Galileo and the Garden of Eden: The Principle of Accommodation and the Book of Genesis, Part 2

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May 9, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Galileo and the Garden of Eden: The Principle of Accommodation and the Book of Genesis, Part 2

Yesterday I asked you to read a letter penned in April 1615 by Catholic theologian, Roberto, Cardinal Bellarmine. Bellarmine was responding to a letter by the Carmelite friar Paolo Foscarini and also to Galileo’s letter to Castelli, which I mentioned in another column a few weeks ago. If you haven’t yet read Bellarmine’s letter, go back to the previous column so you’ll be up to speed.

Modern Geocentrists Reject Accommodation

In my first column on Galileo, I mentioned that there are still a few folks who haven’t accepted a moving earth, and I identified two websites associated with this view: Galileo Was Wrong and Geocentricity. The latter site features prominently the ideas of Gerardus Bouw, arguably the most influential modern geocentrist. A recent version of his ideas that includes The Geocentric Bible by Gordon Bane was mailed to more than 130,000 Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in the past decade.

The reason why Bouw rejects the motion of the earth pertains directly to our topic. For Bouw the fundamental issues are biblical inerrancy, preservation (he believes that the King James Bible is “the inerrant preserved word of God in English”), and authority—including its authority in scientific matters. In order to understand his approach, let’s examine his comments on the famous passage in Joshua 10:12-13, using Bouw’s beloved King James version.

Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

According to Bouw, when Joshua asks God to make the Sun stand still, those are his own words, not those of God. Thus, we are free to attribute a false astronomical picture to Joshua: the Bible simply reports what Joshua said. In the next verse, however, the Bible reports what actually happened: the sun stood still in the midst of heaven. Since the author of the Bible is God himself, and since God cannot lie, Bouw concludes that the geocentric view “must be true.” Here he explicitly rejects the use of accommodation, because “accommodation still maintains that God goes along with the accepted story even though he really does not believe it.”

Bouw goes even further with this theme, dismissing John Calvin’s use of accommodation in his commentary on Genesis and even dissing Calvin himself: “if John Calvin were alive today, he would probably be a heliocentric theistic evolutionist.” Ultimately, Bouw endorses his own version of the cosmology of the sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who put the planets in motion around the sun while the sun in turn orbited a stationary earth.

How Creationists Keep Galileo Out of the Garden of Eden

Most creationists today don’t agree with Bouw on simple astronomical matters. In their view, Galileo’s approach to those particular biblical verses was perfectly appropriate—they are poetical texts that relate only to the appearances of things and have no bearing on salvation. However, they take strong exception to the use of a similar approach to the creation stories in Genesis. They are obviously anxious to keep Galileo out of the garden of Eden. How is it done?

Creationist astronomer Danny Faulkner does it by drawing a hard and fast line between Galileo and Genesis: “Many evolutionists claim that disbelief in evolution is like disbelief that the Earth goes round the Sun. The obvious flaw is that the latter is repeatable and observable while the former is not.” (see "Geocentrism and Creation"). Faulkner and other creationists like to push the distinction between fields of science that are sometimes called “historical sciences,” and other fields that are sometimes called “experimental sciences.” In short, we can’t directly observe the past history of the earth and the universe—we can’t repeat the Big Bang, we can’t recreate the Cambrian explosion, and we can’t rerun the video of an asteroid hitting the earth and killing the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The best we can do is to draw forensic-type inferences from what we can observe today.

This distinction has some validity. The great Cambridge scholar William Whewell, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, biologist Ernst Mayr, geologist-historian Martin Rudwick, philosopher Elliot Sober, and many others have likewise differentiated between various sciences in a similar manner. What creationists do with this distinction, however, goes far beyond where others have gone. While others affirm the validity of the historical sciences (since they can still be tested by observations even though we can’t directly observe the past), creationists utterly deny the validity of the historical sciences. Thus, one of the most famous creationists of his generation, John C. Whitcomb, Jr., emphasized “the tremendous limitations which inhibit the scientific method when applied to the study of origins” (The Origin of the Solar System, 1963). As creationist historian Terry Mortenson told me, “The Bible is the propositional verbal revelation of God, but the creation is the more-difficult-to-interpret, non-verbal revelation about God. Therefore, it is methodologically mistaken to use fallen men’s interpretations of the cursed creation to reinterpret God’s plain inerrant Word to make it fit sinful men’s fallible theories about the unobserved past” (personal correspondence, which I quoted with permission in the book cited at the end of this column). Mortenson turns Galileo’s approach upside down.

Conclusion

Perhaps the ultimate question is this: When are we justified to reinterpret a biblical text on the basis of science? If we don’t accept the validity of the historical sciences, then we have no scientific reasons (here I ignore other kinds of reasons) to reinterpret early Genesis; that is the position held by scientific creationists. But if we do accept the general validity of the historical sciences, then we cannot avoid asking hard questions about our understanding of the biblical text. The principle of accommodation does not come with an “off” switch. Either we use it, or we don’t. Either God communicates with us in our own verbal and conceptual language, or he doesn’t. If he does, then we need to let Galileo into the garden of Eden.

NOTE: Readers who want a longer, more detailed, and deeper analysis of the points presented here should borrow a copy of this book. Brill published four volumes in all with the same general title (Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions), two on the period before 1700 and two more from 1700-present. It’s the final of these four that you need (Brill’s Series in Church History, volume 37, part 2). The ISBN is 9789004171909. If you provide a librarian with that number, it should be possible to locate a copy. If it proves too difficult, contact me privately.


Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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brutewolf - #69787

May 9th 2012

Has anyone seen (I haven’t) a young earth creationist give their opinion of modern forensic science in crime investigation? It’s essentially a historical science. I wonder how they defend convicting criminals based on nothing but observed (historical) evidence and DNA?


Ted Davis - #69790

May 9th 2012

I’ve often wondered this myself. A possible answer (from the YEC perspective): we trust the testimony of the only eyewitness to the creation (God), indeed an umimpeachable witness, over the uncertain inferences drawn by the prosecutor.

The goal of the defense is always to create doubt in the minds of the jury members, doubt sufficient to the standard of evidence (“beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt”).


