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Monday, July 07, 2008

Poll: What role should science play in interpreting Scripture?

“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalms 19:1)

There is an interesting post on the Creation controversy regarding the age of the earth on the Omnipotent Grace Blog. Although I'm a presuppositionalist, I am sympathetic toward Old Earth Creationism, due to the enormous body of evidence provided by God’s own handiwork. It is a view that is obviously controversial to the vast majority of those who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. Consider the words of John MacArthur:

"...clearly from the words of Scripture, God created the universe in six literal days. And Christian leaders can't deny that that's what it says cause that's what it says. You can translate it any way you want, it all comes out...the word yom means day and you have six of them.

But they believe somehow that scientists have proved that the age of the earth must be billions and billions and billions of years old. So they believe you've got to go back to Genesis and fix it. And in so doing they have allowed the authority of the Bible to be undermined, right? It's serious stuff."
("Creation: Believe it or Not--Part 2")

Young-earthers like MacArthur are to be commended for their high view of Scripture. At the same time, however, the scientific evidence for an old earth and an old universe are overwhelming. (The 1992 Cosmic Background Explorer pretty much sealed the deal). Should science, as flawed as it may be, ever to be considered when interpreting Scripture?

There are many who adamantly declare "no". MacArthur writes, "I'm never going to get caught in the trap of trying to prove to you that Genesis is true by science. I'm just going to proclaim to you what Genesis says and let science bow its knee to that explanation." ("Creation: Believe it or Not--Part 2")

Fair enough. Science certainly has no place to rest outside of a theistic worldview, and Scripture itself is the only ultimate truth. But Scripture itself declares, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). Theologians have historically agreed that there exists a "natural revelation" of God's existence in addition to Scripture, though such a knowledge merely renders us to be "without excuse" (Romans 1:20).

I would have to ask MacArthur and others who share his view if they believe in geocentricism. If not, on what basis would it be rejected, since a straightforward interpretation of Scripture would certainly support it? MacArthur gives us a clue to his answer when he quotes Edward Young on the "more poetical accounts of creation, such as Psalm 104":

"Genesis is not poetry. There are more poetical accounts of creation in the Bible, such as Psalm 104, certain chapters of Job, and they differ completely from the first chapter of Genesis. Hebrew poetry has certain characteristics and they are not found in the first chapter of Genesis." ("God: Creator and Redeemer")

To clarify, we "old-earthers" do not necessarily treat Genesis 1 as poetry; we just aren’t convinced that the days of creation were 24 hours days. In any case, while I fully agree that Psalm 104 is poetic, I must ask again how MacArthur and Young arrived at this conclusion. Are they not, in fact, using science to interpret Psalm 104:5?

To put their view into historical perspective, consider the following statement, written by Wilhelmus a'Brakel in 1700.

"The truth is that God states in many places in His Word that the sun is in motion, her circuit resulting in both day and night, and that the world remains both motionless and stationary. Nowhere does God speak to the contrary, ... Since God states it to be so, it is truth and we are to embrace it as truth. Is not God the Creator, maintainer, and gover­nor of all things, who is much better acquainted with His own work than is man with his limited and darkened understanding? Should men not subject their judgment to the very sayings of God? Or should one attempt to bend and twist the clear declarations of God in such a way that they agree with our erroneous thinking? Whatever God declares, also concerning things in the realm of nature, is true. God says that the world is motionless and stationary, being circled by the sun, and thus it is a certain and incontrovertible truth." (Wilhelmus a'Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service. pp. 64-66)

a'Brakel was certainly a learned man for his day, and like today’s young earth creationists, sought to be faithful to the Scriptures. However, those who would actually hold to a'Brakel's geocentrism today are very few in number. Certainly, modern astronomy has affected our interpretation of Psalm 104:5. Should it not affect Genesis 1 as well?
Should God's natural revelation have any role in interpreting
Scripture (Please be gracious to opposing views)?


