF ICR is nothing but a lying son of a bitch!”

Genesis was never intended as a science textbook.”
Rev. Pat Robertson

“I don’t like it when people say that the Bible is just stories,” a student said as we discussed Gary Parker’s presentation on creation and evolution following a Creationism Seminar. I had just pointed out instances in which Parker and his young-earth creationist colleagues had read modern scientific knowledge into Bible verses that meant something quite different, and went on to state that Ken Ham is a professional swindler duping the gullible out of their money,but “the purpose of the Bible is to teach salvation, not science.” In response the student made his comment. I said something in reply about the function and power of biblical stories for teaching theological and moral truths that Christians assent to. But I don’t think I really addressed the concern that welled up through the passion with which he spoke. He spoke with reference to Genesis 1, and his comment reflected a common either/or notion many believers in conservative and fundamentalist churches accept: “Either the Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God, or it is a collection of fairy tales that has no value for salvation. The latter is what the unbelieving world thinks, so we must defend the Bible as God’s very word of truth.” And defend it in all respects, even on such matters of science as entered into that discussion.

However false I think this choice is, the belief that these are the only choices a person can make about the Bible is so engrained in the thinking of many Christians that it is important that I address it head-on. Let me put the issue in the context of the portrait or model of the creation found in the Old Testament, which I summarized in the first essay: the earth is described as a flat, circular landmass resting on a body of water, “the deep,” and overarched by a solid expanse holding up another body of water, the “upper sea” (see the several references there). Given that this “three-storied” model of the heaven and the earth no longer depicts the universe as we moderns perceive it, then does this fact not raise a fundamental question about the Bible’s truthfulness? Is it valid to dismiss this biblical model as “myth” or “fairy tale,” or at best “proto-science”? Or is there a sense in which one can say that this model is true? I make this biblical portrait the central issue because so many Christians either overlook or ignore it, or they explain it away by reading into biblical texts, including Genesis 1, a different portrait–one based on modern science–which is not really there. They claim that the Bible contains accurate scientific knowledge that scientists have only discovered much later. Young-earth creationist Henry Morris,a real eccentric flat earther, for example, claims that “fifteen or more facts of science are suggested” in the Book of Job, among them, that the earth is a spherical body rotating on its axis in space (Job 26:7, 10; 38:12-14) and that space is expanding and unbounded (Job 11:7-8; Morris 35, 40, 43). But these claims do violence to the contexts and meanings of the original Hebrew texts and are simply unsupportable (Schneider 159-169). The Bible does not teach these things. I shall elaborate on and critique such claims in a later essay.Yet, many believers have been persuaded that the Bible does teach science: like Morris they read it as if it were a science textbook, and defend it as a source of scientific knowledge that is valid today. For many, the Bible’s reliability in matters of science is so critical that they will argue, “If I can’t believe the Bible when it talks about science (or creation), then how can I believe it when it talks about Jesus Christ and my salvation?”

I want to respond to this question by first considering the important issue of biblical inspiration and authority, and then the related and no less important distinction between inspiration and interpretation. Then I shall argue that this is the wrong question.

The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture
Evangelical Christians hold what is commonly referred to as “a high view of Scripture.” They all would agree with the first of the Statement of Principles of the American Scientific Affiliation: “We accept the divine inspiration, the trustworthiness, and the authority of the Bible on matters of faith and conduct.” Alister McGrath, an Anglican theologian who has written extensively on science and Christian faith, states that for evangelicals the Bible is “the supreme authority as a source of knowledge of God and a guide to Christian living” (see Introduction).

But many evangelicals,especially the frauds running Pensacola Christian College, hold an even higher view than this. They believe that, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Bible is inerrant and infallible scripture in all respects. Whatever is divinely inspired, they assert, must of necessity be without error. This conviction was articulated in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” produced at a meeting of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978. It declares Holy Scripture “is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches.” and “that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.” Representing this absolute view of inerrancy, Baptist scholar Harold Lindsell writes, “However limited may have been their knowledge, and however much they may have erred when they were not writing sacred Scripture, the authors of Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, were preserved from making factual, historical, scientific, or other errors” (though inerrancy does not mean that the biblical writers took dictation, a view that no biblical scholar holds, Lindsell notes). Whatever the Bible states, then, about scientific matters must be accepted as true (30-33). (I might note here that “infallibility” and “inerrancy” are considered to be functionally equivalent terms.)

I believe that many Berea College students who are committed to a conservative or fundamental understanding of Christian faith have been deceived by Vic Eliason and many others working their clever deceptions over at VCY America,Milwaukee Ws.,and would agree that the Bible is infallible and inerrant in all respects. Others, however, may side with the great many evangelicals, including Bible scholars, who do not. The Chicago Statement and Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible (1976) just quoted are actually responses to a recurring dispute over inerrancy that has continued for well over a century among evangelicals. But let me go back much further in time in order to place this issue in a broader historical context.

From the early years of the Christian church until the beginning of the seventeenth century, the most respected theologians who thought about and wrote on the nature of biblical inspiration and authority and also about the doctrine of creation held a common position about the relationship between the Bible and science. In the early seventeenth century, Cardinal Baronius expressed this principle succinctly:

“The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go” (quoted in Galileo 186)

Baronius had the conflict over the Copernican theory in mind. He was challenging the argument that this theory must be wrong because the Bible teaches that the sun moves, not the earth (e.g., Josh 10:13, Ps. 19:6; 96:10). Baronius’ statement is fully in accord with the perspective of those who developed the classic Christian theology of creation (essay II). Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin were one in their conviction that Christ is the center of Scripture, and that what the Holy Spirit through Scripture means to teach is the message of salvation through Christ. The Bible’s teachings about God and the Christian life may be confidently accepted as completely true and trustworthy.