Ted Davis - #69791

May 9th 2012

I didn’t actually answer your question, brutewolf, did I? I think, in general, that YEC proponents would usually affirm the validity of a verdict for a crime in which all of the evidence was “circumstantial,” as long as it was very persuasive evidence. They might keep that line of argument out of the garden of Eden, however, by using an argument such as I just proposed.


brutewolf - #69792

May 9th 2012

I appreciate the response. I think that the phrase “very persuasive” would have to be the key, which is of course, subjective. In short, though, acceptance of forensic evidence is, in every way, an acceptance of “man’s historical science”. It’s a phrase that sounds clever before a nodding congregation, but really holds no logical substance.


brutewolf - #69793

May 9th 2012

With regard to God as their star eyewitness. Perhaps you’ve discussed this before, but I’d like to get some thoughts about using the Bible to trump science.

For instance, I was in a long discussion with young earth enthusiast. He knew their arguments, but had apparently never been confronted with their problems.

Each time he was presented with science he didn’t like, he’d revert to Genesis 1, and tell me that it was “plain as day”. It felt a bit like a kid’s game of tag where he’d run to the pole and shout, “Base!”. I’m happy to discuss it theologically or scientifically, but I think it’s almost impossible to enter into this topic without a vast knowledge of both.

I asked him not only about heliocentrism, but also Jesus’ claim that the mustard seed was the “smallest of all seeds”. Did Jesus really think it was the smallest? Or more to the point, is it sinful for us to point out that there are smaller seeds?

Okay, fine. Despite sounding like a firm declaration that it is “the smallest of all seeds”, I’m perfectly comfortable that my saviour was speaking hyperbolically.

But isn’t that how we get to heliocentrism? And from there to evolution?

Maybe the young earth problem doesn’t start with heliocentrism. Maybe it starts with a mustard seed.

 


Ted Davis - #69794

May 9th 2012

It’s convenient that you used the mustard seed text, brutewolf. Let me revert to the “teacher” mode and make an “assigment” for you—and anyone else who wants to follow up. Borrow a copy of this: http://zondervan.com/9780310220176. Study pages 68-73, where the authors of the “Young Earth Creationism” section, philosophers Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, deal directly with “Galileo and his kind” and they say exactly how they would approach Matt 13:32. To borrow a phrase found in dozens of physics texts, the details are left as an exercise for the reader.

If you decide to play the role of that reader, please make a report to the class!


ddejong - #69795

May 9th 2012

There are two excellent articles on the distinction between origin and operation science (exploited by YECs) on this blog:

http://reformedacademic.blogspot.com/2012/03/origin-science-and-operation-science.html

http://reformedacademic.blogspot.com/2012/03/more-about-origin-and-operation-science.html


Ted Davis - #69799

May 9th 2012

These links are a propos. Thank you for bringing them to our attention.


Arnold Sikkema - #70197

May 29th 2012

Thanks, Dave, for (a) reading Ted’s post the day it came out [as you can see, I’m a bit behind] and for (b) sharing my and Jitse van der Meer’s pieces at Reformed Academic. Although these were motivated by our reaction to the uncritical acceptance by many leaders in our own denomination of the position my brother and colleague John Byl expresses in his book God and Cosmos, they do indeed have a wider applicability.


Enosh - #69800

May 9th 2012

I wish to present a young-age creationist perspective here, for some food for thought. It should be noted that many creationists view this ‘operations’ vs ‘origins’ distinction as a useful generalization at best, and an over-simplification at worst. And as regards forensic science, there are a few features that render it on the whole more reliable than evolutionary natural history.

(1) Time frame. Crimes are usually dealt with in weeks, months, or (at worst) years. Is anyone still studying the forensics of the Jack the Ripper murders? However, evolutionary history considers 10,000 years to be a blip on the radar. Take the issue of forensic entomology—it is often used to give an approximate time of death, and it has been shown to be rather reliable. However, in this case we are talking of a timeframe that doesn’t impinge on any major biblical event (e.g. Noah’s Flood). I have not heard of any forensic entomology study that would even come close to impinging on these events, but that is precisely what evolution and long-age geology do with respect to major biblical events. A global tectonic catastrophe goes far beyond the bounds of actualism, and it goes far beyond typical long-age conceptions of catastrophe.

(2) Empirical data base. Forensic scientists typically have a massive empirical database from which to work from. The typical experimental procedures used in forensic science are so often used that standard protocols have been developed for such procedures. More than that, the limits of a many forensic techniques have often been fleshed out quite vigorously, whereas the same can’t be said for much of natural history.

(3) Eyewitness testimony. Yes, the young-age creationist’s appeal for their timeframe is primarily based on Scripture, and we should side with that against the interpretive conclusions of forensic methods because the scriptural witness is by definition unimpeachable. However, it’s a misconstrual of the young-age position to say that we have a problem with the forensic methods themselves. The problem is not necessarily with the forensic methods per se; the problem is usually the philosophical framework evolutionists/long-agers use to interpret the data generated from these forensic methods. Whether consciously or not long-agers have ipso facto replaced the Christian assumptions of revelation and providence with the Enlightenment assumptions of the principle of uniformity and the reliability of the human interpreter.

So what evolutionists/long-agers see as ‘evidence’ we see as data misinterpreted by anti-biblical assumptions. I hope these comments will be helpful for everyone’s consideration.


Merv - #69806

May 9th 2012

Okay, Ted, I’m reporting back on your book report assignmente (#69794) regarding a Young Earth Creationist response to the mustard seed passages as given in “Three Views on Creation and Evolution” (which I happily had on hand.)

These authors first point out that Ockham’s razor is used in science to give preference to the simplest or “most natural” interpretations of the data or observations.  They further note that this principle ought also to be applied to Biblical exegesis—i.e. to give preference to the most natural reading.  It is further pointed out that not all scientific conclusions are equal or considered as “brute facts”.  Some require more interpretive leap or theoretical overlay than others.  To borrow their own example:  if the Bible says there is a tree there, but we see with our eyes that there is no tree there, then this is a brute fact to be dealt with and we may need to move from the most preferable (natural) reading of the Scripture to a different more nuanced interpretation in order to preserve Scriptural truth.  (They rank interpretations (in both scientific and theological senses) in a heirarchy that begins with the most preferred (Probable) to the next preferred (Plausible) and finally to the least preferred (Possible).  We will scientifically gravitate towards the probable interpretations until the data compels us to are less favored ones.  They see the same with Scripture. 

So ... here is the mustard seed example.   The plain reading would have indicated a mustard seed was the smallest.  We now have a brute fact that there are smaller seeds, so we are compelled to move to a different Biblical interpretation:  ...it was the smallest known at the time… etc.   The authors are fine with this (brute observation driving our Biblical hermeneutic).  But they are not fine with just giving science carte blanche to always be in the drivers seat.  E.g.  cosmological or life origins do not fall in the “brute fact” observational category (according to these authors), and so while they concede (to their credit) that their may be possibility (even plausibility) to some origins theories, they nevertheless would need more to pull them away from the most probable reading from Scripture.   

