Thursday, June 21, 2012

Inerrancy and science

At one time, the Bible held a place of supremacy in Western civilization. Various groups certainly disagreed about what the Bible meant. They did not disagree about the fact that the Bible was not only inerrant, but authoritative. Sadly, this is no longer the case. With Enlightenment skepticism and the "higher criticism" that followed, belief in the Bible eroded.

The question is: what has taken the Bible's place in the Western mind? I think the answer is simple. It is science. When scientists say something, it is taken as absolute truth. What happens if someone believes that the Bible is the Word of God and inerrant, but he lives in a society where science is king? Well, there is bound to be conflict. Furthermore, what happens when a person believes both the Bible and in science and the two seem to contradict? You get the current arguments we have between Bible scholars who accept all scientific theories, and creation scientists who accept the Genesis account of creation (interpreted in a very literal fashion) and reject some of the theories accepted by the Bible scholars.

So, in the evangelical world we have a starnge thing. We have Bible scholars who prefer what science says about our origins, and we have scientists who prefer the Bible's explanation (traditionally interpreted). Evangelical scholars who accept the theory of evolution (it is really the hypothesis of evolution) often call creation scientists 'non-scientists' because they "operate outside the [accepted] sphere of science". But this only really means that they reject the hypothesis of evolution and possibly the idea that the universe is quite old. (I say possibly because not all creationists are young earth creationists.)

The first time I ran into this was in college. I came into college as a young believer who knew little of the Bible and thought he knew a lot about science. For me, the first chapter of Genesis was quite challenging. I believed in the hypothesis of evolution, but Genesis seemed to contradict it. I was studying economics and not science, but I had confidence that scientists must be right about this. What puzzled me was the fact that it was the evangelical science students and not the evangelical humanities or social science students who were the quickest to set aside evolution in favor of the Bible. So I asked the science students about this and they explained to me how science actually works and what science can do and what it cannot do. I also read up on the matter.

Science studies the physical world and the natural laws that govern it. They can do experiments based on a hypothesis and get understanding of the natural world. But regarding the past or future it can only really guess. You cannot do an experiment to see if the universe was created in a certain way. Science cannot "know" when the universe was born. It can give educated guesses based on a little knowledge and lot of assumptions. To cut to the chase, I found that evolution was on very shaky ground despite the seemingly universal acceptance of it by scientists. (It's not as universal as we have been led to believe.) So I chose to reject evolution and accept what the Bible says while leaving room for believers to disagree about just how to interpret Genesis 1 and other creation passages.

But if evolution is on shaky ground, then why do scientists accept it so readily? Scientists, like everyone else, are human and, despite their professionalism, can be prejudiced. They have used evolution to explain everything. It replaces God as the source of everything. Without it, they think they will destroy the foundation of science. Of course, they would do no such thing.

Here is what is so odd about this: This is exactly what the Catholic Church did with Galileo's idea that the earth goes around the sun. It contradicted, not the Bible, but their own Aristotelian philosophy that said that the sun must go around the earth. Catholic theology was built on Aristotelian philosophy and any challenge to this philosophy was seen as a challenge to the whole of the Catholic faith. (I realize that this runs contrary to high school textbooks who insist that Catholicism was anti-scientific. The Vatican was a leader in promoting scientific endeavors.) Galileo was a faithful Catholic who was not an Aristotelian, but a Neo-Platonist. This was the Catholic Church's real objection to Galileo.

Now we have the scientific 'consensus', which now plays the role that the Vatican did in times past, who insist that if evolution can be successfully challenged, then the all of science, especially biology, is in danger. The whole thing will come apart because they want a naturalistic science that leaves God out.

Okay. I have to get back to inerrancy and Bible scholars who accept evolution and reject the Bible's version of what happened. These scholars generally reject inerrancy. (Please read the last post on inerrancy if I have lost you here. Inerrancy means that the Bible is true on whatever subject it speaks about - including scientific matters.) These scholars teach that those who wrote the Bible had little understanding of science and could not possibly be able to write anything other than what they believed in that day. Being pre-scientific, they must have written error or a general poetic version of creation rather than what actually occurred.

But they assume too much. Certainly, the ancients did not have the scientific language that we have and used terms that were common in their day. And they used poetic images that were not meant to be taken literally. We make a mistake, however, in attributing too much ignorance, or lack of divine revelation, to those whom God had revealed His Word. God is able to make us understand things that go way beyond our cultural limitations.

One example is Psalm 8. We are told that the ancients viewed the universe as a very small place with the sky and stars just a couple of miles over their heads. Supposedly, they had no clue as to the vastness of the universe. However, Psalm 8 says, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" Well, the psalmist seems to understand the vastness of the universe especially in comparison to himself. So the ancients, at least God's people, were not as ignorant as we like to think. Plus, they had revelation from God. Revelation includes, not just ideas about God, but facts about all kinds of things.

The problem is not that some "fundamentalists" reject modern science. Indeed, many of them work in the sciences themselves. The problem is that Bible scholars do not really understand what science is and what it can or cannot do. A hypothesis is not a fact. They should be more skeptical of the "conclusions" that scientists come to and more believing regarding the Bible that they are supposed to be experts on. I know that experts like to believe what experts in other fields say. That is nice, but it really leads to an elitism that shuns all criticism and becomes self-satisfied and, ultimately, self-deceived.

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