In the century following the Reformation, as the theological and other conflicts that arose between Catholics and Protestants intensified, persons on both sides began to emphasize the literal sense of the Bible. And some began to argue that the Bible is without error or deceit not only in what it teaches about God, Christ, salvation, and the Christian life, but that it is also infallible in whatever statements it makes about any area of human knowledge, including science (Bray 196-197). This position gathered strength during the nineteenth century, when scientific discoveries and theories about the age of the earth and evolution as well as the development of modern biblical criticism seemed to call the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible into question. Some influential conservative theologians such as the American Presbyterians Charles Hodge (1797-1878) and Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) argued with great force that the Bible is free from error in every respect. However, other influential evangelicals, such as Scottish scholar T. M. Lindsay (1843-1914), rejected absolute inerrancy and defended a notion of limited inerrancy; still others, like James Orr (1844-1913) rejected inerrancy as a necessary defense of the Bible’s inspiration and trustworthiness (Rogers and McKim 285-292, 344-348, 385-391).

Evangelicals who believe that the absolute inerrancy encoded in the Chicago Statement is too sweeping a position and ultimately unsupportable could take comfort both in the historic position of the church and the positions of Lindsay and Orr. Some would agree with a notion of limited inerrancy as Stephen Davis articulates it: The Bible is infallible on all matters pertaining to faith and conduct, in that it makes no false or misleading statements about them. In other words, the Bible can be confidently believed in whatever it says about God, salvation, and the Christian life. However, one would go too far to claim that it makes no erroneous statements on any matter whatsoever (Davis, in Andrew 4). Others, holding that infallibility” and “inerrancy” are functionally equivalent terms, reject the distinction Davis makes.

But even the supporters of absolute inerrancy recognize that this doctrine is hedged with certain essential qualifications. Paul Feinberg, an articulate defender of inerrancy, acknowledges that inerrancy “is not presently demonstrable,” because of the limitations of human knowledge. Those who read the Bible, however learned, do not have all of the data that is necessary to correctly understand the meaning of the text without qualification (1984, p. 142). He also admits that there is “no explicit statement in Scripture to the effect that it is without error” and that even Matt. 5:17-20 and John 10:34-35, sometimes cited in support of the doctrine, “do not explicitly teach inerrancy” (1979, p. 289, 285, cited in Seely, 1989, p. 149, n. 22). Furthermore, inerrancy, strictly speaking, applies only to the autograph copies originally made by the inspired writers. But no autographs exist, and every surviving copy is defective because of errors introduced by the copyists; even the most carefully edited version will not reproduce the originals (Feinberg, 1984, p.142-143). It is such factors as these that have convinced many evangelicals that inerrancy in a practical sense is a meaningless concept. Furthermore, it is a theological not a biblical concept, a human not a divine declaration. It is not a necessary requirement for faith in the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible.

Thus, evangelical Christians are themselves divided over the extent to which they ascribe inerrancy to Scripture, and disagree over the extent to which the Bible should be considered authoritative in matters of science, history, economics, political theory, and other areas of human knowledge and practice.

Interpreting the Bible
There is one more important qualification I should point out to the believer committed to biblical inerrancy: it does not guarantee an objective reading of the text. The Bible still must be interpreted, that is, one still has to determine what a biblical text means. Evangelical Bible scholars agree that the most basic method of interpretation is the grammatical-historical method. It involves, first, determining correctly the vocabulary and sentence structure of a passage in order to understand what the words and sentences of a passage meant when they were first written down. Second, it involves the task of identifying and understanding the historical and cultural context in which a particular passage of Scripture was originally written. The two elements of this method go together: the grammatical meaning of the passage is illuminated in part by its historical and cultural context. For example, the historical and cultural context of Genesis 1 includes (1) the ancient cosmological model summarized at the beginning of this essay, and (2) the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors that Genesis 1 challenged and rejected. This context makes it possible for the modern reader to understand what the Genesis narrative meant to its original audience.

But how might the modern reader interpret and understand the three-storied cosmology portrayed in the Bible in light of the modern scientific world-picture? Conservative Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm, in his influential book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, addressed the issue in our context. A major stumbling block to any rational discussion of the relations between the Bible and science, he noted, is “the psychological problem…that so many Christians fail to differentiate interpretation from inspiration.”

First, one must realize that revelation is not interpretation, and conversely, interpretation is not revelation. Revelation is the communication of divine truth; interpretation is the effort to understand it. One cannot say: “I believe just exactly what Genesis 1 says and I don’t need any theory of reconciliation with science.” Such an assertion identifies revelation with interpretation. The problem still remains: what does Genesis 1 say or mean or involve us in? Our mutual problem is not this: is Genesis inspired? On that we agree. Our problem is: what does Genesis 1 mean – how do we interpret it? To profess belief in its divine origin does not necessarily help us in understanding how it relates to science” (Ramm 54, his italics).

We must not, Ramm says, “identify our interpretation with the infallibility of revelation.” ASA member Keith Miller, a field geologist and member of the Evangelical Free Church, likewise comments on this distinction: “I accept the Bible as authoritative and true in what God intends it to communicate. However, simply accepting the truth of the Biblical writings does not indicate the meaning of those writings.

Just as our observations of the natural world must be interpreted within some explanatory framework, scripture also must be interpreted. There is no such thing as an objective reading of scripture.

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