As Enosh already pointed out above, what some people insist on as brute fact seems far from it for others who instead see a lot of interpretive overlay driven by anti-God ideologies.  Forensic science does indeed deal with much more tangibly testable events in its relatively miniscule time scales.  So while it may be like origins science in kind (historical), it certainly is far removed in degree (eons instead of years.)    Thanks, Enosh; even though I am not a fellow Young-earther, the same difference had occured to me that you noted.

I will close this by quoting a paragraph below that I hope does not do violence to Nelson’s view but rather highlights his lauditory humility as he writes…   On second thought I’ll post it separately, not being sure how close I am to word limit here.

—Merv


Ted Davis - #69809

May 9th 2012

Well done, Merv, you earned an “A.” My comments are coming to your others, below.


Merv - #69807

May 9th 2012

In the book referenced above, the YEC author (Nelson, I believe) writes after noting that the church had (correctly) abandoned their immoveable earth position only after defending it had become hopeless  ...now quoting from p. 73:

Young earth creationism, therefore, need not embrace a dogmatic or static biblical hermeneutic.  It must be willing to change and admit error.  Presently, we can admit that as recent creationists we are defending a very natural biblical account, at the cost of abandoning a very plausible scientific picture of an “old” cosmos.  But over the long term, this is not a tenable position.  In our opinion, old earth creationism combines a less natural textual reading with a much more plausible scientific vision.  They have many fewer “problems of science.”  At the moment this would seem the more rational position to adopt.

[end quote]

That may seem quite a concession for the YEC contributor to this book, but Nelson goes on to say that recent creationism “must develop better scientific accounts” if it is to remain viable against OEC.  He also notes (“on the other hand”) that the preferred reading of Scripture that has a real flood, meaningful genealogies, etc. is so natural that it “seems worth saving”.  In short he isn’t ready to jump ship yet.  But it isn’t the sort of conciliatory language that often gets associated with staunch YEC proponents.

Enosh—I hope you continue to share your thoughts on all this in this venue.   Your input is appreciated.

—Merv

 


Ted Davis - #69811

May 9th 2012

Dead on, Merv, concerning the signfiicance of their admission about the absence (presently) of scientific support for the YEC view. They’ve been hit pretty hard for this by other YECs. Answers in Genesis sees this team of two philosophers (Nelson and Reynolds), without a scientist or a biblical scholar, as a rather odd choice to write on this topic (YEC) in this book: http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/tools/3views.pdf. They don’t see Robert C. Newman as an odd choice to write the OEC view, but frankly he is, b/c his particular version of it (the “intermittent day” approach) is idiosyncratic. Likewise, Howard Van Till’s view is not very typical for a TE (a fact that opponents of TE conveniently overlook when they use him as a stock example); it comes off as a type of deism, which would not have been the case if the TE section had been written by someone like (say) John Polkinghorne or George Murphy or Robert Russell. Van Till has subsequently moved away from biblical Christianity, a fact he has been quite open about.


Merv - #69878

May 10th 2012

I should probably have also commented on the fact that the work here discussed was written in 1999.  Since then, I believe there has been at least one RATE conference (called RATE 2 I believe) in which more current YEC scientists attempted to work on the very challenges Nelson mentions.  Their current situation hasn’t much improved I would say (by their own admission with the radiation problem of accelerated historical time scales.)  But like Nelson then, they still now conclude that we can’t let go of this “most natural reading” of Scripture and they hold out for the day when something may yet vindicate their interpretation.

One critique I would personally offer on the mustard seed is that I disagree with Nelson that the most preferred reading is to conclude a mustard seed is the smallest.  To me (even apart from science or any contrary brute facts) the most preferred exegesis is that Jesus was talking about faith, not seeds.  And he only used commonly accepted knowledge to make a point about his real topic.  To make it about seeds seems to be a faulty preference from the outset; just as we would all agree it is faulty exegesis that wants to focus on technicalities such as “are there really as many offspring for Abraham as there are stars in the sky?”  To deny authors the use of hyperbole to make points is to deny the Spirit a tool that we allow every other great thinker to aid in communication with others; and that seems to me to be the greater (less preferred) exegetical stretch here.

—Merv


Enosh - #69869

May 10th 2012

Thanks for your comments Merv. Hopefully these will also be helpful.

There are points of agreement and disagreement that I have with Nelson and Reynolds. First, they are correct that both Scriptural exegesis and natural history are ultimately arguments to the best explanation, and that seeking logical certainty in either Scriptural exegesis or natural history is a wild goose chase. Where I disagree with them is in the degrees of confidence they variously place in young-age Scriptural exegesis and natural history. I am not convinced that natural historical evidence for an old earth is as strong as they seem to think it is, and I am less confident that interpretations of Scripture that accommodate long-age geology and evolution have any real plausibility. From this, it follows that while I am not logically certain that young-age creationism is correct, I am psychologically certain that it is, to use a distinction advocated by the late Ronald Nash.

Note that this is not to say that young-agers have everything worked out, or that there isn’t data that’s tricky to fit into the young-age framework. There is. But were dealing with overarching historical frameworks here, not specific theories. And because of my prior commitment to the reliability of biblical history, and my commitment to the mainstream interpretation of Scriptural history in the church (and not because it’s mainstream, but because I believe it’s correct), I’m not about to abandon that framework for one that appears manifestly anti-biblical.

Evolutionists work the same way. The ‘fact’ of evolution is not questioned—or more to the point, the idea that the origin and history of life is completely explainable by natural cause and effect is never questioned. Now, I get the feeling that many here would argue that what I call ‘natural cause and effect’ is God’s providence anyway, so the distinction between ‘natural law’ and ‘miracle’ (in whatever language one wishes to make the dichotomy) is not a helpful one. I appreciate the point because both ‘miracle’ and ‘natural law’ draw a distinction between events that both come under the umbrella of providence. But no informed creationist that I know of distinguishes between ‘natural law’ and ‘miracle’ in any absolute Humean sense, which is really what most of the objections I have seen seem to be assuming. Rather, it provides a valid and useful heuristic distinction in avowedly post-Reformation language that helps us recognize that there is a qualitative experiential difference between ‘natural law’ and ‘miracle’ from a human perspective in history. In a similar way, we can make a valid and useful distinction between e.g. chemistry and biology as different scientific disciplines, while acknowledging that the distinction between the two is often fuzzy.