No. Scripture is the ultimate truth, and all science must succumb
to the plainest meaning of the Scriptures.

Yes. Since Creation is itself a revelation of God, it is proper use
this revelation to seek a deeper understanding of Scripture.


Depends. Genesis 1 and Psalm 104 should be treated differently.
(Please explain the difference.)


Free polls from Pollhost.com

15 comments:

Dave said...

I voted No, but it should really be a combination of No and Yes. Yes you can use revelation to understand scripture, but if there are seeming inconsistencies, scripture should trump. Science, and its understanding of things, changes constantly. I don't think it would be wise to put too much stock into science that may be shown false tomorrow. I think you have some common misconceptions of the YEC position. I'm not sure where to start on addressing some of the things you bring up. There are many Hebrew scholars that agree that Genesis 1 was written as a historical narrative, whereas the Psalm was written as poetry. The word Psalm itself is the kind of writing that it is. It may or may not present a "historical" narrative. Plus, there are some things that don't need to be so complicated. Psalm 104 is almost certainly meant as a poetic type or hyperbole. Similar to sayings we use every day, ie: "the sun rises in the east." The sun doesn't really rise at all. That statement actually has zero value in explaining the physical motion of any of the celestial bodies which make the sunrise and sunset happen, but it conveys meaning because it describes things from our common perspective.

As for the COBE thing, here are some things to check out:

http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/1825

http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/4678

As with most things "proved" by science, they are open to interpretation and vary greatly on the assumptions applied to them.

As for the "the enormous body of evidence provided by God’s own handiwork" for an old-earth, this might better explain the YEC position:

http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/373

Dave

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Dave.

Let me ask you. Since you disagree with a'Brakel's handling of Psalm 104, what would you say his chief error is and why?

August said...

I voted yes. There is a rich body of philosophy and knowledge that flowed from the reformation, and that includes giving general revelation its proper place in understanding more about God. That includes giving science its proper place as the method by which we can understand the incredible detail and scope of God's creation.

And whether we like it or not, science does influence the way in which we understand Scripture. Even the grammatical-historical hermeneutic assumes some scientific premises, or else we would have to disregard the historical part.

Furthermore, there are just too many inconsistencies in a straightforward reading of Gen 1-3 for me to be convinced that it is the correct way to understand it.

Dave said...

PL,

If you don't mind my giving you another link, this goes into some of the issues a little. I will try to comment more when I'm not at work later:

http://creationontheweb.com/images/pdfs/tj/j15_2/j15_2_110-121.pdf

The paragraph called "...it cannot be moved" on pg 2 is where the most relevant info starts.

Dave

Puritan Lad said...

Dave,

Interesting article. The connection of the word moved to the "established path" was interesting. I couldn't help but notice that Mr. Faulker did not address the first part of Psalm 104:5, "He set the earth on its foundations...". Surely, the plain reading suggests that earth is set on some sort of foundation, and based upon that fact, "it should never be moved." Therefore, it's very hard to argue that "it should never be moved" refers to the idea "that Earth will not stray from the precise orbital and rotational pattern God has set for it." So while Mr. Faulkner may insist that "In short, the Bible is neither geocentric nor heliocentric", the "plainest reading" of this text, as well as many others, support geocentrism. Certainly Wilhelmus a'Brakel thought so, and he was not alone.

However, it is not necessary to prove the poetic view of the Psalm to me. I already agree that it is poetic, written from earth's point of view. My main question concerns the approach that modern expositors use to reach this conclusion. Is it fair to admit, as you seem to agree, that our interpretation of Psalm 104:5 has been affected by modern cosmology? Isn't it safe to say that we have much more knowledge of such things than a'Brakel had in his day?

It seems to me that the geocentric view of the solar system cannot be refuted unless we abandon the very rules that many insist upon using in interpreting Genesis 1-3. As far as the science goes, the evidence is overwhelming for both heliocentrism and an old earth. I'm sure there will be some who try to defend a young earth via science, but that view is indefensible.

