Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Does the Bible reflect modern science?

I was hoping to discuss some ideas about ancient cosmology at some stage. In the meantime Greg has raised the more fundamental issue of presuppositions and modern evangelicals. My initial response is below though some items may need clarification.

Greg: ...you seem to be concerned with the idea that the Bible has to reflect our current understanding of the world in order for it's inerrency and infallibility to be upheld.

Well actually my view of Scripture means that I reject a lot of current popular theory. While I accept the world is spherical, I reject Darwinism which is by far the most popular understanding in modern science concerning the origin and development of the biosphere.

Your bias is constrained to a specific view of inerrency. He may prefer another, but each one tips either of you in a particular direction and to a particular interpretation that satisfies the requirements of that inerrency.

I presume "he" in this sentence refers to Gier. I am aware of different views. See here for inerrancy and infallibility. I also have a pastor who is neither a inerrantist nor a creationist whom I sit under quite happily. While I think that some passages appear difficult with an inerrant approach, I think that their resolution leads to deeper understanding of the way of God. This has occurred enough for me that initially contradictory passages do not send me reeling each time I come across one. I tend to look deeper into the context and some inferences turn out to not exist. We can read more into a passage than is often there.

More importantly, I think Scripture points to an inerrantist approach. See my comments on Jesus' interaction with the Sadducees.

An aside, be careful how you use the term inerrancy, it has a meaning. If you propose another meaning preferably use a different word. Even the word "infallibility" seems to imply inerrancy however it has a theological definition that specifies inerrant doctrine which potentially allows for error of fact.

This concerns me because I see an initiative to interpret passages in a certain way that conforms it to modern science,

The idea that anyone before Bacon really understood science quite the way we do is questionable. I think you are better to talk about the worldviews of then and now. Even Gier uses the term pre-scientific which is better though can still be misleading. I am more concerned about having a biblical worldview than a Western one. While the current Western worldview gets much wrong, it is important to realise that the Western worldview developed from Christianity—likely with some added Greek philosophy (to its detriment I think). Because of this the Western worldview is very Christian unlike many other cultures including pre-Christian Europe and Briton.

You will need to give examples of specific passages.

when an interpretation that draws from the science of their day explains it much better.

Except is the interpretation drawing from their day? Much of what I see is a later construct of what the ancients supposedly thought based on a hyperliteralist interpretation of ancient literature.

I see this a lot in the church, and once again, if I am wrong about you, I apologize.

You may be correct about me, though I give my views considered thought.

A modern person who wishes to explain scripture in light of modern science has the burden of proof upon them first.

Why? If Scripture is consistent with modern science why insist on a different interpretation just to make it inconsistent?

They need to show how an ancient person could have known what we know,

This assumes an anti-supernatural bias. If God created the universe he is more knowledgeable about its intricacies than every scientist combined. God can reveal material that happens to be factually correct, even if simplified. I am not stating that this has to be the case, rather pointing out the bias which insists on human authorship sans divine authorship. Scripture suggests both human and divine. Peter adds that prophets did not always understand everything about their message (1 Peter 1). I am not suggesting that the message of the prophets was differential mathematics and quantum physics, just the importance of divine authorship.

what benefit it provided the ancients,

It may not offer a benefit, it may just be an accurate report.

why God would only make it truly relevant to moderns in the West,

Examples such as?

and why the church missed these interpretations all this time and had to wait until the 20th century before science could shed light on things.

The church didn't. My previous post on the flat earth mentioned that theologians in general did not teach a flat earth. Several appealed to Scripture to "prove" geocentricism. The fact they could only do so by appealing to poetical passages should have been a concern. Both hyperliteralism (including the Jews) and over-allegorising have been practised in interpretation, but that does not deny that Scripture can be understood. Moderns possibly do this less than some previous generations. Though there is a trend to turn historical narrative into symbolic language.

This comment also seems to contradict your earlier comment,
Going forward we as Christians must always be willing to follow where God's Word leads us and not be afraid to discard tradition if a new understanding can fit the picture better. Many doctrines, or the expression and depth of understanding concerning them, have developed, been lost and found again numerous times throughout our history. There is always the possibility old understandings will crumble in the face of new discoveries.
While I agree with discarding tradition, I am cautious about new interpretations. They may exist but one would want very good evidence.

On a slightly tangential but important note—and this does not apply to the shape of the earth—part of my concern is how little people understand the types of science. Operational and historical science are quite different and a reasonable argument can be made that the latter is not strictly science. Historical science is a claim about history. It is a claim that can be refuted by eyewitness testimony.

For example scientific examination of Jericho cannot "prove" Joshua did not raze it. Both are claims in the same realm: historical truth. One is just playing a contemporary witness off against a non-contemporary interpreter. Either the first is a liar or the latter is mistaken in his interpretation of his findings.

Presuppositions are important. I think there is good reason to hold to inerrancy based on how Jesus and the apostles viewed Scripture. I think the Bible is historical and that it is correct when it makes historical claims. I think it important to understand what the author intended and the cultural situation into which he spoke. I disagree (in general) with hyperliteralism, but I think the bigger problem in this age is the priority of secular theory and hence unwarranted claims of symbolism, the explosion of interpretations, the invention of hermeneutic principles, the cherry picking of Scripture, the holding of contradictory ideas and anything else that lets us hold on to our favourite ideas; be that psychological, biological, sociological, political or any other theory which we cherish.

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