That aside, I see no practical difference in the natural history hypotheses of secularists and theistic evolutionists. Both assume the same outline of natural history (other than the First Cause). It is here that young-agers see the problem because this chronology is completely contradictory to the whole thrust of biblical chronology.


Merv - #69808

May 9th 2012

Okay—- the “school teacher” in me needs to intrude one more post just to apologize; and declare that yes ... I do know the difference between “their” and “there” or “are” and “our”, but these fingers of mine insist on pounding out the wrong key combinations when my brain wants to be otherwise occupied and won’t stoop to supervising them directly.  We need a grammatical moderator to step in when it gets out of hand.  I’d beter quite before moor errors accumulate.

-Merv


Ted Davis - #69810

May 9th 2012

You’re right. A minus. Spelling counts.


GJDS - #69813

May 9th 2012

God communicates with us in our own verbal and conceptual language, or he doesn’t. If he does, then we need to let Galileo into the garden of Eden.

I think it is worth looking at comments by Augustine on Genesis; he shows that even the notion of communicating by God requires a spiritual dimension. We inevitably attribute limitations to God when we speak between ourselves regarding God. The clearest understanding I know of regarding this is Paul’s teaching that, “The Holy Spirit knows things concerning God” and the spirit of man knows (and can increasingly know by correcting error) the things pertaining to man. Christians are shown that we have the mind of Christ and thus we can scrutinise all things. I am comfortable with the knowledge that even if translations of the Bible bring in ‘new’ language that may lead to differences in literal meaning, that we still must be guided by Faith. Thus Joshua believed God when he led Isreal and this belief was central to the ooutcome. As a scientist I cannot say yes or no to the sun standing still on this occassion, but I do not deny the faith and belief shown by Isreal at this time.

It is extraodinary that scientific questions have had such an impact on people’s understanding of salvation and faith. I am still trying to have a deeper understanding of why this is. So far, I am convinced that part of the reason is that institutions and groups have used the Bible to further their position and power and others have countered this by using science as a weapon in this antagonistic encounter. These blogs and discussions certainly add a great deal of additional information on this topic. Well worth reading and dsicussing (despite my many typo errors).


PNG - #69885

May 10th 2012

Just a note on the site. Right now this site is capable of giving you a comment box like you are signed in, letting you type a long comment and then when you hit Submit throwing your comment away and telling you aren’t a member, even if you checked Automatically Sign In when you registered. Moral - copy your text before hitting Submit.

In the long comment I lost I suggested that a better question for creationists than whether they accept forensic evidence is whether they would accept a genealogy worked out from DNA sequencing data, since the principles involved there are pretty much the same as those used in comparative genomics in concluding that we have common ancestors with other primates. I note that there are cases, like the result that Jewish Cohen males share very closely related Y chromosomes, where Biblical expectations might be supported by genetics.


Jeff - #69892

May 10th 2012

Dr. Davis:

I think I detect a couple of errors in the article above.  Please correct me if I am mistaken.

First, you state that “creationists utterly deny the validity of the historical sciences.”  This is quite a generalization and seems like a gross overstatement of the position of many creationists.  The fact is that creation scientists are themselves actively involved in historical sciences and developing theories according to that discipline, which I doubt they would be doing if they considered the results of such efforts utterly invalid.  It would seem more accurate to say something to the effect that creationists regard the results of historical sciences to be far less conclusive than the results of observational science, especially when historical sciences deal with the distant past.

Secondly, you respond to Terry Mortenson’s quote by saying that Mortenson has turned Galileo’s approach upside down.  However, Mortenson’s quote refers specifically to “men’s infallible theories about the unobserved past.”  Galileo’s theory concerned the observable present, so I do not see how Mortenson’s (assumed) acceptance of Galileo’s theory can be regarded as inconsistent with his rejection of evolutionary theory.  These are apples and oranges, and Mortenson was quite clear that he was speaking of apples.  But perhaps I have misunderstood you.

Finally, you asked when we are justified to reinterpet a biblical text on the basis of science.  It is a difficult question, but I will venture the beginning of an answer. 

I would first insist that there should be two different criteria used: one for what science has to say about the present world, and another for what science has to say about events that occured in our world in the past.  As a veterinarian who daily makes presumptive diagnoses based on limited information, I know well how good theories that makes sense of the facts can be shattered by the things that lie in the realm of the unknown.  I have been foiled by more than one undetected corncob or tennis ball in the belly of a hound in my career!  With respect to the distant past, the truth is that most things lie in the realm of the unknown, and so in a spirit of humility which I have learned the hard way, I am very resistant to the idea that we should reinterpret the Scriptures on the basis of theories respecting the distant past.  Let us proceed very slowly.  Theories concerning the observable present are more compelling and demand a more immediate response. 

But secondly, I would also insist that we must take into account the hermeneutical cost of any preposed reinterpretation of Scripture and resist with all our might any “solution” that will have foreseeable destructive effects on the Gospel itself.  Our understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ is based upon a particular understanding of the Bible itself as an instrument of divine revelation, and where that understanding of the Bible is challenged at any point, the whole edifice begins to sway and buckle.  That is the nature of hermeneutics.  As a presbyterian, my forefathers watched this happen seemingly overnight when theological liberalism entered the church in the late nineteenth century, and I will not be easily convinced that the same thing cannot happen again today if we are not exceedingly careful with how we interpret the book of Genesis.  Adopt a principle of hermeneutics that allows you to identifiy homids in the second chapter of the Bible, and you can justifiably find just about anything you want anywhere in the book!


Ted Davis - #69895

May 10th 2012

Jeff,

Your comments are a welcome addition to this thread. It would take a whole book to respond adequately to your most important point, the one about hermeneutics in the final paragraph, and I obviously can’t reply by writing it. I will simply point to the most recent of several books that do this very well:

http://peterennsonline.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/Enns_Evolution-of-AdamHALF.jpg

One of the things I like best about Enns is his effort to get past the legacy of the “fundamentalist/modernist” split that you refer to. Most of my own current research deals with aspects of that very unfortunate period, when so many Christians felt forced to choose between rejecting science in the name of orthodoxy or rejecting orthodoxy in the name of science. I’ve addressed this briefly at http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2009/07/the-motivated-belief-of-john-polkinghorne. I see Polkinghorne, N.T. Wright, Enns, Owen Gingerich, and Bob Russell all as evidence that perhaps we’re finally making some progress toward a third way.

more coming


Ted Davis - #69896

May 10th 2012

Taking your points in reverse order, next I’ll explain what I meant about Mortenson turning Galileo on his head. It’s simple. For Galileo, the book of nature was written in the divine language of mathematics, which (in his view) was clear and unambiguous in its meaning (singular), while the book of nature was written in ordinary human language, with all of its richness and ambiguity, thus capable of multiple possible interpretations (plural). In his view, the proper appoach, in those (rare for him) instances of apparent conflict (he denied the presence of *real* conflict, since in his view conflict occurred only when the interpreters of scripture forgot the purpose of the Bible and the nature of its audience and thus read a given passage too ridigly), is to use the clear meaning of the book of nature to help us determine the correct interpretation of the book of scripture.