In the end, my hope is to establish a little understanding between both views. A rejection of science in favor of young earth creation via the Scriptures is a valid approach, and I would certainly respect that. Problems ensue when the two are mixed and matched. Trying to prove the Bible via science is a silly practice at best, since without God, science cannot even prove itself.

Puritan said...

Brother,

Psalm 16:18 says "I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved."

'shall not be moved' there is the exact Hebrew words 'bal mote'as in Psalm 104:5, obviously you don't need a scientist to tell you that David didn't mean he will never move (i.e, he's a statue) in Psalm 16, and it's no different in Psalm 104.

As only 2 verses earlier in Ps 105, v3 says "Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind," It doesn't take a genius to realize the Psalmist is not giving us a cosmology lesson, but rather using a poetic language to declare the greatness of God.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Puritan,

Again, I need no convincing of the poetic nature of the 104th Psalm. But there is no getting around the fact that this was taken literally for most of church history, until modern cosmology proved otherwise. The question I ultimately have is, without referring to modern cosmology, what errors did a'Brakel make in his exegesis? I would hold that the poetic nature of Psalm 104:5 is clear only due to what we know about the solar system today.

Dave said...

PL,

I’m unfamiliar with the interpretation of Psalm 104 throughout church history, but it doesn't really matter. If you properly understand that the Psalm is poetic, and all the associated interpretive rules that go with that, it is readily apparent that it does not have anything to do with cosmology in general or geocentrism in particular. If people interpreted that incorrectly throughout history, that is an interpretive problem to be set straight with proper hermeneutics. Cosmology doesn't really touch this, IMO.

You said: "It seems to me that the geocentric view of the solar system cannot be refuted unless we abandon the very rules that many insist upon using in interpreting Genesis 1-3."

I think that given a proper hermeneutic for the Psalm, geocentrism is no longer even an issue. I don't think Genesis can be interpreted as supporting geocentrism either. Genesis is written in the style that other works of narrative history are written in Hebrew, the Psalm is not. Therefore they are not to be taken together as you seem to be implying in this statement.

Also, FWIW, as far as Genesis is concerned, there are a lot of Hebrew scholars who agree that Genesis is written as a historical narrative (although that doesn't mean they believe it!). This is one of the things that worry me about compromises on Genesis. If we waffle on its historicity, why should we then believe any of the other parts written in the same way (which is exactly what most liberal theologians pursue to its logical conclusion, rejecting the virgin birth and physical resurrection)?

You said: "As far as the science goes, the evidence is overwhelming for both heliocentrism and an old earth.”

I agree with science supporting heliocentrism, but would wholeheartedly disagree with it supporting an old earth. This really gets down to a proper understand of the nature of "science" and the philosophy behind it. Most creationists will point out the distinction between operations and origins science. There is quite a large difference between tracking the motion of our planet using stars and other celestial bodies and by putting satellites in orbit to photograph and measure, and saying that you can understand what has supposedly taken place millions or billions of years ago. You can test and verify repeatedly the motion of the earth and the planets in the solar system, but you cannot test (at least not by the historical definition of science) the age of a rock. There are so many assumptions which I believe can and have been shown to be false built into the dating of rocks. I f you weren’t there to witness the starting conditions of the radioactive isotopes used to date most rocks, you have no way of knowing what they were. Unfortunately, unless someone invents time-travel, you will never be able to get a calibrated instrument in the past with which to compare current data. Therefore, the “science” of origins is neither testable nor repeatable and, as such, is outside of the bounds of science (similar to why science cannot prove or disprove God, it is outside of what it can do).


You said: ”I'm sure there will be some who try to defend a young earth via science, but that view is indefensible."

As a quick example, when Mount St. Helens blew in the early 80’s, it generated a new lava dome. This newly formed rock can only have a maximum age of <28 years or so. As part of the RATE project a few years ago (around ‘04 or ‘05 I think) a group of creation scientists sent samples of the rock from the new dome to several different dating labs (I think, but am not sure, that they sent samples to the same lab twice and got different ages) and got ages that ranged from 500,000 years to 3.5 million years old! Now, if they cannot accurately date rock whose age we know from observations, than how can they date a rock supposedly millions of years old? Evolutionists have said the results are due to contamination of the rock when it was formed, or just ignored the findings, but that doesn’t make it go away. If it was due to contamination during formation, how can they be confident that hasn’t happened on other rocks dated to be millions of years old?

Now, that was just one small example. There are many, many others. The point is that real science can be used to support a YEC viewpoint, with even less contradiction and ignoring of evidence than when used to support evolution.

Even if I, or anyone else, can’t sway you, hopefully I can at least show you that it isn’t so cut and dry from a scientific standpoint. Scientific opinion changes all the time, but God’s word does not.

Dave

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Dave,

For the record, I am not an evolutionist. Old Earth does not necessitate evolution.

Is it safe to say, based on your comments and those of Puritan, that you actually should have voted for the third option? Afterall, you seem to allow modern cosmology to affect Psalm 104, but are hesitant to do so in Genesis.

As far as radiometric dating goes, it certainly isn't a perfect process, but the results are far more accurate than YEC's wish to acknowledge. However, that is only one of many yardsticks that is used to measure the ages of the earth and universe, all of which point to old ages. My special scientific interest in cosmology, and the proof of an old unverse is every bit as convincing as that of the heliocentric solar system. (Of course, there are "young earth" scientists who continue to object to this, by denying the existence of dark matter, overinflating the rate of the change in speed of light, etc.) These scientists are being marginalized, but for a good reason. Their science just isn't very good.

I found this statement very interesting. You wrote, "There is quite a large difference between tracking the motion of our planet using stars and other celestial bodies and by putting satellites in orbit to photograph and measure, and saying that you can understand what has supposedly taken place millions or billions of years ago." While I disagree with your basic premise, I would like to point out that the interesting thing about cosmology is that you can observe millions or billions of years ago. The stronget our telescopes become, the further back in time we can look. We can see stars and planets being birthed, from millions of years ago. A denial of such would require that we forget everything we know about light, wave properties, and the Doppler effect.

I must also point out that Old Earth geology is crucial in locating oil and coal. Requiring someone to adopt a young earth view would prevent them from doing their jobs.

Finally, you need not worry about old earthers forsaking Orthodox Christian doctrines or becoming "liberal". Those doctrines are what identify us as Christians, and those who deny them are not Christians.

I would encourage you to read "A Biblical Case for an Old Earth" by David Snoke. Hugh Ross's books are pretty good as well. His book "Creation and Time" gently but accurately refutes Young Earth Claims.

Of course, one may forsake science altogether and just base their view on Scripture. That is a valid approach, but it is rarely done with consistency.

Dave said...

PL,

I realize that an old-earth view does not presuppose a belief in evolution, but I think that is inconsistent. The rise in old-earth "science" was accelerated due to the "need" to find the time necessary to support evolutionary ideas.

You said: "Is it safe to say, based on your comments and those of Puritan, that you actually should have voted for the third option? Afterall, you seem to allow modern cosmology to affect Psalm 104, but are hesitant to do so in Genesis."

I tried to explain above, but I wasn't very clear. I think cosmology has nothing to do with the Psalm because it was not intended to be used to support such things. It is like poetry, not history.

How do you know if the results of radiometric dating are more accurate? Based on what? That was the point I was trying to make above about not having a calibrated was to measure it. Your statement is therefore impossible to verify empirically.

Your point about looking back in time with a telescope is only true if you accept old-earth assumptions. I don't know exactly how it fits in with the doppler effect, but there are ways to explain it other than long ages. I would encourage you to read starlight and time by Dr. Russell Humphreys. I assure you his science is "very good." If not, he probably wouldn't have a job at the Sandia Nat'l Labs.