Mortenson turns that upside-down. His quotation above is sufficient to show this.


Ted Davis - #69897

May 10th 2012

Finally, Jeff, let me defend my statement that “creationists utterly deny the validity of the historical sciences.” I’m not sure you will agree with me, but I don’t think I exaggerated at all.

According to the standard picture of the history of the universe, which is what I mean  here by “the historical sciences” (cosmology, geology, evoulutionary biology), the universe is ca. 13.7 BY old; the Sun and the Earth ca. 4.6 BY old; the Sun is at least a second generation (not first generation) star; life in some form has been around in excess of 3 BY; large and complex forms of life have been around for many times 100MY; humans (as in fully modern humans just like us) are descended from an extinct non-human primate(s), and have been here for at least several times 10kY. Etc. You know the script. These are not minor conclusions in the historical sciences. Whether or not they are all correct, they have considerable coherence (e.g., the age of the earth and Sun are consistent with the fact that the Sun must not be a first generation star and consistent with a universe about 3 times the age of the solar system) and are sufficiently convincing as a collection of conclusions to constitute the picture accepted by most scientists, especially those who work in the relevant fields (i.e., those whose knowledge of the relevant data and challenges to the standard picture are second to none).

YEC proponents reject *every one* of these conclusions. They also reject many of the methods and assumptions used to arrive at those conclusions, the most obvious example being the general validity of radioactive dating (which is relevant to all but the first of the conclusions I spelled out).

For Henry Morris and many others, the only reliable source of knowledge about the origin of the earth and the universe is the Bible. The methods they use to interpret the Bible are very different from those used by practitioners of the historical sciences (as identified here). I rest my case.


Jeff - #69903

May 10th 2012

With all due respect, I do not think that you have proven your point.  If one rejects uniformitarianism (a philosophical assumption), then it is logical to consider invalid most of the dates arrived at by means of radiometric dating, including all of the dates which you mentioned in rehearsing the naturalistic story of the universe.  However, rejecting uniformitarianism is not rejecting historical science.  Creationists engage in historical science, but on the basis of an assumed catostrophicism taught in the Bible.  That may not be your preferred approach to historical science, but if I am correct in saying that uniformitarian is a philosophical assumption, then I do not think you have any just basis for dismissing an approach to historical science which is based on a different but equally legitimate philosophical assumption.


Ted Davis - #69906

May 10th 2012

As far as I can tell, Jeff, our disagreement on this particular point partly biols down to Galileo (no surprise). If the Bible is taken as a better source of scientific information than modern science itself, then why shouldn’t we expect it to be clearer and more accurate about those details that we *can* check today, regardless of whether uniformitarianism is a good principle to employ concerning the past? Why was it obvious to everyone prior to Copernicus, and to almost everyone prior to Galileo, that the Bible teaches geocentricity? From the Bible alone, that’s what made sense to *everyone*. (Yes, they had all that background knowledge from Greek science as part of their intepretive framework, but it was still true that the everyone thought the Bible was clear about this.)

Why does the Bible say so very little about natural things, in a *seemingly* scientific way, if we are to use it as the first and best source for scientific information? (I ignore the many passages about nature that everyone has always taken as purely metaphorical, such as the trees clapping their hands.) Galileo asks that question. Incidentally, did you read his “Letter to the Grand Duchess?”

In addition to such things as these, I’m persuaded by *non-scientific* considerations that the purpose of the creation stories in Genesis is not scientific. See, e.g., this splendid piece by biblical scholar Conrad Hyers: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1984/JASA9-84Hyers.html. NOTE: I’ll be asking us all to talk about this in a few weeks, when we discuss the framework view. I don’t want to go too far with that right now, but it fits the situation so I’ll bring it in a bit early.

more coming…

 


Ted Davis - #69907

May 10th 2012

I know, Jeff, the first part of this reply seems irrelevant, but it’s not. I’m addressing you point about biblical catastrophism: I think we need to be much more cautious than you in treating the biblical picture as something we can get scientifically verifiable information from.

You speak about “uniformitarianism” vs “catastrophism,” and in a certain sense those terms apply—but not as often presented. The terms were invented by William Whewell to describe two opposing views in early geology that just don’t map well into modern views. The “uniformitarians,” e.g., saw the world as a steady state with no overall directionality in natural history—no evolution, for example, and no “catastrophes” such as ice ages, comets hitting the earth, as well as no global flood of the kind Morris and Whitcomb proposed. They were clearly wrong about 3 of those points (you will say 4). Today, uniformitarianism basically means that we assume that physical processes in the past were like physical processes in the present, in terms of how they actually work. We don’t arbitralily rule out “catastrophes,” indeed we accept many such. Here’s a very good example, for which there is abundant (not necessarily overwhelming) support: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvarez_hypothesis.

Mainly, however, I’ll simply say that too much data observable *now*, not inferred from the past, simply makes too much sense on the basis of the modern form of “uniformitarianism.” Instead of spending all week filling this in, I’ll refer you to an excellent book for dozens of great examples: http://www.amazon.com/The-Age-Everything-Science-Explores/dp/0226322920. That is my top recommendation. Please try to borrow a copy; it’s well worth the time spent reading any amount of it.

Here is a second recommendation: http://www.faithaliveonline.org/origins/chapter5/.

Given so many strong, even spectacular, successes at producing a coherent picture of things, I can’t regard biblical catastrophism as an “equally legitimate philosophical assumption.”


Jeff - #69909

May 11th 2012

Thanks, Dr. Davis.  You are an excellent teacher, by the way.  Your comments have been helpful, and I appreciate you taking the time to address my objections.  I will continue to tune in with interest.