Actually, an old-earth view has hindered oil-finding, as documented repeatedly by ICR/AiG/CMI. Because of long-age assumptions (that it takes millions of years to produce oil), used wells are abandoned. Only recently have people started to go back to the old wells to find that there is oil there again. Not in huge quantities, but much more that what was expected due to old-earth beliefs.

I have read the books you mention, and personally found their arguments and logic wanting. I would recommend "Refuting Compromise" by Jonathan Sarfati for a thorough rebuttal of Dr. Ross' books. Also check out "In the Beginning was Information" by Dr. Werner Gitt.

FWIW, I don't mean for anything I've written to be attacking or mean-spirited. As with all non-essential doctrines, we can agree to disagree, and have fun debating :)

Puritan Lad said...

Dave,

There is nothing mean-spirited about your comments. For that, I am most thankful. In fact, I actually had second thoughts about posting this particular poll due to the sensitivity that this issue often provokes. In your case, I'm glad I have.

I actually have a copy of Russell Humphreys' Book. You'll find a good review here.

The Unraveling of Starlight and Time

As far as the issue of radiometric dating goes, it is based on what we can currently observe about the half-lives of Radioactive materials. Of course, it runs into the same issues that all science runs into, the assumption of the uniformity of nature. Once that is established, however, there is no reason to reject the validity of radiometric dating. In any case, there are many other methods of dating the earth and the universe.

Speaking of Snoke and Ross, you said that you've read their books, and personally found their arguments and logic wanting. Is there anything specific errors that you saw, other than Snoke's admission that he allows science to guide his interpretation of Scripture? Scientifically, both appear pretty sound.

As far as the idea that an old-earth view has hindered oil-finding, it really defies logic. There are millions of dollars per day at stake in the search for these items, and old earth geology is crucial in locating these deposits with pinpoint accuracy. Why would oil companies purposely hinder their own ability to operate? As Snoke suggested, if young earth geology were able to find oil and coal more efficiently, these companies would adopt it in an instant.

In the end, this is sort of the idea that I had for this discussion. It has led to a little scientific discussion, which I hope gives us both sides some more insight into the issues, in terms of science, as well as its role in interpreting Scripture. Therefore, the reason that I brought up Psalm 104 isn't to dispute it's poetic nature, but to show how science does play a role in some interpretations. In other words, there was nothing wrong with the exegesis of Wilhelmus a'Brakel. He just lacked the scientific knowledge needed to appreciate the poetic language being used. May we carefully refrain from future errors of this sort in a postmodern world.

Blessings,

PL

Dave said...

PL,

Sorry its taken me so long to reply. I'll have to read your link (hopefully tomorrow). I'm running short on time today, so I'll try to get back to this tomorrow or Sunday!

Dave <><

rjs1 said...

I would say that since Creation is itself a revelation of God, it is proper use this revelation to seek a deeper understanding of Scripture. However Genesis 1 and Psalm 104 should be treated differently.

The latter is hebraic poetry whilst the former is a festal liturgy most likely used at a New Year Festival. Of course the Psalms that celebrate creation would have been used then also, but the point is that Gen 1:1-2:3 is not poetic but then it is not historical narrative either!

Science and the creation account do not contradict each other, not least because the creation account is not strictly history.

Charles said...

Short and to the point. I am a Reformed Presbyterian, and in January I started the journey that has led me to a geocentric, flat earth position. Scripture didn't lead me there, the video on YouTube, the flat earth conspiracy, led me there. 8 months later, after researching, emailing NASA, and finally coming to the scriptures, I am unapologetically a flat earther!

Charles said...

Short and to the point. I am a Reformed Presbyterian, and in January I started the journey that has led me to a geocentric, flat earth position. Scripture didn't lead me there, the video on YouTube, the flat earth conspiracy, led me there. 8 months later, after researching, emailing NASA, and finally coming to the scriptures, I am unapologetically a flat earther!