Ted Davis - #69912

May 11th 2012

Thank you so very much, Jeff, for your very kind comments. No doubt there are other teachers reading this; they all know that what I am about to say is the unadulterated truth: we teach b/c of our students. You keep us going.


Jeff - #69901

May 10th 2012

Got it.  Thanks for the clarification.  I think I agree with Mortenson here, however.  On the one hand, arriving at conclusions concerning what did or did not happen billions of years ago in the universe is hardly a straightforward matter of clear and unambigious mathematics; and on the other hand, the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is quite dear to my heart.  I want to believe that my God has spoken to me so as to be understood, and that with the help of His Spirit I can understand all that He wants me to know, and I have no real reason to think that it is otherwise.  Granted, sometimes sin has a blinding influence upon me so that I cannot or will not see the plain meaning of the words of Scripture, but that is not due to any ambiguity in the text really.  As Martin Luther once said, “Let wretched men abjure that blasphemous perversity which would blame the darkness of their own hearts on the plain Scriptures of God!”


sy - #69899

May 10th 2012

Perhaps the ultimate question is this: When are we justified to reinterpret a biblical text on the basis of science?

I agree Ted, that that is indeed the ultimate question. I would like to try to address that question, in a way that might raise objections, and I will add that I am far from certain if my view is correct or appropriate.

My answer is  - always. I do understand the danger in that approach, and despite first appearances given my answer, I do hold the written text of the Bible to be the holy word of God, inerrant and inviolable. But I came to the conclusion that continuous and constant re -interpretation of scripture is the right thing to do, (once the science is firm enough, of course) from my observations that the depth of complexity of the natural world as uncovered by scientific exploration is literally limitless. No field of science has been finished. Every answer has always led to more questions, and I believe this will always be true.

This is the nature of the wondrous creation God has given us. It is perfectly logical to me to assume that His word is similarly complex and subject to infinite interpretation. I find this assumption to be consistent with my reading of the texts of even the “simplest” biblical passages

Isn’t it possible therefore that our task is to engage in a continuous process  of tuning our understanding of God’s two books to the point where we achieve agreement in our interpretations of both. I think we are already working in that direction, and that Galileo and the Church were pioneers in that noble, divine effort. Scholars like yourself, and the Biologos team have made great strides in that direction, and I am confident that there are many more glorious insights to come.  


Merv - #69918

May 11th 2012

Sy, I can understand (...to a limited extent agree with…) the frustrations of young-earthers towards the thoughts you express above.  I.e.  when you say “living document” they hear “...so then God’s word never commits us to anything—or we can never settle down on any interpretation of it”  and when you say “tuning our understanding of God’s two books to the point where we achieve agreement…” they hear: “tuning our theology until it agrees with our science.”  (especially in light of what you share above).  That is essentially what you end up doing even if you do acknowledge that science itself is always unfinished and needing revision.

I think in the end what you say is true in terms of the necessity of our Biblical understandings (theology) needing always to be tuned to Truth.   To the extent that science can help us see Truth (in the brute fact sense) I think what you say needs to be acknowledged and affirmed, as distasteful as it may be to defenders of the so-called “most natural readings”.  But there must be (is) room for theology to have its non-negotiables, and we all already do this to some extent for general truths that don’t go under the heading of science.  I would love to hear more from some young-earthers here on just what are the various things that would cause them to re-think a theological understanding they hold.  And what difference does it make to them if that something came from science or not.

—Merv


Merv - #69919

May 11th 2012

Let me re-word (for clarity) something I said above.  Where I wrote “...room for theology to have its non-negotiables, and we all already do this to some extent…”

What I meant, but didn’t very clearly say is that I think all of us already use extra-biblical information to help form, tweak, tune, (even overturn!) our theological understandings that come from Scripture.  This is what I think young-earthers leave under-acknowledged, and what I would love to hear some here comment about or react to.  When the “extra-biblical” information comes from something scary like origins science (and especially from avowed anti-God ideologues who make no secret of their agenda) it gets pretty easy to see things in black & white.  But when our information comes from testimony of brothers or sisters or personal observations about our own lives we have extra-biblical information to assimilate and we generally do (as we should).  How is this different than information from science?

-Merv


sy - #69921

May 11th 2012

Merv

Thanks so much for your response to my comment, which, indeed I knew could evoke fairly negative reactions, not just from YECs, but pretty much from all Christians who would rightly be alarmed at the thought that everything might be fluid. I, for one, certainly dont believe that. I do not think the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the fall of man and so forth are subject to revision based on “science”. And what I love is that you have given the answer in your second comment. The so called science that anti theists use to try to undermine the Word of God, is as incomplete and as in need of refinement as is the most obscure passage of Deuteronomy. The evidence for the resurrection, as you imply, must include the fact (and I do mean fact) that I know that Jesus is my living savior, and that my knowledge of this fact is only one of millions of such facts.

So I believe that all of the extra biblical information we obtain is in no way different than information from science in terms of quality or effect.

If we clearly state that the mutual tuning of our understanding of both the Word and the Works means that our scientific interpretations must rely on our faith, as much as the reverse, then some of the justified concerns you raise might be alleviated. Of course, there are a lot of details to be considered, and I am expressing only a very general philosophical view about how and when to approach re interpretation of Biblical text. An entirely different discussion would center on how to re interpret the philosophical meaning of scientific findings, something that has received very little attention at all.


Enosh - #69922

May 11th 2012

Merv, thank you for your perceptive thoughts and questions.

I can obviously only speak for this young-ager, but I can conceive of a number of things that would cause me to change my understanding of origins.

First, I would need to see that there was a reading of biblical chronology that allowed for evolution/long ages that actually did justice to the textual phenomena sans biological and geological considerations. I think that the phenomenological approach to the ‘geocentric’ passages of Scripture does just this with respect to astronomy. However, most presentations of views that allow for evolution/long ages focus most of their attention on Genesis 1 without giving much thought to anything else. This ends up presenting a woefully incomplete picture of the young-ager’s biblical case, which is based on far more than a historical reading of Genesis 1.

Specifically, I’d need to see how long-age palaeoanthropology could be squared with the biblical chronology of human history, because right now I see the two as hopelessly contradictory. If this could be done without affecting the inner logic of Paul’s soteriological scheme (and Jesus’ statements on human history—esp. Mark 10:6), then it would go a long way toward relieving me of any biblical burdens that I feel tie me to the young-age position.

Now, I stress what I think is conceivably possible at the moment, and what is not. I don’t think old-agers can prove that the Bible demands their position. In the same vein, I don’t think that we geokineticists can prove that Scripture demands our position over the geocentric position. However, geokineticism is consistent with an appropriate hermeneutic that still allows e.g. Joshua to say that the sun stood still for a whole day because that’s what he saw, even if the dynamical explanation for such a phenomenon in a geokinetic framework is beyond us. Similarly, I think that this is the best that old-agers can conceivably hope for—finding an appropriate interpretation that allows for their position.

This doesn’t mean I think that any of this is going to happen (I don’t), but it’s what I can conceive as being able to change my perspective on origins.

As to what ‘extrabiblical information’ I would consider assimilating into my hermeneutical methods—that depends on the quality of the information and on the applicability that it has for hermeneutics. ‘Science’ is too vague a concept to know whether it would be applicable. However, if by ‘science’ you mean long-age geology and evolution, then the answer is no, because I don’t think there is any plausible way to harmonize them with Scripture. ‘Long-age’ astronomy may be an exception, applying something like e.g. relativistic time dilation to the issue—but even that renders Genesis 1:14‑19 an observer-oriented description like the ‘geocentric’ passages, which is unrelated to evolution or the 4.6 Ga ‘age’ of the earth.


brutewolf - #69923

May 12th 2012

I would ask you to reconsider your thought about Joshua. You posit that the text can say the sun stood still because “that’s what he saw”. But it most certainly was not what he saw. It was not what he experienced. He experienced the earth stopping. God, through his inspired word, did not feel it important to give scientific data about the event. He had a far more important lesson to give us. God simply relays in his story what the people thought they experienced.

The same (I believe) is true of Genesis 1. The children of Israel, wandering in the desert, were under heavy Ancient Near East influence with no written word of their own. With one inspired story, God slammed the lid on the Enuma Elish and declared, in writing, his supremacy. He was no more concerned about material explanation than he was with Joshua. He knew what his children needed and he gave it to them.

(You may want to consider reading John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” to get a clearer understanding of the most prevailing position on these boards.)

Enosh, I enjoy reading your posts here. You give me a lot to think about. I appreciate the levelheaded tone.


Enosh - #69938

May 13th 2012

Hi brutewolf,

I must admit to being rather confused by your statements about Joshua. I’m aware of those who don’t think Joshua was talking about an astronomical phenomenon in Joshua 10 (see http://christianthinktank.com/5felled.html#longday). I have no problem with such arguments in principle, and since I haven’t done any major exegetical work on this passage, I can’t say either way if such arguments hold weight. However, I was merely assuming the most common interpretation of Joshua 10: that Joshua saw the sun stand still in the sky for a whole day as a matter of physical reality (albeit an observer-oriented one), which means Joshua 10 records an astronomical miracle. And assuming that common interpretation, Joshua did in fact see the sun standing still. Under no exegesis of the passage that I’m aware of did Joshua say that the Earth stopped moving. As to what Joshua (and others) would’ve experienced unawares as a matter of dynamical reality, I have no clue. On that matter, I’d suggest this article: http://creation.com/joshuas-long-day.

You also suggested that I read Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis 1. I have, precisely because I saw that it’s the most popular interpretation of Genesis 1 here, and I remain unconvinced of his arguments against the traditional interpretation. I think Douglas Becker in his review of Walton’s book in Themelios (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/34-3/book-reviews/the-lost-world-of-genesis-one) pointed out the two main exegetical weaknesses in Walton’s thesis well: “One possible weakness in Walton’s argument is his insistence on reading Gen 1 in purely functional terms. … Further, his discussion of the meaning of bāraʾ is not entirely convincing.” However, I think Becker’s praise of Walton’s handling of the ‘evolution/ID/creationism’ issue is overblown. For me this was the weakest part of the book, which is not all that surprising since Walton is an ANE scholar, not a philosopher or scientist.

However, I’d suggest you be very careful about stating that Genesis 1 has any direct relation to Enuma Elish, or any other ANE text. That tends towards the mistake scholars of past generations made, and Walton does not make this mistake. Walton correctly appeals to ANE texts to establish that there were certain thought-forms common across the ANE, not to establish any textual relationships between the various ANE cosmogonies and Genesis 1. It would be like pointing to atheistic, pop-Christian, and New-age books in the modern American market to show that modern American religion is very individualistic and consumer-oriented. Such a task says little for the theological content of any of those books, but it merely demonstrates that there are certain ways of thinking inherent in American culture that cut across religious lines. Where I disagree with Walton is that I think he goes too far with his conclusions on functional ontology, and I am not alone in this assessment (as per e.g. Becker above).

I’m glad my comments have appeared level-headed. I realize that I’m the ‘antagonist’ here, so I try to take care that I’m aiming at arguments here, not people. 


Merv - #69925

May 12th 2012

Enosh, your concern that any proposed view point primarily satisfy Biblical understandings is one that I share, even though I see more latitude in those understandings than you express.  I have no problem with the phenomenological approach you describe and apply to Joshua, and indeed I apply the same approach even beyond where you probably do into the early creation and flood accounts and see that as legitimate accommodation.

So while I must admit that these origins questions would never come up “sans biological and geological considerations” (and indeed did not –why else would they—though to be fair some early church fathers such as Augustine did see potential problems in certain literal  understandings of Scripture just from deeper reflection on Scripture itself), nevertheless I think that  inclusion of such information in our current Biblical understandings can still appeal to wider Scriptural sanction with more success (in that higher court) than you allow —I’m trying to compete with the Apostle Paul for the run-on sentences award; he still has it ... maybe.

At least I offer that as my own experience as I read, ponder, and attempt to apply the Scriptures in my own life –not to say that I have satisfactory answers on how to reconcile all apparent problems.  At the same time I fully respect your commitment to your own convictions on how Scriptures should be understood.  I don’t doubt that young-agers are often given short shrift in our over-simplified discussions, especially where they are absent or not welcome to defend their own varieties of approaches.  In that separation of different camps into their own protective enclaves our understanding of other viewpoints becomes an impoverished caricature.  We need to be pushed to do better.  Thanks for providing that, and I hope you don’t mind feeling some reciprocal jostling.

-Merv


Enosh - #69939

May 13th 2012

Hi Merv

I stress that the harmonization must be convincing sans evolution and long-age geology because they were not informing contexts for Moses and his original audience. I don’t think evolution/long-ages can do any more than alert us to the potential need for harmonization. That seems to be all that geokineticism did for our reading of Scripture—it highlighted the need to understand sunrise/sunset language as merely about what we see, and has nothing to do with dynamical realities. If we go beyond this, it looks to me like we begin something akin to allegorization, which I believe is completely unacceptable.

Science and extra-biblical history (including natural history) thus can help us curb unnecessary conclusions in our scriptural interpretation. However, the applicability of specific points within these subjects must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and such an evaluation takes into account far more than scriptural interpretation. As such, I would note that even if it could be shown that evolution/long-age geology was consistent with scripture, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that I would become an old-ager or evolutionist. I think the foundational assumptions on which the long-age history is based are inherently faulty from a simple theistic standpoint, let alone a biblical standpoint. I believe miracles are possible, and I don’t think we have sufficient warrant to rule out miracles leaving a physical signature that would be misinterpreted if the principle of uniformity were applied to the data. In the same way, I can imagine a geocentrist conceding that the geokineticist’s scriptural interpretation is good, but they might still reject geokineticism on other grounds.

It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives here. I always enjoy respectful and thoughtful dialogue, which this has been—so thank you.


sy - #69926

May 12th 2012

Enosh

 

I also appreciate your comments, and I believe i am in sympathy, although not in agreement with your viewpoint. Certianly Genesis 2 has as much to tell us about the origin of Man as does Genesis 1, and I agree that this has often been overlooked.

Sometimes we get the science wrong, but when we do get it right (ignoring for the moment the issue of how we know), then I am firmly convinced that God is speaking to us through the truth of his creation, and therefore this MUST be reconciled with His word. I dont know how to do this, of course, but I think that effort is worth pursuing. I also think that progress is being made. I would also say that all Christians must be present at the helm of this ship we are trying to steer through some pretty narrow straits, Young Earth, Old Earth, TEs, and all others, because none of us alone know the way, and we can all help out with finding the true course, avoiding the shoals, to find the true answers,  with the loving grace of God as our mutual inspiration.


Enosh - #69940

May 13th 2012

Hi sy

My point about the young-ager’s biblical case resting on more than Genesis 1 applies to Genesis 2 as well. It applies to the whole chronology of Scripture, which includes most of the narrative/historical portions of the Old Testament. I need to be careful of elephant hurling here, but I think that there are sufficient genealogical threads weaved throughout the Old Testament that significantly limit human and cosmic history to about 3,600 years at the close of the Old Testament. And through various avenues, we can calculate that it’s been about 2,400 years since the last OT book was written (I don’t buy into a 2nd century BC date for Daniel, but even if it was it wouldn’t affect conclusions on the overall age of the universe and humanity). The only really conceivable place where millions of years can be harmonized with the Old Testament is in Genesis 1, which is why there is such great emphasis on Genesis 1. However, the young-ager’s simple (and I believe conclusive) point is that history begins Genesis 1 and is inexorably tied to the rest of the scriptural chronology.

I’m not so sure if ‘science’ and the Bible must be reconciled. We must attempt to legitimately reconcile them (by evaluating both, not just Scripture); but what happens if they can’t be reconciled? Now, it’s here that I’ve seen so much carelessness from theistic evolutionists—Scripture and ‘science’ often speak to the same space-time-matter-energy reality. This does not mean that Scripture is a ‘science textbook’, or that we are trying to make the Bible speak in ‘scientific terms’—it simply means that Scripture has things to say about the real world in which we live. This introduces ipso facto the possibility of contradiction between Scripture and ‘science’. What does this amount to? In as far as the Bible makes historical or observational claims, it can be falsified. And if any theology rests on those historical or observational claims, that can also be falsified to the extent that it rests on those historical or observational claims. However bad some old-earth-creationist attempted harmonizations are, (I don’t give much credence to the day-age theory, which seems rather popular among them), it seems to me that they generally grasp this point better than theistic evolutionists.


Jeff - #69932

May 12th 2012

Hi, Merv. 

In answer to your question above, I am willing to rethink a theological postion when I am presented with an alternative explanation that brings greater clarity to the Scriptures rather than greater confusion.

I believe that the Bible is addressed to me as a Christian.  Or to say it another way, I believe that the Bible is for me.  Indeed, this is what the Bible itself states: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 14:4); “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (I Cor. 10:11) 

And furthermore, in addressing me in the Bible, I believe that God has spoken so as to be understood.  Thus Deuteronomy 29:29 declares, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”  Confusion is simply contrary to God’s purpose in special revelation.  Granted, the corrupting influence of sin has a tendency to darkend the mind and obscure the light (II Cor. 4:3-4), but the Word of God is no less an illuminating light on that account.

Therefore, I assume that the explantion of Scripture that clears away confusion must be correct, while the explanation that creates confusion is probably wrong.  As for origins, the same principle applies.  When I am presented with an alternative explanation for the origin of the universe that brings greater clarity to the Scriptures, then I will abandon the young earth view as readily as I have abandoned other views which have been overcome by a clearer and better explanation.


Merv - #69933

May 12th 2012

Your comments above are timely for me, Jeff.  Acts 10 is the passage being read tomorrow in our church.  (Peter’s vision and the centurion’s household being baptised.)    Peter and many of his Jewish compatriots thought they had pretty clear ideas about people they were supposed to associate (or not associate) with.  But Acts gives us some stirring visions of people being granted new clarity from the Spirit that superceded what they no doubt would have defended as good enough (even Scripture-based) clarity before.  I can’t say that this necessarily applies to any or everything we wish to bring to the table that’s new now;  as you pointed out, the corrupting influence of sin is at work too.  But I guess all I’m saying is that if the Spirit had to relieve early Christians of some cherished convictions, then I / we probably ought to take care now as well about considering all our understandings as settled with finality.  You may argue that we have more to work with (greater canon of Scripture featuring Jesus himself) so that nothing should be left “up in the air” for us any more.  But if the very men who walked with and were taught by Jesus in the flesh had to be humbled in many respects, then I know I will need the same and probably more as I’m certainly not greater than they were.

But it is true that we have all been given more to work with since that time.  One of those small gifts is science (in its proper place, a gift for God’s service, I’m sure you will agree.)  A scary aspect of that for me (origins debates aside, even) is the responsibility that comes with our apparently increased understandings in light of Luke 12:48.  I think it quite possible that these philosophical quarrels over how God “did something” will someday be looked back on with nostalgia when we begin to be faced with the more demanding exhortations of Scripture that we in affluent nations have labored so hard and long to ignore.  As Twain was once said to have remarked:  “It isn’t the parts of Scripture I don’t understand that bother me so much as the parts that I understand perfectly well.”

Thanks for your continued thoughts.

—Merv


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